October 29, 2005
Lest we forget, courtesy of Knight-Ridder:
At the heart of Friday’s indictment of a top White House aide remain two unsolved mysteries.
Who forged the documents that claimed Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in the African country of Niger?
How did a version of the tale get into President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, even though U.S. intelligence agencies never confirmed it and some intelligence analysts doubted it?
… The FBI has been investigating the clumsy forgeries, which first surfaced in Rome in October 2002, for two years, but has made little progress, four U.S. government officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation continues. Those officials blame a lack of cooperation from Italy. A spokesman for the Italian Embassy in Washington denied that.
But a weeks-long review by Knight Ridder has established that:
- Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI, and people close to it, repeatedly tried to shop the bogus Niger uranium story to governments in France, Britain and the United States. That created the illusion that multiple sources were confirming the story.
- The CIA had begun receiving intelligence reports based on the same forgeries in October 2001, but they could not be confirmed. Copies of the fake documents suddenly surfaced at a critical point in the White House’s fall 2002 campaign to take the country to war in Iraq.
- The CIA eventually determined that the earlier reports were “based on the forged documents” and were “thus ... unreliable,” a presidential commission on unconventional weapons proliferation said in March.
The majority CIA and State Department analysts discounted the uranium story from the outset. But White House officials, working through a back channel to one holdout CIA unit, seized on the tale and made it part of Bush’s case for war.
Which takes us back to those two nagging questions…
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