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Pat Roberts: Did He or Didn’t He, Will He or Won’t He?

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Last year Harry Reid shut down the Senate in frustration over the stonewalling of Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and his refusal to complete the long-overdue Phase II investigation into the way the Administration handled prewar Iraq intelligence.  Last week’s publication by the New York Sun of the INR memo that was given to Colin Powell to carry aboard Air Force One when he accompanied George Bush to Africa in July of 2003 seems to challenge the integrity of the Phase I report of the committee’s investigation, and some serious questions need to be answered in light of the new documents.

Critics of the Committee’s Phase I report have long held that it is a highly partisan product that went out of its way to cover for the intelligence failures of the Bush administration, and it is always the document that is cited by critics of Joe Wilson to beef up their arguments against him.  But unless there is another version of the analyst’s notes attached to the INR memo, the SSCI report misstates the contents of this document in a way that supports the contention of those involved in the plot to smear Wilson that his wife had a strong hand in sending him to Niger.

Up until now, the only knowledge we’ve had of what was contained in the analyst’s report came from fragments in the SSCI report.  The document is quoted on Page 40:

An INR analyst’s notes indicate that the meeting was "apparently convened by [the former ambassador’s] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue."

But over at The Next Hurrah, commenters Jeff and pollyusa note that this is not the language used in the actual memo itself:

Meeting apparently convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD managerial typ and the wife of Amb. Joe Wilson, with the idea that the agency and the larger USG could dispatch Joe to Niger to use his contacts there to sort out the Niger/Iraq uranium sale question.

In the actual memo it says that Valerie Wilson had the idea that "the agency and the larger USG could dispatch Joe to Niger."  The SSCI version removes the references to the involvement of these entities and distorts the paragraph to make it look like it was all on Valerie Wilson to send her husband on the trip.

One of the other favorite buttresses used by defenders of the Administration when they attempt to justify the White House contentions in 2003 that the Iraqis had attempted to purchase Niger uranium is British intelligence of the time.  Deborah Howell says that Fred Hiatt relied on this information as the factual basis for his Washington Post editorial entitled "A Good Leak."  But as eRiposte at the Left Coaster says, the new documents also call into question the SSCI’s findings on this front. 

This is what is says in the July 10, 2003 INR memo:

On January 12, 2003, INR "expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries." The conclusion, may, however, have been reached and communicated for the first time, somewhat earlier: the record is not clear on this point. After considerable back and forth between the CIA, the Department, the IAEA, and the British, Secretary Powell’s briefing to the UN Security Council did not mention attempted Iraqi procurement of uranium "due to CIA concerns raised during the coordination regarding the veracity of the information on the alleged Iraq-Niger agreement."

But according to eRiposte, the SSCI report makes no mention of any discussions with the British prior to Powell’s speech to the UN. Says eRiposte:

Based on the new evidence, it becomes clear that the CIA contacted the British (presumably MI6) and asked them about the 1999 "evidence" about Iraq allegedly seeking uranium from Niger. However, the wording in the SSCI report is deliberately ambiguous on this. For example, it is technically possible that the wording refers to one foreign government service having reported a claim to the CIA emanating from a second foreign government service. So, for example, CIA could have been asking MI6 whether another foreign government service (say, the French DGSE) is able to provide the evidence by means of a contract (sound familiar?). It’s hard to say, but what we can say with reasonable confidence is that the cryptic passage in the SSCI Report referred to the CIA establishing contact with British intelligence just prior to Powell’s speech. This, in itself, is a new development – especially given that the only (fake) defense that the Bushies were left with after they retracted the uranium claim in July 2003 subsequent to the Joseph Wilson op-ed was that Bush was "technically accurate" when he referred to the British in the 2003 SOTU (he was not , of course). This makes me rather curious as to what exactly was discussed with the British shortly before the Powell speech considering that whatever it was, it obviously did not provide credible evidence for Powell (or the CIA) to retain the uranium claim – and this so-called evidence related to an attempt to seek uranium from Niger in 1999 (which is what the British Government dishonestly claimed was behind their own uranium allegation). This is clearly an area for further investigation.

In other words, the feeble invocations of "British Intelligence" by Bush loyalists are even more suspect than we already thought they were.  And Pat Roberts’ committee was tapdancing around all these facts of which they were no doubt aware in an extremely misleading way. 

(hat tip Paul Lukasiak) 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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