Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

URANIUM FROM AFRICA....Here's an interesting piece of speculation about the Senate Intelligence report that I've forgotten to blog about until now. It's about Joe Wilson and the unfolding of the African uranium story in 2003.

Here's the question: the first time that Wilson directly charged that the African uranium story was false and that George Bush had known it when he delivered his State of the Union address was in anonymous comments to Nick Kristof published on May 6. Why did he wait until then? And why did he wait until July 6 to talk openly about it (in an op-ed in the New York Times)?

After all, Bush had delivered the speech in January and Wilson had taken his trip to Niger the previous year. Why not go public right after the speech? Or why not in early March, when the forged Niger documents became public? In other words, why not go public with his concerns before the war instead of after?

Here's a frankly speculative guess: it was because he didn't know until May that the CIA had concluded that the African uranium story was false. He knew that his own trip had produced no evidence, and he also knew there were other negative pieces of reporting, especially at the State Department, but he didn't know for sure what other evidence the CIA had. So he wasn't completely certain that the Africa uranium story had been conclusively debunked.

But according to the Senate report, the CIA issued an internal memorandum on June 17 that said:

....since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.

(This is the final paragraph of the Niger section of the Senate report. It's at the bottom of page 71.)

This CIA memorandum is a key document (and one that's never been publicly released). After taking into account all the bits and pieces of data floating around, the CIA's final judgment was that there was no good evidence that Iraq had sought uranium "from abroad" not from Niger and more generally not from Africa either. And since Wilson's wife worked in the WMD section of the CIA, it's possible that she saw a draft of this memo in May and mentioned its conclusion to Wilson or perhaps some other inside source did. This in turn might have convinced him that it was safe to flatly tell Kristof that the uranium story was bogus.

Then, when the final draft of the memo was issued on June 17, that might have convinced him that it was safe to make his allegations publicly under his own name. Three weeks later he did so in the New York Times. And if he was indeed aware of the CIA memo, he made his allegations knowing full well that the CIA director would have no choice based on his own agency's findings but to admit that the African uranium story was false. This is exactly what happened three days later.

This is just guesswork, of course, but it might explain why Wilson was so vehement about the African uranium story being flatly wrong even though he himself had been involved only in a single trip to Niger and wasn't personally aware of what other reporting the CIA had at its disposal. It might also explain the timing of why he went public when he did. (For the record: he says in The Politics of Truth that he made the decision to write the NYT op-ed on June 22, when things started "spinning out of control" after a story in the Independent made it clear that his identity would soon become public.)

Like I said, this is all speculation although it does seem to explain some things. Take it for what it's worth.

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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