10/09/2005

Daily Kos: How Fitzgerald Might Expose the Niger Forgery Scandal through His Plame Investigation

Too sleepy to follow all emptywheel's thoughts. But seems Fitz subpoena mentioned the uranium mmo so emptywheel may be right on the money -- law

How Fitzgerald Might Expose the Niger Forgery Scandal through His Plame Investigation
by emptywheel
Sun Oct 9th, 2005 at 18:25:55 CDT

Cross-posted at The Next Hurrah

I've said on multiple occasions that I don't think Fitzgerald has evidence yet from the Plame investigation pertaining to the Niger forgeries. I've said that Fitzgerald needed to flip Bolton and not just Judy to get to the Niger forgeries. But I think I was wrong. I think Fitzgerald may be able to get to the Niger forgery scandal too. Here's how.

* emptywheel's diary :: ::
*

Judy's discovery of a possible uranium forgery

As I described twice in my Judy series, on her ridiculously staged Indiana Jones expedition into the depths of the Mukhabarat, Judy "found" a document detailing a potential deal between Iraq and a Ugandan businessman to buy uranium. Here's the description she gives of that memo:

Of even greater interest to MET Alpha was a ''top secret'' intelligence
memo found in a room on another floor. Written in Arabic and dated May
20, 2001, the memo from the Iraqi intelligence station chief in an
African country described an offer by a ''holy warrior'' to sell
uranium and other nuclear material. The bid was rejected, the memo
states, because of the United Nations ''sanctions situation.'' But the
station chief wrote that the source was eager to provide similar help
at a more convenient time.

Note, this paragraph is a logical non-sequitur in the story. The paragraph before describes all the wacky items they find suggesting Iraq wanted to attack Israel. And the paragraph following reads:

The discoveries, which American military officers called significant
but which did not by themselves offer documentary evidence of direct
Iraqi links to terror attacks on Israel, were the serendipitous
byproduct of one of the strangest missions ever conducted by MET Alpha.

I wonder, now, whether Judy managed to slip that paragraph in after it had been edited. Either that, or the NYT is just an even shittier newspaper than I had thought. Both equally possible, I guess...

One more important detail. Whether or not this really is a forgery, this discovery was almost certainly staged. I say that partly because of the sheer asburdity of the circumstances through which it was discovered (read this post if you want to see what I mean). But also, we know the INC had already cleared truckloads of documents out of Mukhabarat. From a May 6 article:

In an interview today, he said his supporters had seized as much as 60
tons of documents from the Baath Party and Iraqi secret police and
intelligence services. The files document Mr. Hussein's relationship
with Arab leaders and foreign governments, he said.

But then, that's what you'd do with a forged document, right?
Stage the discovery of it in a place where it might plausibly be found?

Finally, one more reason I think this is a forgery, rather than a legitimate, unsuccessful attempt to sell uranium to Saddam. Known forger Ahmed Chalabi and suspected forgery planter Harold Rhode were with Judy in Baghdad at the time she wrote this story. Not good enough evidence to admit into court, I know. But a remarkable coincidence nevertheless, don't you think?

Judy's undiscovery of the memo

In any case, Judy quickly undiscovered this memo, or at least made it possible to undiscover the memo. Two days later, when MET Alpha returns to the Mukhabarat, all the evidence they had set aside was mysteriously gone.

''It is clear that in the past 48 hours, someone has removed many
of the most critical items that we had hoped to salvage,'' said Chief
Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzalez, the team's leader. For instance,
items that the team carefully put aside after its first exploration of
the building, when it was still filled with four feet of fetid water,
were removed.

Chief Gonzalez said that among the missing items were several
from what he said appeared to be the secret police's operations center.
These included mock-ups of the Israeli Parliament and other well-known
Israeli buildings.

Also missing was an entire shelf of books, a filing cabinet
full of documents, and other documents that the team was unable to
retrieve after its first visit on Tuesday. The team intended to return
the next day but was unable to find the water pumps needed to drain the
basement so that the site could be fully explored.

Admittedly, Judy did not clarify whether the uranium memo was gone or not. She just says "a filing cabinet
full of documents, and other documents" were gone. Although the uranium memo is the only document--aside from maps and books--Judy mentions in her first story.

I suspect this ambiguity is deliberate. The memo was found and could henceforth be used as evidence. Let the Neocons decide later whether they're going to actually produce it or not. Remember, they had gotten badly burned already when they had produced the Niger forgeries. Perhaps they were trying to avoid that this time around.

Charles Duelfer's discovery of a very similar memo--and his misrepresentation of its provenance

But it turns out the letter reappeared, much later, in the Duelfer report (but not, curiously, in the SSCI report; the SSCI discusses intelligence relating to Iraq's attempts to get uranium through June 2003, but makes no mention of this evidence that might support the case). Duelfer's report describes, as its only evidence Iraq might have tried to get uranium, this:

So far, ISG has found only one offer of uranium to Baghdad since 1991--an approach Iraq appears to have turned down. In mid-May 2003, an ISG team found an Iraqi Embassy document in the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) headquarters related to an offer to sell yellowcake to Iraq. The document reveals that a Ugandan businessman approached the Iraqis with an offer to sell uranium, reportedly from the Congo. The Iraqi Embassy in Nairobi--in reporting this matter back to Baghdad on 20 May 2001--indicated
it told the Ugandan that Iraq does not deal with these materials, explained the circumstances of sanctions, and said that Baghdad was not concerned
about these matters right now. Figure 1
is the translation of this document.

You can click the link for the full translation of memo. But here's the body of the memo:

Enclosed is the report made by a friend from Uganda, Abdul Jamal Abdulnasser, (Bika) about getting uranium and other important materials from his friend in Congo. He told us that he is ready to supply Iraq with these materials if Iraq wants them and it can be done without implicating Iraq. After we checked them, we told him we don't deal with these materials and we explained to him the circumstances of Iraq and the imposed sanctions, and that Iraq is not concerned about these matters this right now. He said that he will do his best to help Iraq and Iraq's regime for Jihad together against our enemy, and he considers supporting the power of Iraq to be his participation which is the power for all Muslims, and he feels that his duties are to support and strengthen that power.

I assume this is the same memo because its date and purported discovery site are exactly the same and its contents roughly the same.You'll note there are some differences between Judy's description of it and the translated memo. Judy uses the translation of mujahedeen in her description while the memo uses Jihad. And the author of the translated memo is not explicitly described as the intelligence station chief. These could either be translation differences (Judy presumably had hers translated on the fly to get it into the paper on deadline), or they could be Judy fluffing up the evidence again.

The most important difference, however, is the provenance. Duelfer says the ISG found this letter in mid-May. But we know from Judy's story that the MET Alpha found the letter. And they found it a little earlier--May 7, rather than mid-May. The difference might just be nitpicking. But ISG was not yet active when this memo was discovered. In fact, just the day before she reported on it (in her now infamous article declaring she had found mobile weapons labs), Judy had announced the formation of ISG.

During a Pentagon
briefing, Dr. Cambone said the effort to uncover Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction would soon be turned over to a major general who would command an
Iraq Survey Group with about 2,000 people.

And a May 11 Barton Gellman article describes the handoff from the 75th XTF to ISG as a future event.

At former
presidential palaces in the Baghdad area, where Task Force 75 will
soon hand control to the Iraq Study Group, leaders and team members
refer to the covert operators as "secret squirrels."

The ISG would be active, in limited form, by mid-May. Although, we know from later reporting that they didn't do a lot of weapon-hunting in their first weeks.

Iraq Survey Group spent its first weeks installing air-conditioned
trailers, a new dining facility, state-of-the-art software and even a
sprinkler system for a new lawn, according to officials and experts who
worked with the group this summer.
''They kept unloading crates and crates of new Dell laptops,''

Still, it might be technically possible the ISG could have found something in mid-May. So the date change and the change in the military unit that discovered this document are necessary if you want to hide the involvement of Ahmed Chalabi (and Judy Miller and Harold Rhode) in the document's discovery.

Evidence Duelfer might lie for the neocons

Like I said, this might be nitpicking and the difference in details might just be sloppiness. But I think it possible that Duelfer might have been willing to do that intentionally.

This is an area I'm going to have to return to. But consider the basic outline. At first, David Kay was in charge of the ISG. In October 2003, he reported he had found only "W.M.D.-related program activities." Nevertheless, just three days earlier, Bush had requested another $600 million so they could continue looking (no doubt they needed a new sprinkler system or something). Kay got despondent with the search and resigned in January 2004. But the group wasn't disbanded. Instead, Duelfer took over and it's focus shifted to looking for dirt on the Oil for Food scandal. At that point, the Neocons executed a neat substitution of Oil for Food scandal findings for WMDs findings in Iraq. Check out how NRO columnist Claudia Rossett uses Duelfer to conflate the Oil for Food scandal with WMDs.

CIA chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer may not have found
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but he sure found information
enough to blow the lid off the simmering scandal of the United Nations
Oil-for-Food program. As it turns out, Oil-for-Food pretty much was Saddam Hussein's weapons program.

As Duelfer documents,
Oil-for-Food allowed Saddam to replenish his empty coffers, firm up his
networks for hiding money and buying arms, corrupt the U.N.'s own
debates over Iraq, greatly erode sanctions and deliberately prep the
ground for further rearming, including the acquisition of nuclear
weapons. As set up and run by the U.N., Oil-for-Food devolved into a
depraved and increasingly dangerous mockery of what was advertised by
the U.N. as a relief program for sick and starving Iraqis. [emphasis mine]

Duelfer, effectively, got the Bush Administration out of the problem of finding WMDs by shifting the target to the Oil for Food scandal.

I probably don't need to remind anyone that Judy Miller and John Bolton were instrumental in hyping the Oil for Food scandal...

In other words, Miller and Duelfer seem to have been working two different angles of a project to turn the Oil for Food scandal to the Neocon's advantage and (largely) to compensate for the failure to find WMDs. Duelfer, it seems, was willing to execute this substitution for the
Neocons. So perhaps he'd be willing to deliberately hide the provenance of this
uranium document.

Evidence Fitzgerald was after this letter

"Okay," you're saying. "Maybe I buy this memo was a forgery. And maybe I buy evidence about it was hidden so it could be used in the Duelfer report. But what evidence do you have that Fitzgerald is on the same trail you are?"

It's time to make a confession. I've been obsessing about Judy and the Plame Affair non-stop for months, but I've never really taken a close look at the appeals judgement (PDF). Which is why I'm familiar with the bit everyone quotes...

seeking documents and testimony related to conversations between her and a specified government official "occurring from on or about July 6, 2003, to on or about July 13, 2003, . . . concerning Valerie Plame Wilson (whether referred to by name or by description as the wife of Ambassador Wilson)

..but not the bit that comes after that...

or concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium." [emphasis mine]

Note how this language differs from the language used in Cooper's subpoena:

"[a]ny and all documents . . . [relating to] conversations between Matthew Cooper and official source(s) prior to July 14, 2003, concerning in any way: former Ambassador Joseph Wilson; the 2002 trip by former Ambassador Wilson to Niger; Valerie Wilson Plame, a/k/a Valerie Wilson, a/k/a Valerie Plame (the wife of former Ambassador Wilson); and/or any affiliation between Valerie Wilson Plame and the CIA."

Fitzgerald was looking for information relating to conversations about Plame from both journalists. But in addition, he was looking for information from Judy relating to Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium. He had reason to believe--and provided evidence to the court to the effect--that the week of July 6, 2003, in addition to conversations about Plame, Judy and Libby talked about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium.

I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how Judy and Libby could have talked about WMDs without the NYT owning the notes relating to the conversation. And trying to figure out whether Jill Abramson was lying when she said Judy published the results of that meeting in her July 20, 2003 article. Assuming Fitzgerald is right and Judy and Libby were talking about uranium, Abramson is lying. Because I've reviewed Judy's article carefully, and the only mention of anything relating to uranium is the last paragraph:

Sent to Basra to investigate what senior Iraq Survey Group intelligence
and weapons experts called highly suspicious equipment that could be
components for a nuclear weapons program, the team collected what
turned out to be oil production equipment and a handful of large,
industrial-scale vegetable steamers. The contents of the crates
containing the suspect equipment were all clearly marked, in Russian.

I'm guessing that's not what Fitzgerald is after. Just a wild guess.

Further, I stand by my earlier assessments when I said there is nothing described in that article that post-dates Judy's departure from Iraq, with the exception of details on the future of the ISG and the weapons investigation thus far. Further, Judy describes the source for most of the article.

Interviews with soldiers and government officials over three months with the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Task Force,

The only mention of a source that could be Scooter Libby comes as corroboration for information that Judy almost certainly got via phone, fax, or email.

By the middle of June, according to weapons experts and administration
officials, the searchers had interviewed only 13 scientists among some
200 people on the government's black list of ''high-value targets'' or
among the thousands of midlevel people on the so-called gray list.

Presumably she was able to talk to those weapons experts (assuming they're in Iraq) on the phone. Why couldn't she have talked to Libby on the phone? Because, Patrick Fitzgerald tells us, they weren't talking about the material covered in Judy's July 20 article. They were talking about Iraq acquiring uranium.

So why do I think they were talking about what I believe to be a uranium forgery (or at the least the staged uranium memo), and not some other cockamamie Neocon plot to pin uranium acquisition on the Iraqis?

First, there wasn't a whole lot else for them to talk about. Judy had reported on a few known (and monitored) nuclear sites in Iraq. She had reported a story in December 2001 based on a now discredited INC defector that Iraq was reconstituting its chemical and nuclear programs. And she had published the now-infamous September 2002 aluminum tube story. Except for the aluminum tubes, she wasn't a big outlet for their uranium BS. She was more important for their chemical and biological BS. And, as far as we know, there were no more active uranium stories they were trying to push.

Except, perhaps, that uranium memo from Iraq.

Now, why would Judy and Libby need to talk about it, after she had undiscovered it on May 9? Two reasons. First, Judy's very discovery and undiscovery of the memo may have been a response to Wilson's accusations that the Bush Administration knew their Niger claims were false. She discovers the memo on May 7, one day after Kristof's column that first made Wilson's accusations more explicit. The day after Kristof said this...

Let's fervently hope
that tomorrow we find an Iraqi superdome filled with 500 tons of
mustard gas and nerve gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of
botulinum toxin, 29,984 prohibited munitions capable of delivering
chemical agents, several dozen Scud missiles, gas centrifuges to enrich
uranium, 18 mobile biological warfare factories, long-range unmanned
aerial vehicles to dispense anthrax, and proof of close ties with Al
Qaeda. Those are the things that President Bush or his aides suggested
Iraq might have, and I don't want to believe that top administration
officials tried to win support for the war with a campaign of wholesale
deceit.

...Judy found the uranium memo, as if in response. (And, FWIW, Judy's pace of other discoveries picked up that week, her last before she left Iraq, including her coverage of the now really discredited mobile weapons labs.) So it's possible the discovery of the uranium memo was staged in direct response to growing criticism of the Bush Administration's use of Niger intelligence in case they wanted to roll it out again at a future date (I admit it would have been very swift work, to stage the Knesset floating party in the less than 24 hours after Kristof's column appeared; although Kristof's was just the loudest of many questions about the pre-war intelligence).

The other reason I think Judy and Libby may have been discussing this uranium memo on July 8 is because the Bush Administration was still scrambling to come up with a response to allegations that their 16 words shouldn't have been in the SOTU. And there's something funky about their conversations about it. We know, for example, that Rove and Libby have tried to claim they were involved in drafting George Tenet's mea culpa speech relating to the SOTU.

They had exchanged e-mail correspondence and drafts of a
proposed statement by George J. Tenet, then the director of central
intelligence, to explain how the disputed wording had gotten into the
address. Mr. Rove, the president's political strategist, and Mr. Libby,
the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, coordinated their
efforts with Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security
adviser, who was in turn consulting with Mr. Tenet.

At the same time, they were grappling with the fallout from an
Op-Ed article on July 6, 2003, in The New York Times by Mr. Wilson, a
former diplomat, in which he criticized the way the administration had
used intelligence to support the claim in Mr. Bush's speech.

The work done by Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby on the Tenet
statement during this intense period has not been previously disclosed.
People who have been briefed on the case discussed this critical time
period and the events surrounding it to demonstrate that Mr. Rove and
Mr. Libby were not involved in an orchestrated scheme to discredit Mr.
Wilson or disclose the undercover status of his wife, Valerie Wilson,
but were intent on clarifying the use of intelligence in the
president's address. Those people who have been briefed requested
anonymity because prosecutors have asked them not to discuss matters
under investigation.

A claim the CIA smacked down almost immediately. This is particularly interesting given that it seems to be another case of a discovered email, just like the forgotten Rove email about Cooper to Hadley. More interesting still given that Murray Waas says Rove will be asked about communication with Libby and Hadley that week.

He will also be questioned
regarding contacts with other senior administration officials, such as
then-deputy National Security advisor Stephen J. Hadley and I. Lewis
Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney in the critical
week before the publication of columnist Robert Novak's column on July
14, 2003

Beyond the fact they were trying to hide evidence of earlier drafts of the SOTU that named Niger, could they have been trying to resucitate the claim? Argue the claim wasn't based on Niger intelligence, but on--as they had previously speciously argued--on allegations Congo or Somalia had supplied uranium? In the same press conference where Condi was stumbling over an admission Niger had shown up in early SOTU drafts, she was holding out hope that evidence might be found.

And, in fact, we still don't
know the status of Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire yellow cake.

She even alleges that the character I call Yankee Fan had buried uranium--no wait--centrifuge parts in his backyard, as opposed to the chemical precursors Judy had reported.

Things that
we're finding out now -- for instance, that the scientist buried
uranium -- I'm sorry, centrifuge pieces in his front yard.

So it's clear they were trying to take Judy's reporting and find evidence to get them out of the little hole they had gotten in, with the SOTU. The uranium memo, if authentic, would validate that Iraq had at least a source who could get it uranium from Congo.

So maybe Judy was supposed to write a story on the uranium claim, to take some heat off the SOTU claims. Maybe she and Libby were brainstorming how they could take the pieces she had planted in Iraq to explain away the absence of WMDs.

Who knows? Fitzgerald clearly wants to know.

Judy's attempt to shield this area of hers and Libby's conversation

All of this probably explains why Judy was so delighted that she had gotten an agreement limiting her testimony. She was not (just) protecting her other sources. She had succeeded in refusing one half of Fitzgerald's subpoena, the part asking for details on their conversation about uranium.

I'm still not sure why Fitzgerald accepted the deal. Perhaps he has already gotten to the uranium conversation in another way. Perhaps he was making a bold gamble that he could capture Judy in a perjury trap and force her to release all the information he was seeking.

Of course, now that she is going to try for a plea bargain on Tuesday, it's unclear whether she'll still be able to shield this information. Fitzgerald, after all, asked for it in the original subpoena. So the courts have already said he's entitled to the information. But will Judy agree to give it up? Will Judy deal away crucial details on the Niger uranium scandal when she meets with Fitzgerald on Tuesday?

Judy's jailhouse visitors

There's one more intriguing detail. Much has been made of the news that John Bolton visited Judy while in jail. But from the perspective of this post, she had another intriguing visitor, Charles Duelfer.

Miller also hosted Charles Duelfer, who concluded in 2005 that Iraq had
no weapons of mass destruction but uncovered bribes in the United
Nations' oil-for-food program.

Kind of curious that two of Judy's big sources tied to the uranium story stopped by for a visit. Given how pathetic Libby's attempts to telegraph information to Judy were, I wonder whether Bolton's and Duelfer's attempts were any less transparent?

Daily Kos: How Fitzgerald Might Expose the Niger Forgery Scandal through His Plame Investigation

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