The Niger Connection Con
The Niger Connection Con
The Bush administration has used many "techniques of deceit" to sell the public on the need to invade and occupy Iraq, as I've been documenting since February (http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0302/S00061.htm). With each additional vehement British denial that it had seen the forged Iraq-Niger correspondence or used it as the basis for the claim about Iraq's nuclear ambitions in the September 24 "Dossier," the more it appears the Bushies masterfully executed the "hidden-hand third-party verification" technique to make the bogus Niger Connection credible, using the unwitting Brits to con the U.S. media, public and Congress.
It's certainly possible that the Brits were the Bushies "witting" accomplices. But from this sleuth's perspective, it appears the Bushies used their good friend Tony Blair and British intelligence as clueless pawns. True, the Bushies had to dupe their faithful ally in order to dupe America, but what good are democratic friends for if not to sandbag their respective citizenries?
The Bushies conned the Brits not by what they told them, but by what they DELIBERATELY didn't tell them: They didn't tell the Brits that two investigations - the first by U.S. ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick some time prior to February 2002, the second by retired diplomat Joe Wilson in February 2002 - determined beyond any doubt that there was no arrangement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of a single pound of uranium oxide, let alone the 500 tons claimed in a forged "memorandum of agreement" and forged correspondence purportedly leading up to the invented agreement. (See Wilson's essay in the July 6 New York Times: (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/06WILS.html.)
Neither Owens-Kirkpatrick nor Wilson saw the forgeries, but their understanding of the controls on Niger's uranium and extensive interviews with the alleged Niger-government participants made it crystal clear the allegations were groundless, which could only mean that the "memorandum of agreement" and the letters of correspondence signed by various officials of Niger and Iraq were fake.
Owens-Kirkpatrick had earlier reported her findings back to Washington. As for Wilson, "In early March , I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department African Affairs Bureau."
Not until March 7, 2003 would the world learn from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency what senior Bush officials had known for at least a year: that the Niger Connection was a hoax based on forged documents. But from where did the forgeries and allegations spring? Why did the allegations seem credible to Britain's best and brightest?
Making the Incredible Seem Credible to the Credulous
According to a story in the March 22 Washington Post (http://commondreams.org/headlines03/0322-04.htm) by three of its better reporters, a "U.N. official" asserted (as paraphrased by the reporters) that "a Niger diplomat turned the letters over to Italian intelligence, which provided summaries of the information to Washington and London." It appears the Italians acquired the letters some time in the latter half of 2001; some months later, they passed along the summaries.
The British Foreign Office, in comments made July 7, 2003 relating to the relevations in Wilson's New York Times essay, said it was some time after Wilson completed his Feb. 2002 mission to Niger that the Brits received the summaries from the Italians (http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=422729). The U.S. presumably received its summaries at the same time, but as far as I know that has yet to be reported or confirmed.
The key point is that the Italians handed over "summaries," not the documents themselves. This meant the Bushies knew everything the Brits knew AND considerably more, courtesy of those two investigations by the U.S. diplomats. The Bushies could judge those "summaries" with the advantage of knowing that two seasoned pros had thoroughly debunked the allegations that stemmed from the forgeries upon which the summaries were based.
The Brits, on the other hand, would assess those summaries having never seen the actual documents and knowing only that the summaries had been provided by their trusted Italian allies to themselves and the Bushies. If the Brits had any misgivings about the summaries, those likely would have evaporated as the months rolled by and they received nary a hint from their dear American friends that the stirring summaries were based on a hoax. We may also surmise that the summaries were deliberately vague on the identity of Iraq's supposed supplier, referring to "Africa" rather than specifying Niger.
All of those factors explain why (1) the hapless Brits found the story credible, (2) their September 24 "dossier" referred to uranium from "Africa" rather than "Niger," and (3) they valiantly maintain that the IAEA's March 7 debunking didn't invalidate their dossier because the IAEA shot down a strictly Niger connection, rather than a broader "African" connection. After all, three other African nations besides Niger have uranium oxide.
So why haven't the Brits provided the IAEA with a single piece of evidence implicating Iraq with one of these other nations - evidence the IAEA has been begging for since September? Because the well-suckered Brits don't have any. A U.N. official told the Post that neither the British or U.S. government "ever indicated that they had any information on any other country."
Here are a few questions to ponder:
* Did the CIA ask their Italian counterparts to make the summaries more credible than the worthless documents upon which they were based, and to substitute "Africa" for "Niger," so as to give the allegation a longer life by expanding to four the list of suspect nations that had to be ruled out?
* What role did the CIA and/or Italian intelligence play in the production or commissioning of the forgeries, either directly or through intermediaries?
* What role if any did British intelligence play in this? While the Brits do appear to be the "marks" in the present case, Seymour Hersh reported in March (http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030331fa_fact1) that "Forged documents and false accusations have been an element in U.S. and British policy toward Iraq at least since the fall of 1997, after an impasse over U.N. inspections."
"Passive Lying" for Fun, Profit and Self-Esteem
By keeping the Brits barefoot and clueless, the Bushies made it possible for the Brits to make and presumably believe this assertion in its September 24 dossier (http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page275.asp):
"Iraq's known holdings of processed uranium are under IAEA supervision. But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no active civil nuclear power programme or nuclear power plants, and therefore has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium."
One can't get more vague than "there is intelligence," but because the phrase appeared in a report prepared by the successors of "M," "Q" and James Bond and released with great fanfare by Tony Blair, much of the Yankee media, public and Congress assumed the Brits had the Iraqis cold. Not only did we eat it up, the Bushies were able to make extra hay by citing the trusty Brits as they trumpeted the allegation in closed-door congressional testimony, a State Department "Fact Sheet" and a number of public speeches including the State of the Union address.
And here's the best part: Because the Bushies didn't have to ask the Brits to LIE, but instead cleverly arranged for the Brits to make a false claim the Brits believed to be true, the Bushies can pretend that their integrity is intact and get everyone in the mainstream media not named Paul Krugman to agree!
That element of the con is something I call "passive lying": You know that what your friend is saying is false, and you're well-positioned to correct the record. But because the lie is so darn useful you decide the better option is to allow the lie to lodge in people's brains as fact.
Ever since the IAEA exposed the Niger Connection as a hoax, Bushies have adopted the Brit position of claiming to have unforged evidence proving that Iraq sought uranium from "Africa" - if not Niger, than from one of the other three uranium-producing countries. And what evidence might that be? Here is an excerpt from a June 10 letter from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (http://alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16155):
"Moreover, contrary to your assertion, there does not appear to be any other specific and credible evidence that Iraq sought to obtain uranium from an African country. The Administration has not provided any such evidence to me or my staff despite our repeated requests. To the contrary, the State Department wrote me that the 'other source' of this claim was another Western European ally. But as the State Department acknowledged in its letter, 'the second Western European government had based its assessment on the evidence already available to the U.S. that was subsequently discredited.'"
Back to Square One! The good old "summaries" from Italy, we may presume. Or perhaps they're summaries of the summaries, provided by another ally.
But let us drop the sarcasm long enough to tip our hat to the Bushies for pulling off not one but possibly two splendid "hidden-hand third-party verification" cons: It appears that they used Italian intelligence agents, highly skilled in the art of producing misleading summaries, as a credible third party to con the Brits, and they most definitely used the Brits as a credible third party to con America.
For those who believe that U.S. democracy works best when the White House sees the citizenry, media and Congress - and our faithful British ally - exactly as a carnie sees rubes, these are glorious times.
* * *
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq war he published "Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'" (http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html) and
"The Disinformation Age" (http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm).
He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu
(c)2003 by Dennis Hans