Mushroom clouds!!!!!!<br><br><blockquote><font size=1>In reply to:</font><hr><p>Published on Sunday, July 6, 2003 by the New York Times <br><br>What I Didn't Find in Africa <br><br>by Joseph C. Wilson 4th<br><br>Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's<br>weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq?<br><br>Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the<br>war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related<br>to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.<br><br>For 23 years, from 1976 to 1998, I was a career foreign service officer and<br>ambassador. In 1990, as chargé d'affaires in Baghdad, I was the last American<br>diplomat to meet with Saddam Hussein. (I was also a forceful advocate for his<br>removal from Kuwait.) After Iraq, I was President George H. W. Bush's ambassador<br>to Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe; under President Bill Clinton, I helped<br>direct Africa policy for the National Security Council.<br><br>It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to<br>verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's nonconventional<br>weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to<br>Niger? That's me.<br><br>In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency<br>that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular<br>intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred<br>to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a<br>form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency<br>officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could<br>provide a response to the vice president's office.<br><br>After consulting with the State Department's African Affairs Bureau (and through<br>it with Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, the United States ambassador to Niger), I<br>agreed to make the trip. The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means<br>secret. While the C.I.A. paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made<br>it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United<br>States government.<br><br>In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had been a<br>diplomat in the mid-70's and visited as a National Security Council official in<br>the late 90's. The city was much as I remembered it. Seasonal winds had clogged<br>the air with dust and sand. Through the haze, I could see camel caravans<br>crossing the Niger River (over the John F. Kennedy bridge), the setting sun<br>behind them. Most people had wrapped scarves around their faces to protect<br>against the grit, leaving only their eyes visible.<br><br>The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. For<br>reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye<br>on Niger's uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador told<br>me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq — and that she<br>felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington. Nevertheless,<br>she and I agreed that my time would be best spent interviewing people who had<br>been in government when the deal supposedly took place, which was before her<br>arrival.<br><br>I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of<br>people: current government officials, former government officials, people<br>associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude<br>that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.<br><br>Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be<br>exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium<br>business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French,<br>Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to<br>remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in<br>turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover,<br>because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities,<br>selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime<br>minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight<br>over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.<br><br>(As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed<br>out that the documents had glaring errors — they were signed, for example, by<br>officials who were no longer in government — and were probably forged. And then<br>there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)<br><br>Before I left Niger, I briefed the ambassador on my findings, which were<br>consistent with her own. I also shared my conclusions with members of her staff.<br>In early March, I arrived in Washington and promptly provided a detailed<br>briefing to the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department<br>African Affairs Bureau. There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my<br>report, just as there was nothing secret about my trip.<br><br>Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents<br>in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should<br>include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report<br>written by the embassy staff, a C.I.A. report summing up my trip, and a specific<br>answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been<br>delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent<br>enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.<br><br>I thought the Niger matter was settled and went back to my life. (I did take<br>part in the Iraq debate, arguing that a strict containment regime backed by the<br>threat of force was preferable to an invasion.) In September 2002, however,<br>Niger re-emerged. The British government published a "white paper" asserting<br>that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As<br>evidence, the report cited Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an African<br>country.<br><br>Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the<br>charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.<br><br>The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and<br>suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion<br>was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the<br>president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that<br>produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the<br>explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's<br>address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the<br>Niger case.<br><br>Those are the facts surrounding my efforts. The vice president's office asked a<br>serious question. I was asked to help formulate the answer. I did so, and I have<br>every confidence that the answer I provided was circulated to the appropriate<br>officials within our government.<br><br>The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political<br>leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I<br>would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored<br>because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate<br>argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses. (It's worth<br>remembering that in his March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr. Cheney said that<br>Saddam Hussein was "trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.") At a<br>minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president's<br>behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.<br><br>I was convinced before the war that the threat of weapons of mass destruction in<br>the hands of Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained international<br>response to disarm him. Iraq possessed and had used chemical weapons; it had an<br>active biological weapons program and quite possibly a nuclear research program<br>— all of which were in violation of United Nations resolutions. Having<br>encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of<br>1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.<br><br>But were these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have<br>to find out. America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its<br>information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to<br>justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as<br>Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken<br>when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American<br>soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that<br>their sacrifice came for the right reasons.<br><br>Joseph C. Wilson 4th, United States ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995, is an<br>international business consultant.<br><br>Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company <p><hr></blockquote><p><br><br><br>