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A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88] Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005] But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari, Laura Montini, La Repubblica, Zakaria Yaou Maiga, Antonio Nucera, Craig Unger, SISMI, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

James Bamford.James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Foreign Ministry, SISMI, Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org [ERiposte, 10/31/2005] , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003]
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; US Department of State, 9/2005]
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003] This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. [ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004, pp. 227] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mamadou Tandja, SISMI, Elisabetta Burba, Nassirou Sabo, Wissam al-Zahawie, Saddam Hussein, Jeff Castelli, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell, Greg Thielmann, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005] The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; ERiposte, 11/3/2005] Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239] Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” [AfterDowningStreet (.org), 7/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Ian Kelly, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Panorama, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58] Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 162; CBS News, 4/23/2006] According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Simon Dodge, National Security Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Energy, Defense Intelligence Agency, Wayne White

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert G. Houdek, national intelligence officer for Africa, concludes in a memo that allegations about Iraq attempting to obtain uranium from Niger are baseless. [Washington Post, 4/9/2006] The National Intelligence Council, the entity that oversees the US’s 15 intelligence agencies, issues Houdek’s report, which states in part, “The Niger story [of Iraq attempting to purchase Nigerien uranium—see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001] was baseless and should be laid to rest.” The memo immediately goes to President Bush and his top officials. [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Houdek, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), National Intelligence Council, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, returns to Vienna after having interviewed several current and former Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The Iraqis denied that their government had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, as has been alleged by the Bush administration. Baute does not believe the Iraqis were telling the truth and intends to confront them with the Niger documents after he has researched the details of the purported uranium purchase deal that is described in the documents. He is concerned to see that the documents contain a note from US intelligence officials that reads, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” Baute conducts an initial Google search for a few keywords and phrases from the documents and quickly finds an inaccurate reference to Niger’s constitution. “At that point,” Baute later recalls, “I completely changed the focus of my search to ‘Are these documents real?’ rather than ‘How can I catch the Iraqis?’” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 202-203; Unger, 2007, pp. 289] Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters how easy it was for Baute to determine that the documents were fakes. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly,” she says. [Independent, 6/5/2003] In another interview, Fleming adds: “It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries. We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005] When Baute asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later recall in an interview with Seymour Hersh. [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Erroneous Postmark - A letter dated October 10, 2000 bears a September 28 postmark, indicating it was received over two weeks before its supposed writing. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Names and Titles Incorrect - Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou. Experts say the signature is an obvious forgery. An IAEA official will tell Reuters: “It doesn’t even look close to the signature of the president. I’m not a [handwriting] expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” [Unknown, n.d.; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The incorrectly postmarked letter is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou”—Niger’s foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237] Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican. When al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. [Unknown, n.d.; Independent, 8/10/2003]
Letterhead Erroneous - In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. [Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger’s ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003]
Incorrect Citation of Constitution - Another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution instead of the one enacted in 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Misspellings, Incorrect Dates - Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not correspond to the correct days of the week. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003] One of the letters is dated July 30, 1999, but refers to agreements not enacted until 2000. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Unrealistic Uranium Requests - The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger’s ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing‘… [an] IAEA official told me.” [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] Furthermore, the purported agreement calls for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters, a tremendously difficult undertaking. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Denial of Signature - Al-Zawahie is asked whether he had signed a letter on July 6, 2000 that concerned Nigerien uranium (see February 1999). Al-Zawahie will later recall telling the inspectors, “I said absolutely not; if they had seen such a letter it must be a forgery.” Al-Zawahie provides his signature to IAEA inspectors; he will later say, “[T]hose letters must have convinced the IAEA team that the document they had was a forgery.” [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, Melissa Fleming, Mohamed ElBaradei, Jacques Baute, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Wissam al-Zahawie, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq.Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq. [Source: CIA]United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission chief arms inspector Hans Blix provides a quarterly report to the UN Security Council on the progress of inspections in Iraq, as required by UN Security Resolution 1284 (1999). It is the twelfth such report since UNMOVIC’s inception. Blix’s report to the Council does not contain any evidence to support US and British claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or the programs to develop such weapons. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also reports to the Council and says there are no signs that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
UNMOVIC Report by Hans Blix -
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories, as was recently alleged by Colin Powell in his February 5 presentation (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. “Several inspections have taken place… in relation to mobile production facilities,” Blix says. “No evidence of proscribed activities has so far been found.” He further explains that his inspectors had examined numerous mobile facilities and large containers with seed processing equipment. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003]
bullet The Iraqi government has increased its cooperation with inspectors since the end of January. It is attempting to quantify the biological and chemical weapons that it says were destroyed in 1991. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraq’s destruction of several Al Samoud II missiles represents a real step towards disarmament. “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament,” he says. “We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003] Blix adds, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament—indeed, the first since the middle of the 1990s.” Major Corrine Heraud, the chief weapons inspector for UNMOVIC in this operation, calls the level of cooperation from the Iraqis “unprecedented,” something that she never would have expected and did not encounter during the 1996-98 inspections. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
bullet Blix says that the UN inspectors needed a few more months to finish their work. “Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions,” he says, concluding, “It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraqi scientists have recently accepted inspectors’ requests to be interviewed without “minders.” “Since we started requesting interviews, 38 individuals were asked for private interviews, of which 10 accepted under our terms, seven during the past week,” Blix explains. [CNN, 3/7/2003]
bullet Some Iraqi scientists have agreed to interviews without “minders”—but more cooperation is needed. Blix says, “While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] Iraq needs to turn over more documents. “Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons. Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] There is no evidence of underground weapons facilities. Blix says: “There have been reports, denied by Iraq, that proscribed activities are conducted underground. Iraq should provide information on underground structures suitable for the production or storage of weapons of mass destruction. During inspections of declared or undeclared facilities, inspectors examined building structures for any possible underground facilities. In addition, ground-penetrating radar was used in several locations. No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found.” [CNN, 3/7/2003]
IAEA report by Mohamed ElBaradei -
bullet There is no evidence that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq in July 2001 were meant for a nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei says: “Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets.… Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminum tubes in question.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Documents provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the US were determined to be forgeries. The documents were a collection of letters between an Iraqi diplomat and senior Niger officials discussing Iraq’s interest in procuring a large amount of uranium oxide (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic,” ElBaradei explains. “We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded” (see June 12, 2003). [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003]
bullet The IAEA has yet to come across evidence of a nuclear weapons program. “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq,” ElBaradei states. “[T]here is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet In a direct response to allegations made by Colin Powell on February 5 (see February 5, 2003) related to the attempted procurement of magnets that could be used in a gas centrifuge, ElBaradei, says: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters, and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings, and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet Iraq’s industrial capacity “has deteriorated” at the inspected sites because of lack of maintenance and funds. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet ElBaradei concludes: “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.… I should note that, in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that contributes to the resolution of matters of IAEA concern.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Inspections 'Fruitful,' Say French, Russians - Both sides claim that the reports give further support to each of their respective stances on the issue of Iraqi disarmament. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin tells the Council that the reports “testify to the progress” of the inspections. He states that France will not support another resolution because “we cannot accept any ultimatum, any automatic use of force.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says that the reports demonstrate that inspections have been “fruitful.”
Inspections Not Working, US Claims - The Bush administration does not alter its position, despite statements by the two inspectors that Iraq is cooperating with inspections and complying with demands to disarm. Colin Powell, responding to the inspectors’ reports, reiterates the administration’s position that the inspections are not working and that Saddam is not cooperating. “We must not walk away,” Powell says. “We must not find ourselves here this coming November with the pressure removed and with Iraq once again marching down the merry path to weapons of mass destruction, threatening the region, threatening the world.” He claims that Iraq’s behavior is a “a catalog still of noncooperation” and repeats the administration’s allegation that the “Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Back at the White House, Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “As the president has said, if the United Nations will not disarm Saddam Hussein, it will be another international organization, a coalition of the willing that will be made up of numerous nations that will disarm Saddam Hussein.” [CNN, 3/6/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; US Department of State, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
Bush: Missile Destruction 'Meaningless' - Bush himself will call the destruction of Iraqi missiles “meaningless” and nothing more than an Iraqi “campaign of destruction,” shocking UNMOVIC inspectors: “We didn’t know what to make of [his words],” one inspector says afterwards. Former State Department official Patrick Lang will write: “In the final weeks of the countdown to war, the administration’s actions resembled nothing so much as some of the madder scenes from Alice in Wonderland. The fact that the documents the administration had used to ‘prove’ that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons were forged only led to greater insistence that Iraq was a danger. The absence of discovery of WMD by the UN inspectors was only further evidence that the Iraqis were the greatest deceivers in history and that they had succeeded in concealing their location. The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles was just more evidence of a ‘grand deception.’” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Uranium Allegations 'Outrageous,' Says Former Ambassador - The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times do give the story front-page coverage, and on CNN, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) calls the uranium allegation “outrageous,” adding that the claim “taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” The US government is “simply stupid” for not finding out the truth sooner: “a couple of phone calls” could have proven that such a deal between Iraq and Niger could not have happened: “All this stuff is open,” Wilson says. “It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]
IAEA Report 'Widely Ignored' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, “With America’s March 17 deadline for war (see March 17, 2003 and March 17, 2003) dominating the news, ElBaradei’s pronoucements were widely ignored. The news of the forged uranium documents did not make any of the three network evening newscasts and did not appear in the following day’s New York Times. (It would turn up a day later, in a four-hundred word story on page A13.)” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Corrine Heraud, Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, Dominique de Villepin, Patrick Lang, Frank Rich, Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Igor Ivanov, Hans Blix

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 2-3]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, US Department of State, David Albright, International Atomic Energy Agency, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Joseph C. Wilson, Carlton W. Fulford, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Patrick Fitzgerald.Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to CounterPunch, the Italian Parliament releases a report on the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The report names four people as the most likely forgers: neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see April 3, 2005), former CIA agent Duane Clarridge (see Late 1998), Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996 and February 2002), and Chalabi’s close friend and colleague Francis Brooke, who belongs to the Rendon Group, a public relations group formed by the Pentagon in part to promote Chalabi and the INC (see May 1991 and Mid-December 2003). The report suggests the forgeries may have been planeed at a December 2001 meeting in Rome (see December 9, 2001) that involved Ledeen, head of the Italian intelligence service SISMI Nicolo Pollari (see September 9, 2002), and accused spy Larry Franklin (see December 9, 2001). [CounterPunch, 11/1/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005] When the report is publicized in November 2005, Italian government officials will deny the existence of any such report, a denial bolstered by media reports. Journalist Laura Rozen will write that no such report was ever produced, nor was a parliamentary investigation into the Niger forgeries held by the Italian parliament at the time. “There is no parliamentary report,” a spokeswoman for Enzo Bianco, a member of Italy’s parliament, will say. Nor is there an unpublished report, the spokeswoman will say. Rozen will write that Bianco’s spokeswoman “does not just appear to be engaged in a cover up of a secret report. No one in Italy seriously investigating the Niger forgeries has heard of such a report.” The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will also report that no such parliamentary report was ever written. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who will say he knew of rumors about such a report at one time, will also say that no such report exists. “There is no published report,” he will tell Rozen. “If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report.… I think this stuff is just getting circulated.” [Laura Rozen, 11/3/2005]

Entity Tags: La Repubblica, Enzo Bianco, Duane Clarridge, Ahmed Chalabi, Francis Brooke, Italian Parliament, Nicolo Pollari, Iraqi National Congress, Vincent Cannistraro, Laura Rozen, Larry Franklin, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls upon the White House to strip political adviser Karl Rove of his security clearance, referring to Rove’s involvement in leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 10, 2005). Reid says that the administration should have done so long ago, but instead has refused to discuss Rove’s involvement and attacked its critics. “This is what is known as a cover-up,” Reid says. “This is an abuse of power.” In response, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) accuses Democrats of resorting to “partisan war chants.” [Associated Press, 7/15/2005] Shortly after Reid’s statement, the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Rove has, apparently, violated the strictures of the federal government’s Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement (Standard Form 312), and that those strictures call for the removal of Rove’s security clearance. The organization goes on to note that with few exceptions, the mainstream media has repeated Democratic calls for Rove to lose his clearance without mentioning Rove’s violation of the Nondisclosure Agreement. According to the Agreement, “dissemination” or “confirmation” of classified information constitutes an “unauthorized disclosure,” even after that information has been published in a “public source.” [Media Matters, 7/19/2005] In October, Rove will admit to having leaked Plame Wilson’s name to two reporters (see October 14, 2005).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Bill Frist, Harry Reid, Karl C. Rove, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to a United Press International (UPI) report, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has sought and received documentation on the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) from the Italian government. UPI reports, “Fitzgerald’s team has been given the full, and as yet unpublished report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair, which started when an Italian journalist obtained documents that appeared to show officials of the government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with [y]ellowcake uranium.” (In November, that parliamentary report will be shown not to exist—see July 2005.) According to reporter Jason Leopold, the information about the Iraq-Niger documents being provided to Fitzgerald comes from NATO sources. Leopold’s reporting will later be shown to be less than reliable (see June 19, 2006). [Raw Story, 10/24/2005; Global Research, 10/29/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United Press International, Jason Leopold

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Karl Rove discusses his testimony with his lawyers outside the grand jury chambers.Karl Rove discusses his testimony with his lawyers outside the grand jury chambers. [Source: CNN / ThinkProgress]White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies before special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury for a fifth time. Rove partially waives his attorney-client privilege with his attorney, Robert Luskin, to allow Luskin to testify about conversations he had with Rove concerning Rove’s knowledge of the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. Rove is also questioned extensively about the contradictions between his previous testimony and the testimony of Time reporter Matthew Cooper regarding Rove and Cooper’s July 2003 conversation about Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and his conversations with conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and July 14, 2003). [Washington Post, 4/27/2006; National Journal, 4/28/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] According to Luskin, Rove “indirectly” confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Novak. [Washington Post, 7/15/2006]
Changing Stories - Rove is asked how he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and the circumstances surrounding his leaking of that information to Cooper. Rove tells the jury that when he told Cooper that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent, he was merely passing along unverified gossip. Cooper has testified that Rove told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent, and that she played a role in sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding mission to Niger in 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Cooper has testified that both Rove and Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, portrayed the information about Plame Wilson as definitive. It was because of their definitive statements, Cooper testified, that he identified Plame Wilson in a July 2003 story for Time (see July 17, 2003). In his first interview by the FBI, Rove failed to tell the investigators that he had talked to Cooper at all (see October 8, 2003); he again failed to disclose the conversation during his early appearances before the grand jury (see February 2004). Later, Rove testified that he did indeed speak with Cooper, and that his earlier failures to disclose the information were due to lapses in his memory (see October 15, 2004). In his fourth appearance before the grand jury, Rove testified that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the reporter (see October 14, 2005), a recollection prompted by the discovery of an e-mail Rove sent to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley soon after his leak to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). Rove has also testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from a journalist or journalists, a claim strongly contradicted by evidence. He has said in previous testimony that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Novak, however, has testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby and Rove. A person with first-hand knowledge of the grand jury proceedings will later comment, “If you believe both of them, Novak was saying that Rove was his source, and Rove was saying that Novak was his source.” [Washington Post, 4/27/2006; National Journal, 4/28/2006] Rove says that he still doesn’t remember talking to Cooper, though he does not dispute the e-mail he sent to Hadley. [Bloomberg, 4/28/2006] He argues that it would have been foolish for him to attempt to lie to the FBI and to the grand jury, because he knew that whatever lies he might have chosen to tell would have eventually been exposed, and he would then risk going to jail. [Washington Post, 4/27/2006] It is difficult to reconcile Rove’s “indirect” confirmation of Plame Wilson’s identity for Novak with his earlier claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Novak.
Lawyer's Statement - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin says in a written statement: “Karl Rove appeared today before the grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity. He testified voluntarily and unconditionally at the request of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to explore a matter raised since Mr. Rove’s last appearance in October 2005 (see October 14, 2005). In connection with this appearance, the special counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target of the investigation. Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges. At the request of the special counsel, Mr. Rove will not discuss the substance of his testimony.” [CNN, 4/26/2006; Washington Post, 4/27/2006]
Difficulties in Proving Intent - Law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman says that while Fitzgerald may well be trying to build a case against Rove for either perjury or obstruction of justice, it may be quite difficult to prove Rove intended to lie to the grand jury. Rove’s subsequent appearances before the jury might “prove to be an obstacle to any [potential] obstruction or perjury case in that the person ultimately cooperated and told what he knew,” Richman says. [National Journal, 4/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, Dan Richman, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jason Leopold.Jason Leopold. [Source: CrooksAndLiars (.com)]Investigative reporter Jason Leopold reports that White House political strategist Karl Rove has informed President Bush and other high-level White House officials that he will be indicted as a result of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and will resign his position in the Bush administration when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald makes the indictment public. Leopold says his sources include “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.” Rove has been stripped of his policy duties and is no longer deputy chief of staff, though White House officials claim the move is to allow him to focus completely on the 2006 midterm elections. Leopold’s sources say that a public announcement by Fitzgerald is not imminent, “despite the fact that Fitzgerald has already presented the grand jury with a list of charges against Rove. If an indictment is returned by the grand jury, it will be filed under seal.” Rove is said to have told White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten that he will be charged with perjury, stemming from his alleged lying under oath to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see October 15, 2004, October 14, 2005, and April 26, 2006). “We need to start fresh and we can’t do that with the uncertainty of Karl’s case hanging over our heads,” Leopold quotes one unnamed White House aide as saying. “There’s no doubt that it will be front page news if and when [an indictment] happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement, and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward.” [Truthout (.org), 5/12/2006] Leopold’s reporting is incorrect; a month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Jason Leopold, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joshua Bolten

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In an article printed on the progressive news Web site Truthout, reporter Jason Leopold claims that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has indicted White House political strategist Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case. Leopold writes that on Friday, May 12, Fitzgerald served indictment papers on Rove through the law firm of Patton Boggs, which represents Rove. According to Leopold, Fitzgerald has charged Rove “with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 business hours to get his affairs in order.” Leopold credits “high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting” for the story. Leopold’s sources also say that Rove spent most of the day in consultation with his lawyer, Robert Luskin, and that Fitzgerald is likely to include an obstruction of justice charge. Leopold has reported that Rove has already informed White House officials, including President Bush, of his upcoming indictment (see May 12, 2006). [Truthout (.org), 5/13/2006] Rove spokesman Mark Corallo flatly denies the story. He tells conservative columnist Byron York that Fitzgerald did not come to Patton Boggs on May 12, did not meet or communicate with Rove’s lawyers or other representatives, and did not inform Rove’s lawyers or representatives that Rove had been indicted. [National Review, 5/14/2006] Leopold’s story causes a storm of controversy, celebration, and uncertainty among many progressives and critics of the Bush administration, with many questioning why other, more mainstream news sources have not picked up on or verified Leopold’s story (see May 15, 2006). [Daily Kos, 5/14/2006] Leopold’s reporting is incorrect; a month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).

Entity Tags: Patton Boggs LLC, Jason Leopold, Byron York, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Truthout (.org), Robert Luskin, Mark Corallo

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CBS News notes the storm of controversy surrounding the recent report by investigative journalist Jason Leopold that White House political strategist Karl Rove has been indicted (see May 12, 2006 and May 13, 2006). CBS columnist Vaughn Ververs notes: “Had either of these stories appeared on the front page of the New York Times, or in Newsweek magazine, we would be in the throes of a media feeding frenzy. The Sunday show slates would have been hurriedly rearranged to capitalize on this new ‘bombshell’ and America would have woken up this morning to watch Rove make the quick walk-and-duck from his front door to his waiting car. But so far, Leopold’s story stands alone.”
Flat Denials - No mainstream media Web site has yet confirmed Leopold’s reporting, which he has claimed includes statements from “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee,” and White House officials, along with Rove’s lawyers and spokesmen, are flatly denying the reports: Rove’s spokesman Mark Corallo tells journalists, “The story is a complete fabrication,” and calls it “both malicious and disgraceful.” Ververs notes Leopold’s unusual step of promising to reveal his sources if the story turns out not to be true (see May 15, 2006). [CBS News, 5/15/2006; New York Sun, 5/15/2006]
Rove's Lawyer Not at Office, but at Veterinarian - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin tells a reporter that, instead of spending May 12 at his offices dealing with an indictment, he spent that day at the veterinarian’s office having his cat treated. The cat’s medical tests, Luskin says, found that “the stools were free of harmful parasites, which is more than I can say for this case.” Leopold’s report is “bizarre,” Luskin adds. “There was no meeting, no communication with Fitzgerald’s team of any kind.” Washington Post reporter and media observer Howard Kurtz notes that many in the media are beginning to report on Leopold’s past, which includes drug addiction, a felony conviction, and previous inaccurate reporting. Leopold’s publisher at Truthout.org, Marc Ash, tells Kurtz, “Jason is a character, but he’s been straight with me and I’ve checked him out very carefully.” [Washington Post, 5/22/2006]
Defending Leopold - Progressive author and blogger Joshua Frank, who describes himself as a friend of Leopold’s, notes that Leopold has become a target for Bush and Libby supporters. Leopold has written candidly about what Frank calls his “checkered” past—misrepresenting himself to gain a position at the Los Angeles Times, stealing from a New York record company to support a cocaine habit—but Leopold never served jail time, unlike some press reports claimed, and Frank considers him a reliable reporter. “Had Jason broke his latest story for the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, it’s unlikely he’d be subject to the same ridicule,” Frank writes. “But when an indy writer gets a major scoop before anybody in the mainstream major media does, animosity is sure to follow. And that’s why the outcome of this saga will either legitimize independent media, or devastate it.” Frank notes that Truthout.org has said that three “reporters from mainstream media” have “shared with us off-the-record confirmation and moral support.” Leopold himself says: “I am amazed that the blogosphere would lend credence to the statements of people who have consistently lied about Rove’s role in this case. This is a White House that denied Rove’s involvement in the leak. This is a White House that has lied and lied and lied. And yet the first question that people ask is ‘why would Rove’s spokesman lie?’ Because they can, because they do, and because they have. This is an administration that has attacked and discredited their detractors. I am amazed that not a single reporter would actually do any real investigative work and get to the bottom of this story. Surely, there must be another intrepid reporter out there that has sources beyond a spokesman.” [Joshua Frank, 5/17/2006]
Orchestrated Response? - Truthout’s Ash will later write that he believes it was Corallo who gave Ash’s phone number to the Post’s Kurtz for Kurtz’s story (see May 21, 2006); Corallo knew Kurtz was writing a story about how, in Corallo’s words, the mainstream media had to “follow up on the lunacy and these frauds who are passing themselves off as legitimate journalists.” Both Ash and criminal lawyer Jeralyn Merritt believe that Corallo is working with Kurtz, to some extent, to orchestrate the Post’s response to the Rove indictment story. [Jeralyn Merritt, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Howard Kurtz, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Jason Leopold, Joshua Frank, Vaughn Ververs, Mark Corallo, Marc Ash, Jeralyn Merritt, Robert Luskin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Anne Marie Squeo of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff examines recent reporting by progressive Internet news and opinion publication Truthout.org, which published an article claiming White House political strategist Karl Rove would be indicted as a part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see May 13, 2006). Squeo writes, “With more people turning to the Internet for news, bloggers have blurred the lines with traditional media and changed both the dynamics of the reporting process and how political rumors swirl.” No evidence supporting the Truthout story has yet surfaced, Squeo notes, and Rove’s lawyer and spokeman have denied the story (see May 15, 2006). Squeo notes that some observers believe Truthout reporter Jason Leopold was a victim of “White House disinformation,” but she focuses on the often-rushed and often-inaccurate reporting that takes place on the Internet. She quotes blogger and journalism professor Jay Rosen, who says, “The system for keeping unverifiable reports out of the news is totally broken down when you look at the online world.” Instead of verifying news reports before publication, Rosen says, the tendency is to publish first and correct afterwards. Rosen believes that philosophy works for news blogs and other Web-based publications, but says it is not a practice that major news organizations could or should adopt. “Blog journalism” came into vogue in 1998, Squeo writes, when right-wing blogger Matt Drudge broke the news that then-President Clinton had had an affair with an intern [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2006] (Squeo fails to tell her readers that Drudge was given the information by conservative gossip and socialite Lucianne Goldberg, who was working with Republicans and fellow conservatives to bring impeachment charges against Clinton.) [Committee of Concerned Journalists, 10/20/1998] After Drudge went public with the now-infamous story of the semen-stained blue dress, “news blogging” became increasingly popular, “in large part fueled by a desire to push particular political arguments and a growing feeling that the mainstream media had become too close with the establishment it purported to cover.” Squeo continues: “Politics, and the arguments it stirs, lends itself to the Internet. Bloggers have the latitude to issue one-sided analysis that makes leaps to connect the dots in ways that more guarded news organizations couldn’t. The CIA leak investigation, which has hit the highest echelons of the Bush administration, has become a favorite topic for many of these sites.” Such “news blogs,” on both the left and right of the political aisle, can focus strongly on a single issue, Rosen says, and devote a tremendous amount of time and effort covering and analyzing it, far more than mainstream news organizations are often willing to do. Journalism professor Mark Feldstein says that current “blog journalism” is reminiscent of the old “tabloid press,” which used to be the same sort of “news incubator” for reporting and analysis of stories that weren’t ready for mainstream reporting. The Internet, Feldstein says, makes blogs “much more ubiquitous and instantaneous” than the old tabloid publications ever could be. [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Jason Leopold, Bush administration (43), Truthout (.org), Anne Marie Squeo, Karl C. Rove, Wall Street Journal, Mark Feldstein, Jay Rosen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Marc Ash, the publisher of the progressive news Web site Truthout (.org), distances his publication from a recent report that White House political strategist Karl Rove has been indicted for perjury (see May 13, 2006). On Truthout’s public Internet forum, Ash writes in part: “The time has now come, however, to issue a partial apology to our readership for this story. While we paid very careful attention to the sourcing on this story, we erred in getting too far out in front of the news-cycle. In moving as quickly as we did, we caused more confusion than clarity. And that was a disservice to our readership and we regret it. As such, we will be taking the wait-and-see approach for the time being. We will keep you posted” (see May 21, 2006). [News Hounds, 5/19/2006] Truthout’s reporting was indeed incorrect; in June, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Marc Ash, Truthout (.org)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Truthout.org publisher Marc Ash issues a lengthy statement concerning the recent controversy stirred up by his publication’s claim that Karl Rove would be indicted as a part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 13, 2006). Two days before, Ash issued a statement saying that while he stands behind the story, he and his publication may have gotten “too far out in front of the news-cycle” (see May 19, 2006). Ash now writes that he and investigative reporter Jason Leopold have three independent sources confirming that Rove’s attorneys “were handed an indictment either late in the night of May 12 or early in the morning of May 13.” The sources are knowledgeable, says Ash. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has refused to comment on the report. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin and his spokesman Mark Corallo have categorically denied that Rove was indicted (see May 15, 2006), but Ash says, “we have information that directly contradicts Luskin and Corallo’s denials.” Ash says that two news networks stationed crews outside the building that houses the law firm of Patton Boggs, where Luskin works, and that the fourth floor of that building, where Patton Boggs’s offices are, was “locked down all day Friday and into Saturday night,” May 12 and 13. No one has asked Truthout to retract its story. And the White House has refused to comment. Ash notes that much of Truthout’s reporting depends on confidential sources. “We know that a report based solely on information obtained from confidential sources bears some inherent risks,” he writes. “We know that this is—by far—the biggest story we have ever covered, and that we are learning some things as we go along. Finally, we know that we have the support of those who have always supported us, and that must now earn the support of those who have joined us as of late.” Ash then writes of what he, Leopold, and the Truthout editors believe, but cannot prove. They believe Rove, through Luskin and Corallo, is working with Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz to “spin” the story in a disfavorable light for Truthout and Leopold. He notes that many conservative media outlets have attacked Truthout, Leopold, and the Fitzgerald investigation in general, and writes: “We believe that rolling out that much conservative journalistic muscle to rebut this story is telling. And we believe that Rove’s camp is making a concerted effort to discredit our story and our organization.” Ash concludes by saying he, Leopold, and the Truthout editors believe, but cannot document their belief, that Rove may be cooperating with the Fitzgerald investigation. “We suspect that the scope of Fitzgerald’s investigation may have broadened—clearly to [Vice President Dick] Cheney—and according to one ‘off the record source’ to individuals and events not directly related to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame [Wilson]. We believe that the indictment which does exist against Karl Rove is sealed. Finally, we believe that there is currently a great deal of activity in the Plame investigation.” [Truthout (.org), 5/21/2006] A month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Jason Leopold, Karl C. Rove, Marc Ash, Mark Corallo, Robert Luskin, Truthout (.org), Patton Boggs LLC

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Investigative journalist Jason Leopold, who in May reported for the progressive news Web site Truthout (.org) that White House political strategist Karl Rove was indicted for perjury in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see May 13, 2006), defends his story, saying that the indictment remains under seal in the US District Court for the District of Columbia “under the curious heading of Sealed vs. Sealed.” Leopold says that the grand jury handed down the indictment “the week of May 10th,” and adds: “The case number is ‘06 cr 128.’ On the federal court’s electronic database, ‘06 cr 128’ is listed along with a succinct summary: ‘No further information is available.’” Leopold says that neither he nor any other journalist has seen the indictment “06 cr 128,” but adds, “[T]he fact that this indictment was returned by the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case on a day that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury raised a number of questions about the identity of the defendant named in the indictment, whether it relates to the leak case, and why it has been under seal for a month under the heading Sealed vs. Sealed.” Leopold notes that “the grand jury in the CIA leak case also meets to hear evidence on other federal criminal cases, including at least one other high-profile case—crimes related to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.” He quotes unnamed “legal experts” as saying it is not unusual to keep such an indictment as Rove’s “under seal for weeks or months… if an investigation, such as the CIA leak probe, is ongoing.” [Truthout (.org), 6/12/2006; Raw Story, 6/13/2006] Both Leopold and Truthout publisher Marc Ash continue to stand by the story; although Leopold told an interviewer in May that if his story was wrong, he would reveal his high-level sources (see May 15, 2006), he now refuses, telling progressive radio host Ed Schultz: “I’m standing by that what we were told was accurate. Certainly if some bad information was given, we’ll decide what the appropriate thing to do [is].… But if something did happen four weeks ago, [and] something happened in the past four weeks in Karl Rove’s favor… how does that make me wrong?” Leopold acknowledges that Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, has repeatedly claimed that Rove will not be indicted, but says that his sources still insist Rove has indeed been indicted. [Truthout (.org), 6/12/2006] Ash posts on his Web site’s forum that he and Leopold are sure the “06 cr 128” indictment was returned by the Fitzgerald grand jury, and filed around May 10, just days before Leopold reported that Rove had been indicted. He and Leopold believe, without being able to verify their beliefs, that the indictment is “directly related” to the Plame Wilson leak investigation. “That’s based on a single credible source and the information discussed above.” Ash also states that he and Leopold believe Rove is cooperating with Fitzgerald’s investigation: “That is based, again, on a single credible source, and background information provided by experts in federal criminal law.” [Steve Gilbert, 6/12/2006] The same day that Leopold gives an interview to Schultz, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs Rove that he does not plan on charging him with any crimes (see June 13, 2006).

Entity Tags: Marc Ash, Jason Leopold, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bush administration (43), Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Edward Andrew (“Ed”) Schultz, Truthout (.org)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), informs White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he does not plan to file charges against him in conjunction with the leak. [Associated Press, 6/13/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
'No Deal' - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin says that he negotiated no deals with Fitzgerald to spare his client from prosecution: “There has never, ever been any discussion of a deal in any way, shape, or form.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 6/13/2006]
'A Chapter that Has Ended' - The decision follows months of wrangling between Fitzgerald’s team and Luskin. Neither Fitzgerald nor Luskin give any details about the issues and actions behind the decision, but Luskin says, “We believe that the special counsel’s decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove’s conduct.” Rove spokesman Mark Corallo says that Rove made no deals with Fitzgerald to cooperate with the investigation, and that the decision is based solely on Fitzgerald’s findings. President Bush says of the news: “It’s a chapter that has ended. Fitzgerald is a very thorough person. I think he’s conducted his investigation in a dignified way. And he’s ended his investigation.… There’s still a trial to be had. And those of us involved in the White House are going to be very mindful of not commenting on this issue.” Christopher Wolf, a lawyer for Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, says that the couple is considering filing a civil suit against Rove. “The day still may come when Mr. Rove and others are called to account in a court of law for their attacks on the Wilsons,” Wolf says. [New York Times, 6/13/2006; Associated Press, 6/13/2006]
Rove 'Elated' - Corallo describes Rove as “elated” over the news. Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says: “Prosecutors have ethical obligations not to indict someone when they don’t think they can win at trial and I suspect that may be what happened here. For whatever reason Fitzgerald the prosecutor didn’t believe he could take a case against Rove to a jury and win it.” [CBS News, 6/13/2006]
A Variety of Responses - Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean says of Rove: “He doesn’t belong in the White House. If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago. So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it’s not very good news for America.” [Associated Press, 6/13/2006] “The notion of the leak and the overall White House involvement, that ain’t over,” says Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). “Obviously, we know that ‘Scooter’ Libby is not Karl Rove. But you have the vice president of the United States involved, or at least his office was involved.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that Fitzgerald’s decision not to prosecute Rove should trigger a Congressional investigation into whether Rove mishandled classified information when he discussed Plame Wilson with reporters. Though Fitzgerald conducted a “narrow” criminal invesigation, Waxman says, Congress should examine the broader issue of whether Rove deserved to keep his high-level security clearance (see July 13, 2005). [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/2006] The Republican National Committee (RNC) circulates quotes from Democratic lawmakers attacking Rove under the headline of “Wrong Again: Prejudging Karl Rove Is Latest Example of Democrats’ Overheated Rhetoric and False Statements.” “What you had in this case was an unbelievable example of misjudgment for political purposes by leading Democrats,” says RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. He adds that the entire Rove imbroglio is just an example of how Democrats “rush to judgment.” Democratic leaders “owe [Rove] an apology,” Mehlman says. [Washington Post, 6/13/2006; Los Angeles Times, 6/14/2006] Plame Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, are deeply disappointed at the decision. In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was hard to process that someone who had appeared before a grand jury five times (see April 26, 2006), and had admitted that he had spoken to Robert Novak and Matt Cooper in the week before my name was published (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), would face no consequences for his actions.… While our faith in Fitzgerald’s skills and integrity remained unshaken, we couldn’t help but wonder, along with everyone else, what the special prosecutor had received or heard from Rove to prompt his decision.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 250] Criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the progressive blog TalkLeft, writes that she believes Rove has “cooperated with Fitzgerald by testifying to the grand jury five times and providing whatever information he had without a safety net. Without a 5k. Without assurances he would not be indicted. That’s a hell of a risk, but Luskin pulled it off. My hat’s off to Luskin.… I’m ready to put this to bed. Karl Rove walked. He’s one of the rare subjects of an investigation who was able to talk his way out of an indictment.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 6/13/2006] Former prosecutor and blogger Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes: “If Luskin is coming out and saying publicly that they got a letter from Pat Fitzgerald which says that Rove will not be charged, there are two things that I want to see and know: (1) what does the letter actually say, word for word; and (2) does it say something along the lines of ‘Please thank Karl for his cooperation in this matter.’” Smith adds: “Patrick Fitzgerald and his team are career professionals. You do not charge someone with a criminal indictment merely because they are scum. You have to have the evidence to back up any charges—not just that may indicate that something may have happened, but you must have evidence that criminal conduct occurred and that you can prove it. You charge the evidence you have, you try the case you can make, and you don’t go down a road that will ultimately be a waste of the public’s money and time once you have ascertained that the case is simply not there. It doesn’t mean that you don’t think the SOB that you can’t charge isn’t a weasel or guilty as hell, it just means that you can’t prove it. (And, fwiw [for what it’s worth], those times are the worst of your career, because you truly hate to let someone go when you know in your gut they’ve done something wrong.)” [Christy Hardin Smith, 6/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, Valerie Plame Wilson, Republican National Committee, Andrew Cohen, Christopher Wolf, George W. Bush, Christy Hardin Smith, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Luskin, Mark Corallo, Howard Dean, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joseph C. Wilson, Jeralyn Merritt, Ken Mehlman, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Freelance journalist Joe Lauria writes of his involvement in the false reports that White House political strategist Karl Rove had been indicted in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see May 13, 2006). Lauria says that the real story centers around investigative reporter Jason Leopold, whom he describes as “a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction whose aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade—and raised serious questions about journalistic ethics.” Lauria says he met Leopold once, three days before the first Rove story ran (see May 12, 2006), to discuss Leopold’s upcoming memoir News Junkie, which details Leopold’s history of childhood abuse, drug addiction, a felony conviction, and what Lauria calls “deception in the practice of journalism.” Lauria writes that he felt for the “vulnerable” Leopold, told Leopold that he freelanced for the Sunday Times of London, and gave the reporter his cell phone number. Lauria even sent Leopold a congratulatory e-mail on the Rove “scoop.” On a progressive blog called TalkLeft, Lauria found that Rove spokesman Mark Corallo had spoken to someone identifying himself as “Joel” someone from the “Londay [sic] Sunday Times,” and was given a cell phone number nearly identical to Lauria’s. Lauria confirmed the story by speaking with Corallo, who told him he thinks he has never spoken to Leopold, and the person he spoke to said that he had confirmation from a spokesman for special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that the indictment was real. Lauria called Leopold, who “gave [him] a profanity-filled earful” and said that Corallo had called him to denounce the story. Lauria accused Leopold of pretending to be him in the phone call Corallo cited in the blog, and, according to Lauria, Leopold retorted, “Joe, I would never, ever have done something like that.” Lauria then writes: “Except that he has done things like that. His memoir is full of examples.” Lauria writes that he, like Corallo, believes Leopold simply made up the entire story, most likely to generate attention for himself. He writes: “These days it is about the reporter, not the story; the actor, not the play; the athlete, not the game. Leopold is a product of a narcissistic culture that has not stopped at journalism’s door, a culture facilitated and expanded by the Internet.” [Washington Post, 6/18/2006] The next day, CBS News reporter Brian Montopoli characterizes Lauria’s story as “somewhat vindictive,” and adds that while Leopold’s ethics and conduct in the matter are questionable at best, Lauria’s attempt at character assassination does him little credit. Montopoli also hints that Leopold may have been misinformed by his sources, saying, “[A]s Leopold has learned all too well, if you are willing to lie to your sources, they have every reason to lie to you.” [CBS News, 6/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Mark Corallo, Brian Montopoli, Jason Leopold, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joe Lauria, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Marc Ash, the publisher of the progressive news Web site Truthout (.org), attempts to distance his publication from reports it provided that asserted, falsely, that White House political strategist Karl Rove had been indicted (see May 13, 2006 and June 13, 2006). Ash says that because of the “hysteria” surrounding the reports—including an unsubstantiated report that Truthout reporter Jason Leopold had impersonated another reporter in the course of his reporting (see June 18, 2006)—Truthout is “going to stand down on the Rove matter at this time.” Truthout will instead “defer… to the nation’s leading publications,” which have never verified Leopold’s reporting. “We are expressly endeavoring to mitigate hysteria,” Ash says. At the same time, he adds, “There is no indication that Mr. Leopold acted unethically… we stand firmly behind Jason Leopold.” Ash says he is not convinced that the story of Leopold’s posing as another reporter is true: that story, he says, “originated with Mark Corallo,” Rove’s spokesman. “Corallo seems to think that Jason Leopold misrepresented himself as Joe Luria [sic]… as an attempt to get Corallo on the telephone.… I haven’t gotten anything to back that up.” [TPM Muckraker, 6/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Jason Leopold, Truthout (.org), Marc Ash, Mark Corallo

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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