Window Into Pre-War Planning

It is obvious from their stories that most of the “reporters” covering the trial of Lewis Libby – charged with perjury and obstruction of justice – have either never bothered to read the five count indictment [.pdf] or are too stupid to comprehend what they have read.

Jason Leopold is a notable exception.

In a column written on the eve of the trial Leopold noted that –

“A list of potential witnesses released by Libby’s defense attorneys and Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor trying the case, reads like a who’s who of pre-war Iraq planning. It not only may offer the first on-the-record account of the details that led to the leak of the CIA officer, but may also provide a window in which to see how the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to make a case for war – a war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 US soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.”

Wow! White House manipulation of intelligence to make a case for war?

“Many of the officials identified as potential witnesses were members of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), which came together in August 2002 to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. WHIG was founded by Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card and operated out of the vice president’s office. The WHIG was not only responsible for selling the Iraq War, but it took great pains to discredit anyone who openly disagreed with the official Iraq War story.”

Great Zot! WHIG was responsible for discrediting anyone – in and out of government – who openly disagreed with the Bush-Cheney-Rice plan to invade and occupy Iraq?

Well, in late 2001, the Italian Military Intelligence and Security Service had informed the CIA that the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican had reportedly attempted on a visit to Niger to arrange the purchase of “yellowcake” – a mixture of natural uranium oxides.

Vice President Cheney immediately asked the CIA to substantiate the report.

So, in February 2002, the CIA sent former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to look into it. Wilson’s oral report to CIA officials upon his return resulted in the CIA characterization of the Italian report as being “of questionable credibility.”

That was also the conclusion of the State Department’s independent assessment of March 1, 2002, entitled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq is Unlikely [.pdf].”

Nevertheless, that intelligence “of questionable credibility” found its way into the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq’s WMD programs, hurriedly constructed during the summer of 2002 to provide a fig leaf for those Congresspersons inclined to authorize Bush’s intended invasion of Iraq.

Bush even included that and other intelligence “of questionable credibility” in his 2003 State of the Union message.

But, by then, Saddam Hussein had acquiesced to UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and had allowed IAEA inspectors unfettered access to Iraq.

Director General ElBaradei had reported there was “no indication” Iraq had attempted to import uranium or to import aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment.

Aluminum tubes?

Well, yes. WHIG had also managed to get into the NIE other intelligence of questionable credibility, namely that Saddam had attempted to import thousands of aluminum tubes, which, according to National Security Advisor Condi Rice were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs … centrifuge programs.”

But an internationally recognized expert on uranium-enrichment, David Albright, had publicly questioned – on technical grounds – the suitability of such aluminum-tubes for centrifuges as early as September 2002.

And had continued to question it.

Consequently, according to Leopold, National Security Council and CIA officials told him Cheney had visited CIA headquarters and asked several CIA officials “to dig up dirt on Albright,” and to put together a dossier that would discredit his work that could be distributed to the media.

Someone also seems to have ordered dirt dug up on former UN Inspector Scott Ritter. And on Chairman of the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission Hans Blix. And on IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.

And, of course, on Joseph C. Wilson, IV.     

Fast forward to the eve of Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq.

Wilson, without revealing his mission to Niger a year earlier, had been ‘making waves.’ In a March 2, 2003, interview with CNN, Wilson said

“The underlying objective, as I see it – the more I look at this – is less and less disarmament, and it really has little to do with terrorism, because everybody knows that a war to invade and conquer and occupy Iraq is going to spawn a new generation of terrorists.”

David Albright was interviewed on that same CNN segment and made similar comments.

Two months later, Nicholas Kristof dropped this bombshell

“Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons. As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously.

“I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.”

Vice president’s office? Well, that tore it. Quit digging up dirt on Albright, Ritter, Blix and ElBaradei. Shift target. Find out who that former Ambassador was. Dig up dirt on him! Discredit him!

Who was it? Joe Wilson? The guy who’s been questioning our motives on TV?

Result? A Top Secret memo [.pdf] prepared for Under-Secretary of State Marc Grossman, who was, according to the Libby indictment, responding to a request from Scooter Libby for an explication of Wilson’s mission to Niger and the consequences thereof.

“In a February 19, 2002 meeting, convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and the rationale for going to Niger…

“The Niger allegations were included but did not figure prominently in the 90-page October 2002 NIE on ‘Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.’

“The major point of contention in differing judgments about the likelihood of Iraqi nuclear weapons program reconstitution efforts centered on the CIA’s assessment that Iraq was bent on acquiring aluminum tubes to produce parts for a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant.”

Niger allegations? Didn’t figure prominently? But aluminum tube allegations did?

So what “intelligence of questionable credibility” in the Top Secret NIE was Libby revealing to reporters to discredit Wilson? And on whose instructions?

And why was Libby blowing Valerie Wilson’s cover to anyone – in or out of government – who would listen? And on whose instructions?

And why did he then lie about what he said and did?

Perhaps that’s why in January 2004, Fitzgerald issued subpoenas for all notes, email and attendance records of the White House Iraq Group, which, as you will recall, operated out of the vice president’s office.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.