Taking my cue from the indispensable Tom Maguire, I'm going to have a look at the words of New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof in his 6 May 2003 column. (Remember, this is two full months before the renowned liar Joe Wilson officially outed himself in his infamous column that appeared in Kristof's paper.) Although Kristof never mentions Wilson by name, his references to a "senior ambassador to Africa" pretty much limit the field of possible candidates for the Nigerien trip. And it also makes for a limited number of people who could have been feeding him the information from Wilson's debriefings. Kristof wrote:
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.Interestingly enough, the factoid in the first sentence is exactly what Wilson himself (wrongly) believed. In fact, Cheney didn't know anything about Wilson or the outcome of any trip the CIA had sent him on. Wilson simply wanted people to believe that the details of his little excursion were of great interest to the White House itself.
But it's a phrase in the second sentence that gets my attention: "someone present at the meetings." Now, assuming that Kristof's prose isn't too disingenuous, this means that someone besides "that envoy" was feeding him. This means either an axe-grinder inside the Company or at State was talking. Which would be par for the course.
But what's the problem with Wilson's opinion of the forged documents? They were amateurish, anyway, right? Maybe. But in February 2002, Joe Wilson was in no position to see those documents since they supposedly hadn't even turned up yet.
As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report notes (with my emphasis):
The former ambassador also told Committee staff that he was the source of a Washington Post article ("CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data; Bush Used Report of Uranium Bid," June 12, 2003) which said, "among the Envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the dates were wrong and the names were wrong." Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong" when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports. The former ambassador said that he may have "misspoken" to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were "forged." He also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself.The reporter that Wilson "misspoke" to above was Walter Pincus and this is the link to his 12 June 2003 story. Pincus wrote (my emphases added):
After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong," the former U.S. government official said.But in February 2002, Joe Wilson is looking at these documents? Who could have supplied them? Valerie Plame? Did she have some inkling of what these documents purported before they were officially turned over to the State Department (and, thence, to the CIA)?
However, the CIA did not include details of the former ambassador's report and his identity as the source, which would have added to the credibility of his findings, in its intelligence reports that were shared with other government agencies. Instead, the CIA only said that Niger government officials had denied the attempted deal had taken place, a senior administration said.
"This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends," a senior intelligence official said, describing the agency's view of the mission. "He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them."
Thirteen months later, on March 8, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, informed the U.N. Security Council that after careful scrutiny of the Niger documents, his agency had reached the same conclusion as the CIA's envoy. ElBaradei deemed the documents "not authentic," an assessment that U.S. officials did not dispute.
Knowledgeable sources familiar with the forgery investigation have described the faked evidence as a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in Niger. The documents had been sought by U.N. inspectors since September 2002 and they were delivered by the United States and Britain last February.
In a 23 July 2003 Newsweek article, Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas write:
It wasn’t until February, several days after the State of the Union, that the CIA finally obtained the Italian documents (from the State Department, whose warnings that the intelligence on Niger was “highly dubious” seem to have gone unheeded by the White House and unread by Bush). At the same time, the State Department turned over the Italian documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which had been pressing the United States to back up its claims about Iraq’s nuclear program.Nota bene: if Isikoff and Thomas are correct, the CIA doesn't actually get these documents until February 2003 ---a full year after Wilson's Nigerien vacation.
What Wilson was obviously doing in the spring and summer of 2003 was feeding shit to the biggest papers in the country ---Pincus' Washington Post and Kristof's New York Times--- and getting them to move the story that he and his wife were trying to sell.
But why did Wilson believe that he had seen those forged documents long before he actually could have? Did he tell Pincus and Kristof that the information they contained was bogus because el-Baradei's pronouncement that the documents were forgeries gave him the corroboration? Or could Wilson actually have known something more than what he should have about the "crazy report" that Iraq had sought yellowcake from Niger?
Let's ask Valerie!