Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 22, 2003
WAR: May on Niger
From the conservative side of the aisle, the absolute best coverage of the African uranium story has been from Clifford May on NRO; you can read his analyses here and here. He asks a very pertinent question:
Early in 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney had questions about reports of Saddam buying uranium from Niger. So he asked the Central Intelligence Agency to find out the truth. Consider: Here's a request from the White House on a vital national-security issue. Does the CIA put their top spies on the case? No. Who do they put on the case? No one. Instead, they apparently decided to give the assignment to a diplomat.
I assume they contacted the State Department. Even so, they didn't get the Foreign Service's most talented ambassador, someone with investigative skills and broad experience in nuclear proliferation and related issues. No, the assignment went to a retiree who is far to the left of the Bush administration. Why?
That retiree was Joseph C. Wilson IV, former ambassador to Gabon, and one-time deputy to ambassador April Glaspie in Iraq. (You'll recall she was the U.S. official who reportedly told Saddam: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait.")
Wilson's investigation, according to his recent New York Times op-ed, consisted of his spending "eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people." He added: "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction [sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq] had ever taken place."
Wilson's conclusion was probably correct. It's likely that no such transaction occurred — which begs the question of whether Saddam attempted to complete such a transaction, as the British believe and as Bush said in his SOTU.
But let's imagine for just a moment that one of the officials with whom Wilson met had accepted a million-dollar bribe for facilitating the transfer of uranium to Saddam's agents. What is the likelihood that that information would have been disclosed to Wilson over sips of sweet mint tea? Not huge, I'd wager.
When did the vice president learn that this was the manner in which his orders had been carried out? Is there an explanation for such dereliction of duty by CIA and, possibly, by State as well? Was anyone held accountable?