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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Howell's Howler III

OK still the same appalling column, but this time I have something to say that is not stolen from Americablog.

The passage in the Post editorial that sent war critics round the bend was this one: " . . . Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

[five paragraphs of platitudes before she addresses the point are deleted here]

The "supported" in the editorial refers to Wilson's report that there was a trade meeting between officials of Iraq and Niger. Though news accounts have said there was no talk of uranium, the meeting was seen as corroboration that the Iraqis were seeking uranium, because that's mostly what Niger has to export.

Howell does not explain what gives her this impression. She does not mention that Wilsonìs report was verbal and that the only record, a memo written by his CIA debriefer is classified. How does the Washington Post editorial board know what is written in this classified memo ? How could any possible contrast between what is written there and what Wilson claims prove Wilson (and not his debriefer) twisted the truth ? More importantly, doesn't the Washington Post editorial board know that this evidence of contact between Iraq and Niger was well known months before Wilson's trip ?

In fact, the claim (with explanation) that "his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium" (the "supported" in the editorial refers to Wilson's report that there was a trade meeting between officials of Iraq and Niger) is demonstrably false. The reason is that the trade mission was not a secret and was well known before Wilson went to Niger.

Let's hear what Wilson has to say on the subject in an interview with Josh Marshall (TPM)

TPM: Now, as you've described your report--and a number of administration figures latched onto this one comment--and my recollection is that in speaking to one of the former government ministers, this person discussed that there was an earlier time when there seemed to be a feeler from the Iraqis about restarting trade relations. And since this country doesn't have a lot of prized goods for international trade, that this may have been a feeler about a potential uranium sale. [snip]

WILSON: [lot of talk which is not a response deleted] The Iraqis had sent an emissary there, a guy by the name of Wisam al Zahawi, a fellow that I actually knew pretty well. American-educated, he was ambassador to the Vatican, [snip] He was sent down there to Niger--

TPM: When was this? Roughly?

WILSON: It was either '98 or '99. Our former ambassador who was in place at that time told me that the embassy had fully reported that visit. That report was reported by the government in the press. There was nothing clandestine about his visit, nothing untoward. The people that I talked to in the government at that time, said that uranium had not yet come up in discussions,

That's it. He reported a non clandestine meeting which had been fully reported when it happened. He, and others, speculated that the Iraqi emissary might have been thinking about Uranium although there is no direct evidence (such as, you know, saying the word uranium) to that effect.

As far as I know, Wilson's claim that the mission was reported when it happened has never been contested.

Also the mission was known to a western intelligence agency (which was very active in promoting the alleged Nigerien connection) before it took place. The one valid bit of the forged Nigerien Uranium dossier was an intercept of a telex setting up the meeting (intercepted in 1999). From a story on the origen of the dossier

Infila quindi, come primo documento del fascicolo che offre, il telex 003/99/ABNI/Rome, indirizzato al ministero degli Affari esteri del Niger. Si legge: "Ho l'onore di portare a vostra conoscenza che l'ambasciata irachena presso la Santa Sede, mi informa che sua Eccellenza Wissam Al Zahawie, ambasciatore iracheno presso la Santa Sede, effettuerà una missione ufficiale nel nostro Paese in qualità di rappresentante di Saddam, presidente della Repubblica irachena. Sua Eccellenza Zahawie arriverà a Niamey...".

Questo telex (intercettato) è già nel "dossier Niger" di Forte Braschi.

That is

He therefore placed, as the first document in the file for sale, the telex 003/99/ABNI/Rome [note 99 two years before Wilson's mission] addressed to the foreign ministry of Niger. It reads "U hgave the honor to inform you that the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, will make an official mission in our country as representative of Saddam, President of the Republic of Iraq. His excellence Zahawie will arrive in Niamey ..."

This telext (intercepted) is already in the "Niger dossier" of Forte Braschi [headquarters of SISMI, that is, Italian military intelligence].

Reports from SISMI piqued the interest of Cheney (according to Cheney on TV and thus on videotape) leading to Wilson's mission. Thus the only support Wilson is alleged to have provided was confirmation of a long known fact.

Wilson's failure to mention this non discovery in his 700 word op-ed is held, by someone on the Washington Post's editorial board, to mean that he twisted the truth. How would they like it if their failure to mention a very very minor fact in an editorial were held to be proof of dishonesty. It is unlikely that this will ever happen, since there are so many falsehoods in Washington Post editorials that even their fiercest critics will not bother with the sort of feeble cheap shots they used against Wilson.

By the way, Howell does not quote a source on the editorial board on this topic, although in the next lines of her column, she starts quoting Hiatt. I think it odd that an ombudsman seems to rely on anonymous sources at her own paper.

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