Ex-Envoy: U.S. Twisted Iraq Intelligence
Sun Jul 6, 3:50 PM ET
By JENNIFER C. KERR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - An envoy sent by the CIA to Africa to investigate allegations about Iraq)'s nuclear weapons program contends the Bush administration manipulated his findings, possibly to strengthen the rationale for war.
That conclusion came on Sunday from Joseph Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to the West African nation of Gabon, who was dispatched in February 2002 to explore whether Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. That desert country is the world's third-largest producer of mined uranium.
Writing in a New York Times op-ed piece, Wilson said it did not take him long "to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Wilson insisted his doubts about the purported Iraq-Niger connection reached the highest levels of government, including Vice President Dick Cheney's office.
In fact, he said, Cheney's office inquired about the purported Niger-Iraq link.
"The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked, and that response was based upon my trip out there," said Wilson.
Yet nearly a year after he had returned and briefed CIA officials, the assertion that President Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Africa was included in President Bush's State of the Union address as the nation marched toward war with Saddam's Iraq.
The British and Italian governments initially reported the possible Niger-Iraq ties to the United States. Britain issued a public statement on the matter in September 2002, a few months before the president's speech.
If the British and Bush were referring to Niger, then "that information was erroneous, and ... they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British White Paper and the president's State of the Union address," Wilson said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
He said there are only two conclusions to draw: "Either the administration has some information that it has not shared with the public, or, yes, they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in a case that had already been made, a decision that had been made to go to war."
About a month after Bush's speech, the United Nations determined the uranium reports were based mostly on forged documents. The White House, however, has maintained Bush's assertion about Iraq and uranium was supported by more evidence than the forged material.
Wilson served as ambassador to Gabon in the first Bush administration and later helped direct Africa policy for President Clinton's National Security Council. More recently, he had argued against using force in Iraq as opposed to strict containment.
Discussing Wilson's comments, several lawmakers expressed misgivings as they made the rounds of Sunday's television talk shows about what transpired.
One of them — Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — said on CNN's "Late Edition" that it goes to the question of, "was there an abuse in intelligence, or was the intelligence wrong?"
He said, "In either case, it's not a happy outcome, and has to be fixed."
Reviews of prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and whether those assessments may have been exaggerated to justify an invasion of Iraq are under way in the House and Senate.