Deconstructing the 'Niger Affair'

American Thinker contributor Roy Robison posits an alternative explanation to the negative finding of Joe Wilson's trip to Niger concerning a suspected uranium deal with Saddam Hussein.  What is surprising in his piece is that he seems to excuse Ambassador Munchhausen's fabricated intelligence mission by using the same myths and legends normally cited by the left and their antique media allies, while also speculating on the state of Saddam's mental health and his relationship with his sons.  It is time to get Saddam off the psycho—therapist's couch and talk about what we actually do know about this affair, and get back to objective reality about Wilson's phony secret agent junket to Niger.

Robison says that the

'...central argument is whether or not Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger in the late 90's or so; and that '...the President gave a State of the Union speech in which he uttered the sixteen words about the matter.'

That is not the central argument about the matter, nor did the President's 2003 State of the Union address mention anything about an Iraq—Niger uranium connection.  The most obvious mistake in Robison's and the media's version of events is that both ignore the fact that the President said,

'...the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' 

This was an accurate statement since Niger isn't the only country on the continent that has sizable uranium deposits.  The Congo, Namibia, and Gabon also have large uranium mines.

One of the most interesting aspects of this case that the major media has ignored is that Wilson has his own African uranium connections ever since he was posted as U.S. Ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995.  Therefore, he should have been fully versed in the details of uranium production and trade in the region.  As it turns out, he is very knowledgeable about African commodities, since he now claims to be an agent for African mining companies.  With this experience, it is unfathomable why Ambassador Munchausen's intelligence mission focused solely on Niger while ignoring the other uranium—producing countries.  The only logical answer is that the trip was designed that way.

Robison then says that

'fake documents collected by Italian intelligence were the basis for the President's claim'

in the SOTU address.  Not according to the President, who specifically cited the British government; not an Italian paper that would later be judged as a forgery.  Of course, multiple sources of information are always desired, but the faked Italian intelligence document never was a critical piece of information; at least publicly.  Documents were certainly forged; but by the French, who had substantial financial interests in uranium mining in the region.  This provided concrete evidence of French desire to derail any further investigation of any Iraq—African uranium deals.

But what did British intelligence say about uranium and Africa?

According to the U.K. Telegraph, the British determined that the Congo was a far more promising source of illicit uranium than Niger, since the country was in a state of civil war, security was lax to non—existent, and cash—hungry warlords needed to buy weapons and gear by selling a readily available and valuable commodity.  To this day, the British intelligence report has never been refuted and the agencies stand by their original assessment.  This underscores the bogus nature of Wilson's trip with its singular focus on Niger.

Then the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) zeroed in on Niger during their search for WMD.  When Joe Wilson's July 2003 Op—ed piece in the New York Times was published, Coalition forces had just begun to account for Saddam's stockpile of nuclear material at the Al—Tuwaitha research complex.  This included trying to confirm the country of origin of hundreds of tons of yellowcake, low—enriched uranium, and other radioactive source materials.

Nevertheless, the ISG felt compelled to investigate the 'specific allegations of uranium pursuits from Niger,' even though there was no completed inventory, or new intelligence (that we know of).  The ISG had only a verbal denial from Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, who as it turns out, was the head of Iraq's pre—1991 nuclear weapons program, and cited an unsigned crude oil contract saying that Iraq—Niger contacts were about innocent petroleum deals.  So, we were asked to believe that these questionable bits of information would trigger a major commitment of ISG assets to determine the validity of the Niger uranium allegation versus a Congo connection, which was based on solid intelligence from the British.  There was, of course, Wilson's spurious editorial, but ISG operatives wouldn't take this as gospel over British intelligence, would they?

And speaking of Saddam's nuclear material stockpile, Robison maintains that Saddam had to acquire more yellowcake (the pure, milled form of uranium ore) since his available stock was 'all under IAEA seal'.  As I wrote about over two years ago, being under IAEA seal is a meaningless security measure.  A once—per—year inspection regimen allows any dictator the leeway to divert huge amounts of material to locations unknown, or, for example, to import undeclared shipments of uranium dioxide (a substance that can be directly introduced into the enrichment process), as in fact, Saddam did.

Another lesson the IAEA learned was that despite overhead imagery and their all—powerful 'seals,' duel—use equipment for enriching uranium and tons of hazardous material can be spirited away or stolen unless Coalition soldiers are physically occupying the ground.  Anyone remember Al—Qaqaa?  Saddam also had nearly two tons of low—enriched uranium that scientists determined would be enough for at least one bomb if it had been further processed to a high—enriched state.  The 500 tons of yellowcake in his possession, if enriched, would certainly have produced enough bombs to get everybody's attention.

So why buy more?  Rather than attempt to read the minds of Saddam's scientists, we need to look at the UN's yellowcake loophole that actually permits the possession and trade of milled ore expressly for the purpose of promoting economic activity, as long as shipments are declared to the IAEA.  In this way, not only did Saddam have the ability to skirt economic sanctions for financial gain, but he also had a readily available stockpile of material to enrich for a bomb.  All with a wink and a nudge from the UN and the French, of course.

I do agree with Ray on his simple truth: Saddam wanted a nuclear bomb.  To do this he needed money, raw materials, equipment, and expertise.  He undoubtedly had three of four, and once sanctions were lifted, the increased money flow would have completed the equation. 

We may never conclusively prove an Iraq—Niger uranium connection, but Ambassador Munchausen's trip to Niger certainly doesn't disprove the President's assertion that there was an Iraq—African connection.  And portraying Wilson as a victim of an incomplete intelligence picture and not being 'in the loop' only diverts attention from a Democrat and media information campaign designed to weaken our Administration in a time of war.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent for American Thinker.

American Thinker contributor Roy Robison posits an alternative explanation to the negative finding of Joe Wilson's trip to Niger concerning a suspected uranium deal with Saddam Hussein.  What is surprising in his piece is that he seems to excuse Ambassador Munchhausen's fabricated intelligence mission by using the same myths and legends normally cited by the left and their antique media allies, while also speculating on the state of Saddam's mental health and his relationship with his sons.  It is time to get Saddam off the psycho—therapist's couch and talk about what we actually do know about this affair, and get back to objective reality about Wilson's phony secret agent junket to Niger.

Robison says that the

'...central argument is whether or not Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger in the late 90's or so; and that '...the President gave a State of the Union speech in which he uttered the sixteen words about the matter.'

That is not the central argument about the matter, nor did the President's 2003 State of the Union address mention anything about an Iraq—Niger uranium connection.  The most obvious mistake in Robison's and the media's version of events is that both ignore the fact that the President said,

'...the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' 

This was an accurate statement since Niger isn't the only country on the continent that has sizable uranium deposits.  The Congo, Namibia, and Gabon also have large uranium mines.

One of the most interesting aspects of this case that the major media has ignored is that Wilson has his own African uranium connections ever since he was posted as U.S. Ambassador to Gabon from 1992 to 1995.  Therefore, he should have been fully versed in the details of uranium production and trade in the region.  As it turns out, he is very knowledgeable about African commodities, since he now claims to be an agent for African mining companies.  With this experience, it is unfathomable why Ambassador Munchausen's intelligence mission focused solely on Niger while ignoring the other uranium—producing countries.  The only logical answer is that the trip was designed that way.

Robison then says that

'fake documents collected by Italian intelligence were the basis for the President's claim'

in the SOTU address.  Not according to the President, who specifically cited the British government; not an Italian paper that would later be judged as a forgery.  Of course, multiple sources of information are always desired, but the faked Italian intelligence document never was a critical piece of information; at least publicly.  Documents were certainly forged; but by the French, who had substantial financial interests in uranium mining in the region.  This provided concrete evidence of French desire to derail any further investigation of any Iraq—African uranium deals.

But what did British intelligence say about uranium and Africa?

According to the U.K. Telegraph, the British determined that the Congo was a far more promising source of illicit uranium than Niger, since the country was in a state of civil war, security was lax to non—existent, and cash—hungry warlords needed to buy weapons and gear by selling a readily available and valuable commodity.  To this day, the British intelligence report has never been refuted and the agencies stand by their original assessment.  This underscores the bogus nature of Wilson's trip with its singular focus on Niger.

Then the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) zeroed in on Niger during their search for WMD.  When Joe Wilson's July 2003 Op—ed piece in the New York Times was published, Coalition forces had just begun to account for Saddam's stockpile of nuclear material at the Al—Tuwaitha research complex.  This included trying to confirm the country of origin of hundreds of tons of yellowcake, low—enriched uranium, and other radioactive source materials.

Nevertheless, the ISG felt compelled to investigate the 'specific allegations of uranium pursuits from Niger,' even though there was no completed inventory, or new intelligence (that we know of).  The ISG had only a verbal denial from Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, who as it turns out, was the head of Iraq's pre—1991 nuclear weapons program, and cited an unsigned crude oil contract saying that Iraq—Niger contacts were about innocent petroleum deals.  So, we were asked to believe that these questionable bits of information would trigger a major commitment of ISG assets to determine the validity of the Niger uranium allegation versus a Congo connection, which was based on solid intelligence from the British.  There was, of course, Wilson's spurious editorial, but ISG operatives wouldn't take this as gospel over British intelligence, would they?

And speaking of Saddam's nuclear material stockpile, Robison maintains that Saddam had to acquire more yellowcake (the pure, milled form of uranium ore) since his available stock was 'all under IAEA seal'.  As I wrote about over two years ago, being under IAEA seal is a meaningless security measure.  A once—per—year inspection regimen allows any dictator the leeway to divert huge amounts of material to locations unknown, or, for example, to import undeclared shipments of uranium dioxide (a substance that can be directly introduced into the enrichment process), as in fact, Saddam did.

Another lesson the IAEA learned was that despite overhead imagery and their all—powerful 'seals,' duel—use equipment for enriching uranium and tons of hazardous material can be spirited away or stolen unless Coalition soldiers are physically occupying the ground.  Anyone remember Al—Qaqaa?  Saddam also had nearly two tons of low—enriched uranium that scientists determined would be enough for at least one bomb if it had been further processed to a high—enriched state.  The 500 tons of yellowcake in his possession, if enriched, would certainly have produced enough bombs to get everybody's attention.

So why buy more?  Rather than attempt to read the minds of Saddam's scientists, we need to look at the UN's yellowcake loophole that actually permits the possession and trade of milled ore expressly for the purpose of promoting economic activity, as long as shipments are declared to the IAEA.  In this way, not only did Saddam have the ability to skirt economic sanctions for financial gain, but he also had a readily available stockpile of material to enrich for a bomb.  All with a wink and a nudge from the UN and the French, of course.

I do agree with Ray on his simple truth: Saddam wanted a nuclear bomb.  To do this he needed money, raw materials, equipment, and expertise.  He undoubtedly had three of four, and once sanctions were lifted, the increased money flow would have completed the equation. 

We may never conclusively prove an Iraq—Niger uranium connection, but Ambassador Munchausen's trip to Niger certainly doesn't disprove the President's assertion that there was an Iraq—African connection.  And portraying Wilson as a victim of an incomplete intelligence picture and not being 'in the loop' only diverts attention from a Democrat and media information campaign designed to weaken our Administration in a time of war.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent for American Thinker.