The Senate Select Commission on Intelligence noted that in 1999 Joseph A Wilson had also been sent to Niger by the CIA and there has been much speculation about the purpose of that trip.
Now we know. His keen powers of observation were put in out nation's service to check out reports that A. Q Khan was traveling to Africa to purchase yellow cake uranium, something of which he seems to have found no evidence. From opinionjournal.com
...The full story of Khan's activities cannot yet be fully told——much information is under lock and key in Pakistan, if it has been preserved at all——but a persuasive preliminary account has been prepared by Gordon Corera, a correspondent for the BBC who has followed the rise and fall of the Khan network. "Shopping for Bombs" tells a disturbing tale...
...By the close of the 1990s, the CIA started to scrutinize Khan's activities and travels, still without realizing their full importance. One of the more curious details in Mr. Corera's book is that the agency turned to Joe Wilson, the husband of CIA officer Valerie Plame, to investigate some of Khan's African visits. To this end, Mr. Wilson traveled to uranium—rich Niger in 1999, a full three years before he went there to investigate Saddam Hussein's possible attempts to buy "yellowcake" uranium. Mr. Wilson found nothing worrisome in Niger either time.
Was AQ Khan buying Nigerian yellowcake in 1999? Tom Maguire researched this a while ago and found this:
from a book published in 2000 by a London—based accountant who claimed to be a pal of A.Q.Khan, Pakistan's Father of the Islamic Bomb:
We left Dubai for Khartoum on 21 February 1999. The Education Minister of Sudan received the group and we were lodged at the State Guest House. After making a short stopover in a Nigerian city, we reached Timbuktu on 24 February 1999. After spending a couple of days, we were on our way back and our first stop was Niamey, capital of Niger. Our next stop was N'Djamena, capital of Chad, where we were accorded official protocol. Next day, we flew to Khartoum. After Dr.Khan has attended to some business, we visited the Shifa factory that was destroyed last year by the American missiles. Dr.Khan met the Sudanese President. We were back in Dubai on 28 February 1999.
"We were again airborne for Timbuktu on 20 February 2000
(My comments: Musharraf had seized power on October 12,1999) From Dubai, we flew to Khartoum, where two Sudanese friends joined us. We reached Niamey, capital of Niger, on 22 February 2000. Our Ambassador Brig. Nisar welcomed the group and gave a dinner in honour of Dr.Khan. Brig.Nisar had also served as the Military Secretary of Nawaz Sharif. Niger has big uranium deposits. We reached Timbuktu on 24 February 2000.
What does it mean? Who knows? The CIA sent Joe Wilson to Niger in 1999 to check out some troubling reports; this report of Khan's travels came out in 2000, so presumably the CIA was aware of it in 2002.
Was Khan in Niamey? Was he there when an Iraqi delegation was there? Has this been debunked?
Oddly, there is no mention of AQ Khan in the SSCI. More fuel for the fantasists! (And I may become one).
If I were to dare to make a point, it would be this — there may well have been much more to the Niger—uranium story than we have heard so far, and the CIA may have had better reasons than we know for being suspicious of a Iraq—Niger connection. (Yes, I am waaay out on a limb there...) And the significance would be... hmm, that the CIA had reasons to be wary of a Niger—Iraq link, and that Joe Wilson is over—selling his account of his 2002 Niiger trip even more than we already thought he was (the SSCI described it as inconclusive).
Bonus Paranoia: Based on this bootleg FT excerpt, Libya had 2,600 tons of yellowcake from Niger, even though the COGEMA records and controls in which Joe Wilson put such faith showed only 1,500 tons had been shipped from Niger to Libya. Again, has this been debunked? And when did the unrecorded shipments to Libya occur? I am not clear on that point from this excerpt.
Clarice Feldman 8 31 06