Joe Wilson still haunts the White House. Nearly three years after he told the world that the Bush Assministration knew that Iraq had not tried to attain uranium from Niger well before Chimpy uttered those sixteen little words in his 2003 State of the Union address the New York Times obtains documentary evidence that Wilson told the truth.
A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was “unlikely” because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.
Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department’s intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers” filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border.
The analysts’ doubts were registered nearly a year before President Bush, in what became known as the infamous “16 words” in his 2003 State of the Union address, said that Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
[T]he intelligence assessment itself – including the analysts’ full arguments in raising wide-ranging doubts about the credence of the uranium claim – was only recently declassified as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group that has sought access to government documents on terrorism and intelligence matters. The group, which received a copy of the 2002 memo among several hundred pages of other documents, provided a copy of the memo to The New York Times.
The White House declined to discuss details of the declassified memo, saying the Niger question had already been explored at length since the president’s State of the Union address.
The memo, dated March 4, 2002, was distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
A Bush administration official, who requested anonymity because the issue involved partly classified documents, would not say whether President Bush had seen the State Department’s memo before his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2003.
[Ambassador Joseph] Wilson said in an interview that he did not remember ever seeing the memo but that its analysis should raise further questions about why the White House remained convinced for so long that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa.
“All the people understood that there was documentary evidence” suggesting that the intelligence about the sale was faulty, he said.