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Yellowcake for Dummies

| 30 Comments

Much of the blog world has gone medieval on Joseph Wilson (not in the pipe-wielding sense of Ving Rhames, but in the sense of medieval scholars carefully parsing sacred texts and crafting lengthy analyses of subtle wordings).

Recently, Kevin Drum posted something that suggested that his - misrepresentations?? - had been unclear and insignificant:
Wilson's central claim was that there was virtually no evidence to back up the idea that Saddam had sought uranium from Niger. The CIA agreed with that assessment before the war, it agreed with it after the war, and it still agrees with it — and the Senate Intelligence report backs them up.
... Wilson may be guilty of overembellishing his case on several minor points, but on the central question he brought up — should the president have made those claims about African uranium in his State of the Union address? — he was right. The CIA admits it, the White House admits it, and the Senate Intelligence committee admits it. Republicans ought to keep this in mind.
That's pretty confusing to me, and I say this with respect to Kevin and Dan all the others who have made close textual analyses of the Senate report. Because here's what it says:
The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996- 1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq." (page 43)

The reports officer said that a "good" grade [for Wilson's report - ed.] was merited because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerian officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerian Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting. (page 46)

So Wilson directly confirmed to the CIA that Iraqi officials had met with Nigerian officials, and that they had - in the view of the Nigerian officials - attempted to broach the subject of uranium sales. Now the claim the President made wasn't that Iraq had gotten uranium, or that it was even likely to get uranium. It was that:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Now skipping over the 'gimme' that Bush is saying that the British are saying etc. etc., the question is whether Wilson - who accused Bush of lying in that statement - was himself telling the truth in making that accusation.

And the problem I have, as a kind of simpleminded person, is that Wilson's own words, as expressed in the consensus, bipartisan Senate report, also support the charge that Iraq was seeking uranium.

So what is it that I am missing, exactly?

30 Comments

Sigh.

Wilson's own words support the charge that Iraq might have been seeking uranium.

All of this is very confusing to me, AL. IIRC, Mr. Drum's position was that Mr. Bush shouldn't have lied in the SoTU speech. Now is his position that he shouldn't have told the truth?

A.L.
I have to agree with you on this one and not only because of what you point out in the report. What else would Iraq have wanted. Also note, out of the major markets listed; where do you think most of the Uranium is going?

Niger
Trade (2002 est.): Exports (freight on board--f.o.b.)--$387 million. Types--uranium, livestock, cowpeas, and onions. Major markets--France 39%, Nigeria 31%, Japan 16%, Côte d’Ivoire 9%. Imports (f.o.b.)--$502 million. Types--consumer goods, petroleum, foodstuffs, and industrial products. Major suppliers--France 17%, Côte d’Ivoire 15%, China 10%, Nigeria 7%.

What else would Iraq have wanted.

They were there for the waters.

A.L.,
Allow me to add my appreciation for your return to blogging! It's not the same around here without you.
Thanks!

AL, good post, would it be possible (since you’re apparently quoting from it) to provide a link to the relevant Senate report for your readers?

Thanks.

From the next page of the Senate Report (p. 44):
In an interview with Committee staff, the former ambassador was able to provide more information about the meeting between former Prime Minister Mayaki and the Iraqi delegation. The former ambassador said that Mayaki did meet with the Iraqi delegation but never discussed what was meant by "expanding commercial relations." The former ambassador said that because Mayaki was wary of discussing any trade issues with a country under United Nations (UN) sanctions, he made a successful effort to steer the conversation away from a discussion of trade with the Iraqi delegation.
So, basically, we have the impression (i.e., hypothesis) of the Nigerien ex-PM that the Iraqi businessmen would have talked about yellowcake, if he had let them. Indeed, they didn't talk about trade at all.

This strikes me as fairly weak evidence, not rising to the level of an overt act.

I also find it unlikely that such a guess (albeit an informed guess) is why the UK reiterates its claim that Saddam sought yellowcake, for which they have not made public any evidence.

Followup: PDF of Senate report (14 MB)

AL --

Suggestion for clarity: don't use the word 'Nigerian' in this case.

It's commonly associated with Nigeria (former British colony named for the Niger River), as opposed to Niger (former French colony named for the Niger River).

I've seen 'Nigerien' used as an adjective for Niger, but 'of Niger' probably would avoid confusion better.

-- for what it's worth

Thorley Winston (8:59pm),

Not the Senate report, but here is a copy of the 6/27/04 Financial Times scoop by Mark Huband that describes the basis of the UK evaluation that the Ba'athists were seeking uranium in Africa. No citations to open-source documentation; you have to take the reporter's word.

The FT article has departed Google's cache. I can't vouch for the linked website, but the text accords with what I remember reading on dead trees.

Andrew - you're answering a question I didn't ask.

How high probability was it that it was uranium that was being sought? How likely was it that they would get it?

Not sure, definitely an open question.

But Wilson didn't accuse Bush of lying for saying that the Iraqis were "getting" uranium; but that they were trying - and he had direct knowledge of a first-hand report that they were.

Now one could discount his source, and given the subtlety of the approach, that's not unreasonable. But then the appropriate criticism would be, I'd imagine that "we disagree on the likelhood" or "the information isn't as clear as you say" not "you're lying". And when Wilson did that - knowing as he did first-hand of the reports that he'd brought back himself - I have a problem accepting that he's telling the truth.

A.L.

A.L.

You missed the goal post moving by Drum. Note that in the first quote block he's talking about Wilson and Niger, but in the second block he's talking about Wilson and Africa.

Mr. Lazarus;

In addition to A.L.'s reply, I'd like to add that it is Wilson who claimed it as definitive evidence disproving Iraq's actions. If someone makes the claim that "evidence X definitively shows not Y", then showing that X is evidence, however weak, for Y, definitively disproves the original claim (even while not proving Y itself).

A.L., once the P.M. avoided talking about trade, we don't know that Saddam was attempting to obtain uranium. It was not Wilson, rather Pres. Bush, who used language indicating certainty. "The British have learned that Saddam might have sent a trade delegation to Niger to obtain uranium." Don't you agree that would be a far more accurate statement? Indicating certainty in the presence of genuine doubt might or might not be a lie, depending how you want to parse it, but it is certainly an exaggeration. This rule cuts both ways.

What's really astounding is: why didn't the Brits share more about their other sources?

A.L.,

What you are missing is that Sandy Berger could not possibly have put the documents in his socks. He must have used his pockets. Bush is making up stories about socks just to discredit his critics.

And just what do socks have to do with Wilson? I'll tell you what. No one has accused Wilson of hiding documents in his socks so they are attacking Berger as a smoke screen.

Which proves Bush and his supporters will stop at nothing to discredit the people who have uncovered Bush's lies.

I mean how much more obvious can the Bushies get?

Andrew here is a statement I could go with:

"The British have learned that Saddam might have sent a trade delegation to Niger to obtain goats."

Niger exports a lot of goats.

Uranium only accounts for about 75% of Niger exports. Goats make a significant portion of the rest.

I say we go with goats.

praktike,

If the Brits would just tell us everything they know and where they got the information we wouldn't even need their help. I mean it is obvious that Americans are quite good at handling secrets. The British ought to just hand theirs over and have done with it.

I have to congratulate you. This is so obvious yet as far as I know this is the first mention I have seen of such an idea. Well done. If it catches on I'm going to support it.

The sarcasm is cute, but is it helpful?

Say,

BTW any one notice that Kerry has clue zero on putting together an effective national security team?

I mean that is the real deal here. Kerry is proving his national security bona fides.

I suppose the anti-Bush League can keep making smoke but how long before some one important notices (like the electorate)?

psst ... M. Simon ... I hate to disturb your reverie, but this might help you sleep better in the future:
DOBBS: So the commission was denied no information as a result of whatever Sandy Berger did or did not do at the National Archives?

GORTON: That's precisely correct.

GORELICK: And we have been so assured by the Justice Department.
And yes, yes, Berger should face whatever punishment the DOJ metes out. And he's a bad advisor.

OK?

praktike,

I'm absolutely seriious. If your idea catches on I will give it my 100% support.

I'll be so disappointed if you tell me you were just joking. I mean it seemed like the answer.

And if you think this is sarcasm you ought to see where these ideas originally came from. I mean your hair would stand on end. These people are serious. So am I. As they say in Kiss Me Kate ...in my fashion.

As to "will it help"? About as much as logic and reason and considerably more fun.

In addition this sort of proof by arguing the negative has a long history in math. Making fun of incoherence has a long history in every branch of knowledge.

Enjoy! I do.

I'm not worried about the commission. That is peanuts.

I'm worried that the information got into the hands of our enemies.

I don't give a flyin' fook about the comission report. It says nothing about how Congress gutted our intel (for what seemed like good reasons at the time). So the report is just another smoke screen.

What bothers me is

1. Where did the documents go?
2. Can Kerry put together a credible national security team?

So far the answer to #1 is "Who knows?" And to #2 is "definitely not". This bothers me because there is a slim chance Kerry could win the election.

I'm comforted in the thought that there is always impeachment.

Did I mention that I had a Top Secret Clearance? I know the rules for handling that stuff. If I had been caught with documents in trou I would have been court marshalled. Bustin rocks in Leavenworth. As the party of the people don't you think the big shots ought to get treated the same as ordinary folks? If he is found guilty. (well he has already admitted guilt so that is not a problem)

Berger like most Democrats at the top these days is either a man of privledge or acts like one. Not pretty for a party of the people. I hear Kerry has some of the same faults. It is either

1. An epidemic
2. Birds of a feather.....

Well Rickover was no joy to be around and he did a pretty good job so I'm not going to hold Kerry's private personality totally against him. But it is not a plus.

But any way. Kerry was taken in (in one way) by Wilson and taken in (in another way) by Berger. A lot of the job of President is picking the right people for the various jobs (vetting the chief of staff's selections and making his own for the top slots). Kerry ain't lookin so good. And people notice these things.

But if you'd rather discuss Wilson's socks or Berger's handwriting I'll be glad to join in. And I will understand.

Well, #1, there's no way of knowing at this point.

#2, there's no way of convincing you otherwise.

So why bother?

See if it was say Rummy who had screwed the pooch I'd be saying to Bush: look at Schultz, sound on foreign policy, a straight shooter, and (for me personally) he has the same opinion of the drug war as Rummy did so he would make a good replacement. He does have the following defence credentials (I'd look them up). That is how I would be thinking. Not proving my guy didn't make a mistake (check me on Trent Lott - I was one of the first at his throat you can google it), but figuring out how to fix it. (I called for Lott's resignation from Congress but his being stripped of his leadership posts was acceptable to me)

Why is that all we hear from the anti-Bush League is cover up and spin? That the best you have to offer?

Who should replace Berger? Why? Who should replace Wilson? Why?

Or is it Socks, Pants, Jacket? Yellow cake or patty cake?

The anti-Bush Leaguge is drifting from foolish to insane. Let's be careful out there.

Who should replace Berger as what? Wilson as what?

praktike,

I'm open to convincing. Tell me who the replacements ought to be and why. If Kerry picks people similar (now what does that mean - I'd have to say policy and style) then even if I don't care for the policy I know it will get a fair trial.

Other wise I'm giong to assume he will go with cronies (Berger) and people who will tell him what he wants to hear irrespective of the facts (Wilson). The biggest danger any leader has is not comming in contact with contrary views. The second biggest is people who will lie to get in good with the alpha. The first is a problem. The second is sudden death. So far from what we can tell about Berger/Wilson is that Kerry is very prone to these defects. Not good.

Kerry has just pulled down the anti-terrorism section of his program from the www. I don't know if Kerry has done right or wrong. But, like Martha Stewart, he is acting a bit guilty.

If he had accidental or even second hand access to the purloined documents he had better come clean pronto. If he drags it out Bush has 3+ months for a death by 1,000 cuts.

If it was me I'd find a place for Lieberman or Sam Nunn on my campaign pronto. Unfortunately Zell Miller is already taken.

What was Berger originally doing for the Kerry Campaign - screwing it up? Was that why they took him on? OK. Well who is going to screw it up now? Kerry? If no replacement is needed why was he involved with the campaign in the first place?

What was Wilson originally doing for the Kerry Campaign - screwing it up? Was that why they hired him? OK. Well who is going to screw it up now? Kerry? If no replacement is needed why was he involved with the campaign in the first place?

You know if Kerry didn't need these guys he would have been better off without them. Don't you think?
Shouldn't he be more careful about the character of the people he hires?

Any way. The question is: was Kerry running a jobs program or a real prototype national security operation? Was he picking based on efficiency or favoritism?

I mean I really don't like Bush. Give me a reason to vote for Kerry. A Lieberman or Nunn on the team would do it. So far all I have seen is liars (Wilson), bunglers (Berger), and drug war retreads (Beers). Aside from Holbroke this line up does not inspire confidence. Not at all.

I means seriously. Who can possibly believe the Andes Initiative has done any good for the countries involved or America? OK Beers has a bi-partisan following. He is still an idiot. (Well his policies are bad for sure).

When I heard Bush had Schultz and Cheney on his team I was impressed. Nunn or Lieberman on Kerry's team would impress me. The current line up of mopes, retreads, and moral failures is not impressive.

We will see no Nunn or Lieberman in Kerry's campaign. It would alienate his base.

So I'm stuck with Bush. Thanks guys. I have the choice between a bigot and some one who is not serious about the war. Just great.

I could even stand a socialist if he would fight.

"It says nothing about how Congress gutted our intel (for what seemed like good reasons at the time)."

And, yet, if one bothers to read it, it does. (Not to mention that being discussed in the past staff statements, and in testimony.)

I would like M. Simon to answer honestly if he/she/it has actually bothered to read the entire report before making such an erroneous statement.

(I've excerpted some relevant recommendations here, as it happens, with a link to the most relevant chapter.)

"Kerry has just pulled down the anti-terrorism section of his program from the www."

The "Homeland Security" section is here. The "Foreign Policy" is here. Was there some other section you are referring to?

Praktike asks: "Who should replace Berger as what? Wilson as what?"

Response: "praktike,

I'm open to convincing. Tell me who the replacements ought to be and why."

Further response: "What was Berger originally doing for the Kerry Campaign - screwing it up?"

If you don't know, why are you concerned about his "replacement"?

"screwing it up? Was that why they took him on? OK. Well who is going to screw it up now? Kerry?"

If you think this is the sort of comment that warrants replying to, you are mistaken.

Thanks, Gary.

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