Josh Marshall, not one to give in to hysterics and histrionics, points to an article in today’s Italian Daily La Repubblica — an article which, if accurate, could "rock the foundations of official Washington".
I strongly urge you to read the whole thing, including Josh’s cautionary caveats, but here is the gist:
It’s about the forged Niger/uranium documents. Back in 2002, the Bush administration wanted to refer to the uranium sales between Iraq and Niger as evidence that Saddam had an active nuclear program. Unfortunately, the CIA believed then, as they do now, that there was no evidence of a Iraq/Niger sale, and urged Bush to keep it out of a speech in September 2002.
Eventually, Bush did refer to the alleged (attempted) sale of yellowcake to Saddam’s Iraq, in a speech on October 7, 2002. (It was this reference to the yellowcake sale that prompted Cheney to ask the CIA to check out whether the sale actually took place, which led to Ambassador Joe Wilson going to Africa to investigate on behlaf of the CIA, which led to Joe Wilson publicly reporting that the whole Niger thing was bogus, which led to anger in the halls of the White House, which led to the outting of Wilson’s wife — Valerie Plame — as a CIA agent, which has now led to the Fitzgerald investigation).
But what the Italian newspaper article reveals is that sometime in September 2002, a guy named Nicolo Pollari was trying to pass on documents about the alleged sale to the White House (doing an end run around the CIA). Nicolo Pollari is not a nobody — he is the head of the Italian military intelligence.
More importantly, one week before Bush first mentioned the yellowcake sale in his October 7 speech, Pollari met with Stephen Hadley (then deputy advisor for the NSA) to discuss the documents — documents that Pollari knew were forgeries.
So what’s the implication here? The White House wanted evidence of an Iraqi weapons system, but the CIA was saying there was no evidence of a uranium sale. So the White House (through Hadley) met with the head of Italian military intelligence, who gave details about the documents relating to a supposed sale, and voila — the White House could now make the claim . . . even knowing that the documents were fake.
Josh Marshall says there is more to this story coming, but it should be up on your radar now.
UPDATE: Okay, I’m in the thickets on the timeline. Or Josh is. Or somebody is. Kevin Drum writes about the Niger/Iraq documents as well from a different angle but comes to a similar conclusion — that when Bush first mentioned the alleged sale of uranium to Iraq, the White House knew that the information was false. They knew the year before!
They knew that not only were the Nigerien documents fake, but that they had been proven fake the previous year — though not by Wilson or the IAEA. At that time, everybody thought the timeline went like this: (1) Bush gives SOTU address in January 2003, (2) IAEA proves Nigerien documents are phony in March. That’s bad, but not catastrophic. However, the real timeline, known to only a few, was this: (1) State Department determines Nigerien docs are phony in October 2002, (2) Bush mentions African uranium anyway in January SOTU address.
This blows the whole lid off of the defense that "the Bush Administration was given bad information". It didn’t. It (apparently) intentionally used information that it knew was false, avoiding the regular channels of the CIA and the State Department.
This explains why the White House attempted to discredit Joe Wilson — because they thought that Wilson had proof that the White House intentionally mislead the American people by referencing a uranium sale that the White House knew to be bogus. (The ironic thing is that Joe Wilson didn’t have such proof, but his op-ed piece came dangerously close to exposing it anyway).
P.S. Kevin posts a helpful "Uraniumgate timeline":
February 2002: The CIA receives "verbatim text" from Italian intelligence of some documents claiming that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger. Joe Wilson goes to Niger to investigate this claim and reports back that it seems highly unlikely.
October 2002: State Department intelligence agency (INR) gets an actual copy of the Niger docs and immediately concludes that they’re bogus. However, nobody outside the government knows this.
January 2003: George Bush gives SOTU address, claiming that Iraq has sought uranium from Africa.
March 2003: IAEA publicly announces the Niger docs are forgeries.
May/June 2003: Based on anonymous sourcing from Wilson, Kristof and Pincus report on the Niger story, mistakenly saying that "the envoy" had debunked the docs back in February 2002.
July 6, 2003: Wilson publishes his op-ed.
July 11, 2003: CIA director George Tenet admits that Bush shouldn’t have included the uranium claim in the SOTU.
UPDATE: The American Prospect flushes out the details. Key grafs (with my emphasis):
Although Sismi’s involvement in promoting the Niger yellowcake tale to U.S. and British intelligence has been previously reported, the series in La Repubblica includes many new details, including the name of a specific Sismi officer, Antonio Nucera, who helped to set the Niger forgeries hoax in motion.
What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper’s allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House. That direct White House channel amplifies questions about a now-infamous 16-word reference to the Niger uranium in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address — which remained in the speech despite warnings from the CIA and the State Department that the allegation was not substantiated.