The Libby trial has been good for bringing about a little more transparency in government &endash;- however reluctant -- through testimony and also through documents. Exhibits in court in USA v. Libby turn up an arresting short chronology within the longer saga of that bogus Iraq-Niger uranium story, the underpinning for the "mushroom cloud" that Saddam Hussein was said to represent.
Here is the short chronology-within-a-story, with links to the documents, all defense exhibits in the Libby trial:
Nov. 25, 2002:
"On 25 November 2002, the US Naval Criminal Investigation Service in Marseille, France, reported information from two of its sources who claimed that a large quantity of uranium was currently stored in barrels at the Port of Cotonou, Benin and that Niger's President had sold this material to Iraq." (DX64.7)
It is intriguing that a small office in an outpost of empire could so deftly turn up exactly the "raw intelligence" our neocon PNAC movers and shakers in Washington desired. Our man in Marseilles ...
This is also a notably lurid item, given the context &endash;- on the eve of war, with the administration already moving troops into Iraq, a "large quantity of uranium" was actually at the port, waiting to be shipped to Iraq -&endash; "in barrels," no less.
Uranium being a notoriously heavy metal, those must have been some barrels. Further inquiries and follow-through were called for. Sure enough; a few interim reports were followed by the last on this item:
Feb. 10, 2003:
"On 10 February 2003, a US Defense Attache Officer reported that he had examined the warehouses, as described by the reporting in paragraph fifteen, and found they contained cotton rather than barrels of uranium bound for Iraq." [DX64.9]
Cotton instead of uranium &endash;- what were the odds? &endash;- I actually picked cotton a couple of times, in my childhood, and I remember everybody and his brother saying how much it looked like uranium. (More seriously, even at an age of single digits I could tell that doing it for fun is different from doing it for a living. Something about this trial has made me more grateful personally, every day, that my late father was a printer, a genuinely productive human being as well as smart. But I digress.)
But we haven't gotten to the nub yet. We know indisputably by now that Bush-Cheney were desperately engaged in a PR stunt of global reach. We know that they were more than willing to grasp at WMD straws &endash;- canvas-sided trailers for mobile chem labs; tubes for rocket engines alleged to be future guided missiles; a four-ton deal for uranium from a country that produced three tons; etc.
But why Cotonou, Benin? In other words, who taught these parochial high-flyers that there was such a place as Benin, let alone its port of Cotonou?
For that information, let's back up a whole ... week, almost. Here, hitting the desk of someone in the Pentagon, the OVP and/or the WH, is the briefing from Nov. 19, 2002:
November 19, 2002, "CIA Account of Ambassador Wilson's Trip Findings": "WP/Nuclear Weapons: Nigerian [sic] Denial of Uranium Yellowcake Sales to Rogue States":
"[The former Energy Minister of Niger] Mai Manga stated that uranium from Niger's mines is very tightly controlled and accounted for from the time it is mined until the time is [sic] loaded onto ships at the port of Cotonou, Benin. According to Mai Manga, even a kilogram of uranium would be noticed missing at the mines. On-site storage is limited and he said that each shipment of uranium is under Nigerien armed military escort from the time it leaves one of the two Nigerien mines until it is loaded on to a ship in Cotonou." [DX71.8,9]
So a week earlier, either Cheney or Rumsfeld or, more probably, both had received a report naming the port of Cotonou as the place from which Niger's uranium was shipped. (DX71.9) The natural hypothesis here is that this prior Benin report was the gleam in Rummy-Cheney's eye that generated the next one. Questions emailed to the Office of the Vice President have not yet been answered.
According to the web page of the US Consulate in Marseille, in the web site of the US Embassy in Paris, "The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has an office in Marseille which is staffed by one special agent and a fully-cleared American assistant. This offices handles security arrangements for all US Navy ship visits to France's Mediterranean coast and Monaco (30 in 2000) and for all of French-speaking Africa. The Consulate General also has an employee who handles protocol and morale aspects of ship visits, including liaison with officials."
So we're looking at a two-person office?
The Europe Field Office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service lists the NCIS Marseille office among 15 or so "subordinate offices" in outposts from Iceland to Greece.
Somehow an office that is subordinate as well as tiny, whose existence depends totally on -&endash; picking a name at random, here &endash;- Donald Rumsfeld when he was SecDef, looks like a good candidate for leaning on, that is leaning the bureaucratic elbow to get the desired "intelligence." This conjecture is not much of a stretch, given that they did the same to CIA, an agency not known for lacking support on Capitol Hill.
According to an aviation security expert who for obvious reasons cannot be named but whose initials stand for "Steve Elson," retired FAA Red Team Leader -- paraphrasing:
The organization NCIS, formerly NIS, has problems relating to professionalism and competence. Although recently it has been tasked with investigating cases including the killings of civilian Iraqis by US military, Elson, former commanding officer of a special boat unit, comments that NCIS "has, or at least, had a poor reputation. I certainly hope that it has improved." Elson mentions that at the time he was leaving the Navy, the head of NIS was Cathal Flynn, who subsequently went on to head security at the FAA and on whose watch 9/11 happened. (Elson, like other aviation security experts, is a severe but accurate critic of security shortcomings in the FAA leading up to 9/11 &endash;- and since.)
Like all the other experts, Elson debunks any probability of uranium sitting at the Benin port, in 2002, awaiting shipment to Iraq: "With regards to this uranium story, my opinion would be that it probably was not uranium. If so, these clowns would have done everything they could to get the word to ... Bush so he could justify his world domination desires. So my experience and logic tells me that there was no uranium."
Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. See her blog at www.margieburns.com.
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