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This post will take us admittedly deep into the weeds of the Iraq-Niger saga. But if you can handle the detail, let’s proceed.

As we’ve noted several times recently, both the Senate intel committee report and the recent “Butler Report” in the UK managed to leave out key details that would undermine the storyline they were trying to present. On critical points both have, shall we say, used the truth sparingly.

Here’s a brief example.

The Butler Report — on pages 121-25 — describes the British intel judgment that Iraq was trying to purchase uranium from Niger. The key points in the Butler Report’s rendition of events is that the judgment was based on multiple reports and that neither was the sheaf of forged documents that bamboozled the US.

As the Butler Report puts it …

We have been told that it was not until early 2003 that the British Government became aware that the US (and other states) had received from a journalistic source a number of documents alleged to cover the Iraqi procurement of uranium from Niger. Those documents were passed to the IAEA, which in its update report to the United Nations Security Council in March 2003 determined that the papers were forgeries … The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact
of the forgery does not undermine it.

In other words, whatever the deal was with those forgeries, it doesn’t affect our judgment because we didn’t have the forgeries.

This is what can only be called an artful rendering of the truth.

No, they didn’t have the forged documents. But one of their two reports — indeed, the more important of the two — was a written summary of the documents provided by Italy — the same summary the Italians had earlier provided to the Americans, which the CIA used to brief Joe Wilson before they sent him off to Niger. The second report came to them apparently only a week or so before they issued their public document with the claim about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa.

This point is pretty widely understood by people following or reporting on this story. But what’s interesting to note is the difference between the Butler Report’s rendition of events and that of a UK parliamentary committee report produced in September 2003 and chaired by Ann Taylor, an MP who would later serve as a member of the Butler committee.

Here’s how the parliamentary committee described the Brits’ two sources of evidence on pages 27 and 28 (emphasis added)…

89. The Committee questioned the Chief of the SIS about the reporting behind these statements. We were told that it came from two independent sources, one of which was based on documentary evidence. One had reported in June 2002 and the other in September that the Iraqis had expressed interest in purchasing, as it had done before, uranium from Niger. GCHQ also had some sigint concerning a visit by an Iraqi official to Niger.

90. The SIS’s two sources reported that Iraq had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger, but the sources were uncertain whether contracts had been signed or if uranium had actually been shipped to Iraq. In order to protect the intelligence sources and to be factually correct, the phrase “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was used. At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports.

91. In February 2003 the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) received from a third party (not the UK) documents that the party had acquired in the autumn of 2002 and which purported to be evidence of Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. In March 2003 the IAEA identified some of the documents it had received as forgeries and called into question the authenticity of the others.

92. The third party then released its documents to the SIS. The SIS then contacted its source to check the authenticity of its documentary evidence. The SIS told us that its source was still conducting further investigations into this matter.

93. The SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source and consequently the SIS continues to believe that the Iraqis were attempting to negotiate the purchase of uranium from Niger. We have questioned the SIS about the basis of its judgement and conclude that it is reasonable.

That penultimate sentence is key. By saying the documents didn’t affect the judgment on the second source, we can fairly infer that they did affect the judgment of the first — namely, because the documents (or rather a summary of them) were the first source.

As I say, there’s a lot of jargon and bureaucratic gobbledygook here. But the key point is that the authors of the earlier report felt free to be candid about what the Butler Report chose to keep hidden — namely, that most of the British judgment about ‘uranium from Africa’ was based on the phony documents the Butler Report claims had nothing to do with their judgment.

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