A number of you have written in with some version of the following question. If the Niger forgeries only surfaced in Rome in October 2002, what was the earlier information that prompted the CIA/Dick Cheney to dispatch Joe Wilson to Niger earlier that year?
It's a good question. And the good answer tells you some of how the US government and the Congress have gone about misleading the American public about what really happened.
Let me explain.
Not long after the September 11th attacks, the United States received a series of liaison intelligence reports from an allied intelligence service. The reports suggested an illicit trade in uranium between Iraq and Niger.
These were the ambiguous reports that Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer to follow up on. And that was the request that eventually led to the Wilson trip to Niger.
Those reports are discussed in the Senate Intelligence committee report from last year. And, in isolation, there is nothing odd or untoward about the fact that the name of the allied intelligence service, the country in question, is redacted in the public version of the report. But given all the rest we know, the name of the country turns out to be quite significant.
What country? Right. Italy.
Now, you might say, at least this shows there was some other basis for the Niger claims other than the forgeries. But, well, not exactly.
According to two sources familiar with the documents and reports in question, those early Italian reports were text transcriptions of what we'd later learn were the forged documents. In other words, they were the phony documents. Not facsimiles or xeroxes or whatever you want to call them. But copies of the text that the documents contained.
When US government officials say we didn't have the documents until long after Wilson's trip, you need to treat it like a Scott McClellan non-denial denial. No, they didn't have the documents, only transcriptions of the documents.
The point being, it was all fruit of the same poison tree. The phony documents was all there ever was behind the Niger canard. There has just been a lot of effort to obscure that very significant fact.