The Other Plame Story

Jeralyn Merritt asks a question:

Will Karl Rove resign? Or continue to confidently maintain he’s done nothing wrong and bank on escaping Fitzgerald’s clutches? And if Rove goes down, who’s going to go down with him? My bet is it will be Cheney’s staff.

I haven’t followed the Plame scandal too closely—Salon‘s primer seems as good an intro as any—but don’t the answers here seem obvious? “No, yes, no, no.” Sorry to be so glib, but why on earth would Rove ever resign? Bush certainly didn’t “accept” Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. At absolute best, Turd Blossom might get frog-marched off to prison, though that seems somewhat unlikely at this point, and at any rate, I’m sure Rove can still coordinate any and all upcoming White House smear campaigns from the comfort of his prison cell, via Blackberry. (And even in this case, there’s always the possibility of a presidential pardon. Brazen? Of course. So it was when Pa Bush pardoned Casper Weinberger and the other Iran-Contra criminals he had been hobnobbing with only a few years prior.) I’d love to be wrong, but still.

Anyway, the Rove frenzy is fun, though Billmon’s line of inquiry here seems far more important, namely, Who was forging those original reports suggesting that Iraq had acquired yellowcake from Niger? One possible answer to this question, first floated by Seymour Hersh a while back, is that the fake documents were an inside job, forged by someone within U.S. intelligence who wanted the Iraq hawks to latch onto documents so ridiculous that they could be discredited when the issue became public. Indeed, Dick Cheney and other Iraq hawks did latch onto the documents, Bush repeated the yellowcake information in a 2002 speech in Cincinnati, and the ensuing flap with Joseph Wilson was a fairly serious roadblock on the march to war.

Hersh’s theory doesn’t seem so far-fetched upon closer inspection, either. According to the Senate’s investigation into the matter, the State Department had originally discredited a documents about Iraq, Niger, and yellowcake, because it was accompanied by another document—complete with the same “official” seal—claiming that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Iran had allied together and were plotting against the world. That struck INR, State’s intelligence agency, as “completely implausible,” and the agency concluded that the documents were probably forged. But the Iraq hawks stuck by the documents all the same. Another later document specified that Iraq had agreed to purchase one-sixth of Niger’s annual uranium production. Also ridiculous, and yet the hawks bought it. Presumably all of these reports came from a “foreign intelligence agency,” which is thought to be SISMI, the Italian intel agency, but no one knows where SISMI got the documents.

So is that it? An inside job? Why else would anyone forge documents so ridiculous? There’s also the vague-but-disturbing possibility that the documents might have originated from certain Iranian businessmen with close ties to Tehran, who also happen to have a working relationship with SISMI. Indeed, Laura Rozen once observed that SISMI is fairly soft on Iran, having reportedly failed to crack down on Iran’s efforts to acquire dual-use technology in the past. Hmmm… The theory that certain Iranian elements might have forged and then circulated the Niger documents through the Italians in order to draw the United States into war with Iraq is pretty wild, but who knows? We also know that Ahmed Chalabi, who fed the U.S.—and New York Times reporter Judith Miller—incorrect information about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, was later revealed to have close ties with Iran, and possibly even spied on the CPA for Iranian intelligence. Meanwhile, one can’t help but notice that Iran’s in a strong position now—having signed a military alliance with its longtime regional rival, and having bogged down the United States right next door. Hmmm…. Maybe this is all idle speculation, but it seems much more fascinating to me than the non-possibility that Bush might fire Karl Rove.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall points out there might also be a John Bolton angle to the document story. “Confidence in the documents kept getting knocked down. But someone or some group kept giving them fresh life. And, improbably, those someones seemed to be at the State Department.” Could we spare, perhaps, another “Hmmm….”

UPDATE: Argh, score one for lack of reading comprehension. I read Billmon’s original post way too quickly and missed the real story. My speculation in the post above all has to do with the obvious Niger forgeries that everyone always talks about, the one INR dismissed as “completely implausible,” whose origins are still unknown. But Billmon was asking about another set of Niger forgeries, a much better and more convincing set, ones provided to the CIA in winter of 2001-02. Which are also still mysterious in origins, but seem to be done by much more capable people. Certainly not CIA agents trying to discredit the hawks. But Iranian agents or, perhaps, someone connected to John Bolton’s shop? You’d have to be crazy to believe that, right?