Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Back to Niger

Ray McGovern and Matthew Yglesias ask the question that sits, submerged beneath mountains of spin and propaganda, at the heart of the Plame scandal: who forged the Niger documents?

McGovern points the finger to the obvious candidate, for my money: Michael Ledeen. He writes:

Those searching for answers are reduced to asking the obvious: Cui bono? Who stood to benefit from such a forgery? A no-brainer -- those lusting for war on Iraq. And who might that be? Look up the “neocon” writings on the website of the Project for the New American Century. There you will find information on people like Michael Ledeen, “Freedom Analyst” at the American Enterprise Institute and a key strategist among “neoconservative” hawks in and out of the Bush administration. Applauding the invasion of Iraq, Ledeen asserted at the very start that the war could not be contained, and that “it may turn out to be a war to remake the world.”

Beyond his geopolitical punditry, Ledeen’s career shows he is well-accustomed to rogue operations. A longtime Washington operative, he was fired as a “consultant” for the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan for running fool’s errands for Oliver North during the Iran-Contra subterfuge. One of Ledeen’s Iran-Contra partners in crime, so to speak, was Elliot Abrams. Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra. He was pardoned before jail time, however, by George H. W. Bush and is now George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser. Ledeen continues to enjoy entree into the office of the vice president, as well as to his friend Abrams.

During a radio interview with Ian Masters on April 3, 2005, former CIA operative Vincent Cannistraro charged that the Iraq-Niger documents were forged in the United States. Drawing on earlier speculation regarding who forged the documents, Masters asked, “If I were to say the name Michael Ledeen to you, what would you say?” Cannistraro replied, “You’re very close.”

Ledeen has denied having anything to do with the forgery. Yet the company he keeps with other prominent Iran-Contra convictees/pardonees/intelligence contractors suggests otherwise. Another intriguing straw in the wind is Ledeen’s long association with Italian intelligence, which, according to most accounts, played a role in disseminating the forged documents. If Ledeen and his associates were involved, this might also help explain the amateurishness of the forged documents. They would have sorely missed the institutional expertise formerly at their beck and call.
Yglesias, as is his wont, doesn't stick his neck out and speculate with a name. However, he does a commendable job retracing the steps others like Josh Marshall and Laura Rozen have taken to track the forgeries to Italian intelligence sources, and laments that deeper investigation hasn't uncovered anything solid as yet. His conclusion:
It seems clear that some powerful elements in Washington don't want to know the truth, which should raise suspicions. This, after all, would seem to be an important matter. Somebody went to some lengths to do this. He ore she must have had some purpose in mind, and it's hard to see how that purpose could have been anything but nefarious. Republicans don't seem interested in finding out, perhaps because further scrutiny of the matter would simply reveal how willfully gullible the White House was, or perhaps for some deeper reason. Democrats' reticence to ask what happened to the FBI investigation is more puzzling, but someone ought to get on the case. That there's a partisan payoff at the end of this particular rainbow is far from clear, but unlike in the Plame case, knowing the truth might actually change how we think about a thing or two.
Quite true. This detail could very well bring down the administration, particularly if, as many suspect, it relates to the workings of the Office of Special Plans and the propaganda campaign used to drag the nation to war.