Stole My Con!
By Dennis Hans
in February, when I began cataloging the "techniques
of deceit" the Bush administration was employing to sell
the public on the need to invade and occupy Iraq, I never
would have thought that the administration would stoop to
stealing one of my own. But with each additional vehement
British denial that it had seen the forged Iraq-Niger correspondence
or used it as the basis for the claim about Iraq's nuclear
ambitions in the September 24 "Dossier," the more convinced
I become that the Bushies masterfully executed my patented
"hidden-hand third-party verification" con, using the unwitting
Brits to con the U.S. media, public and Congress.
It's certainly possible that the Brits were the Bushies'
"witting" accomplices. But from this con artist's perspective,
it appears the Bushies used their good friend Tony Blair and
British intelligence as clueless pawns. True, the Bushies
had to dupe their faithful ally in order to dupe America,
but what good are democratic friends for if not to sandbag
their respective citizenries?
The Bushies conned the Brits not by what they told them,
but by what they deliberately didn't tell them: It
seems they didn't tell the Brits that two investigations -
the first by U.S. ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick
some time prior to February 2002, the second by retired diplomat
Joe Wilson in February 2002 - determined beyond any doubt
that there was no arrangement between Niger and Iraq for the
sale of a single pound of uranium oxide, let alone the 500
tons claimed in a forged "memorandum of agreement" and series
of letters purportedly leading up to the invented agreement.
(See Wilson's essay
in the July 6 New York Times.)
Neither Owens-Kirkpatrick nor Wilson saw the forgeries,
but their understanding of the controls on Niger's uranium
and extensive interviews with the alleged Niger-government
participants made it crystal clear the allegations were groundless,
which could only mean that the "memorandum of agreement" and
the letters of correspondence signed by various officials
of Niger and Iraq were fake.
Owens-Kirkpatrick had earlier reported her findings back
to Washington. As for Wilson, "In early March , I arrived
in Washington and promptly provided a detailed briefing to
the C.I.A. I later shared my conclusions with the State Department
African Affairs Bureau."
Not until a year later, however, would the world learn from
the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency that the letters
and memorandum had been forged. But from where did the forgeries
and allegations spring? Why did the allegations seem credible
to Britain's best and brightest?
Making the Incredible Seem Credible to the Credulous
According to a story
in the March 22 Washington Post by three of its better
reporters, a "U.N. official" asserted (as paraphrased by the
reporters) that "a Niger diplomat turned the letters over
to Italian intelligence, which provided summaries of the information
to Washington and London." It appears the Italians acquired
the letters some time in the latter half of 2001; some months
later, they passed along the summaries.
The British Foreign Office, in comments made July 7, 2003
relating to the relevations in Wilson's New York Times
essay, said it was some time after Wilson completed his Feb.
2002 mission to Niger that the Brits received the summaries
from the Italians. The U.S. presumably received its summaries
at the same time, but as far as I know that has yet to be
reported or confirmed.
The key point is that the Italians handed over "summaries,"
not the documents themselves. This meant the Bushies knew
everything the Brits knew and considerably more, courtesy
of those two investigations by the U.S. diplomats. The Bushies
could judge those "summaries" with the advantage of knowing
that two seasoned pros had thoroughly debunked the allegations
that stemmed from the forgeries upon which the summaries were
The Brits, on the other hand, would assess those summaries
having never seen the actual documents and knowing only that
the summaries had been provided by their trusted Italian allies
to themselves and the Bushies. If the Brits had any misgivings
about the summaries, those likely would have evaporated as
the months rolled by and they received nary a hint from their
dear American friends that the stirring summaries were based
on a hoax. We may also surmise that the summaries were deliberately
vague on the identity of Iraq's supposed supplier, referring
to "Africa" rather than specifying Niger.
All of those factors explain why (1) the hapless Brits found
the story credible, (2) their September 24 "dossier" referred
to uranium from "Africa" rather than "Niger," and (3) they
valiantly maintain that the IAEA's March 7 debunking didn't
invalidate their dossier because the IAEA shot down a strictly
Niger connection, rather than a broader "African" connection.
After all, three other African nations besides Niger have
So why haven't the Brits provided the IAEA with a single
piece of evidence implicating Iraq with one of these other
nations - evidence the IAEA has been begging for since September?
Because the well-suckered Brits don't have any. A U.N. official
told the Post that neither the British or U.S. government
"ever indicated that they had any information on any other
Here are a few questions to ponder:
Did the CIA ask their Italian counterparts
to make the summaries more credible than the documents upon
which they were based, and to substitute "Africa" for "Niger,"
so as to give the allegation a longer life by expanding to
four the list of suspect nations that had to be ruled out?
What role did the CIA and/or Italian intelligence
play in the production or commissioning of the forgeries,
either directly or through intermediaries?
What role if any did British intelligence
play in this? While the Brits do appear to be the "marks"
in the present case, Seymour Hersh reported
in March that "Forged documents and false accusations have
been an element in U.S. and British policy toward Iraq at
least since the fall of 1997, after an impasse over U.N. inspections."
"Passive Lying" for Fun, Profit and Self-Esteem
By keeping the Brits barefoot and clueless, the Bushies
made it possible for the Brits to make and presumably believe
assertion in its September 24 dossier:
"Iraq's known holdings of processed uranium
are under IAEA supervision. But there is intelligence that
Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium
from Africa. Iraq has no active civil nuclear power programme
or nuclear power plants, and therefore has no legitimate reason
to acquire uranium."
One can't get more vague than "there is intelligence," but
because the phrase appeared in a report prepared by the successors
of "M," "Q" and James Bond and released with great fanfare
by Tony Blair, much of the Yankee media, public and Congress
assumed the Brits had the Iraqis cold. Not only did we eat
it up, the Bushies were able to make extra hay by citing the
trusty Brits as they trumpeted the allegation in closed-door
congressional testimony, a State Department "Fact Sheet" and
a number of public speeches including the State of the Union
And here's the best part: Because the Bushies didn't have
to ask the Brits to lie, but instead cleverly arranged
for the Brits to make a false claim the Brits believed to
be true, the Bushies can pretend that their integrity is intact
and get everyone in the mainstream media not named Paul Krugman
That element of the con is something I call "passive lying":
You know that what your friend is saying is false, and you're
well-positioned to correct the record. But because the lie
is so darn useful you decide the better option is to allow
the lie to lodge in people's brains as fact.
Ever since the IAEA exposed the Niger Connection as a hoax,
Bushies have adopted the Brit position of claiming to have
unforged evidence proving that Iraq sought uranium from "Africa"
- if not Niger, than from one of the other three uranium-producing
countries. And what evidence might that be? Here is an excerpt
from a June 10 letter
from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to National Security Advisor
"Moreover, contrary to your assertion, there
does not appear to be any other specific and credible evidence
that Iraq sought to obtain uranium from an African country.
The Administration has not provided any such evidence to me
or my staff despite our repeated requests. To the contrary,
the State Department wrote me that the 'other source' of this
claim was another Western European ally. But as the State
Department acknowledged in its letter, 'the second Western
European government had based its assessment on the evidence
already available to the U.S. that was subsequently discredited.'"
Back to Square One! The good old "summaries" from Italy,
we may presume. Or perhaps they're summaries of the summaries,
provided by another ally.
But let us drop the sarcasm long enough to tip our hat to
the Bushies for pulling off not one but possibly two splendid
"hidden-hand third-party verification" cons: It appears that
they used Italian intelligence agents, highly skilled in the
art of producing misleading summaries, as a credible third
party to con the Brits, and they most definitely used the
Brits as a credible third party to con America.
Conning for Love
It was easy for to me to dissect the Niger Connection con,
having perfected the "hidden-hand third-party verification"
technique many years ago. My objective wasn't to create a
justification for war, merely to persuade potential sweethearts
that I was five years younger than my actual age.
This was the mid-1990s, and I was beginning to wonder if
I'd ever find Ms. Right. I knew I could pass for younger,
and I thought I could enhance my prospects with bright, charming
ladies in my preferred demographic if they thought I was x
minus 5 rather than x. So from that point forward I
started telling people at my new job, as well as friends who
didn't know the truth, my new age. I wouldn't just blurt it
out, but it's easy enough for a sly fellow such as myself
to work age into casual conversation. Before long, word on
the street was I was x minus 5.
An interested woman might make covert inquiries of my friends
or co-workers to find out more about the handsome, witty fellow
with the deadpan humor and twinkle in his eye. Heck, she might
even inquire about me. If she did, she'd discover from her
trusted third-party sources how old I was and, no doubt, some
truthful stuff. For my part, I was able to maintain a positive
self-image because I hadn't asked a friend or co-worker to
lie on my behalf. I merely used them, as any decent chap would,
to pass along in good faith a piece of info they considered
accurate but which happened to be off by five insignificant
It worked! I'm happy to report that Julie and I will celebrate
our sixth anniversary August 22, and that she will learn my
true age when she reads this article.
Actually, that's a lie, too. There was no marriage and no
Julie, which points to the risk in the ruse: the upshot when
the truth comes out.
Turns out most women aren't keen on liars. They figure,
"If he'll lie about his age, what else would he lie about?
What if he really didn't score 55 points against Michael Jordan
The funny thing is, I did. I just didn't tell her it was
in a tiddly winks tournament.
Why Bush Is Not Like Paul Harvey
That last line is an example of another technique of deceit
Bush stole from me, a variation on the broad category of "fact-based
lies" I call the "undropped shoe": saying something that is
technically or conceivably true, but withholding the context
or key fact that would reveal the speaker's intent to plant
a preposterously false picture in the listener's mind. Unlike
legendary radio newsman Paul Harvey, the speaker never reveals
"the REST of the story."
The president's pre-war speeches were saturated with undropped
If we don't watch out, Saddam could soon turn
America into a mushroom cloud (by firing a nuclear bomb he'll
never develop with a long-range missile he'll never have -
Iraq's unmanned aerial vehicles threaten us
(if the Iraqi Love Boat transports them - undetected - to
our shore line - wink).
Saddam and Osama are joined at the hip in
an alliance of evil (assuming every honest intelligence expert
in the world is wrong and all those discredited defectors
are right - wink-wink).
Fortunately for Bush, America's leading commentators are
much more keen on liars than the women who learned the ugly
numerical truth about me.
Which brings us back to the most important matter of all:
I'm 42. But don't take my word for it. It says so right here,
in black and white, on my official Government of Niger birth
Dennis Hans is a single white male who has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the
University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He enjoys dancing,
romantic walks on moonlit beaches, and exposing Bush administration
deceit. If you're a lovely non-smoking lady with a delightful
sense of humor and some dirt on Powell or Cheney, Dashing
Den would love to hear from you at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.