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Bushies Stole My Con!
July 10, 2003
By Dennis Hans

Back 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 [2002], 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 based.

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 uranium oxide.

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 country."

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 this 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 address.

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 to agree!

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 Condoleezza Rice:

"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 years.

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 in college?"

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 shoes:

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 - wink).

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 certificate.


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.

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