BAGHDAD, Iraq - After the past two days of fighting in southern and central Iraq, the difference between firebrand cleric Muqtada al Sadr and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi couldn't be any more clear: Al Sadr has an army, and Allawi does not.
In Iraq, security is politics. When Allawi took office, the self-styled strongman lost little time before declaring that his government wouldn't tolerate the insurgency that's swept the country.
But as in previous battles, when al Sadr's Mahdi Army militia began to overrun Najaf and several neighborhoods from Baghdad to Basra, the Iraqi police force and national guard fought for a little while, then ran.
Meanwhile, conservatives are praising Allawi's shut-down of the Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera. Not only is this anti-democratic, an affront to a free press, but it is horrible policy. It makes Allawi and America look like hypocrites. It removes a moderate voice from the theatre. It increases Al-Jazeera's credibility while probably contributing to its radicalization. Oppressing the media has never served any government well.
In the aftermath of the Democratic convention, much has been made about Kerry's convention bounce, or lack thereof. Gallup came out with a poll showing Kerry actually lost ground in the horse race, going from a 49-47 lead to a 47-50 deficit among likely voters. Conservatives have emphasized this poll. Meanwhile, several other polls showed a positive, though modest, bounce.
Gallup's analysis of its poll notes that the intensity of this year's election makes it incomparable to years past:
the average convention bounce calculated for previous conventions might not apply this year. Voters appear unusually intense this election compared with previous elections, with the number of persuadable voters only about half the total in 2000. In addition, it appears that more voters are paying closer attention to the campaign this year than in previous years, so that relatively few voters would find the convention presenting information they had not already heard.
Kenneth Baer, writing in the American Prospect, builds on this explanation, noting that Kerry received his "bounce" when he solidified the Democratic nomination, and that his early performance in the polls is a sign of strength, rather than weakness. Other explanations for Kerry's lack of a significant bounce in the horse race are that he announced the Edwards selection too early; his speech was too long, too rushed, and otherwise poor; the more voters see Kerry the less they like him; the lack of news coverage from the networks and the lowish cable news viewership; poor control polling (the bounce has to be measured against previous polls - an uptick in Bush support prior to the convention would reduce the apparent size of a bounce when old polls are used as controls); and politicized national security operations, including Pakistan's capture of a terrorist on the day of Kerry's speech and a questionable elevation of the terrorist threat levels.
While all this horse-race speculation is fun, it is completely irrelevant. If, as I suspect, the convention increased Kerry's support in battleground states, but reduced it in strong-Bush states, then he has moved toward Nov. 2 victory with a bounce in his step.
Consider the Zogby battleground poll. Between 7/26 and 8/2, Kerry's standing in the polls increased by 1.3% in Arkansas, 2.9% in Florida, 2% in Iowa, 1.7% in Minnesota, 4.3% in New Hampshire, 1.5% in Pennsylvania, and 7.3% in West Virginia. it dropped by 1.2% in Nevada, 1.2% in Michigan, 3.7% in Ohio, a whopping 8.3% in NM, and 5.2% in Oregon. Kerry now leads in West Virginia and Florida, but now trails in Nevada. Zogby polled during the convention, rather than after it.
I get Factcheck.org emails whenever they randomly decide to send them out. They have never been impressive, but they've gotten to be down-right abominable. They have two consistent problems: an inability to fully throw off the Bush/RNC media scripts, and a lack of understanding of "facts" and how they operate in politics.
The most recent (August 3) e-mail is entitled "Kerry's Dubious Economics: He says new jobs are paying $9,000 less than the old ones. That's not a fact." It is actually not a fact that it is not a fact. The strongest claim Factcheck has to make is that it's "disputed." But the bulk of the evidence actually supports Kerry's claim.
I just deleted most of my post, and will revert to the blog standby of a line-by-line breakdown. I get frustrated by this sort of ridiculous argumentation.
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention July 29 Kerry repeated a claim that the economy is creating jobs that pay $9,000 a year less than those they replace. He bases that on disputed analysis from a liberal think tank.
Factcheck apparently has a problem with the Economic Policy Institute, the "liberal think tank" alluded to. EPI analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data back in January, concluding that "nationwide, industries that are gaining jobs relative to industries that are losing jobs pay 21% less annually."
The analysis is certainly disputed, but if you laid all economists end to end you would never reach a conclusion. If you put a question to two economists, you get three different conclusions. &c.
In fact, economists disagree about whether jobs are getting worse or better. As we said before, there's evidence both ways. Even some Democratic economists say the economic numbers are simply too rough and contradictory to allow any conclusion about the direction of change, let alone about how much less or more the new jobs pay.
Yes, there is dispute here. That's certainly no surprise, especially given that the data is so raw. Bloomberg has a good back and forth with Wall Street economists supporting Kerry's claim and a former Carter guy disagreeing. The article highlights some of the difficulties putting together data robust enough to generate some consensus among economists.
Does this mean Kerry sholdn't make the claim? No, I don't think it does. The EPI analysis is still the best piece of evidence out there, and Factcheck's attempt at rebuttal fell flat. Moreover, refusing to make a claim because economists disagree is a recipe for silence.
Kerry also said "wages are falling" when in fact they are increasing. It's true wages haven't kept up with inflation for the past several months. But even after adjusting for inflation they're still higher than when Bush took office.
So real wages have fallen for the last "several months?" Yet Kerry's claim that "wages are falling" is false and "in fact they are increasing?" Factcheck's next claim is a non-sequitur - Kerry didn't claim that wages are lower than in January 2001.
Moreover, Factcheck's earlier analysis, linked above, is also wrong on wage growth, according to EPI (see FN).
And when Kerry said the "middle class is shrinking," he was referring to what happened in the recession of 2001 and the initially slow recovery of 2002. But the economy has picked up considerably in the 19 months since, so what was true then may be untrue when phrased in present tense.
The "middle class," a hopelessly amorphous concept, is still shrinking. Factchecking this claim is akin to factchecking the claim that "Bush has weakened America." The middle class is experiencing tremendous difficulties, but it's not possible to verify this empirically.
Kerry continued to talk down the economy using dubious statistics. When he formally announced his candidacy in September 2003 he claimed the nation was suffering the "greatest job loss since the Great Depression," which we pointed out was not true. Now he's saying that the jobs the economy is adding are paying $9,000 less than the jobs they replace. That's not a fact, either.
The first sentence is unrepentant Bush/RNC spin. There is no evidence that Kerry has "talked down the economy." The "greatest job loss since the Depression" claim also has merit, according to EPI.
Kerry bases his claim on an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Economic Policy Institute. But the EPI figures don't support what Kerry said, because they don't actually compare new jobs and old jobs -- only broad averages for entire industries. And as we reported July 9, other BLS numbers that compare occupation groups within industries tell a completely different story -- showing higher-paying groups growing faster than lower-paying groups.
The EPI, a liberal think tank with several AFL-CIO union chiefs on its board of directors, has called our analysis "wrong" in a lengthy rebuttal. Their opinion is posted here. It doesn't cause us to change what we reported.
Here's the rub. Factcheck doesn't like labor funded think tanks, union money isn't capable of producing good economic analysis.
Factcheck apparently doesn't get the concept of "fact." Economics is admittedly a fuzzy area, but Factcheck based much of it's earlier dispute with Kerry's claim on its analysis. EPI critiqued their analysis, pointing out that it was fatally flawed. Yet Factcheck dismissed their rebuttal entirely. It instead goes on to report that some Democratic economists disagree with Kerry's claim. This represents the creeping inflitration of "he said-she said" objectivity into an area where it is only marginally relevant.
Factcheck then thinks it is somehow appropriate to cite some Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee that have a different take than EPI. It then throws up its hands, reasserting that "statistics solid enough to settle the question definitively just don't exist." So what would Factcheck have politicians do? How should they talk about economic policy, or areas where there are economic disputes. When a Republican says raising the minimum wage will cost jobs, will Factcheck factcheck them? When Bush says his tax cuts have contributed to economic growth, will Factcheck factcheck him? When Bush says deficits are due to war, or whatever, will Factcheck factcheck him?
There's just too much contemptible tripe in the Factcheck email to look at more in depth. The real question is the value of Factcheck's efforts in these areas, and the conclusions they draw about Kerry's "dubious" claims. The best study on the topic supports Kerry. Factcheck's own rebuttal of that study was wrong, though they apparently got emotionally invested in the issue. There is obvious disagreement, but is this something that really needs to be "factchecked?" Is it even something that can be fact checked?
Foreign Military Sales: Improved Navy Controls Could Prevent Unauthorized Shipments of Classified and Controlled Spare Parts to Foreign Countries. GAO-04-507, June 25.
The Navy’s internal controls over foreign military sales pursuant to blanket orders are not adequate, placing classified and controlled spare parts at risk of being shipped to foreign countries that may not be eligible to receive them. [p. 3]
Pipeline Safety: Management of the Office of Pipeline Safety's Enforcement Program Needs Further Strengthening. GAO-04-801, July 23.
Although in recent years OPS has made a number of changes in its enforcement strategy that have the potential to improve pipeline safety, the effectiveness of this strategy cannot currently be determined because the
agency has not incorporated three key elements of effective program management—clear program goals, a well-defined strategy for achieving those goals, and performance measures linked to the program goals. Without these three key elements, OPS cannot determine whether recent and planned changes in its enforcement strategy are having or will have the desired effects on pipeline safety. [p. 3]
A July 30 GAO Report, GAO-04-874, highlights the lack of oversight of DoD contract and program officers that grant competition waivers.
Preference for Incumbents, Described as Unique Services or Logical Follow-Up.
In requesting contract services, program offices often requested that contracting officers waive competition and retain contractors already providing the services. This preference for the incumbent contractor was particularly evident in the 26 waiver cases that cited the unique services or logical follow-on exceptions as the basis for the waivers. [p. 8]
Illogical Follow Up.
DOD regulations do not specify what constitutes a logical follow-on to an order already issued on a competitive basis, how recent the previous competitive order should be, or whether there are any limits on the number of times the follow-on exception to competition may be used.[p. 9]
The Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement offers no guidance on the correct application and interpretation of waivers. [See p. 9]
Another factor relevant to addressing program office requests for waivers is the lack of specific requirements for the documentation needed to support a waiver. The DOD regulations state that each order for services exceeding $100,000 must be awarded on a competitive basis unless the contracting officer waives this requirement on the basis of a “written determination” that one of the exceptions applies to the order. The regulations do not specify a particular format or the type of information that is needed to support a waiver. In particular, there is no requirement that the written determination describe the specific facts and circumstances that justify waiving competition. [p.11]
Finally, the DOD regulations do not require that waiver determinations be approved above the level of the contracting officer, regardless of the amount of the order. [p.12]
The State Department later released a statement saying that an internal review had concluded that an inspection regime "would have been so extensive that it could compromise key signatories' core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it."
Furthermore, "even with extensive verification measures, we will not have high confidence in our ability to monitor compliance with an FMCT." Bush administration officials would not elaborate on the statement or on the U.S. position, except to say they would send a delegation to Geneva to better explain the position to the conference. But the conference goes on recess in early September, leaving virtually no time to begin formal negotiations on the treaty before the end of the current presidential term. Since the disarmament conference can adopt a treaty only by consensus, the American position makes it highly unlikely that a verification system will be included in a future agreement. [Washington Post]
Arms-control specialists reacted negatively, saying the change in U.S. position will dramatically weaken any treaty and make it harder to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. The announcement, they said, also virtually kills a 10-year international effort to lure countries such as Pakistan, India and Israel into accepting some oversight of their nuclear production programs.[Washington Post]
An FMCT will help control the proliferation of fissile materials from which nuclear weapons or nuclear explosives can be fabricated by strengthening the international safeguards and verification system for fissile materials and extending it to cover the eight declared and de facto nuclear-weapon powers. This should lead to increased physical protection, material accountancy and transparency and reduce the risk of fissile materials being illegally diverted for illicit purposes. In particular, states possessing nuclear weapons could be encouraged, or required, to submit excess fissile material not currently used for military purposes for verification under an FMCT.
The Oxford Research Group has an on-line handbook discussing the importance of the FMCT.
It's fairly clear that this particular U.S. position is designed to protect Israeli strategic ambiguity. Nonetheless, it is a clear case of the administration refusing to take action to increase the security of the American people for ideological reasons. The Bush administration has opposed verification rules in anti-proliferation treaties unrelated to Israel. More details here, here, and here. John Kerry has been a legislative champion of increased verification. The AP article from above insinuates that Bush adopted his bizarre position on the FMCT in response to Kerry's advocacy.
II. HEU Reactor Conversion In a related note, the GAO released a report on problems with administration efforts to convert HEU, weapons grade, research reactors to LEU.
According to Argonne’s analysis, conversion to LEU fuel is technically feasible for 35 of the 66 research reactors in DOE’s reactor conversion program that still use HEU fuel, but most do not have plans to convert. In the United States, 8 research reactors, including 6 university reactors, could convert to LEU fuel, but DOE has not provided the necessary funding (estimated by DOE at about $5 million to $10 million per reactor). In addition, a university research reactor that converted to LEU in 2000 is still storing HEU fuel because DOE has not removed it. DOE officials said they have not made the conversion of the 6 university research reactors a priority because the reactors use only a small amount of HEU fuel. Officials at NRC, which regulates most of the U.S. research reactors included in DOE’s reactor conversion program, said that they consider the conversion of the university reactors a security enhancement and one of their priorities and that the delay is purely a matter of funding. Operators of the 6 reactors said they would convert to LEU fuel when DOE provides the funding. DOE’s reactor conversion program cooperates closely with operators of foreign research reactors and promotes conversion from HEU to LEU. Ultimately, however, it is the owners of the foreign reactors that make the decision to convert to LEU. Of the 20 foreign research reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel, 14 do not have plans to convert to LEU because they generally have a sufficient supply of HEU and either do not want to incur the additional cost of conversion or do not have the necessary funding. Finally, since DOE’s reactor conversion program initiated cooperation with Russia in 1993, no research reactors that use HEU fuel supplied by Russia have converted. Only 1 of 7 Russian-supplied research reactors that could use LEU fuel is scheduled to convert. DOE officials said that 5 other Russian-supplied reactors are also likely to convert to LEU fuels that are currently available or are expected to become available within the next year. [GAO-04-807, July 30 2004 at p.4]
$10 million per reactor to reduce the global supply of HEU and significantly tighten trade? Funding is the main obstacle?
Some of the foreign research reactors would like to convert but do not have the necessary funding. For example, the operator of a research reactor in Jamaica told us that converting to LEU would improve the reactor performance but that purchasing LEU fuel for the reactor would cost $1.5 million, which is more than the reactor operator can afford. Therefore, the reactor operator is planning to continue using its current supply of HEU, which will last possibly 20 years. Similarly, according to Argonne officials, the reactor operator in Mexico would be willing to convert to LEU but does not have the necessary funding. While funding may not be an issue for other foreign reactors, many of them are designed to operate on a small amount of fuel meant to last for the life of the reactor. Converting to LEU would require the disposal of the fuel that the reactor operator had already purchased and is still usable. According to Argonne officials, operators of certain reactors in France, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom do not have plans to convert because the reactors have lifetime cores that do not need to be replaced. [Id. at p. 17]
Simple policy changes?
However, U.S. policies in support of the reactor conversion program do not influence foreign reactors using so little HEU that they can operate for many years without replacing their fuel or disposing of spent fuel. While Argonne provides technical assistance for conversion, current DOE policy precludes purchasing new LEU fuel for foreign reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel. Under this policy, purchasing new LEU fuel—which, according to a DOE project engineer, is the main cost of conversion—is the responsibility of the reactor operator. According to a DOE official, DOE has paid for new LEU fuel only once, in Romania, in exchange for the return of Russian-origin HEU fuel to Russia. DOE spent $4 million to purchase LEU fuel for the Romanian reactor, which is still only partially converted and requires more LEU fuel before conversion is complete. DOE officials said that current DOE policy allows purchasing LEU fuel for research reactors that use Russian-origin HEU fuel in exchange for returning the HEU to Russia. However, DOE does not have a similar policy for research reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel. DOE officials said they are considering revising this policy to allow purchasing LEU fuel for U.S.-supplied research reactors. [Id. at p. 18]
There are serious scientific obstacles to the conversion of some reactors, due to different fuel performances. But reading the report, it is clear that costs are the main obstacle for most of the reactors involved. Why aren't we taking simple steps to secure the nation?
The July/August Arms Control Today reported on Spencer Abraham's DOE plans for converting HEU reactors. In May, Abraham announced the creation of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a $450 million initiative to convert research reactors. The Kerry campaign noted that this was "a woefully disproportionate approach." "Even as stated, the scale and the effort and the speed at which things are proposed to be done ... is still woefully disproportionate to the challenge that he [Abraham] rightly states." [Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, AP, 5/26/04]
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard University, said for the proposal to truly have a global impact it must have the backing of President Bush and sweep away bureaucratic rules.
"The key is being flexible enough to offer the kind of incentives to convince states and sites to give up this material," he told AP. [AP]
Will Bush provide this leadership? Will he be believed if he tries? John Kerry has an excellent position paper on reducing the vulnerability of nuclear materials. Arms Control Today also had a solid write-up of Kerry's advocacy.
Bolton has called the United Nations ineffective and been generally dismissive of multilateralism. He has also called for full diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and spoken out against the “illusionary protections of unenforceable treaties,” referring to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
At Bolton’s March 29 confirmation hearing, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) stated that the “inflammatory rhetoric” Bolton had displayed gave him “pause over [Bolton’s] capacity for handling the job.” Biden said, “I have always voted against nominees who oppose the avowed purpose of the position to which they have been nominated.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) agreed, saying the nominee’s views on arms control issues were “inconsistent with the best interests of the United States.”
However, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, effusively praised Bolton as the “most qualified man for the job” and as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon.”
Intelligence officials declined to say precisely when Mr. Libi changed his account, and they cautioned that they still did not know for sure which account was correct. They said they would not speculate as to whether he might have been seeking to deceive his interrogators or to please them by telling them what he thought they wanted to hear.
But the intelligence officials said Mr. Libi had backed away from many of his earlier claims after American interrogators presented him with conflicting information. Both Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, two other high-ranking Qaeda operatives now in American custody, have told interrogators that Al Qaeda had no substantive relationship with the Iraqi government, according to the Senate report.
Neither the Senate committee nor the Sept. 11 commission have found evidence of a collaborative relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda on any matter, much less illicit weapons, which have not been found in Iraq despite more than a year of intensive searching.
In an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, for example, President Bush said: "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases." Other senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a speech to the United Nations, made similar assertions. Al-Libi's statements were the foundation of all of them.
A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story. U.S. intelligence officials say that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Recently, sources say, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear. In any case, the cloud over his story explains why administration officials have made no mention of the "poisons and gases" claim for some time and did not more forcefully challenge the recent findings of the 9-11 Commission that Al Qaeda and Iraq had not forged a "collaborative relationship."
The debate, however, is far from over. Pentagon officials are culling through captured Iraqi documents they say will provide hard evidence of multiple contacts between Iraqi officials and Qaeda members over a decade. Current plans call for a massive "document dump" before the November election. But officials acknowledge ultimate proof may prove elusive. "It all depends on what your definition of a relationship is," said one.
Al-Libi's capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government's internal debates over interrogation methods. FBI officials brought their plea to retain control over al-Libi's interrogation up to FBI Director Robert Mueller. The CIA station chief in Afghanistan, meanwhile, appealed to the agency's hawkish counterterrorism chief, Cofer Black. He in turn called CIA Director George Tenet, who went to the White House. Al-Libi was handed over to the CIA. "They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight." (A CIA official said he had no comment.)
It looks like the same paid informant disseminated false intelligence, planted by the Italians, to the British, French and American intelligence agencies. The British are still completely mum on their "corroborating" evidence.
Summaries and Excerpts from the subscription-only stories:
On Monday, August 2, Mark Huband of the Financial Times reported:
A French intelligence operation to safeguard Niger's uranium industry and prevent weapons proliferation, inadvertently led to the forging of documents relating to an apparent clandestine uranium trade with Iraq, western intelligence officials say.
The operation, begun in 1999, reflected concern among several intelligence services that rogue states may have been trying to procure uranium. France was also concerned about the security of its own uranium supplies from Niger, as well as the security of the two French companies that control Niger's uranium industry.
Rocco Martino, an Italian businessman who has admitted that he has made a career out of "selling information", has held regular meetings with French intelligence officials in Brussels since at least 1999.
According to senior European officials, in 1999 he provided French officials with genuine documents which revealed Iraq may have been planning to expand "trade" with Niger. This trade was assumed to be in uranium, which is Niger's main export. It was then that Mr Martino first became aware of the value of documents relating to Niger's uranium exports. He was then asked by French officials to provide more information, which led to a flourishing "market" in documents.
He subsequently provided France with more documents, which turned out to have been forged when they were handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency by US diplomats.
Huband refers to the Sunday Times article, excerpted below, regarding Martino's claims that Italian intelligence, SISMI, was behind the forgeries.
The Italian government yesterday strongly denied it had played any role in the forging of the documents or their dissemination, saying the accusations are "completely false".
Its statement also implied Mr Martino's claim to the Sunday Times that the documents were forged to justify the decision to invade Iraq is highly dubious as the market in documents - real or forged - was established several years before the war was discussed.
Intelligence experts also say that if the documents had been forged by a national intelligence service the quality would have been better and there would not have been discrepancies in them that led to them being exposed by the IAEA as fake.
On Sunday, August 1, Nicholas Rufford and Nick Fielding of the Sunday Times (London), reported:
In 2002 he [Giacomo, aka Rocco Martino] hawked around documents purporting to show that Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium ore from the Saharan state of Niger. The 17 documents were a collection of telexes, letters and contracts, stamped and signed and masquerading as an agreement by Niger to supply Iraq with 500 tons of ore, enough to make several bombs.
The papers were a convincing mixture of genuine and fake. Giacomo says he did not forge them and can prove that the Italian government was behind the plot.
This guy is obviously a huckster. He wants to be paid to clear his own name. That Italian, Franch, British and American intel would all rely on him is troubling beyond words.
He [Giacomo] is angered by the suggestion that he knowingly passed fake documents and insists that he was himself hoodwinked by Sismi in a plot designed to discredit Iraq. He claims that he has taped and documentary evidence to prove it.
Corroborating his claims is difficult because he wants money for the full story of how he got the documents -the evidence on the CD-Rom and the tapes -which The Sunday Times is unwilling to pay.
The following is easily misread, in that black market uranium would be raw ore, rather than yellowcake. Casual readers may not notice the difference. The black market theory has never made much sense, since Zahawie was allegedly negotiating with (and the false documentary evidence refers to) the Nigerien government. There is no reported evidence of the Nigerien government being involved in any black market uranium sales.
Niger (population 11m) was one of the poorest countries in the world, landlocked and prone to extended droughts. It exported little more than a few agricultural products -and uranium yellowcake ore. The yellowcake came from two mines controlled by French companies. Their output was closely monitored, but local people also dug ore from abandoned or unofficial workings to sell on the black market.
In February 1999, Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, arranged a trip to Niger and three other countries in west Africa. According to Zahawie, his mission was to invite their leaders to Baghdad, trying to muster support over UN sanctions that were crippling Iraq.
"I had no other instructions and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium," he now says.
According to sources at Sismi, however, Zahawie's mission was not just diplomatic.
A "credible source" informed them that Iraq was looking for black market uranium in Niger. The source spoke of contacts, proposals, deals and dollar transfers. The source specified that no deal had been fully concluded.
Following is just some necessary background. It has been reported elsewhere, most comprehensively in James Bamford's Pretext for War.
The case went quiet until January 2, 2001 when staff at Niger's embassy in Rome reported a break-in. Papers were strewn about the building, but only some perfume and a watch appeared to have been stolen.
Shortly afterwards documents began to circulate in the intelligence community. Some referred to the visit of Zahawie to Niger and were clearly genuine. Others, which purported to be an agreement between Iraq and Niger for the supply of uranium yellowcake, were fakes.
Josh Marshall has confirmed that a Niger embassy employee, who was also a SISMI asset, provided the forged documents to Giacomo/Martino.
Without being precise about dates, he said: "I received a call from a former colleague in Sismi. I was told that a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me. I met her and she gave me documents. Sismi wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn't want anyone to know they had been involved.
He claims that his taped material includes conversations with the woman at the embassy, who was Italian.
Apparently Italian intelligence has a knack for dirty tricks.
The documents above, purporting to show that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, were a mix of real and fake and are now suspected of being planted by Italian intelligence -which has been embroiled in dirty tricks before.
Sismi, the Italian counterpart to MI6, and Sisde, the counterpart to MI5, were implicated in the notorious case of "God's banker" Roberto Calvi, the former head of Banco Ambrosiano, who was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
Three Italian intelligence chiefs were known to have been members of the notorious P2 masonic lodge of which Calvi was a member. One of the intelligence chiefs was found to have given other P2 members access to sensitive files on thousands of prominent Italians.
Individual officers in the past have been accused of blackmail, involvement in politics and lying in court.
Italian co-operation with Britain and America on intelligence matters goes back a long way. In the 1960s it emerged that Sismi had bugged the Italian president's palace and the Pope's library in the Vatican as a favour to the CIA.
From James Bamford, a Pretext for War: "The letters were obviously a blend of several genuine older documents, possibly obtained during the earlier break-in, which were used to masquerade the counterfeit newer ones. The purpose of the phony documents was to creat the impression that the true purpose of the Iraqi ambassador's trip to Niger in 1999 was to secretly arrange a large shipment of uranium to Iraq in 2000 and that he may have had something to do with the attacks of 9/11." 
Bamford's notes include a list of "likely genuine" documents: A letter from the Iraqi Ambassador to the Nigerien Embassy in Italy confirming the visits, and two letters from the Nigerien Embassy in Italy to the Nigerien Foreign Affairs Minister. 402-403.
This is simply laughable. Libertarianism is nothing but an effort to impose a particular perspective on the relationship between morality and governance. It is a fundamentally moral position, based on addled and anachronistic impulses that are only maintainable because the moral agency involved has been written out of the equation.
A Preference for Markets is a Moral Position. Consider, for example, the establishment of a market for human organs. The traditional libertarian position on the issue is that such a market should be permissible and that people who morally object should simply avoid participation in the market.
Markets for human organs may have positive consequences. Regardless, there are strong moral objections to the very existence of those markets. It is fundamentally a moral question - should everything be alienable, should everything be commodifiable? This question doesn't just affect participants in the markets - many people experience real negative externalities merely from the existence of those markets. If someone declares bankruptcy, will they have to sell an organ to satisfy outstanding creditors?
I consider the vast majority of market transactions to have a degree of coercion. Robert Hale, a legal realist, made this argument in 1923. Morris Cohen made a similar argument in his Property and Sovereignty in 1927.
A Preference for State Neutrality is a Moral Position. I don't believe that state inaction is qualitatively different or more threatening, as a rule, than other forms of collective action, whether through organic social movements or corporate activity. Sometimes it's worse, sometimes it's better. Both the libertarian insistence that the state (a) has a monopoly on legitimate force and (b) is uniquely threatening because of that monopoly, are moral positions.
For instance, the question of whether state racial discrimination is more invidious than private racial discrimination is a moral question.
Strong Limits on Democracy is a Moral Position. The most galling aspect of libertarianism is its kneejerk anti-majoritarianism. The threat of majoritarian tyranny is real, but no more real than the threat of denial of popular sovereignty. Part of the beauty of the American system of government is precisely the extent to which it is not Liberal, that it allows people to come together to democratically deliberate about the future of the country.
Perhaps this only happens in periods of heightened political participation (see Bruce Ackerman), or perhaps normal politics in some way embodies this. But there is no doubt that it conflicts with the libertarian vision. Bruce Ackerman's two "constitutional moments," or periods of democratically legitimate revision of founding principles, are the reconstruction era and the New Deal, with it expansion of the commerce clause and the fields of national governmental power.
Preferring the Private over the Public is a Moral Position. The belief that private behavior has no or little impact on other people is a normative position, not positive. The reality is that private behavior does impact others, whether it inspires empathy and compassion or contempt. Believing that private behavior is not an area of governmental action is in fact a moral devaluation of the interests one person has in another's private behavior.
Even toleration is a fundamentally moral position. I think it is good when dealing with things like gay rights, bad when dealing with things like racism. But imposing toleration on everyone is a fundamentally moral position, even at the meta-level. In many ways, it can be authoritarian, forcing people to experience horrendous experiences because of an artificial collective impotence.
The defenders of a libertarian "amorality" seem to be claiming something akin to Rawls' political liberalism. In a society of fundamentally competing reasonable moral worldviews, a policy of neutrality is in many ways superior to the alternatives. But it is not perfect, it is not really capable of deduction from first or neutral principles, and it is certainly not amoral. Reading morality out of it leaves it as an oppressive, impersonal, technocratic impotence.
Josh Marshall links to some of Barbara Comstock's finest writing. Comstock is a pure conservative movement warrior, a hack that has been given far too much power. I did some research on her a couple of months ago - this Washington Post article provides a good run down of her chicanery.