There is only one appropriate cover for any weekly magazine covering last week’s news…

20040731issuecovUS400

Read their news story (free) or their editorial (subscription required).

The key part of the editorial is this:

So what can be done? … Surely, the most realistic approach would be to try to deliver food and medical supplies to the needy, but to stay out of Sudan’s internal politics?

There is no time for such caution, however. Aid cannot reach Darfur in adequate quantities unless the Sudanese government stops obstructing its delivery… This regime will only stop killing if forced to. It was largely outside pressure that pushed it to talk peace with the south—and that peace process is at risk if the mayhem in Darfur continues.

There are several levers that could be used, but the great powers are not all pulling in the same direction. An arms embargo would be a start, but Russia, which is selling fighter jets to Khartoum, is likely to oppose it. The threat of an oil embargo would be more potent. Unless the Sudanese government makes a serious and immediate effort to rein in its killers, its main source of hard currency should be shut off. The French and Chinese governments may not like this idea, however, as their oil firms have interests in Sudan. As a last resort, outsiders should be prepared to use force. If certain members of the UN Security Council, mindful of their own ugly records in terrorising turbulent provinces, veto such a proposal, a coalition of the willing should go ahead regardless. There is a precedent: without approval from the Security Council, NATO intervened in Kosovo to curb ethnic cleansing.

The trickiest obstacles to military intervention are neither legal nor moral, but practical. Darfur is a long way away, and as the rains grow heavier, its few roads are growing steadily less passable. Western troops would be welcomed by some of the people there, but would arouse violent passions among Sudanese Islamists, who are already warning of a “crusader” plot against Muslims. (Islamist protests against the Sudanese regime itself, a leading killer of Muslims, have been muted.)

The least bad approach would be to send an African force, under the auspices of the AU. Western powers could provide most of the funding (the AU has practically no money), logistics, electronic intelligence and possibly air cover. Willing African nations, whose soldiers would cause less affront than white ones, could provide the boots on the ground. Their mandate would have to be robust—they should be allowed to shoot to kill. But their mission should be narrowly defined: to protect refugees trying to return home, and to police a ceasefire while government and rebels negotiate a political solution. It might work. But the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives.

I am largely in agreement with the Economist’s editors. However, I disagree strongly on the following:

1) The truly pressing issue is not return of the internally displaced and repatriation of the refugees, but preventing pestilence from claiming their lives. As Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), forcefully framed the issue on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer back on June 24:

You see, whether you call it a genocide or not, the issue is that we have not yet lost 300,000 or 400,000 people. We will lose that many people this fall if we do not run this relief effort without any restrictions by the government of Sudan and without Janjaweed attacks, we could have as many as a million people die by the end of this calendar year.

We carefully calculated this using epidemiological data – we’re entering, for example, the meningitis season right now. We just found one instance of polio. We could have a polio epidemic. Malaria will start because of the rains. And there are already epidemics of measles in some of the camps, which will kill a lot of children under five. So the worst is yet to come.

The worst will start in September to December when we’ll have a massive loss of life. What we could do is dramatically drop the number of people who are dying.

I concede that there are major logistical problems now if only because the rainy season has begun, let alone because of the Sudanese military and their Janjaweed paramilitaries. As Human Rights Watch explains in its valuable page answering frequently asked questions about the crisis in Darfur:

What are the concerns for humanitarian aid?

As it stands, almost a million people require urgent humanitarian assistance—health care, nutritional support, shelter, clean water and above all protection from continuing attacks. A few international humanitarian agencies are working in Darfur, but the amount of aid so far is far from sufficient.

How long would it take for food aid to reach Darfurians?

It takes approximately four months from the date of payment for the relief food to reach the intended beneficiaries, barring logistical problems of transport during the rainy season and diversion of food by armed groups.

How has the Sudanese government cooperated with food aid?

During the 21-year conflict in the south, the Sudanese government continually frustrated the international relief community by erecting an elaborate scheme of regulations that choked off relief. In 1988 its delays and deliberate neglect to deliver relief during a famine cost the lives of approximately 250,000 people. In 1998, another famine, provoked in part by such obstructions, cost the lives of approximately 100,000 people. So far, the Sudanese government has erected similar obstacles to full humanitarian access in Darfur.

How [does the] rainy season affect food delivery? [This answer was written in late May.]

The roads in Darfur will be impassible or extremely difficult to traverse once the rains start in late June, and food deliveries on these roads will be erratic. Rains have already started in the southern part of the region and are advancing north to fill the dry wadis or river beds with swift waters. The rail lines to Darfur are in poor condition and only reach as far as Nyala, South Darfur. There is no pre-existing relief infrastructure in Darfur such as in the south, where pilots are familiar with landmarks and there are many delivery points, airstrips, and now roads.

However, roads impassable to large trucks and the lack of air strips are no excuse. If experts agree that a major influx of humanitarian aid supplies are needed now, they could be airdropped at least to the more major established refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the larger internally-displaced person camps within Sudan as soon as peacekeeping troops are on the ground to protect aid workers distributing them. (The Darfur Map Center at the United Nations’ Sudan Information Gateway has many detailed, frequently updated maps detailing the logistical and epidemiological challenges.)

While “Darfur is a long way away,” as the Economist‘s editors say, it is not truly far away from both French and US Military bases. As I explained in a previous post (“We Cannot Save Everyone, But We Must Save Everyone We Can”), the largest overseas basing of French military is on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, and one of these installations, Camp Le Monier, has largely been leased to the US military. (For much more information on this, again one can consult the following links from GlobalSecuity.org: the general Djibouti page and the specific Camp Le Monier page.)

2) While inflaming Islamists and giving them an arena in which to score propaganda points are arguably decisive concerns when it comes to, say, invading and occupying an oil-rich country that poses no short-term threat to the US, only a medium- to long-term one, they cannot be allowed to become decisive when it comes to stopping genocide (which here is of African Muslims, no less!).

3) Even if in the end tragically not much is done this year, we should make it clear that those Sudanese officials who have abetted this proto-genocide will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. If a small-budget NGO like Human Rights Watch can already have obtained documentary proof of Sudanese government complicity in the Janjaweed assault on Darfur, then surely the US intelligence services can supply ample proof for successful prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

Finally, if I may be permitted, let me close on the following note of hypermorality—the poem opening Primo Levi’s book If This Is a Man (often titled Survival in Auschwitz in its US printings):

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:

    Consider if this is a man
    Who works in the mud
    Who does not know peace
    Who fights for a scrap of bread
    Who dies because of a yes or a no.
    Consider if this is a woman,
    Without hair and without name
    With no more strength to remember,
    Her eyes empty and her womb cold
    Like a frog in winter.

Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
    Or may your house fall apart,
    May illness impede you,
    May your children turn their faces from you.

If you are wondering what you can do, check out the “How Can I Help?” page of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as its comprehensive listing of non-governmental aid agencies working in the region. Also, check out the “What You Can Do About Darfur” page from Human Rights Watch.

[Part 1: His thoughts on the Sandy Berger imbroglio and the future of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury probe into his wife’s outing as an officer of the CIA’s Clandestine Service. Part 2: His thoughts on the official US and UK reports into prewar Iraq intelligence and the importance of paying attention to foreign policy experts… and, assuming anyone cares, my thoughts on him]

On Thursday night, the venerable and most definitely left-leaning Harvard Book Store held a lecture/question and answer session/book signing event with Ambassador Joesph Wilson. Happily, I was able to solicit his detailed views on the questions I posed in my last post in regard to US Senate Select Committee Report on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Assessments on Iraq.

But first, given that this report (and its British counterpart by the commission chaired by Lord Butler) are no longer the Political Blogosphere Issue Du Jour (PBIDJ)™, let me relate Ambassador Wilson’s thoughts on what currently is the PBIDJ™—the imbroglio surrounding Clinton-era National Security Adviser Sandy Berger’s mishandling of classified documents in advance of his 9/11 Commission testimony—and what undoubtedly will be the PBIDJ™ in a few weeks’ time—the resolution of Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s grand jury investigation into the outing of Ambassador Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as an officer in the CIA’s Clandestine Service.

[Brief Digression: Berger is literally the issue du jour since yesterday The Wall Street Journal (subscription required… though one can see excerpts and more links on the blogs of Atrios, Kevin Drum, and Laura Rozen) reported that Sandy Berger has been cleared of the most serious charge against him, namely that his mishandling of documents in any way impeded the investigation of the 9/11 Commission. The WSJ article quotes Susan Cooper, spokesperson for the National Archives (which is where Berger perused and then, by his own admission, purloined some documents—accidentally, of course, he claims), as saying that the Archives have accounted for all original documents that Berger saw and that most of the documents he saw were photocopies in any case. The WSJ article also quotes David Marcus, the general counsel of the 9/11 Commission as saying that the Justice Department has assured him that the Commission saw all relevant documents the Archives ever had.]

In response to a question along the lines of “How do you think the Fitzgerald probe will turn out?” from the man in front of me in the book-signing line, Ambassador Wilson gave the following interesting analysis tying the success of the Fitzgerald probe to the accusations against Berger:

The long-running FBI investigation into whether Sandy Berger had criminally mishandled classified documents was publicized in order to send the message that if the Fitzgerald grand jury indicts White House officials for blowing my wife’s cover, then there will be retaliation by levelling criminal charges against Berger.

[NB: Not an exact quote of Wilson’s response, but rather a close paraphrase.]

This was an angle I never heard before, and I think it’s worth elaborating. So here’s my long, annotated summary of all the remarks Wilson made on the Fitzgerald inquiry in the course of his lecture, official Q&A, and answering of questions during signing books. It has ample juicy stuff for the avid Plamegate aficionados, including some stuff that I, at least, hadn’t heard before (and I’m pretty sure I fit in the category of avid Plamegate aficionado). But for the non-aficionado, you are forewarned that the following may seem overly detailed…
Read the rest of this entry »

Now that there has been a week to approach the Iraq-Africa uranium intelligence through the admittedly fun but not all that enlightening angle of “Joe Wilson is a jackass with ulterior motives! / No, Joe Wilson is still right!”, the time is ripe to approach the issue from more interesting angles, ones that better befit our duty as citizens in a Republic that still does make at least intermittent efforts to be transparent.

One obvious question is: How many independent sources did the US intelligence community really have in regard to possible dealings between Iraq and various African countries (famously Niger, but Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also often mentioned)? In particular, how many times (and alas it appears the answer is not zero) did the US wrongly believe one foreign intelligence service was independently corroborating the report of another foreign intelligence service when in fact the first service was merely repeating the report of the second?

This issue, I feel, has already been elucidated as well as it can be given the redactions in the Senate Select Committee Report on prewar intelligence(available here in a full-text searchable PDF format thanks to Simson Garfinkel at the MIT Technology Review Blog—Go MIT!! Nerd Pride!!). See especially the analysis by the investigative reporter Laura Rozen posted on her blog “War and Piece” (beginning here, with followups here and here).

[Hat tip to Matthew Yglesias for this post reminding me that I’ve been remiss not to read Ms. Rozen regularly.]

So now the question I’d most like to see answered is this: On the issue of whether Iraq sought uranium from a country other than Niger, was there any evidence rising beyond the level of hearsay?

The main reason why I ask is this passage from the Senate Select Committee Report on prewar intelligence:

(U) On January 28, 2003, the President noted in his State of the Union address that “… the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” At the time the President delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech. CIA Iraq nuclear analysts and the Director of WINPAC [i.e., the Director of Central Intelligence’s Center for Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control] told Committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries. [emphasis mine]

[Source: Page 66 of the Senate Select Committee Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s
Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq
, which note is Page 76 of the full-text searchable PDF file]

This passage certainly implies that numerous CIA analysts felt that the discredited Niger documents were the only pieces of evidence rising beyond the level of hearsay that Iraq sought uranium anywhere in Africa. (It would be horribly ironic given all the vitriol expended in debates along the lines of “Bush lied about Niger! / No, you twit, ‘sought uranium in Africa‘ is all the President said!” if the Senate Select Committee were so careless in discriminating between Africa versus Niger.)

How widely shared was this belief that the Niger allegations were the only significant ones? To me, it seems that this belief must have been pretty widely shared given that once Joseph Wilson publicized the Niger issue, the line of defense chosen by President Bush was not that “I said ‘Africa’ not ‘Niger’,” but rather “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services,” at which point DCI Tenet took responsibility for the error claiming, “These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president” explaining that while it was “factually correct” to say British intelligence made such a claim, “This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed.”

Two other questions I’d like to see answered are these:

1) To me, it seems there is a common misconception as to when potentially forged documents purporting to be direct proof of an Iraq-Niger uranium deal came into US hands. The most infamous set documents now widely acknowledged to be forged are dubbed “The Niger Documents” by the Senate Select Committee and are described by them as follows:

G. The Niger Documents

(######) On October 9, 2002, an Italian journalist from the magazine Panorama provided U.S. Embassy Rome with copies of documents8 pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. The journalist had acquired the documents from a source who had requested 15,000 Euros in return for their publication, and wanted the embassy to authenticate the documents. Embassy officers provided copies of the documents to the CIA’s ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### because the embassy, which did collect the information, was sending copies of the documents back to State Department headquarters.

8 (#) The documents from the Italian journalist are those that were later passed to the IAEA and discovered to have been forged. In March 2003, the Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Rockefeller, requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigate the source of the documents, ### CENSORED ### CENSORED ### , the motivation of those responsible for the forgeries, and the extent to which the forgeries were part of a disinformation campaign. Because of the FBI’s investigation into this matter, the Committee did not examine these issues.

[Source: Page 57 of the Senate Select Committee Report, which note is Page 67 of the aforementioned full-text searchable PDF file Note that my use of boldface pound signs # to mark censored text is my own scheme to give an approximate sense of the length of the censored text in the actual report.]

In comparison, Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA occurred in late February 2002, i.e., seven months before “The Niger Documents” came into US hands and a full year before they were publicly discredited by the IAEA. This fact has led many of Ambassador Wilson’s detractors to attack him along the following lines (this particular rendition comes from Bill Safire’s New York Times column “16 Truthful Words” yesterday):

But when word leaked about the fake documents — which were not the basis of the previous reporting by our allies — Wilson launched his publicity campaign, acting as if he had known earlier about the forgeries. The Senate reports that in his misleading anonymous leak to The Washington Post, “He said he may have misspoken . . . he said he may have become confused about his own recollection. . . .”

However, “The Niger Documents” were not the only documents purporting to be direct evidence of a uranium sales agreement between Iraq and Niger. Indeed, as the Senate Select Committee documents on pages 37-38 of its Report, Vice-President Cheney’s question to the CIA that eventually led to the CIA sending Ambassador Wilson to Niger was sparked by a February 5, 2002 report from a “foreign intelligence service” (subsequently disclosed to be that of the UK) that purported to reproduce the “verbatim text” of a completed uranium sales agreement between Iraq and Niger negotiated on July 5-6, 2000. It was this highly detailed report, with its purported “verbatim text” of an actual sales agreement, that constituted the key reason for US concern of an Iraq-Niger deal. Thus, if one believes the consensus of the world intelligence community that no such specific uranium sales agreement was ever negotiated (though Iraq may indeed have “sought” uranium), then one must conclude bogus documentation entered the hands foreign intelligence services and was relayed to US intelligence services before Ambassador Wilson’s trip in late February 2002, much earlier than “The Niger Documents” of October 2002.

So finally here’s the first of the other questions I want answered: On what documents was the “verbatim text” in this February 5, 2002 report from British Intelligence based? Were copies of at least some of these documents among “The Niger Documents” (i.e., the documents obtained by the Italian journalist in October 2002 and subsequently described as “blatant forgeries” by the IAEA in March 2003)? If the answer is no, does this mean there was there some separate set of forgeries out there other than “The Niger Documents”? Alternatively if the answer is no, did the Brits get their “verbatim text” indirectly?

2) Is the Senate Select Committee engaging in strong-but-subtle criticism of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) when it repeatedly mentions—in passing and without any particular emphasis—that particular DIA reports did not mention any concerns about the credibility of their sources? The most notable instance of such possible strong-but-subtle criticism is the Select Committee’s description of the DIA report that sparked Vice-President Cheney’s question to his CIA briefer which eventually led to the CIA sending Ambassador Wilson to Niger:

(######) Based on information from the CIA report from the foreign service, on February 12, 2002, the DIA wrote a finished intelligence product titled Niamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad (NMJIC [National Military Joint Intelligence Center] Executive Highlight, Vol 028-02, February 12, 2002). The product outlined the details in the DO intelligence report, namely, that Niger had agreed to deliver 500 tons of yellowcake uranium to Iraq ### CENSORED ### The piece concluded that “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” The product did not include any judgments about the credibility of the reporting.

(######) After reading the DIA report, the Vice President asked his morning briefer for the CIA’s analysis of the issue…

[Source: Page 38 of the Senate Select Committee Report, i.e., Page 48 of the aforementioned PDF.]

Is it just me, or does entitling a report Niamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad seem negligent in the absence of multiple credible sourcing? (And is it just me, or does the fact Vice President Cheney after reading this DIA report immediately asked for a second opinion in the form of a CIA assessment imply that he’s, shall we say, a guy who’s been around the block a couple times?)

Reasons for Hope

July 1, 2004

To all those depressed after reading my post “We Cannot Save Everyone, But We Must Save Everyone We Can”, I offer the following reasons for hope:

1) Khartoum vows to rein in militias

Given that past promises by the Sudanese government to rein in the Janjaweed militia in Darfur have gone unfulfilled, it’d be foolish to believe that Secretary Powell’s visit will magically cause an instant stop to the Janjaweed and immediate full access of humanitarian aid workers to the region. (Heck, the onset of the rainy season is going to prevent the latter even if everyone involved suddenly felt exceedingly charitable to his or her fellow human beings. Worse, a refugee crisis of a million souls is an invitation to pestilence even in the best of circumstances.) However, the first step to stopping genocide is to stop averting our gaze from it. Powell—the first high level US official to visit Sudan in decades—personally visited a refugee camp. He personally bore witness. It’s a real start.

2) Crackdown on key Karadzic allies.

Hearty hearts able to bear harshly dashed hopes should pay special attention to the seemingly buried lead in the very last line:

On Tuesday, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor for former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, said she expected Mr Karadzic to be arrested “very soon”, but refused to explain her optimism.

[UPDATE – July 1, 10:53 AM: Kevin Drum highlights good links for both current Karadzic developments and the history of the tragedy/farce that has been the international community’s pursuit of him.]