Friday, March 21, 2008

Philip Morris Tries to Engineer the Cancer Out of Tobacco

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Scientists have genetically modified tobacco plants to knock out a gene that helps turns nicotine into one of the carcinogens in cured tobacco.

The Philip Morris-funded North Carolina State researchers say the work could lead to less cancer-causing chewing tobacco. In large-scale field trials, they compared the levels of N-nitrosonornicotine, a chemical known as NNN, between GM tobacco plants and a control group. They found a six-fold decrease in NNN and a 50 percent overall drop in a whole class of nasty substances known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines.

The new work appears in Plant Biotechnology Journal. The researchers do not state how much the use of the tobacco could reduce the health risks from chewing tobacco. Given the other 15-odd carcinogenic substances present even in chew, they do note that the best way to avoid cancer from nicotine is not to use it.

Not oblivious to consumer opposition to many genetically modified crops, the researchers then created a line of tobacco plants missing the same gene they'd previously knocked out through conventional breeding techniques. They are currently trying to introduce that mutation into commercial tobacco lines, presumably avoiding a genetically modified organism label.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture records, Philip Morris, a tobacco giant which had $66 billion in revenue last year, has run dozens of field trials for genetically modified tobacco varieties. All those studies beg the question: Can Big Tobacco genetically engineer the cancer out of the cancer stick? And if so, at what cost? (One can almost imagine an advertising slogan: New GM Chewing Tobacco -- Now Lower in Cancer!)

We'll be trying to find an answer for you over the next week with a rolling investigation. UPDATE (3/20): The first post on my research is now up. The USDA says that Philip Morris has conducted 33 field trials of genetically engineered tobacco, more than twice as many as any other tobacco company.

Grist: Gene 'knockout' floors tobacco carcinogen.

American Drug War

Mosaic News - 3/20/08: World News from the Middle East

Global Pulse - 3/20/08: Pakistan: Return to Justice

There has been a historic shift in Pakistan that is largely overlooked in the U.S. - a struggle for democracy, led by lawyers. In the U.S., the lack of news coverage has created a distorted view of Pakistan's President Musharraf and of the Pakistani people. The United States' support of Musharraf, widely considered a dictator, has generated anger at America in Pakistan's middle class.

Listening Post - Media keeping up with Iraq

We look at how media have kept up with coverage of the turmoil of post invasion Iraq.

Bill Richardson Endorses Obama

The woman who nearly stopped the war

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By Martin Bright

Politics uncovered by Martin Bright, New Statesman political editor

Of all the stories told on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, there is one important episode that took place during the build-up to the conflict that has gone largely unreported. It concerns a young woman who was a witness to something so outrageous, something so contrary to the principles of diplomacy and international law, that in revealing it she believed war could be averted. That woman was Katharine Gun, a 29-year-old Mandarin translator at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham.

On Friday 31 January 2003 she and many of her colleagues were forwarded a request from the US government for an intelligence "surge" at the United Nations (with hindsight, an interesting choice of words). In essence, the US was ordering the intensification of espionage at the UN headquarters in New York to help persuade the Security Council to authorise war in Iraq. The aim, according to the email, was to give the United States "the edge" in negotiations for a crucial resolution to give international authorisation for the war. Many believed that, without it, the war would be illegal.

The email was sent by a man with a name straight out of a Hollywood thriller, Frank Koza, who headed up the "regional targets" section of the National Security Agency, the US equivalent of GCHQ. It named six nations to be targeted in the operation: Chile, Pakistan, Guinea, Angola, Cameroon and Bulgaria. These six so-called "swing nations" were non-permanent members of the Security Council whose votes were crucial to getting the resolution through. It later emerged that Mexico was also targeted because of its influence with Chile and other countries in Latin America, though it was not mentioned in the memo. But the operation went far wider - in fact, only Britain was specifically named as a country to be exempt from the "surge".

Koza insisted that he was looking for "insights" into how individual countries were reacting to the ongoing debate, "plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies etc". In summary, he added: "The whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers the edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises." The scope of the operation was vast: "Make sure they pay attention to existing non-UNSC member UN-related and domestic comms for anything useful related to the UNSC deliberations/debates/votes," wrote Koza.

Gun was appalled by the email in two ways. First by the seediness of the operation: she believed the clear message was that GCHQ was being asked to find personal information that would allow Britain and America to blackmail diplomats in New York. But second and more importantly, she believed GCHQ was being asked to undermine the democratic pro cesses of the United Nations.

Secret email

Over the weekend after receiving the email, Gun decided to act. On returning to work on 3 February she printed out the document and took it home with her. She knew people involved with the anti-war movement and passed the email to a friend who was in contact with the media. This individual in turn passed it to the former Fleet Street journalist Yvonne Ridley, who had become famous as the reporter captured by the Taliban in 2001. By this time Ridley was a prominent opponent of the war. After first approaching the Mirror, which failed to verify the email, Ridley called me at the Observer, where I was working at the time, to ask if I would look at it.

The Koza memo presented me and my colleagues at the newspaper with a number of problems. For a start, the Observer supported the war in Iraq. Then there was the problem of verification. The Koza memo consisted of simply the body of the text, with all identifying information from the email header ripped from the top. In theory, anyone could have typed it. Koza's name was written on the back along with other clues to its veracity, but it could easily have been a hoax. We were also hamstrung by the fact that Gun had not come directly to the newspaper, so there was no way of going back to the source of the leak to check the information.

Peter Beaumont, the Observer's defence correspondent at the time, got his sources to confirm that the language used in the memo was consistent with the NSA and GCHQ.

But still there were doubts. One intelligence contact suggested it could be a sophisticated Russian forgery and another raised the possibility that British spy chiefs had written it to flush out anti-war elements at GCHQ. In the end, the paper's then US correspondent, Ed Vulliamy, struck lucky. After a string of "no comment" responses from the NSA, a phone call to the organisation's headquarters in Maryland was by chance put through to the office of Koza himself. This proved that he existed and we now felt confident that the email was genuine. Despite the paper's pro-war stance, the then editor, Roger Alton, would not have rejected a good story and on 2 March 2003 the Observer splashed on the tale of US dirty tricks at the United Nations.

The story was followed up around the world and caused fury in Chile, which had known its fair share of US dirty tricks during the 1970s. Mexico was equally unhappy and both countries distanced themselves from a second resolution as a result of the revelations. Other countries were less bold in the face of cajoling and bullying from the US, but it became clear in the weeks that followed the leak that a fresh UN resolution was never going to happen.

This was precisely what Katharine Gun had hoped for when she walked out of GCHQ with the document a month earlier. What she could not have known, however, was that George W Bush was determined to go to war, with or without the support of the UN.

Within days of the Observer article, Gun was arrested under the Official Secrets Act and almost a year later she finally appeared at the Old Bailey to stand trial for leaking the NSA document. But, in a dramatic retreat, the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, dropped the case at the last minute and despite her prima facie breach of the secrecy laws, Gun walked free.
What did she gain? She failed to stop a war that has now cost thousands of lives. She gave up a secure career as an expert translator. But she was one of the first to reveal the truth about the lies and dirty tricks that took us to war in 2003.

Britain's role

Questions still remain about Britain's involvement in the spying operation, which was the ultimate responsibility of the then prime minister, Tony Blair. A full inquiry into the Iraq War has now been promised by the present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and, among other things, this should force the government to disclose the full extent of its knowledge of the 2003 intelligence "surge".

Those who doubt whether Gun's actions had lasting his torical significance should refer to the statement issued by the Crown Prosecution Service when the case was dropped on 26 February 2004. There was speculation that Lord Goldsmith backed down because Gun's defence requested disclosure of his legal opinion on the legitimacy of the war. As was later revealed, his legal opinion shifted as the prospects of a second UN resolution faded.

On this the CPS statement is clear: "This determination by the prosecution had nothing to do with advice given by the Attorney General to the government in connection with the legality of the Iraq War."

Instead, the prosecution stated that "there was no longer a realistic prospect of convicting Katharine Gun". The reasons for this remain a mystery, especially considering that Gun had admitted to the crime of leaking the document. Her only defence was the untried "defence of necessity", under which her lawyers would have argued that her actions were designed to stop the imminent loss of human life.

The CPS statement contains the following intriguing paragraph: "The evidential deficiency related to the prosecution's inability, with in the current statutory framework, to disprove the defence of necessity to be raised on the particular facts of this case."

Read through the legalese, this is an astonishing admission from the government that Katharine Gun's actions were entirely honourable. She really had tried to stop a war.

A war of utter folly

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By Hans Blix

Responsibility for this spectacular tragedy must lie with those who ignored the facts five years ago

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a tragedy - for Iraq, for the US, for the UN, for truth and human dignity. I can only see one gain: the end of Saddam Hussein, a murderous tyrant. Had the war not finished him he would, in all likelihood, have become another Gadafy or Castro; an oppressor of his own people but no longer a threat to the world. Iraq was on its knees after a decade of sanctions.

The elimination of weapons of mass destruction was the declared main aim of the war. It is improbable that the governments of the alliance could have sold the war to their parliaments on any other grounds. That they believed in the weapons' existence in the autumn of 2002 is understandable. Why had the Iraqis stopped UN inspectors during the 90s if they had nothing to hide? Responsibility for the war must rest, though, on what those launching it knew by March 2003.

By then, Unmovic inspectors had carried out some 700 inspections at 500 sites without finding prohibited weapons. The contract that George Bush held up before Congress to show that Iraq was purchasing uranium oxide was proved to be a forgery. The allied powers were on thin ice, but they preferred to replace question marks with exclamation marks.

They could not succeed in eliminating WMDs because they did not exist. Nor could they succeed in the declared aim to eliminate al-Qaida operators, because they were not in Iraq. They came later, attracted by the occupants. A third declared aim was to bring democracy to Iraq, hopefully becoming an example for the region. Let us hope for the future; but five years of occupation has clearly brought more anarchy than democracy.

Increased safety for Israel might have been an undeclared US aim. If so, it is hard to see that anything was gained by a war which has strengthened Iran.

There are other troubling legacies of the Iraq war. It is a setback in the world's efforts to develop legal restraints on the use of armed force between states. In 1945 the US helped to write into the UN charter a prohibition of the use of armed force against states. Exceptions were made only for self-defence against armed attacks and for armed force authorised by the security council. In 2003, Iraq was not a real or imminent threat to anybody. Instead, the invasion reflects a claim made in the 2002 US national security strategy that the charter was too restrictive, and that the US was ready to use armed force to meet threats that were uncertain as to time and place - a doctrine of preventive war.

In the 2004 presidential election campaign, Bush ridiculed any idea that the US would need to ask for a "permission slip" before taking military action against a "growing threat". True, the 2003 Iraq invasion is not the only case in which armed force has been used in disregard of the charter. However, from the most powerful member of the UN it is a dangerous signal. If preventive war is accepted for one, it is accepted for all.

One fear is that the UN rules ignored in the attack on Iraq will prove similarly insignificant in the case of Iran. But it may be that the spectacular failure of ensuring disarmament by force, and of introducing democracy by occupation, will work in favour of a greater use of diplomacy and "soft power". Justified concerns about North Korea and Iran have led the US, as well as China, Russia and European states, to examine what economic and other non-military inducements they may use to ensure that these two states do not procure nuclear weapons. Washington and Moscow must begin nuclear disarmament. So long as these nuclear states maintain that these weapons are indispensable to their security, it is not surprising that others may think they are useful. What, really, is the alternative: invasion and occupation, as in Iraq?

· Hans Blix was head of UN inspections in Iraq in 2003

The Fed Packages Corruption as Sound Public Policy

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By David Sirota

Once again, the Fed is using a crisis to enrich corporate interests.

The Federal Reserve Bank's decision last week to address the housing crisis by extending $200 billion of taxpayer-financed credit to Wall Street banks was met with a stunned reaction typical of surprising events. But really, the move was the expression of longstanding isms that routinely package corruption as sound public policy.

Some background: During the housing boom, banks doled out home loans to financially strapped borrowers, often on predatory terms. On the creditor side, these same banks packaged many of the loans as complex securities and sold them off to unwitting investors, generating a handsome profit on the paper transactions. At the same time, Wall Street used campaign contributions to coerce Congress into blocking anti-predatory-lending bills and repealing a landmark law regulating how banks could buy and sell securities.

Predictably, many borrowers are now defaulting on their loans, meaning losses for financial institutions that hold mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The Fed responded with what author Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism - the age-old practice of using a crisis to enrich corporate interests. In this case, the Fed is using the housing emergency to justify giving taxpayer cash to Wall Street in exchange for its worthless mortgages.

"What the Fed really did was lend money to banks and accept the counterfeit currency as collateral, treating it just as though it were real money," says Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

But this is not only disaster capitalism, it is also Big Boy Bailout-ism - the kind we've become accustomed to since the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s. It is an ideology that rewards wealthy political donors for irresponsible behavior and ignores the real victims.

If you are a banking executive whose risky loans go bad, your industry's campaign donations get you Big Boy Bailout-ism that makes taxpayers "take the bad loans off the banks' books," as one financial analyst gushed this week. If you are a regular Joe who can't pay your home loan, you get foreclosed on.

The Fed's scheme also embraces Feed-the-Beast-ism - an ideology that prescribes pumping taxpayer money into a crisis, rather than demanding reforms.

Confronting an energy and climate emergency, Republicans' answer was not massive alternative energy investments, but a 2005 energy bill giving tax breaks to the carbon-belching fossil fuel companies that finance the GOP. In the face of a health care catastrophe, the Bush administration's 2003 Medicare bill didn't crack down on pharmaceutical industry profiteering, but instead created a system that effectively subsidizes drug industry campaign donors. The list of examples goes on, and now includes the housing crisis.

The Fed's action says the solution to the credit crunch is not to re-regulate the banking industry or force it to clean house, but to loan Wall Street your hard-earned taxpayer money, allowing the same destructive system to remain and permitting the same vultures to stay in their jobs - and, of course, to keep writing big campaign checks.

But worst of all is the Trickle Down-ism. For three decades, our government has said economic challenges can be solved with tax cuts for the wealthy - the same people who, not coincidentally, underwrite political campaigns. Trickle Down-ism claims that the wealthy will spend the tax cuts and the benefits will "trickle down" to us commoners.

It's the same nonsense with housing today. The root of the financial crisis is mortgage defaults - brought on, in part, by Trickle Down-ism's original failure to raise wages. Yet, rather than help borrowers pay or restructure their mortgages, the government is covering the banks' losses, claiming that aid will eventually "trickle down" and benefit the rest of us.

During the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We need not fear any isms if our democracy is achieving the ends for which it was established." It's the "if" part that has become the problem.

Clinton, Obama Are Wall Street Darlings

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By Janet Hook and Dan Morain

Donations to Democratic campaigns prompt concern that the candidates will go soft on regulation of the financial markets.

Washington - Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are running for president as economic populists, are benefiting handsomely from Wall Street donations, easily surpassing Republican John McCain in campaign contributions from the troubled financial services sector.

It is part of a broader fundraising shift toward Democrats, compared to past campaigns when Republicans were the favorites of Wall Street.

Some Democrats worry that the influx of money will make their candidates less willing to call for increased regulation of financial markets, which have been in turmoil after a wave of foreclosures on sub-prime mortgages.

These concerned Democrats argue that their candidates, and presumptive Republican nominee McCain, should be willing to push for financial institutions to accept more government regulation - in exchange for likely future bailouts, such as the recent deal the Federal Reserve orchestrated for JPMorgan Chase & Co. to take over Bear Stearns Cos.

"I want to hear Clinton, Obama and McCain talk about a quid pro quo," said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Democratic-leaning Economic Policy Institute. "If we don't hear it, especially from Democrats, it makes sense to ask why not and ask if they are inappropriately cozy with the financial services industry."

The flow of campaign cash is a measure of how open-fisted banks and other financial institutions have been to politicians of both parties. Concern is rising that "no matter who the Democratic nominee is and who wins in November, Wall Street will have a friend in the White House," said Massie Ritsch of the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations. "The door will be open to these big banks."

Sen. McCain of Arizona got off to a slow start in presidential campaign fundraising. Having clinched the Republican nomination, he could gain momentum in attracting Wall Street money.

For now, though, Sen. Clinton of New York is leading the way, bringing in at least $6.29 million from the securities and investment industry, compared with $6.03 million for Sen. Obama of Illinois and $2.59 million for McCain, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those figures include donations from the investment companies' employees and political action committees.

In 2000, by comparison, Republican George W. Bush went on to win the White House after collecting nearly $4 million from the industry versus Democrat Al Gore's $1.4 million. In 2004, Bush received $8.8 million, twice what Democratic Sen. John Kerry collected.

Spokesmen for Obama, Clinton and McCain deny that the candidates' ideas on handling the economic crisis are being shaped by donations from Wall Street.

The candidates' receipts reflect a broader trend that demonstrates how money follows power in Washington. It suggests that the nation's money managers are betting heavily that either Clinton or Obama will capture the White House and that Democrats will retain control of Congress.

Lenders active in the sub-prime business, such as Ameriquest and Countrywide, were major political players in years past. But in the 2008 campaign, they are bit players, giving perhaps $120,000 to all presidential candidates.

The troubles in the financial markets, however, have spread from sub-prime lenders to some of the nation's largest banking corporations and investment houses that traded in the mortgages, as Bear Stearns' failure demonstrated. And PACs and employees of many of those businesses - including Bear Stearns and its prospective new owner, JPMorgan - have donated heavily to campaigns.

Citigroup, the nation's largest banking company, also was among those enmeshed in the sub-prime mortgage debacle, leading to billions of dollars in losses last year and the resignation of its chief executive, Charles Prince.

Merrill Lynch too had multibillion-dollar losses last year, mostly involving soured mortgage-related investments. Merrill Chief Executive Stanley O'Neal, an Obama donor, also was forced out last year.

Overall, Citigroup and Merrill employees have given $519,000 to Clinton, $386,200 to McCain and $354,000 to Obama since January 2007.

Clinton is a top beneficiary of large Wall Street firms in part because she represents New York. And Clinton's ties to the financial services industry extend beyond donations: A senior economic advisor to her campaign is Robert Rubin, Treasury secretary during her husband's administration and now a top official at Citigroup. The consulting firm of Mark Penn, her chief campaign strategist, worked for Calabasas-based Countrywide.

Also, Bill Clinton's administration oversaw significant changes sought by Wall Streeters, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to allow commercial and investment banks to consolidate.

Hillary Clinton's position on bankruptcy code overhaul - among the most important pieces of financial legislation passed by Congress over the last decade - has been difficult to decipher.

As first lady, she encouraged her husband to veto a bill strongly supported by the credit card industry and opposed by consumer advocates to make it harder for people to discharge their debts by declaring bankruptcy.

Later, as a senator, she voted for one version of the measure in 2001 but did not vote on the bill that became law in 2005. (Her campaign said she did not participate because her husband had just undergone heart surgery.)

As a presidential candidate, Clinton has confronted financiers on the home mortgage crisis. "Wall Street helped create the foreclosure crisis, and Wall Street needs to help solve it," she said.

She has advocated a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures, a five-year rate freeze on sub-prime adjustable-rate mortgages, and aid to states to avert foreclosures.

Obama voted against the 2005 bankruptcy bill. As an Illinois state senator in 2003, he carried a bill eventually signed into law that provided limited protection for borrowers against so-called predatory lending practices.

In a statement, the Obama campaign said the candidate had sought to reduce "the influence of special interests over the legislative process." As a presidential candidate, the statement notes, Obama does not take donations from political action committees. He did, however, accept PAC money from Citigroup and others for his past campaigns.

"In front of audiences on Wall Street and Main Street, Sen. Obama has proposed an aggressive plan to mitigate the sub-prime mortgage crisis both to protect homeowners and to prevent the problems in the housing market from taking a toll on the economy as a whole," the statement says.

Obama and Clinton have been talking for some time about addressing the mortgage crisis. But some Democrats complain that they have been too timid in speaking out about what they see as the Bush administration's unwillingness to help homeowners even as the Federal Reserve moves to help major financial institutions.

"What that Wall Street money means is that few people in Washington, including the leading presidential candidates, say a thing when the government moves to bail out Wall Street before it helps homeowners," said David Sirota, a liberal activist and former congressional aide.

SEC Probes Shorting of Bear's Stock

Activity Surged In Days Before Firm's Collapse

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By David Cho

An unusual spike in trading of Bear Stearns shares preceded the collapse of the 85-year-old Wall Street institution last week, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into this activity, said a person familiar with the matter.

In particular, the SEC is examining a surge in short selling that occurred days before the trouble at Bear Stearns was revealed publicly.

In a short sale, a trader borrows shares and then sells them in the hope the price will fall and he can buy them back at the lower rate before returning them to the owner. The more the stock falls, the more the trader makes.

SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on whether the agency was looking into the trading of Bear Stearns stock.

Bear Stearns's collapse could have triggered massive losses at other investment banks and threatened the nation's financial system. But the firm avoided bankruptcy by agreeing Sunday to sell itself to J.P. Morgan Chase in a deal brokered by the Federal Reserve, which made an unprecedented pledge to take the risk of up to $30 billion in questionable assets on Bear Stearns's books.

J.P. Morgan will pay $2 a share for Bear Stearns's stock. The stock traded as high as $70 last week.

Bear Stearns executives are looking into whether rumors spread by former disgruntled employees or hedge funds triggered a run on the bank, said a company official who has been privy to those discussions. Last week, whispers of a cash crunch at Bear Stearns led many clients to pull their money out.

The short sales being examined by the SEC involve a specific option called a put, which allows a trader to set a price triggering the sale. Many of these sales involving Bear Stearns predicted a precipitous fall in its stock.

The number of short sales with this option jumped from 167,439 to 465,820 on March 10, six days before the buyout was announced, according to Schaeffer's Investment Research, which tracks this type of data. That increase was highly unusual. On March 13, 25,246 short sales with put options that bet the stock would fall to $20 were initiated, even though the stock had been trading above $50 most of that day.

On Friday, 25 percent of Bear Stearns's shares were being sold short, the highest level since Wall Street's credit problems began last year and five times the average for most stocks, said Tim Smith, president of Data Explorers. Shares fell, closing at $30. By the close of trading, Bear Stearns was the seventh-most heavily shorted stock in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.
That activity has prompted speculation that someone may have been trying to harm the firm.
The rise in short selling does not necessarily mean that market manipulation was taking place, but the spike in short trades occurred quickly, Smith said. Somehow, "people got inklings of what might be happening."

A growing number of investors who own the stock are actively opposing the buyout, which needs the approval of shareholders. Billionaire Joseph Lewis, who owns 8.4 percent of Bear Stearns, said in a security filing yesterday that he would launch a campaign for a new deal. Lewis has lost more than $1 billion on his investment.

The firm was also sued by the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit, which owns 13,500 shares. The pension fund asked a Delaware judge to halt the deal.
"The sale price does not reflect the value of Bear Stearns," the complaint says. "Shareholders are being shabbily treated given that the transaction was not designed to maximize or even salvage their equity." A separate lawsuit was filed by shareholders in New York on Monday.

Meanwhile, Charles E. Grassley, (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is asking questions about what happened to Bear Stearns. Yesterday, he asked his staff to closely examine how the deal was structured and to get more details on the Fed's offer to loan funds to J.P. Morgan.

In exchange for the money, J.P. Morgan was able to put down risky mortgage securities as collateral. If these securities fall in value, taxpayers would be on the hook to cover the loss.
"I want to understand what the downside risk for the taxpayer is and any upside potential," Grassley said in a statement. "Another long-time interest of mine is how insiders such as senior executives are treated in these kinds of deals. Corporate bigwigs shouldn't be able to profit from a deal while employees, shareholders, and creditors have to carry the burden of a company's demise."

Why the Pentagon Failed

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Sara Daniel Interviews Pierre-Jean Luizard

March 20, 2003, the war began.... Five years after the outset of the Iraq war, the country is still prey to chaos. Even the 30,000 additional men in 2007 have not sufficed to put an end to it.

Sara Daniel interviews CNRS sociology of religions researcher and Iraq specialist Pierre-Jean Luizard, author of "Laccitas autoritaires en terres d'islam" ["Authoritarian Secularism in Islamic Countries"] (Fayard, 2008) and "La Question irakienne" [The Iraqi Question] (Fayard, 2004).

Le Nouvel Observateur: What do you see as the results of the American occupation of Iraq?

Pierre-Jean Luizard: Five years after the American intervention, there is still no Iraqi state. Reconstruction of institutions under the occupation regime has proved a failure. That means the triumph of private interests - communitarian interests first of all, then, to an ever greater extent, local ones. All Iraqi political actors, without exception, have been caught up in an infernal mechanism that ends up emptying their actions and their speech of any political meaning. With no state to protect them, the Iraqis have, in fact, reverted to the lowest common denominator: the tribe, the clan, the neighborhood. It's a vicious circle: the foreign occupation bars any stabilization of a state and the absence of a state prevents consideration of an end to the occupation.

LNO: It seems that the agreements the American Army has made with yesterday's enemies, with the Sunni guerilla, to fight against al-Qaeda have resulted in a decrease in violence. What do you think of this American strategy? Is it the end of al-Qaeda in Iraq?

Luizard: Al-Qaeda never planned to take power in Baghdad. The international jihadists' sole objective is to trap the Americans on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates by perpetuating chaos as long as possible. In their eyes, Iraq is a choice battlefield against the Americans for stakes that far exceed the Iraq framework. Now the present situation offers them infinite possibilities for maintaining chaos. Up until now, al-Qaeda was curbed by its posture as defender of the Sunni community in Iraq. Today, the Americans have freed them from that "mission." In desperation, the Americans armed and financed their enemies of yesterday, with the immediate result of dividing the Sunni into a thousand rival allegiances, for the nature of any tribal policy is that it cannot satisfy everyone. When you make an alliance with one tribe, when you pay them, you alienate another. For every fire you put out, you fan ten others. Al-Qaeda prospers in this hotbed of rivalries, enjoying an inexhaustible pool of kamikazes who now act - not in the name of the Sunni - but in application of the lex talionis after a husband, brother or son is killed by the new American-armed militia. The consequence is that the Americans have precipitated the atomization of the Sunni community, the ranks of which are now as divided as the Shia.

LNO: So Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 men to Iraq, "the surge," is a bogus success?

Luizard: In despair over the Iraqi situation in 2007, the Americans played their last card with "the surge." They bet enormous resources on "the surge." But the reversion to tribalism in Iraq cannot serve them the same way it served the British during the years 1920-1930. The Americans cannot continue to give 300 euros a month - almost twice a teacher's salary - to every militia auxiliary whom they arm. The temporary reduction in violence is due solely to this windfall. Wouldn't it have been better to have had a relatively homogeneous enemy to negotiate with on a political basis than these thousand allegiances that fight one another, mortgaging any political solution?

LNO: Is the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq that the Democratic candidates for president call for a realistic perspective?

Luizard: Today in Iraq, there can only be a pretence of withdrawal. Look at what's happening in Basra, where thousands of people demonstrated to demand that the British return to the center city! They can't leave their homes any more without risking death.... So we'll witness a bogus withdrawal, just as the surge was a bogus victory intended for the consumption of American public opinion. The Americans are betting heavily on private security companies. These mercenaries who come from all over the world are called to play a growing role in this conflict, with the dangers and unintended consequences we've already seen. But this privatization has its limits. Without the massive presence of a foreign army, it's the whole laboriously constructed system that risks collapse.

Slump Moves From Wall Street to Main Street

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By Peter S. Goodman

In Seattle, sales at a long-established hardware store, Pacific Supply, are suddenly dipping. In Oklahoma City, couples planning their weddings are demonstrating uncustomary thrift, forgoing Dungeness crab and special linens. And in many cities, the registers at department stores like Nordstrom on the higher end and J. C. Penney in the middle are ringing less often.

With Wall Street caught in a credit crisis that has captured headlines, the forces assailing the economy are now spreading beyond areas hit hardest by the boom-turned-bust in real estate like California, Florida and Nevada. Now, the downturn is seeping into new parts of the country, to communities that seemed insulated only months ago.

The broadening of the slowdown, the plunge in home prices and near-paralysis in the financial system are fueling worries that what most economists now see as an inevitable recession could end up being especially painful.

Indeed, some economists fear it will last longer and inflict more bite on workers and businesses than the last two recessions, which gripped the economy in 2001 and for eight months straddling 1990 and 1991. This time, these experts say, a recession in which economic activity falls over a sustained period and joblessness rises across the board could even persist into next year.

"It's not hard to construct very dark scenarios, primarily because the financial system is in disarray, and it's not clear how to get it all back together again," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

To be sure, there are many places where talk of recession still seems as out of place as a diner trying to score a table at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant without reservations on a Saturday night. First-class cabins of airplanes are jammed. So are spas, cigar bars and children's clothing boutiques selling upscale dresses.

Unemployment, meanwhile, still remains at a relatively low 4.8 percent.

But even after the Federal Reserve's extraordinary efforts to prevent the collapse of Bear Stearns from spreading to other financial institutions, the danger still lurks that banks will grow even tighter with their funds and will starve the economy of capital.

"If lenders and debtors don't trust each other, that causes a power outage," said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners. "And that's where we are now." Until recently, Mr. Darda was among those still holding to the notion that the economy could generate enough jobs to keep the economy rolling. But the private sector has shed jobs for three consecutive months. Mr. Darda is now worried.

"We'll be lucky to make it out of this without something that looks like a recession," he said.

On Thursday, FedEx , whose global courier business tends to rise and fall with swings in the economy, reported that its earnings actually dropped in the United States and warned that in future months it expected to fall well short of its customary double-digit annualized profit gains.

"We just aren't going to be able to do that," Alan Graf, FedEx's chief financial officer, said in a call with Wall Street analysts. "The crystal ball for everybody is very cloudy here."

For now, there are still pockets of prosperity across the country. Farmers are enjoying record crop prices as the adoption of ethanol makes corn a way to fill gas tanks, and as rising incomes in China, India and elsewhere spell growing demand for meat. The weak dollar is helping exporters and retailers that cater to foreign tourists.

Eastern Mountain Sports, the outdoor clothing dealer, says sales increased by one-third this month compared with the year before at its store in SoHo. "A lot of that is Europeans coming over," said Will Manzer, the company's president.

With oil selling at approximately $100 a barrel, the Taste of Texas Steakhouse in Houston - a popular spot for events held by BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil - is reveling in days of plenty.

Even those areas suffering the downturn can bank on considerable help on the way, economists say, as the impact of lowered interest rates kicks in later this year, encouraging businesses to expand and hire. Tax rebate checks to be mailed out by the government this spring may lubricate spending as well.

Despite fears that the odds for a particularly severe recession have now increased, Mr. Zandi still subscribes to the consensus that the economy will shrink only modestly during the first half of 2008, then resume expanding as more money washes through the system. That would limit the damage to the type of relatively modest recession that hit the economy earlier this decade.

For the country as a whole, recent data shows that the economy is deteriorating at an accelerating rate. From September to January, average home prices fell 6 percent compared with a year earlier. Consumer confidence has been plummeting. The private sector shed 26,000 jobs in January and 101,000 in February, while those out of work have stayed jobless longer, according to the Labor Department.

Now, the broader discomfort is filtering into cities and towns that only recently seemed beyond reach.

Seattle's real estate market has slowed, but prices have held relatively steady. Even so, sales at the Pacific Supply Company, a hardware store in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, have fallen by 5 to 10 percent in the last few months.

"There's a general sense of caution," Michael Go, the store's general manager, said.

Ritz Sisters sells gift items like soaps and chocolates to shops and catalogs throughout the Pacific Northwest. In recent months, orders have fallen by one-fifth, said Tim Creveling, a co-owner of the business.

"People are just hunkering down," he said.

In Oklahoma City, Aunt Pittypat's Catering has lost one-fifth of its business in the last two months, as $25,000 weddings are scaled down to smaller affairs.

"People are just being a lot more conservative," said Maggie Howell, a co-owner. "They want crab and seafood, but they're settling for cheese displays."

In Cleveland, Lincoln Electric, which makes welding gear, has also experienced a slowdown. "Our growth is relatively anemic in North America," said Vincent Petrella, its chief financial officer.

The slowdown has proved severe enough to poke a hole in the idea that sales abroad can carry the economy even if they dip at home.

In North Carolina, Power Curbers, which makes equipment that turns concrete into curbs, has been sending more gear abroad. But domestic sales plummeted by one-fourth during the first two months of the year, Dyke Messinger, the company's president, said. In mid-February, Power Curbers laid off 6 of the 80 workers at its factory near Charlotte.

Many economists forecast that overall consumer spending will slip 1 percent for the first three months of the year.

"That's a wow," said Robert Barbera, chief economist for the trading and research firm ITG. "Outright declines for real consumer purchases are unusual."

What is shaping up as the second recession of the 2000s is the product of declines in home values, which play a far bigger role in most Americans' personal finances than the stock market. Households have borrowed against the increased value of their property to buy cars, send their children to college and add home theater systems.

"This is the bedrock asset for the lion's share of the population of the United States," Mr. Barbera said. "It's not like dot-com stocks, where I bought Webvan for 1,000 times the imaginary earnings, and now it's worth nothing but I go and have a beer. You're talking about the value of people's houses."

As economists try to assess the likely contours of the unfolding downturn, many see parallels in the recession of 1990 and 1991.

Then, as now, the dollar was weak, oil prices were high and trouble started with a sharp slide in housing prices, followed by major losses for mortgage lenders. The resulting savings and loan crisis spurred a buyout that cost taxpayers $240 billion in inflation-adjusted terms, and it brought a severe tightness of credit.

That recession lasted eight months, slightly less than the average for downturns going back to 1946, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. This one, though, could drag on longer, some economists say, because the underlying forces are more difficult to attack, even though Washington has been much more active, much earlier in lowering interest rates, sending out tax rebates and taking other measures to arrest an economic decline.

Back in the late 1980s, lending was concentrated in fewer hands. Once the government calculated the size of the problem in the saving and loan industry and assented to the bailout, confidence was restored and the wheels of finance turned anew.

This time, the size of the bad debts remains a mystery, with estimates reaching $400 billion. Markets fret that the next Bear Stearns could pop up anywhere.

The first signs of what became the mortgage crisis emerged back in August.

"Yet we're still fighting it," Mr. Darda said. "We're still dealing with this paralysis."

The Road to 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'

The Road to ’Operation Iraqi Freedom’

Go to Original
By Jason Leopold

Editor’s Note: As the war in Iraq enters its sixth year, a common refrain from politicians who supported the invasion is "don’t dwell on the past, think about the future." It is an argument that distracts Americans from the important lessons that this history can teach.

In this guest article, investigative reporter Jason Leopold recalls that history of how America was misled into the Iraq War:

The Iraq War, which was predicated on the existence of weapons of mass destruction and fear of another 9/11, has resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and has cost taxpayers roughly half-a-trillion dollars. (Estimates of Iraqi dead range into the hundreds of thousands.)

Yet, the invasion of Iraq was conceived prior to 9/11, according to Paul O’Neill, President Bush’s first Treasury Secretary. In the book, The Price of Loyalty, journalist Ron Suskind interviewed O’Neill who said that the Iraq War was planned just days after the president was sworn into office.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," O’Neill told Suskind, adding that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after the Bush’s inauguration and eight months before Sept. 11.

"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," Suskind said. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."

As Treasury Secretary, O’Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

O’Neill was fired from his post for disagreeing with Bush’s economic policies. In typical White House fashion, senior administration officials have labeled O’Neill a "disgruntled employee," whose latest remarks are "laughable" and have no basis in reality.

But a little known article in the Jan. 11, 2001, edition of the New York Times entitled "Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets with Joint Chiefs" confirms that the incoming Bush administration was working on a plan to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, even before Bush’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2001.

"George W. Bush, the nation’s commander in chief to be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm’s way," the Times story says.

Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The Times reported that "half of the 75-minute meeting focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because ’it’s the most visible and most risky area Mr. Bush will confront after he takes office, one senior officer said.’"

"Iraqi policy is very much on his mind," one senior Pentagon official told the Times. "Saddam was clearly a discussion point."

WMDs Cited for "Bureaucratic Reasons"

On Sept.13, 2001 – two days after the terror attacks – during a meeting at Camp David with President Bush, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials, Wolfowitz said he discussed with President Bush the prospects of launching an attack against Iraq, for no apparent reason other than a "gut feeling" Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, and there was a debate "about what place if any Iraq should have in a counter terrorist strategy."

"On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when," Wolfowitz said during a May 9, 2003, interview with Vanity Fair. "There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. ...

"The decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for bureaucratic reasons."

When the United Nations chose Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, in January 2002 to lead a team of U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction Wolfowitz contacted the CIA to produce a report on why Blix, as chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency during the 1980s and 1990s, failed to detect Iraqi nuclear activity, according to an April 15, 2002, report in the Washington Post.

The CIA report said Blix "had conducted inspections of Iraq’s declared nuclear power plants fully within the parameters he could operate as chief of the Vienna-based agency between 1981 and 1997," according to the Post.

Wolfowitz "hit the ceiling" because the report failed to provide sufficient ammunition to undermine Blix and, by association, the new U.N. weapons inspection program," according to the Post, quoting a former State Department official familiar with the report.

"The request for a CIA investigation underscored the degree of concern by Wolfowitz and his civilian colleagues in the Pentagon that new inspections – or protracted negotiations over them – could torpedo their plans for military action to remove Hussein from power," the Post reported.

Blix accused the Bush administration of launching a smear campaign against him because he did not find evidence of WMD in Iraq. He said he refused to pump up his reports to the U.N. about Iraq’s WMD programs.

In an interview with the London Guardian newspaper, Blix said "U.S. officials pressured him to use more damning language when reporting on Iraq’s alleged weapons programs."

"By and large my relations with the U.S. were good,’’ Blix told the Guardian. "But toward the end the (Bush) administration leaned on us.’"

White House Iraq Group

The Bush administration needed a vehicle to market a war with Iraq. So, in August 2002, Bush’s former Chief of Staff Andrew Card formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) to publicize the so-called threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

The WHIG was not only responsible for selling the Iraq War, but it took great pains to discredit anyone who openly disagreed with the official Iraq War story.

The group’s members included Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Bush’s former adviser Karen Hughes, then Senior Adviser to the Vice President Mary Matalin, former Deputy Director of Communications James Wilkinson, Assistant to the President and Legislative Liaison Nicholas Calio, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to the vice president and co-author of the administration’s pre-emptive strike policy.

Rove chaired the group’s meetings. Moreover, Rove’s "strategic communications" task force, operating inside the group, was instrumental in writing and coordinating speeches by senior Bush administration officials, highlighting in September 2002 that Iraq was a nuclear threat, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal in October 2005.

Another member of WHIG, John Hannah, along with former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith and Wolfowitz, were interviewed by FBI officials in 2004, according to a report in the Washington Post, to determine if they were involved in leaking U.S. security secrets to Israel, former head of the Iraqi National Congress Ahmed Chalabi, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

A senior official who participated in the WHIG called it "an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities," according to an Aug. 10, 2003, Washington Post investigative report on the group’s inner workings.

During its very first meetings, Card’s Iraq group ordered a series of white papers showing Iraq’s alleged arms violations. The first paper, "A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons," was never published. However, the paper was drafted with the assistance of experts from the National Security Council and Cheney’s office.

"In its later stages, the draft white paper coincided with production of a National Intelligence Estimate and its unclassified summary. But the WHIG, according to three officials who followed the white paper’s progress, wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence," according to the Washington Post.

Judith Miller and the Mushroom Cloud

The group relied heavily on New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who, after meeting with several of the organization’s members in August 2002, wrote an explosive story that many critics of the war believe laid the groundwork for military action against Iraq.

On Sept. 8, 2002, Miller wrote a front-page story for the Times, quoting anonymous officials who said aluminum tubes found in Iraq were to be used as centrifuges. Her report said the "diameter, thickness and other technical specifications" of the tubes - precisely the grounds for skepticism among nuclear enrichment experts - showed that they were "intended as components of centrifuges."

She closed her piece by quoting then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who said the United States would not sit by and wait to find a smoking gun to prove its case, possibly in the form of a "a mushroom cloud."

After Miller’s piece was published, administration officials pressed their case on Sunday talk shows, using Miller’s piece as evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear bomb, even though those officials had helped supply Miller with the story.

Rice’s comments on CNN’s "Late Edition" reaffirmed Miller’s story. Rice said Saddam Hussein was "actively pursuing a nuclear weapon" and that the tubes - described repeatedly in U.S. intelligence reports as "dual-use" items - were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs ... centrifuge programs."

Cheney, on NBC’s "Meet the Press," also mentioned the aluminum tubes story in the Times and said "increasingly, we believe the United States will become the target" of an Iraqi atomic bomb. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on CBS’s "Face the Nation," asked viewers to "imagine a September 11th with weapons of mass destruction."

The Cincinnati Speech

In October 2002, President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati and spoke about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the U.S. because of Iraq’s alleged ties with al-Qaeda and its endless supply of chemical and biological weapons

"Surveillance photos reveal that the (Iraqi) regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons," Bush said. "Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles -- far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and other nations -- in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.

"We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States.

"And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems aren’t required for a chemical or biological attack; all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it."

Also in October 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld ordered the military’s regional commanders to rewrite all their war plans to capitalize on precision weapons, better intelligence, and speedier deployment in the event the United States decided to invade Iraq.

The goal, Rumsfeld said, was to use fewer ground troops, a move that caused dismay among some in the military who said concern for the troops requires overwhelming numerical superiority to assure victory.

Rumsfeld refused to listen to his military commanders, saying that his plan would allow "the military to begin combat operations on less notice and with far fewer troops than thought possible - or thought wise - before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks," the New York Times reported on Oct. 13, 2002.

"Looking at what was overwhelming force a decade or two decades ago, today you can have overwhelming force, conceivably, with lesser numbers because the lethality is equal to or greater than before," Rumsfeld told the Times.

Rumsfeld said too many of the military plans on the shelves of the regional war-fighting commanders were freighted with outdated assumptions and military requirements, which have changed with the advent of new weapons and doctrines.

It has been a mistake, he said, to measure the quantity of forces required for a mission and "fail to look at lethality, where you end up with precision-guided munitions, which can give you 10 times the lethality that a dumb weapon might, as an example," according to the Times report.

Through a combination of pre-deployments, faster cargo ships and a larger fleet of transport aircraft, the military would be able to deliver "fewer troops but in a faster time that would allow you to have concentrated power that would have the same effect as waiting longer with what a bigger force might have," Rumsfeld said.

Critics in the military said there were several reasons to deploy a force of overwhelming numbers before starting any offensive with Iraq. Large numbers illustrate U.S. resolve and can intimidate Iraqi forces into laying down their arms or even turning against Hussein’s government.

The new approach for how the U.S. might go to war, Rumsfeld said in a speech in 2002, reflects an assessment of the need after 9/11 to refresh war plans continuously and to respond faster to threats from terrorists and nations possessing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Silencing Experts

One of the most vocal opponent of the administration’s prewar Iraq intelligence was David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector and the president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington, D.C.-based group that gathers information for the public and the White House on nuclear weapons programs.

In a March 10, 2003, report posted on the ISIS website, Albright accused the CIA of twisting the intelligence related to the aluminum tubes.

"The CIA has concluded that these tubes were specifically manufactured for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium," Albright said. "Many in the expert community both inside and outside government, however, do not agree with this conclusion.

"The vast majority of gas centrifuge experts in this country and abroad who are knowledgeable about this case reject the CIA’s case and do not believe that the tubes are specifically designed for gas centrifuges. In addition, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have consistently expressed skepticism that the tubes are for centrifuges."

"After months of investigation, the administration has failed to prove its claim that the tubes are intended for use in an Iraqi gas centrifuge program," Albright added. "Despite being presented with evidence countering this claim, the administration persists in making misleading comments about the significance of the tubes."

Albright said he took his concerns about the intelligence information to White House officials, but was rebuffed and told to keep quiet.

"I first learned of this case a year and a half ago when I was asked for information about past Iraqi procurements. My reaction at the time was that the disagreement reflected the typical in-fighting between U.S. experts that often afflicts the intelligence community. I was frankly surprised when the administration latched onto one side of this debate in September 2002. I was told that this dispute had not been mediated by a competent, impartial technical committee, as it should have been, according to accepted practice," Albright said.

"I became dismayed when a knowledgeable government scientist told me that the administration could say anything it wanted about the tubes while government scientists who disagreed were expected to remain quiet," he said.

Albright said the Department of Energy, which analyzed the intelligence information on the aluminum tubes and rejected the CIA’s intelligence analysis, is the only government agency in the U.S. that can provide expert opinions on gas centrifuges (what the CIA alleged the tubes were being used for) and nuclear weapons programs.

"For over a year and a half, an analyst at the CIA has been pushing the aluminum tube story, despite consistent disagreement by a wide range of experts in the United States and abroad," Albright said. "His opinion, however, obtained traction in the summer of 2002 with senior members of the Bush Administration, including the President. The administration was forced to admit publicly that dissenters exist, particularly at the Department of Energy and its national laboratories."

But Albright said the White House launched an attack against experts who spoke critically of the intelligence.

"Administration officials try to minimize the number and significance of the dissenters or unfairly attack them," Albright said. "For example, when Secretary Powell mentioned the dissent in his Security Council speech, he said: ’Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher.’ Not surprisingly, an effort by those at the Energy Department to change Powell’s comments before his appearance was rebuffed by the administration."

The 16 Words Were False

Eleven days before President Bush’s Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address in which he stated that the United States learned from British intelligence that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Africa, the State Department told the CIA that key intelligence behind the uranium claims may have been forgeries.

The revelation of the warning was contained in a closely guarded State Department memo, which didn’t surface until April 2006. On Jan. 12, 2003, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) "expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries," the memo dated July 7, 2003, says.

Moreover, the memo said that the State Department’s doubts about the veracity of the uranium claims may have been expressed to the intelligence community even earlier.

Those concerns, according to the memo, are the reasons that former Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to cite the uranium claims when he appeared before the United Nations in Feb. 5, 2003, a week after Bush’s State of the Union address.

"After considerable back and forth between the CIA, the (State) Department, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association), and the British, Secretary Powell’s briefing to the U.N. Security Council did not mention attempted Iraqi procurement of uranium due to CIA concerns raised during the coordination regarding the veracity of the information on the alleged Iraq-Niger agreement," the memo further states.

Iraq’s interest in the yellowcake uranium caught the attention of Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Association. ElBaradei had read a copy of the National Intelligence Estimate and had personally contacted the State Department and the National Security Council in hopes of obtaining evidence so his agency could look into it.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who made the rounds on the cable news shows in March 2003, tried to discredit ElBaradei’s conclusion that the documents were forged.

"I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong," Cheney said. "[The IAEA] has consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past."

As it turns out, ElBaradei was correct, the declassified State Department showed.

The declassified State Department memo was obtained by The New York Sun under a Freedom of Information Act request the newspaper filed in July 2005. The Sun’s story, however, did not say anything about the State Department’s warnings more than a week before Bush’s State of the Union address about the bogus Niger documents.

The memo was drafted by Carl Ford Jr., the former head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, in response to questions posed in June 2003 by "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, about a February 2002 fact-finding trip to Niger that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson undertook to investigate the uranium claims on behalf of the CIA.

The Ambassador Emerges

A day after Bush’s Jan.28, 2003, State of the Union address, Wilson said he reminded a friend at the State Department that he (Wilson) had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to investigate whether Iraq attempted to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger, according to Wilson’s July 6, 2003, op-ed published in the New York Times.

In his book, The Politics of Truth, Wilson’s said his State Department friend replied that "perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn’t know that in December, a month before the president’s address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case."

But Wilson was certain that the administration was trying to sell a war that was based on phony intelligence. In March 2003, Wilson began to publicly question the administration’s use of the Niger claims without disclosing his role in traveling to Niger in February 2002 to investigate it. Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s pre-war Iraq intelligence caught the attention of Cheney, Libby and Hadley.

In an interview that took place two-and-a-half weeks before the start of the Iraq War, Wilson said the administration was more interested in redrawing the map of the Middle East to pursue its own foreign policy objectives than in dealing with the so-called terrorist threat.

"The underlying objective, as I see it - the more I look at this - is less and less disarmament, and it really has little to do with terrorism, because everybody knows that a war to invade and conquer and occupy Iraq is going to spawn a new generation of terrorists," Wilson said in a March 2, 2003, interview with CNN.

"So you look at what’s underpinning this, and you go back and you take a look at who’s been influencing the process. And it’s been those who really believe that our objective must be far grander, and that is to redraw the political map of the Middle East," Wilson added.

During the same CNN segment in which Wilson was interviewed, former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright made similar comments about the rationale for the Iraq War and added that he believed U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to search the country for weapons of mass destruction

A week later, Wilson was interviewed on CNN again. This was the first time Wilson ridiculed the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger.

"Well, this particular case is outrageous. We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger, and for something like this to go unchallenged by the U.S. - the U.S. government - is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early 1960s. All this stuff is open. It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers," Wilson said in the March 8, 2003, CNN interview.

"For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq," Wilson said.

Less than two weeks later, on March 19, 2003, the U.S. attacked Iraq.