It seems that Joe Wilson – he who found fame through Plame blame – may have fallen victim to the illness that plagues a lot of publicity hounds. It seems he may have misunderestimated some important circumstances in his mad rush to summarize the Nigerian yellow-cake uranium export scene. It appears that his earlier conclusions were based solely upon (1) the quantity of green mint tea he consumed during a one week visit; and (2) the representations of various African officials (not exactly known to be a group of men frequently troubled by conscience. Indeed, as the Financial Times reports, it appears that Ambassador Wilson very politely investigated phony uranium sales conspiracy claims, while a real illegal uranium sales scheme was occurring under his nose.
Oh no! How could that happen? Bush must have lied, and people certainly had to have died… why, we’ve staked our countercultural cred on the fact. How could it not be so?
To intelligence professionals, cops and lawyers engaged in certain types of bare knuckle litigation, this scenario is familiar. It smalls like a red herring ruse.
In the intelligence field, we sometimes see “false flag” operations. Members and servants of one intelligence service will pose as members of another service, and make the assumed identity easy to discover in order to throw off investigators. For a purely (mostly) hypothetical example, a person with ties to Russian intelligence could pose as a Mossad member, and approach a Jewish American technician for classified information, under the pretense of helping Israel. The phony Mossad documents will then be rather easily found out, and “confirmed” by Israel’s denial that the agent wasn’t in Mossad. (Well, of course Mossad denies it – so if the agent asked for info on behalf of Israel, and then Mossad denied it, why, it must be a Mossad operation, because Mossad would of course deny spying on the U.S., so their denial is confirmation of their involvement…
In the legal world, I’ve worked on cases where similar things occured. Typically a red herring only works where there is a morass of information; in litigation, in cases that have a very heavy discovery workload – thousands of boxes. Opposing counsel “neglects” to notice a couple smoking-gun documents, which implicate the bad guys in a series of relatively minor white collar crimes, or civil offenses, or breaches of contract.
The discovered smoking gun – apparently “inadvertantly” released in the discovery documents in spite of attorney-client privilege, and in spite of extensive review prior to release – will cost the company money, and maybe some minor league criminal or civil liability. The document is usually a little ways into the main stack of boxes – maybe 20% or 40% of the way in. This tempts an attorney of average diligence to stop – hey, one smoking gun is plenty to get a win in the case. But then further digging, real grind-it-out diligence and analysis, later reveals that there are many serious problems that aren’t so easily detected. The “inadvertantly” released document was, most likely, a red herring to distract counsel from discovering really serious violations or breaches of contract that would be much more expensive to remedy than the obvious problem. I would chalk this up to accident, but I’ve seen it done often enough, especially by a couple White Stocking firms I’ve taken on repeatedly. So I’m pretty sure it’s a deliberate tactic.
I’m not yet positive that Ambassador Wilson fell for a red herring – but right now I am getting a whiff of anchovy. Wilson was apparently told by the Nigerian officials, “oh, sure, we have some smugglers, but we’ve got them under control. For example, here’s these smugglers who showed up with these here forged Iraqi uranium export papers.” Mr. Plame-Wilson appears to have ended his inquiry in that point, not enquiring further.
Were the forgeries a ruse, a mere red herring? I don’t know for sure. But like I said, there is something fishy about Ambassador Wilson’s tea-drinking safari.
Hat tip to the excellent Belgravia Dispatch.