Recently, I've been reading Woodward's well-known book VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA. VEIL is a hyperdetailed account of William J. (Bill) Casey's tenure at the agency, which culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal and Casey's death just before he was due to testify on the controversy.
But the book also deals with other covert actions contemplated under Casey, in particular the Reagan administration's obsession with Qaddafi in Libya. The CIA was also trying to figure out how to aid Libyan rebel groups and dissidents, and monitoring as best they could the possibility of toppling Qaddafi.
And on page 166 of (the hardcover edition of) Woodward's book, I noticed this:
"Qaddafi was also stepping up his plans to get a nuclear weapon. In December 1980, the Soviets had delivered 11 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the research center outside the Libyan capital of Tripoli [...] Other reports showed that uranium yellowcake was coming in from Niger, the other Central African country to the south of Libya, on the UAA flights."
Or so said the intel reports, which Woodward's book repeatedly reveal to have been often slanted, shallowly-source, and highly politicized under Casey. Sound familiar?
So here's the upshot of all this:
When Bush/Cheney pushed the whole "yellowcake from Niger" angle, they were not only pushing an obvious fabrication. They were also recycling a nearly twenty-year-old CIA justification for toppling a dictator. Only the dictator the line was originally crafted to help take out was Qaddafi, not Saddam Hussein.
They simply reached into their old bag of propaganda tricks, and pulled out an oldie-but-goodie -- yellowcake. They were in effect saying: "Hey, this old line still has some life in it, let's give it another run up the flagpole."
I'll close with this from the Wikipedia entry on the whole yellowcake debacle:
In his January 2003 State of the Union speech, U.S. President George W. Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." This single sentence, known now as the infamous "Sixteen Words", would become a crucial justification of the administration's decision to conduct an invasion of Iraq less than three months later.
The administration later conceded that evidence in support of the claim was inconclusive and stated, "These sixteen words should never have been included." The administration attributed the error to the CIA. In mid-2003, the U.S. government declassified the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which contained a dissenting opinion published by the U.S. Department of State stating that the intelligence connecting Niger to Saddam Hussein was "highly suspect," primarily because State Department's intelligence agency analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction due to a French consortium which maintained close control over the Nigerien uranium industry.
To quote our former President: "Fool me once... Shame on... Shame on you... Fool me... You can't get fooled again." Somehow, I suspect this may not be the last time in our lifetimes that we hear some variation on this trumped-up threat.