The movie portrays Mr. Wilson as a whistle-blower who debunked a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger. In fact, an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee found that Mr. Wilson's reporting did not affect the intelligence community's view on the matter, and an official British investigation found that President George W. Bush's statement in a State of the Union address that Britain believed that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger was well-founded. [emphasis added]
The sentence that I added the emphasis to, the assertion that Wilson's review did not change the intelligence community's view of the question "Did Iraq buy yellowcake uranium from Niger?" appears to be indisputable true. The intel community was highly skeptical that Iraq has made any such purchase.
Also in early October 2002, an Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba, received copies of documents from Rocco Martino that indicated the Iraqi government had arranged the purchase of 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium from Niger in 1999 and 2000. The documents were signed by officials of the government of Niger and appeared to be on official letterhead. Under instructions from her magazine's editor, Burba gave copies of the letters to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, and then left for Niger to investigate the situation herself.
It quickly became obvious to Burba that the story was unsubstantiated and she quickly dropped it. Seems pretty clear that if a reporter could quickly discover that the story was baseless, then US intel services could, too. So did Wilson tell US intel services anything they didn't already know? Probably not, but the important point was, what was President G.W. Bush telling the rest of the world? What were those famous "16 words"? Oh yeah:
“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Bush very obviously had no intention of ever re-visiting the issue or of ever clarifying that the British claim was quickly found to be without substance. In 2006, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported that:
On February 27, 2003, the CIA responded to a January 29, 2003, letter from Senator Carl Levin which asked the CIA to detail "what the U.S. IC [intelligence community] knows about Saddam Hussein seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The CIA's response was almost identical to the points passed to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in early February, saying "two streams of reporting suggest Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger." The response said the CIA believes the government of Niger's assurances that it did not contract with Iraq but said, "nonetheless, we question, based on a second source, whether Baghdad may have been probing Niger for access to yellowcake in the 1999 time frame." The CIA's response left out the sentence, "we cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims," that had been included in the U.S. government's IAEA brief.
Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare with Prewar Assessments (United States Senate, 2006), pages 16–17.
Both a US Senator and the International Atomic Energy Agency were told that Iraq most likely tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Keep in mind that Jaques Baute, the IAEA Chief for Iraqi Nuclear Matters, did a single day's research on the allegation (Hubris, p. 203) and quickly concluded that the documents that were supplied to him had a number of extremely serious flaws.
Within a couple of hours, he discovered about fifteen significant anomalies in the papers. The letterhead, the signatures, the dates, the format of the document—none of them matched up.
Okay, "an official British investigation found that [the Niger story] was well-founded." But if any such evidence for such a conclusion existed, why did the US forward such preposterously flawed documents to make their case to Baute? If either the US or Britain had better evidence, why didn't they transmit that better evidence to the IAEA?
Joe Wilson did Americans an enormous favor by informing them that Bush was knowingly, consciously and deliberately lying to them.
The important question was not what the intel community knew. Bush's people, if not Bush himself, already knew for a fact that the intel community knew full well that the report was baseless. The important question is what was Bush telling the American people? On that, the WaPo had nothing to say.