The argument for the war in Iraq unraveled some more last week when claims surfaced that Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger were false and the administration knew it.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush charged that one of the main justifications for war was Saddam Hussein’s attempts to purchase uranium in Africa. A few months later, it was disclosed that the intelligence was based on forged documents obtained by Italian intelligence and passed along to British and American officials.

Last week, it was reported that the White House knew that the information was based on faulty intelligence before his televised speech. A senior CIA official, quoted by Knight Ridder’s news service, said the CIA told the administration on March 9, 2002, that an agency source, who had been examining European intelligence claims, couldn’t verify reports that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in its bid to build a nuclear weapon. Vice President Dick Cheney, the Pentagon and National Security Council members were said to have disregarded the CIA’s doubts, saying that the president should still use it in his address to the nation.

The Associated Press also quoted a senior official who said that the CIA’s intelligence information was widely known within the U.S. government. The Washington Post, however, quoted its own anonymous U.S. official who argued that the CIA did not forward its findings to the White House or other government agencies and that its failure to do so was “extremely sloppy.”

The questions about what Bush knew and when he knew it remains as elusive as the weapons of mass destruction. A congressional hearing, anyone?

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