Seymour Hersh, in his (as usually is the case) excellent article in The New Yorker says this:
"The government of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, President Bush’s closest ally, was also brought in. As Blair later told a British government inquiry, he and Bush had talked by telephone that summer about the need “to disclose what we knew or as much as we could of what we knew.” Blair loyally took the lead: on September 24th, the British government issued a dossier dramatizing the W.M.D. threat posed by Iraq. In a foreword, Blair proclaimed that “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam . . . continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.” The dossier noted that intelligence—based, again, largely on the sismi report—showed that Iraq had “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” A subsequent parliamentary inquiry determined that the published statement had been significantly toned down after the C.I.A. warned its British counterpart not to include the claim in the dossier, and in the final version Niger was not named, nor was sismi [ITalian intelligence]. "
Bob Somersby over at the (nearly always) excellent Daily Howler harped for weeks on this particular aspect of the NIger scandal--that Bush's "sixteen words" were NOT in fact a reference to NIger, because Bush repeated Blair's claims that "Sadaam has sought nuclear materials in Africa (emphasis mine)" as opposed to specifically saying Niger, and thus all reporting on Bush's words that didn't clarify this was misleading, lazy, or possibly worse. I think this is important because this is the first time the press, EVEREVEREVER, got around to actually dealing with Bush's raging mendacity, taking a meme from the blogworld and making it mainstream (as always, Paul Krugman gets honorable exception...). But in truth, as one reads the above, it seems clear (and to me has forever seemed clear) that the Niger claim WAS the Africa claim--that is, there was no other evidence to which Blair or anyone else could refer. NOw, ex post facto, vague and hopeful bits of spin were thrown out there by Cheney and others about some third country in AFrica, but none was ever named, no evidence was ever offered--e.g. just more bullshit. So, it seems clear that it was in fact reasonable to assume that Niger=Africa for the sake of this argument, and that sometimes, even my heroes like Somersby can have feet of clay.