Skip to comments.How Niger Uranium Story Defied Wide Skepticism
Posted on 07/13/2004 9:24:48 PM PDT by conservative in nyc
ASHINGTON, July 13 - Soon after the Central Intelligence Agency heard in 2001 that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger to build nuclear bombs, the first doubts about the account were raised. But the story was included in President Bush's State of the Union address last year despite sustained skepticism by the State Department, disclaimers by another intelligence agency, assertions that key documents were faked and a dearth of evidence that eventually led C.I.A. officials to grow wary.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, in a report released Friday, has provided the most comprehensive review of what went wrong in the Niger case, which became a major political issue last year after documents that described the uranium deal were discredited as forgeries.
The Senate report disclosed deep concerns among intelligence agencies about the credibility of the information. It concluded that the C.I.A. had failed to aggressively investigate the Niger matter, described the agency's assessments as "inconsistent, and at times contradictory" and noted that the agency had allowed the uranium claims into intelligence reports to policy makers - and the president's speech shortly before the war - without proper vetting.
The C.I.A. first began looking into reports that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger in October 2001, much earlier than previously disclosed. A foreign intelligence service, which is unidentified in the Senate report but which is believed to be Britain's, had said Niger was planning to ship several tons of uranium ore - called yellowcake - to Iraq. The foreign service told the C.I.A. that the Iraqi sales agreement dated to 1999, and had been approved by Niger's president, Tandja Mamadou.
At the time, analysts at the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Energy considered the reports of Iraq's purchases of uranium from Niger to be "possible"; only a State Department intelligence analyst thought the report was "highly suspect," the Senate found. The State Department analyst did not believe that Niger would risk selling uranium to Iraq, in violation of international rules, and also knew that a French consortium controlled Niger's uranium industry, making it nearly impossible for Niger to make large shipments on its own.
In February 2002, the C.I.A. received more detailed information from the foreign intelligence service, including what was described as the verbatim text of the sales accord, but the State Department analyst still doubted its veracity.
Until then, Iraq's possible relationship with Niger was an issue being debated by a handful of intelligence professionals. That changed on Feb. 12, 2002, when the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a follow-up report that said in its title that Niger "signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad,'' and that caught the eye of Vice President Dick Cheney.
After he read the Defense Intelligence Agency's report, Mr. Cheney asked his C.I.A. briefer what the agency thought about the issue.
The director of the C.I.A.'s center for weapons intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control responded by writing in a report that "information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated."
Another unit of the C.I.A., the counterproliferation division of the Directorate of Operations, tried to collect more evidence.
Instead of assigning a trained intelligence officer to the Niger case, though, the C.I.A. sent a former American ambassador, Joseph Wilson, to talk to former Niger officials. His wife, Valerie Plame, was an officer in the counterproliferation division, and she had suggested that he be sent to Niger, according to the Senate report.
That finding contradicts previous statements by Mr. Wilson, who publicly criticized the Bush administration last year for using the Niger evidence to help justify the war in Iraq. After his wife's identity as a C.I.A. officer was leaked to the news media, Mr. Wilson said she had not played a role in his assignment, and argued that her C.I.A. employment had been disclosed to punish him. The F.B.I. is investigating the source of the leak about Ms. Plame, which was classified information.
Mr. Wilson went to Niger in February 2002 and met with the former prime minister, former minister of mines and other business contacts. In his C.I.A. debriefing, Mr. Wilson reported that the former prime minister said he knew of no contracts with any so-called rogue nations while he was prime minister, from 1997 through 1999. But he did say that in June 1999, a businessman insisted that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanded commercial relations with Baghdad, according to the Senate report. The meeting took place, but the prime minister said he never pursued the idea because of United Nations sanctions on Iraq.
Analysts at the C.I.A. did not believe that Mr. Wilson had provided significant information, so the agency did not brief Mr. Cheney about it, despite his clear interest in the issue, the Senate found.
The C.I.A. issued another report in March 2002, based on information from the same foreign service, saying there was a sales agreement calling for Niger to provide 500 tons of uranium to Baghdad a year. The foreign service did not identify its source to the agency, and the agency told Senate investigators that it still did not know where the information came from. Analysts at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research were still skeptical, but reports of Niger uranium continued to course through the intelligence system.
On May 10, 2002, the C.I.A. issued a report for policy makers repeating that a "foreign government service says Iraq was trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium from Niger." In September 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency published a report saying that "Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore" even as it warned that it "cannot confirm" whether Iraq had the uranium. In October 2002, a National Intelligence Estimate, an interagency review for policy makers, included the foreign service's Niger reports.
But as that information was being published, C.I.A. officials were growing uncomfortable with the evidence.
A British white paper on Iraq issued in September 2002, made the allegations public, but C.I.A. officials warned Congress and the White House that they believed the British had exaggerated the case. In a conversation with the deputy national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, persuaded the White House to remove a reference to the uranium purchases from a speech Mr. Bush was planning to give in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002.
Just as the C.I.A. was turning cautious, new documents surfaced in Rome that seemed to confirm an Iraq-Niger deal. Once the documents arrived in Washington, the State Department's analyst was dubious. In an e-mail message to other analysts, he wrote, "You'll note that it bears a funky Emb. Of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess.)"
A month later, however, the Navy issued an intelligence report saying a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in warehouses in the West African nation of Benin, and was destined for Iraq. The report included the name and phone number of a West African businessman coordinating the deal, someone supposedly willing to provide further information.
The Senate found that the C.I.A. never contacted the businessman. "No one even thought to do that," an agency official told the Senate committee. A month later, an American defense attaché finally went to the Benin warehouses and found only bales of cotton.
In January 2003, the State Department's analyst sent an e-mail message to other analysts saying that he believed that the documents obtained in Italy were fake. The "uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax," he wrote.
But by that time, the White House was already working on Mr. Bush's State of the Union address, and wanted to include some mention of Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium, the Senate report said. On Jan. 27, the White House gave Mr. Tenet a draft copy of the address to review.
He passed it on to his executive assistant to give to other C.I.A. officials. He never read the speech, he told the Senate, and did not realize it included the uranium reference.
It was left to midlevel C.I.A. and White House officials to deal with the speech. A C.I.A. proliferation expert talked with his White House counterpart about the uranium reference, but he did not question its credibility, the Senate found.
The next day, in his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
His address suddenly gave the uranium issue high visibility, but it could not withstand global scrutiny. In February 2003, Washington sent copies of the Iraq-Niger documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear proliferation. The next month, the agency determined that the documents were forgeries. On March 11, the C.I.A. issued its own assessment, in which it said it could not dispute the atom agency's conclusion.
"The Senate found that the C.I.A. never contacted the businessman. "No one even thought to do that," an agency official told the Senate committee."
You have got to be kidding me..
The article seems to use the fact that they did not find the uranium in the warehouse in Benin as proof that Iraq was not trying to obtain it. The fact that Wilson said Iraq wanted to talk about trade but had not been successful does nothing to contradict the idea that Iraq was trying to acquire the uranium.
I'm kind of sleepy but it seems to me that this became a major political issue when the lying Mr. Wilson wrote the NYT published op-ed. This after his several week long whispering campaign where he was referenced in both the NYT and WAPO. It seems to me that the NYT is paying suitable attention to their role in propagandizing the entire issue.
Correction, the NYT isn't paying suitable attention.
"His address suddenly gave the uranium issue high visibility, but it could not withstand global scrutiny"
This article is actually pretty good for the NYSlimes, but isn't the above statement false? Aren't the British and others STILL maintaining they were right about this issue, and therefore Bush ALSO was right in his speech?
My husband is convinced that the CIA (i.e. Tenet) set up Bush....maybe he's right?
Caught by truth they spin.
Wrap a string around them and pull.
You're right, but I think the somewhat "factual" tone of this article is better than most, probably because of their hype of Wilson's lies.
But I'm not holding my breath...they'll be back tomorrow with a new attack.
I think this needs to be excerpted
"Aren't the British and others STILL maintaining they were right about this issue, and therefore Bush ALSO was right in his speech?"
Yes they are.
And the evidence they have isn't the forged papers.
On top of that significant amounts of "yellow cake" have been found in Iraq from the reports I remember reading.
The NYT touted Wilson's lies on the front page day after day. It has taken it a long time to do this tale, and even then Risen manages to hide the shreds of meat he does report in a pile of mashed potatoes, doesn't he?
This speaks volumes.
My position based on what I have read is:
1. Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger.
2. The Brits (and others) have the proof of this.
3. George Bush believes the Brits (and the others.)
4. Joseph Wilson lied.
5. The NYT lied about this story and continues to do so because it would be DEVISTATING to their socialist cause if the American public really started to believe that Saddam was working hard on building an A-bomb.
6. This article is just part of the ongoing NYT cover-up and muddling of this very important issue.
Both Clifford May (search NRO) and Christopher Hitchens (search Slate) have published pieces today that totally debunk this NYT version of "reality." Plame helped select her husband for the Niger "fact finding" mission and both she and he are partisan Democrats. Wilson told a host of lies that the Senate report "outs" him on. Hitch even goes so far as to point out that the CIA has become a Democrat outpost for undermining Republican presidents. Both these articles are well worth seeking out but I'm too sleepy (and woozy from a bit of wine) to post both links. May's column is excellent.
That simple question obviously evades the idiots who write for newspapers.
That is my suspicion.
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