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Context of 'September 11, 2002: Bush Speechwriters Almost Insert Uranium Allegation in UN Speech'

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Iraq procures “yellowcake” uranium from Portugal, Niger, and Brazil. Since neither Niger nor Brazil are members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are not required to submit the transaction to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Portugal, a signatory to the treaty, informs the IAEA of the transfers. Iraq also notifies the IAEA of the transfer in August 1981 and again in July 1982. The total amount of yellowcake uranium secured by Iraq is 563,290 kilograms. The IAEA verifies the amount transferred to Iraq; including the loss of about 40 kilograms from a drum damaged during Iraq’s salvaging and concealment attempts in 1991. Like other uranium transferred to Iraq (see 1979 and 1982), this uranium is verified and accounted for by International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) inspectors, and is kept at “Location C,” a storage complex near the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility in central Iraq. Later inspections show that Iraq has not been fully honest about its uranium purchases; it is not until July 1991 that Iraq declares the full amount of uranium it has received. Furthermore, later inspections will show that “considerable” amounts of uranium cannot be accounted for. By July 1994, IAEA inspectors will verify the complete amounts and dispositions of Iraq’s yellowcake. [International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88] Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005] But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari, Laura Montini, La Repubblica, Zakaria Yaou Maiga, Antonio Nucera, Craig Unger, SISMI, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House speechwriter Michael Gerson contacts John Gibson, another speechwriter, at his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room where he is putting the final touches on Bush’s upcoming speech to the UN. Gerson asks him to contact National Security Council aide Robert Joseph about some new intelligence that Gibson might be able to insert into the speech. If it’s not used in the speech, “it’s something we might leak to the New York Times,” Gerson says. Gibson calls Joseph, who tells him to write in the speech that Iraq was caught trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger. Simultaneously, the office of Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, asks the CIA to clear language so that President Bush can state: “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake (see 1979-1982 and Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001).… The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.” But later in the day, the CIA rescinds its approval for this passage, saying that the information for this allegation had come from a single source and was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The reference to the alleged attempt to obtain uranium is dropped. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 85-86; Unger, 2007, pp. 259]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Joseph, Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, John Gibson, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” [Washington Post, 7/23/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262] Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Gerson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 169] Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Matthew Scully, Michael Gerson, John Gibson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Senate Intelligence Committee, under the aegis of chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), issues a report on the US intelligence community’s prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq. Contained within the report is a section on the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), a section that author Craig Unger will call “extraordinary.” The report concludes in part, “At the time the president delivered the State of the Union address (see September 11, 2002, Late September 2002, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech” (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). It also finds, “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa” (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 6/11/2003 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 312]

Entity Tags: Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing


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