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Context of 'June 18-19, 2003: CIA Official Briefs Senate, House Intelligence Committee Members on Iraq-Niger Assessment'

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Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

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

According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216] According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. [New York Times, 2006] Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). [Raw Story, 11/2/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” [Raw Story, 11/2/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, White House Iraq Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Grossman, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Frederick Fleitz, David Wurmser, John Hannah, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, learns from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). Grossman tells Libby that “Joe Wilson’s wife works for the CIA,” and that State Department personnel are saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in planning Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] Plame Wilson was working on counterproliferation issues for the CIA, and Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001). Grossman tipped the ring off to Plame Wilson’s attempts to penetrate it in the summer of 2001 (see Summer-Autumn 2001). Libby also receives the same information from an unnamed senior CIA official. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] According to Libby’s 2005 indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.” The next day, according to the indictment, Cheney will tell Libby that Plame Wilson works for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Marc Grossman

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003.Portion of Libby’s notes indicating the approximated date of June 12, 2003. [Source: Office of the Vice President / The Next Hurrah]Vice President Cheney informs his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division. Cheney tells Libby that he has learned that information from CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003). Cheney’s conversation with Libby is made public over two years later, when Libby is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in regards to the investigation of White House officials leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see October 28, 2005). According to the indictment: “On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the vice president of the United States that [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the counterproliferation division. Libby understood that the vice president had learned this information from the CIA.” Cheney was within the law to inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA employment, as he could with any government official with the proper security clearance. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 2/2/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby has also learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Marc Grossman of the State Department (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).
Date of Conversation Unclear - The exact date of the Cheney-Libby conversation is somewhat unclear. Libby’s note on the conversation is dated June 12, but Libby later admits that he wrote the date and the description of the conversation—“telephone VP re ‘Uranium in Iraq’—Kristof NYT article”—after the fact, and then changed the date at an even later time. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/3/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007] Libby will later testify that the date of the conversation might have been before June 12. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file] He will also testify that Cheney tells him about Plame Wilson “in an off sort of, curiosity sort of, fashion,” according to other court documents later made public. [National Journal, 2/6/2006] Libby will soon inform a reporter of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). He is aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Counterproliferation Division, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 2/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division

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

The day after CIA Director George Tenet received a CIA assessment finding the Iraq-Niger uranium claims specious (see June 17, 2003), CIA official Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, briefs members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the assessment. The next day, Walpole briefs members of the House Intelligence Committee. [National Journal, 2/2/2006]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Robert Walpole, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons.The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184; Washington Post, 4/9/2006] In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/22/2007]
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184] Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 361-362] Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Mayfield, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans

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

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