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Context of 'February 5, 2003: US Provides IAEA with Copy of Niger Documents'

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Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Marshall, 11/10/2005; Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” [Marshall, 11/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, meets briefly with US National Security Council officials. [Il Foglio (Milan), 10/28/2005] Present at the meeting are National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; her deputy, Stephen Hadley; and other US and Italian officials. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005; American Prospect, 10/25/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/26/2005; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2005; AGI online, 10/29/2005]
Mysterious 'Courtesy Call' - Pollari can presumably set the record straight on the question of whether Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes for manufacturing rockets or for use in building muclear weapons (see Between April 2001 and September 2002, April 11, 2001, July 25, 2002, September 24, 2002, October 1, 2002, Between December 2002 and January 2003, January 11, 2003, and March 7, 2003)—the aluminum tubes in question are exactly the same as the Italians use in their Medusa air-to-ground missile systems (see December 2002). Apparently Iraq is trying to reproduce “obsolete” missile systems dating back to when Italy and Iraq engaged in military trade. Pollari could also discuss the documents alleging that Iraq and Niger entered into a secret uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001), a set of documents originally promulgated by SISMI and now thoroughly discredited (see February 5, 2003). But apparently Pollari discusses none of this with White House officials. Hadley, who hosts the meeting with Pollari, will refuse to say what they discuss, except to label Pollari’s visit “just a courtesy call,” and will add, “Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents passed.”
Meeting with Hadley, Not Tenet, Significant - Author Craig Unger will write in 2007 that the real significance of the meeting is that Pollari meets with Hadley (widely considered an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney), and not with Pollari’s counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi later says, “It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the CIA. It is uniquely unusual.” Of the Iraq-Niger documents, Giraldi will say, “In spite of lots of people having seen the documents, and having said they were not right, they went around them.” Former CIA and State Department analyst Melvin Goodman will concur. “To me there is no benign interpretation of” the Pollari-Hadley meeting, Goodman will say. “At the highest level it was known that the documents were forgeries. Stephen Hadley knew it. Condi Rice [Hadley’s supervisor] knew it. Everyone at the highest level knew.” Neoconservative columnist, author, and former Italian intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, who has close ties with both Pollari and Hadley and may have played a part in producing the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see December 9, 2001). will deny setting up the meeting. And a former CIA official speaking on Tenet’s behalf will say that Tenet has no information to suggest that Pollari or elements of SISMI were trying to circumvent the CIA and go directly to the White House. [Unger, 2007, pp. 258-259] (In 2006, history professor Gary Leupp will write that Ledeen is the informal liaison between SISMI and the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002). [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Downplaying Significance of Meeting - The Bush administration later insists the meeting was of little importance. Frederick Jones, a National Security Council spokesman, describes the meeting as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less. He also says, “No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake [uranium oxide] being discussed or documents being provided.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Meeting Remains Secret until 2005 - This meeting is not reported until 2005, when Italy’s La Repubblica reports that a meeting—arranged through a backchannel by Gianni Castellaneta, the Italian prime minister’s diplomatic advisor—took place between Pollari and Hadley on this date. The report is refuted by Italy which insists it was actually a short meeting between Pollari and Rice. Italy says that although Hadley was present, he was really not part of the meeting. [AGI online, 10/29/2005] It is not clear from the reporting, however, if the meeting acknowledged by Italy and Washington, is in fact the same meeting reported by La Repubblica.

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Craig Unger, George J. Tenet, Gianni Castellaneta, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen J. Hadley, Nicolo Pollari, Philip Giraldi, SISMI

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

The first draft of the British intelligence dossier entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” (see February 5, 2003) is circulated. The principal author is John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and therefore the report comes to be known as the “Scarlett dossier.” Scarlett had considerable input from intelligence officials and Downing Street officials, including communications director Alastair Campbell, who will later insist he gave nothing more than “presentational” advice and did not pressure Scarlett to “sex up” the dossier. (Campbell’s claim will be challenged when evidence is later produced that shows senior press official John Williams helped Scarlett write the dossier—see February 18, 2008.) Section 6 of the first draft states flatly that “Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa.” The context of the section makes it clear that the reference is not to uranium purchased by Iraq from Niger in 1982 and later sealed and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is clear that the reference is to the supposed uranium deal from 1999-2000. That deal was clearly never made, and allegations to the contrary were based upon fabricated documents. Fabricated evidence or not, the dossier states that not only was Iraq seeking uranium, but that uranium “has been purchased.” Eight pages later, the dossier claims that “there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” a significant language shift—from flat certainty to an assertion of “compelling evidence.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes that “recent intelligence… indicates” Iraq “has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear programme that would require it.” The document’s claims fluctuate from one section to the next. [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003] The final version will be released later in the month, and include the same vagaries of language (see September 24, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Scarlett, International Atomic Energy Agency, John Williams, Joint Intelligence Committee, Alastair Campbell

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58] Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 162; CBS News, 4/23/2006] According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Simon Dodge, National Security Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Energy, Defense Intelligence Agency, Wayne White

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

After months of delay, the US State Department provides French nuclear scientist Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, with the Niger documents (see March 2000). The State Department includes the following caveat with the documents: “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” [Independent, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] Only Baute and International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei are authorized to view the documents. The memo about an alleged plan (see October 15, 2002) to form an anti-Western coalition is not included in the set of papers. Baute, who assumes the papers are authentic, travels to Baghdad and interviews several current and former Iraqi officials about the alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger. When he returns from his trip on February 17, he examines the documents and almost immediately concludes they are fakes (see February 17, 2003). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 201-203]

Entity Tags: Mohamed ElBaradei, Jacques Baute, US Department of State

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

Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, returns to Vienna after having interviewed several current and former Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The Iraqis denied that their government had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, as has been alleged by the Bush administration. Baute does not believe the Iraqis were telling the truth and intends to confront them with the Niger documents after he has researched the details of the purported uranium purchase deal that is described in the documents. He is concerned to see that the documents contain a note from US intelligence officials that reads, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” Baute conducts an initial Google search for a few keywords and phrases from the documents and quickly finds an inaccurate reference to Niger’s constitution. “At that point,” Baute later recalls, “I completely changed the focus of my search to ‘Are these documents real?’ rather than ‘How can I catch the Iraqis?’” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 202-203; Unger, 2007, pp. 289] Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters how easy it was for Baute to determine that the documents were fakes. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly,” she says. [Independent, 6/5/2003] In another interview, Fleming adds: “It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries. We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005] When Baute asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later recall in an interview with Seymour Hersh. [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Erroneous Postmark - A letter dated October 10, 2000 bears a September 28 postmark, indicating it was received over two weeks before its supposed writing. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Names and Titles Incorrect - Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou. Experts say the signature is an obvious forgery. An IAEA official will tell Reuters: “It doesn’t even look close to the signature of the president. I’m not a [handwriting] expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” [Unknown, n.d.; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The incorrectly postmarked letter is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou”—Niger’s foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237] Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican. When al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. [Unknown, n.d.; Independent, 8/10/2003]
Letterhead Erroneous - In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. [Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger’s ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003]
Incorrect Citation of Constitution - Another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution instead of the one enacted in 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Misspellings, Incorrect Dates - Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not correspond to the correct days of the week. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003] One of the letters is dated July 30, 1999, but refers to agreements not enacted until 2000. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Unrealistic Uranium Requests - The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger’s ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing‘… [an] IAEA official told me.” [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] Furthermore, the purported agreement calls for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters, a tremendously difficult undertaking. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Denial of Signature - Al-Zawahie is asked whether he had signed a letter on July 6, 2000 that concerned Nigerien uranium (see February 1999). Al-Zawahie will later recall telling the inspectors, “I said absolutely not; if they had seen such a letter it must be a forgery.” Al-Zawahie provides his signature to IAEA inspectors; he will later say, “[T]hose letters must have convinced the IAEA team that the document they had was a forgery.” [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, Melissa Fleming, Mohamed ElBaradei, Jacques Baute, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Wissam al-Zahawie, Seymour Hersh

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

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