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Context of 'Shortly after February 12, 2002: CIA Sends Report on Alleged Niger-Iraq Connection Directly to Cheney'

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Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org [ERiposte, 10/31/2005] , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003]
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; US Department of State, 9/2005]
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003] This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. [ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004, pp. 227] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mamadou Tandja, SISMI, Elisabetta Burba, Nassirou Sabo, Wissam al-Zahawie, Saddam Hussein, Jeff Castelli, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The US Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, disseminates a cable summarizing a recent meeting between the US ambassador and the director general of Niger’s French-led mining consortium. The director general reportedly explained that “there was no possibility” that the government of Niger could have diverted any of the 3,000 tons of uranium produced by the consortium’s two mines. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005] The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; ERiposte, 11/3/2005] Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Defense Intelligence Agency

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

Alan Foley, the head of the Director of Central Intelligence’s (DCI) Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) completes a “senior publish when ready” report, an intelligence assessment with limited distribution, which states, “[I]nformation on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report (see October 15, 2001) that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated.” The report discusses the details of a recent foreign intelligence report (see February 5, 2002) issued by the CIA Directorate of Operations and says that “some of the information in the report contradicts reporting (see November 20, 2001) from the US Embassy in Niamey, Niger. US diplomats say the French government-led consortium that operates Niger’s two uranium mines maintains complete control over uranium mining and yellowcake production.” The CIA sends a separate version of this assessment to Vice President Dick Cheney. Unlike the official version, the copy sent to Cheney names the foreign intelligence agency, which the New Yorker will later reveal is the Italian SISMI. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 376-377]

Entity Tags: Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Alan Foley

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

Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC—see Shortly after February 12, 2002), calls his senior production managers into his office. He tells the gathered officers, who control the output of WINPAC’s analysts, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” According to Peter Eisner and Knut Royce, authors of The Italian Letter, “The directive was not quite an order to cook the books, but it was a strong suggestion that cherry-picking and slanting not only would be tolerated, but might even be rewarded.” Eisner and Royce will call WINPAC “sycophantic” supporters of the Bush plan to invade Iraq. Reporter Laura Rozen will call WINPAC “a secret cheerleading faction inside the CIA for the administration’s most stretched Iraq intelligence claims.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 376-377]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alan Foley, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Peter Eisner, Laura Rozen, Knut Royce

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 6/5/2004]
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006]
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 pdf file; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” [Truthout (.org), 7/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Terrence O’Donnell, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Defense, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Emmet Flood, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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