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Context of 'March 4, 2002: INR Memo Casts Doubts on Alleged Uranium Deal between Iraq and Niger'

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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

An official of the Embassy of Niger in Rome returns to the embassy to find that it has been burglarized some time over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The embassy offices are located in a large apartment and office building near the Piazza Mazzinni. Little of value seems to be missing: a wristwatch, some perfume, bureaucratic documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. The documents and materials stolen from the embassy will be used to create forged documents alleging a secret plan for Iraq to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150; Unger, 2007, pp. 189-190] It appears that the people involved in the break-in also searched through and took some of the embassy’s documents and files. [Newsweek, 7/28/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] The first comprehensive report on the burglary will come from a 2005 series of reports in Italy’s La Repubblica news daily. The series is based on interviews with SISMI director Nicolo Pollari, former SISMI agent and document peddler Rocco Martino (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004), and others. Martino will deny participating in the burglary himself, and will claim he only became involved after SISMI had its agent in the embassy, Laura Montini, deliver to him documents secured from the embassy. “I was told that a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me” (see Early 2000), he will later recall. “I met her and she gave me documents.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207] Italian police will later suspect that the break-in was staged to provide an explanation for how a collection of mostly forged documents (which play an important role in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq) came into being. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88]

Entity Tags: Laura Montini, Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor.Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor. [Source: CIA]The CIA writes at least 15 reports (only seven of which have been identified; see, e.g., June 20, 2001, June 30, 2001, September 2004-September 2006, November 24, 2001, December 15, 2001, June 14, 2001, April 10, 2001) about Iraq’s interest in purchasing 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. Several of the assessments are distributed only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and are not sent to other intelligence agencies for peer review. According to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation, all the assessments rely on the same evidence and they all fail to note that the opinions of leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department conflict with the CIA’s view. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell, Greg Thielmann, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

While most US military and intelligence professionals dismiss the Iraq-Niger uranium deal as sheer fabrications that have been repeatedly discredited (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002), neoconservatives in the Pentagon keep the reports alive. They “delighted in telling people, ‘You don’t understand your own data,’” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later recall. “‘We know that Saddam [Hussein] is evil and deceptive, and if you see this piece of data, to say just because it is not well supported it’s not true, is politically naive.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 239]

Entity Tags: Patrick Lang, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, 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

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239] Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” [AfterDowningStreet (.org), 7/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

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

Vice President Dick Cheney asks his morning intelligence briefer, CIA briefer David Terry, about the Defense Intelligence Agency’s recent analysis (see February 12, 2002) of SISMI’s February 5 report (see February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. [Time, 7/21/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004] Cheney is reportedly dissatisfied with his briefer’s initial response, and asks the agency to take another look (see Shortly after February 12, 2002). [CIA Task Sheet, 2/13/2002; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Cheney’s questions quickly reach the desk of senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, who accepts the suggestion of another CIA officer to send her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate the claims (see February 13, 2002). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Terry, Counterproliferation Division

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

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

While former ambassador Joseph Wilson is still in Africa learning about the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Douglas Rohn, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes an intelligence assessment, titled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely,” that disputes recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The assessment reiterates INR’s view that France controls the uranium industry and “would take action to block a sale of the kind alleged in a CIA report of questionable credibility from a foreign government service.” It adds that though “some officials may have conspired for individual gain to arrange a uranium sale,” Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja’s government would have been unlikely to risk relations with the US and other key aid donors. And it cites the logistical difficulties of a secret transaction requiring “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton trailers” that would have had to travel 1,000 miles and cross one international border before reaching the sea. “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus,” Greg Thielmann, a high-ranking INR official, will later explain to Time magazine. “This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.” The assessment, drafted in response to interest from the vice president’s office (see (February 13, 2002)), is sent to the White House Situation Room and Secretary of State Colin Powell. [Time, 7/21/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 96-97; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, US Department of State, Joseph C. Wilson, Douglas Rohn, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Greg Thielmann, Colin Powell

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

The Office of Africa Analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) argues in a memo that the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” for a number of reasons. It notes that France—which jointly owns the country’s only two uranium mines and is dependent on them for forty percent of its uranium—“unequivocally controls the overall operation” and would not permit such a transaction to take place. “There are managers and engineers at every point in the mining, milling, and transportation process,” the memo says. Even if Niger did manage to obtain 500 tons of uranium from the mines, transporting it to Iraq (in two phases, as specified in the orginal forged documents) would have required “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers” journeying 1,000 miles to the sea and crossing at least one international border. “Moving such a quantity secretly over such a distance would be very difficult,” the memo notes. Furthermore, Niger officials would have deemed such an arrangement too risky because they “understand the value of good relations with the US and other aid donors.” “A payoff from Iraq of $50 million or even $100 million would not make up for what would be lost if the donor community turned off the taps to Niger.” [US Department of State, 3/4/2002 pdf file] The memo is distributed at senior levels by the office of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and by the Defense Intelligence Agency. [New York Times, 1/18/2006] (Note the similarity between this memo and the one INR released three days earlier (see March 1, 2002). It is not clear how they are related or if indeed they are actually the same)

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

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

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

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

Vice President Cheney and his staff have become increasingly reliant on intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see Early 2003). Cheney’s senior aide John Hannah, the liaison between Cheney and the INC, has become increasingly invested in the exile group. “He relied on Ahmed Chalabi for insights and advice,” a Bush administration official will later recall. Cheney has himself become an increasingly vocal Chalabi advocate. At a meeting of President Bush’s National Security Council, the State Department and Pentagon officials argue over whether to increase funding to the INC. Cheney, a former NSC staffer will recall, “weighed in, in a really big way. He said, ‘We’re getting ready to go to war, and we’re nickel-and-diming the INC at a time when they’re providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi WMD.’” The fact that no one else, particularly the CIA, could confirm anything the INC was providing was merely proof that the CIA was recklessly disregarding INC intelligence. The administration official will say that before long, “there was something of a willingness to give [INC- provided intelligence] greater weight” than that offered by the intelligence community. In return, Cheney’s aides tried to inject their intelligence into the CIA’s own conduits. One CIA analyst will recall that both Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, “come out there loaded with crap from OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], reams of information from Chalabi’s people” on both terrorism and WMD. One of the main channels into the CIA for Cheney and his staff is Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center. Cheney’s office inundates Foley with questions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, particularly about Iraq’s supposed attempts to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). At first, Foley attempts to push back by “stressing the implausibility of it,” a colleague of Foley’s will recall. But as Cheney and his aides keep pressing, Foley begins to give in. “He was bullied and intimidated,” one of his friends will recall. The pressure on Foley and other analysts is both relentless and hostile. One retired CIA analyst close to current analysts will recall: “It was done along the lines of: ‘What’s wrong with you bunch of assh_les? You don’t know what’s going on, you’re horribly biased, you’re a bunch of pinkos.’” A current analyst later explains, “It gets to the point where you just don’t want to fight it anymore.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Alan Foley, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), John Hannah, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Special Plans, Iraqi National Congress, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives a speech to Parliament concurrent with the just-released dossier on Iraqi WMD (see September 24, 2002). Blair combines fact—such as Iraq’s lengthy defiance and deception of UN weapons inspections since the 1991 Gulf War, the possible existence of tons of chemical and biological weapons material left unaccounted for in 1998, and the attempts by Iraq to subvert the UN’s Food for Oil program—with speculation that Saddam Hussein’s “chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons program is not an historic leftover from 1998.… His WMD program is active, detailed, and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running.”
Unverified Claims - Blair calls the dossier “extensive, detailed, and authoritative,” and says that according to intelligence data used to compile it: “Iraq has chemical and biological weapons.… Saddam has continued to produce them… he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shi’a population, and … he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.” Only the “45-minute” strike capability is not sourced from the dossier (see September 28, 2002). Blair makes a number of patently false allegations about Iraq’s nuclear weapons, including the disputed aluminum tubes claim (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) and the tale about Iraq attempting to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). “[W]e know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful,” Blair says. He tells the assembled lawmakers: “There will be some who dismiss all this. Intelligence is not always right. For some of this material there may be innocent explanations. There will be others who say, rightly, that, for example, on present going, it could be several years before he acquires a usable nuclear weapon. Though, if he were able to purchase fissile materiel illegally, it would only be a year or two. But let me put it at its simplest: on this 11-year history; with this man, Saddam; with this accumulated, detailed intelligence available; with what we know and what we can reasonably speculate: would the world be wise to leave the present situation undisturbed; to say, despite 14 separate UN demands on this issue, all of which Saddam is in breach of, we should do nothing; to conclude that we should trust not to the good faith of the UN weapons inspectors but to the good faith of the current Iraqi regime?”
Regime Change - After all of this buildup, Blair says that he is not necessarily calling for military action against Iraq, but “the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament… is overwhelming.” He then makes the case for regime change, citing the need for a new leader “who can bring Iraq back into the international community where it belongs, not languishing as a pariah. Someone who can make the country rich and successful, not impoverished by Saddam’s personal greed. Someone who can lead a government more representative of the country as a whole, while maintaining absolutely Iraq’s territorial integrity. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Liberated from Saddam, they could make Iraq prosperous and a force for good in the Middle East. So the ending of regime would be the cause of regret for no one other than Saddam.” Blair says, “our purpose is disarmament,” not military action, but it is hard to conceive how the regime change he advocates could be effected without military action. [10 Downing Street, 9/24/2002] Two years later, Blair will admit that the claim is erroneous (see October 13, 2004).

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” [Independent, 11/3/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003]
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004]
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002; Washington Post, 7/19/2003]
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 84; New York Times, 10/3/2004] It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003; Washington Post, 10/26/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 40] The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; USA Today, 7/31/2003]
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002]
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003; Knight Ridder, 2/10/2004] Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” [Associated Press, 8/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/26/2003] The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. [Washington Post, 9/26/2003] Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. [Washington Post, 7/19/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/27/2003] But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” [Daily Howler, 8/11/2003]
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005] Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. [Agence France-Presse, 11/30/2003] A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]

Entity Tags: Bob Boyd, Condoleezza Rice, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Paul R. Pillar, US Congress, Jeffrey Bedell, Stuart Cohen, George W. Bush

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

Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba flies to Niger to investigate some documents (see March 2000) she received a few days earlier (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). Not wanting to draw attention to her mission, she claims to be in Niger to investigate a newly discovered dinosaur fossil in the Tenere Desert. It does not take her long to discover just how difficult it would be to clandestinely ship 500 tons of uranium from Niger to Iraq (see March 1, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 261] “They would have needed hundreds of trucks,” she reports, a large percentage of all the trucks in Niger. It would have been impossible to conceal. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh will later report: “She visited mines and the ports that any exports would pass through, spoke to European businessmen and officials informed about Niger’s uranium industry, and found no trace of a sale. She also learned that the transport company and the bank mentioned in the papers were too small and too ill-equipped to handle such a transaction.” [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] With all evidence indicating that the papers are bogus, Burba returns to Italy, ready to write a different story: not on the claims of a uranium purchase, but on the attempt to pass off forged documents to make such an explosive claim. Instead, her editor, Carlo Rossella, calls her off. “I told her to forget the documents,” Rossalla later recalls. “From my point of view, the story was over.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Carlo Rossella, Seymour Hersh, Elisabetta Burba

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

Simon Dodge, an Iraq nuclear analyst from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes in an email to other intelligence community analysts that the “uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax.” He adds that the document (see October 15, 2002) suggesting that Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan had met to discuss forming an anti-West coalition was “clearly a forgery.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 164] A July 2003 memo from the INR’s Carl Ford will note that on the same day as Dodge’s email, the bureau “expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries.” [Carl W. Ford, Jr, 7/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Simon Dodge

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

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asks, “Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?” [Washington Post, 8/8/2003] Author Craig Unger will later write, “In referring to the Niger deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001) and the aluminum tubes (see Between April 2001 and September 2002), Powell was actually betraying his own State Department analysts who had rejected these two key pieces of ‘evidence’ against Saddam” Hussein (see March 1, 2002, March 4, 2002, and January 12, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Craig Unger

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

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. [US President, 2/3/2003] An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 269-270]
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003; White House, 4/18/2003; Independent, 6/5/2003] The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” [US President, 2/3/2003]
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” [US President, 2/3/2003] But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. [New York Times, 1/31/2003]
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” [US President, 2/3/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 315]
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 270-271]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, ’Curveball’, Saddam Hussein, Craig Unger, Mohammad Harith

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

US Secretary of State Colin Powell reluctantly accepts the task of making the administration’s case for war to the United Nations Security Council. He assigns his close friend and chief of staff Larry Wilkerson to go to the CIA and put together a team to craft a presentation. Though Powell has long harbored deep misgivings about the war, in public he has consistently and staunchly promoted the war, even when it came to repeating claims he knew to be false (see January 23, 2008). Powell also gives Wilkerson a 48-page report from the White House on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of banned weapons. The report is meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Powell, skeptical of the report’s data, instructs Wilkerson to have it looked over by the CIA. The dossier was written primarily by two senior aides to Vice President Cheney, John Hannah and I. Lewis Libby (see January 25, 2003). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger, 2007, pp. 275] The analysts at CIA will quickly determine that the documents are based on unreliable sources (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Speculation is already rampant throughout the State Department and among well-informed observers as to why Powell became such a reliable spokesman for the administration’s war plans. A State Department official will echo the opinion of others in saying that Powell is “completely aware of the machinations going on,” but wants to avoid any sort of public dispute among top White House officials—and Powell wants to keep relations with Vice President Dick Cheney on an even keel. Author Craig Unger will later note, “Regardless of what he really believed, Powell ultimately accommodated the White House to such an extent that he became the most articulate spokesman for the war effort” (see January 26, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, US Department of State, Colin Powell, Craig Unger, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, tasked with the duty of preparing Powell’s upcoming UN presentation (see January 29, 2003), meets with his hastily assembled team: Lynne Davidson, Powell’s chief speechwriter; Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); and Barry Lowenkron, principal deputy director of policy planning at State. They also consult with a UN staffer on the logistics of making such a presentation to the Security Council. Later that day, Wilkerson drives to the CIA building in Langley, where he meets with CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin. Wilkerson examines information provided for Powell’s speech by the White House, and quickly determines that it is unreliable to the point of uselessness (see January 30-February 4, 2003). He decides that his team will assemble its own information. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
INR Analysts Not Invited to Presentation Planning Sessions - Over the next few days, Wilkerson and his team works almost around the clock putting together Powell’s upcoming presentation. In addition to Wilkerson’s staff, McLaughlin and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are frequent participants. Others who take part include Rice’s deputy, Stephen Hadley; National Security Council officer Robert Joseph, who had ensured mention of the Iraq-Niger claim in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address (see January 26 or 27, 2003); another NSC official, Will Tobey; two of Vice President Cheney’s senior aides, John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby; and Lawrence Gershwin, one of the CIA’s top advisers on technical intelligence. Aside from Ford, there are no representatives from the State Department’s own intelligence analysts of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). They had refused to give in to White House pressure to “cook” the intelligence on Iraq (see November 14, 2001, January 31, 2002, March 1, 2002, and December 23, 2002). Their absence, author Craig Unger will later write, is “another striking indication that Powell had capitulated and was trying to avoid a showdown with the White House.… [T]he hard-nosed analysts at INR, who had not bowed to White House pressure, would be a political liability for Powell.” [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Inspirational Film - Early in the process, Wilkerson and his colleagues watch an archived film of then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s historic 1962 speech before the UN Security Council. Stevenson’s ringing denunciation of the Soviet Union, and his dramatic use of irrefutable evidence that showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, inspires the team to seek what Wilkerson calls “a similar confluence of evidence and rhetoric.” They want Powell to have his own “Stevenson moment” before the UN. [Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Roadblocks - Throughout the process, Wilkerson’s team is deviled by the insistence of White House representatives, most notably those from Cheney’s office, on the insertion of information and claims that Wilkerson and his team know are unreliable (see January 30-February 4, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 275]

Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Barry Lowenkron, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, William H. Tobey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, Lynne Davidson, United Nations, Robert G. Joseph, Craig Unger, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Stephen J. Hadley, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Lawrence Gershwin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq.Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq. [Source: CIA]United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission chief arms inspector Hans Blix provides a quarterly report to the UN Security Council on the progress of inspections in Iraq, as required by UN Security Resolution 1284 (1999). It is the twelfth such report since UNMOVIC’s inception. Blix’s report to the Council does not contain any evidence to support US and British claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or the programs to develop such weapons. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also reports to the Council and says there are no signs that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
UNMOVIC Report by Hans Blix -
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories, as was recently alleged by Colin Powell in his February 5 presentation (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. “Several inspections have taken place… in relation to mobile production facilities,” Blix says. “No evidence of proscribed activities has so far been found.” He further explains that his inspectors had examined numerous mobile facilities and large containers with seed processing equipment. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003]
bullet The Iraqi government has increased its cooperation with inspectors since the end of January. It is attempting to quantify the biological and chemical weapons that it says were destroyed in 1991. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraq’s destruction of several Al Samoud II missiles represents a real step towards disarmament. “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament,” he says. “We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003] Blix adds, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament—indeed, the first since the middle of the 1990s.” Major Corrine Heraud, the chief weapons inspector for UNMOVIC in this operation, calls the level of cooperation from the Iraqis “unprecedented,” something that she never would have expected and did not encounter during the 1996-98 inspections. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
bullet Blix says that the UN inspectors needed a few more months to finish their work. “Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions,” he says, concluding, “It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraqi scientists have recently accepted inspectors’ requests to be interviewed without “minders.” “Since we started requesting interviews, 38 individuals were asked for private interviews, of which 10 accepted under our terms, seven during the past week,” Blix explains. [CNN, 3/7/2003]
bullet Some Iraqi scientists have agreed to interviews without “minders”—but more cooperation is needed. Blix says, “While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] Iraq needs to turn over more documents. “Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons. Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] There is no evidence of underground weapons facilities. Blix says: “There have been reports, denied by Iraq, that proscribed activities are conducted underground. Iraq should provide information on underground structures suitable for the production or storage of weapons of mass destruction. During inspections of declared or undeclared facilities, inspectors examined building structures for any possible underground facilities. In addition, ground-penetrating radar was used in several locations. No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found.” [CNN, 3/7/2003]
IAEA report by Mohamed ElBaradei -
bullet There is no evidence that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq in July 2001 were meant for a nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei says: “Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets.… Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminum tubes in question.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Documents provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the US were determined to be forgeries. The documents were a collection of letters between an Iraqi diplomat and senior Niger officials discussing Iraq’s interest in procuring a large amount of uranium oxide (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic,” ElBaradei explains. “We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded” (see June 12, 2003). [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003]
bullet The IAEA has yet to come across evidence of a nuclear weapons program. “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq,” ElBaradei states. “[T]here is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet In a direct response to allegations made by Colin Powell on February 5 (see February 5, 2003) related to the attempted procurement of magnets that could be used in a gas centrifuge, ElBaradei, says: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters, and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings, and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet Iraq’s industrial capacity “has deteriorated” at the inspected sites because of lack of maintenance and funds. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet ElBaradei concludes: “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.… I should note that, in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that contributes to the resolution of matters of IAEA concern.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Inspections 'Fruitful,' Say French, Russians - Both sides claim that the reports give further support to each of their respective stances on the issue of Iraqi disarmament. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin tells the Council that the reports “testify to the progress” of the inspections. He states that France will not support another resolution because “we cannot accept any ultimatum, any automatic use of force.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says that the reports demonstrate that inspections have been “fruitful.”
Inspections Not Working, US Claims - The Bush administration does not alter its position, despite statements by the two inspectors that Iraq is cooperating with inspections and complying with demands to disarm. Colin Powell, responding to the inspectors’ reports, reiterates the administration’s position that the inspections are not working and that Saddam is not cooperating. “We must not walk away,” Powell says. “We must not find ourselves here this coming November with the pressure removed and with Iraq once again marching down the merry path to weapons of mass destruction, threatening the region, threatening the world.” He claims that Iraq’s behavior is a “a catalog still of noncooperation” and repeats the administration’s allegation that the “Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Back at the White House, Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “As the president has said, if the United Nations will not disarm Saddam Hussein, it will be another international organization, a coalition of the willing that will be made up of numerous nations that will disarm Saddam Hussein.” [CNN, 3/6/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; US Department of State, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
Bush: Missile Destruction 'Meaningless' - Bush himself will call the destruction of Iraqi missiles “meaningless” and nothing more than an Iraqi “campaign of destruction,” shocking UNMOVIC inspectors: “We didn’t know what to make of [his words],” one inspector says afterwards. Former State Department official Patrick Lang will write: “In the final weeks of the countdown to war, the administration’s actions resembled nothing so much as some of the madder scenes from Alice in Wonderland. The fact that the documents the administration had used to ‘prove’ that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons were forged only led to greater insistence that Iraq was a danger. The absence of discovery of WMD by the UN inspectors was only further evidence that the Iraqis were the greatest deceivers in history and that they had succeeded in concealing their location. The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles was just more evidence of a ‘grand deception.’” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Uranium Allegations 'Outrageous,' Says Former Ambassador - The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times do give the story front-page coverage, and on CNN, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) calls the uranium allegation “outrageous,” adding that the claim “taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” The US government is “simply stupid” for not finding out the truth sooner: “a couple of phone calls” could have proven that such a deal between Iraq and Niger could not have happened: “All this stuff is open,” Wilson says. “It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]
IAEA Report 'Widely Ignored' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, “With America’s March 17 deadline for war (see March 17, 2003 and March 17, 2003) dominating the news, ElBaradei’s pronoucements were widely ignored. The news of the forged uranium documents did not make any of the three network evening newscasts and did not appear in the following day’s New York Times. (It would turn up a day later, in a four-hundred word story on page A13.)” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Corrine Heraud, Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, Dominique de Villepin, Patrick Lang, Frank Rich, Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Igor Ivanov, Hans Blix

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

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporter Robert Scheer that neither he nor any of the State Department’s top experts believed that Iraq ever posed an imminent nuclear threat, contrary to the statements of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other top White House officials. Powell says that Bush followed the advice of Cheney and the CIA (see October 1, 2002) in making the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and taking the country to war in Iraq. Scheer asks Powell why, in light of the State Department’s own intelligence bureau correctly concluding that the claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 1, 2002, March 4, 2002, Mid-October 2002, and January 12, 2003), Bush ignored that information in making his case for war? Powell responds: “The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily (see March 7, 2003) and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote. That was a big mistake. It should never have been in the speech. I didn’t need [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson to tell me that there wasn’t a Niger connection. He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. I never believed it” (see January 26, 2003). Powell adds that the responsibility for pressing the argument that Iraq was a nuclear threat was not Bush’s; rather, “That was all Cheney.” In his article, Scheer asks, “Why was this doubt, on the part of the secretary of state and others, about the salient facts justifying the invasion of Iraq kept from the public until we heard the truth from whistle-blower Wilson, whose credibility the president then sought to destroy?” [Truthdig, 4/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Scheer, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, US Department of State, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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