!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'June 12, 2003: Report Alleges Niger Uranium Bound for Iraq Being Held in Benin'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event June 12, 2003: Report Alleges Niger Uranium Bound for Iraq Being Held in Benin. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Marseilles, France issues a report stating that there is reportedly a large quantity of uranium being held in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin bound for Iraq. The source of the report is a phone call that was received by the NCIS from an individual describing himself as a “West African businessman.” The man claimed to be the person responsible for coordinating the transaction and said there were 20 barrels of Niger yellowcake at the warehouse that had been sold to Iraq by the president of Niger. The man leaves his name and telephone number with the NCIS. When the CIA catches wind of the report, it contacts French intelligence as well as the country’s internal security agency, the Directorate of Territorial Security (DST). French intelligence then sends a team to Africa to check the warehouse and other sites. (This investigation is possibly the same as the one that takes place after Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address (see After (9:30 pm) January 28, 2003).) The French find nothing. “They both gave assurances from the French government that the material sitting in the port was under French control and wasn’t going anywhere else,” a former CIA officer later tells the Los Angeles Times. The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) never attempts to contact the businessman. A CIA official later tells Senate investigators that the agency saw no reason to contact him. In fact, “no one even thought to do that,” the official says. The Department of Homeland Security also decides against contacting the businessman after a DHS team sent to the warehouse on December 17, 2002 (see December 17, 2002) finds nothing but bales of cotton. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2004; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59] As some observers later note, the information provided by this source corresponds exactly to the information contained within three of the forged Niger documents, suggesting that this individual must have been in some way linked to those documents. [ERiposte, 3/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Territorial Security, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Department of Homeland Security sends a team to investigate claims (see November 25, 2002) that there are several tons of uranium sitting in a Benin warehouse awaiting shipment to Iraq. According to a later Senate investigation, they see “only what appear[s] to be bales of cotton in the warehouse.” The agency publishes its finds in a report on February 10, 2003. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security

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

The CIA reports that a foreign government service has determined that the uranium being stored at a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin is destined for France, not Iraq, as was alleged in a recent report (see November 25, 2002) by the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 64]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

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

French officials are shocked by the claims Bush made in his state of the union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) concerning Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa. One government official will later recall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that French experts considered Bush’s claim, which he attributed to the British, as “totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this.” Notwithstanding, the French launch another investigation (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002) and again, find no evidence supporting the US and British claim. [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

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

The National Intelligence Council issues a Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM) expressing doubt that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. “We judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The IC agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication. We judge that other reports from 2002—one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey—do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale.” The SOCM report notes also that “the current government of Niger [redacted in source] probably would report such an approach by the Iraqis, especially because a sale would violate UN resolution 687.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Naval Criminal Investigative Service

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

The Defense Intelligence Agency sends an information memorandum to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, responding to questions he has about Iraq’s alleged nuclear program. The memo states that “while the Intelligence Committee agrees that documents the IAEA reviewed were likely ‘fake,’ other unconfirmed reporting suggested that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium and yellowcake from African nations after 1998.” The memo also informs Wolfowitz of a November 2002 Navy report (see November 25, 2002) alleging that uranium held in a Benin warehouse was destined for Iraq. But the DIA fails to mention that this allegation was debunked two months earlier in a memo published by the National Intelligence Council (see April 5, 2003). [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Intelligence Agency

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

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

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

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

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike