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Context of '(Summer 2006): Nine US Officials Say They Believe Forged Niger Documents Were Part of Covert Operation'

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A compendium of documents both real and forged is given to US intelligence by Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI. It is doubtful that the US receives the key documents themselves—it is standard practice among intelligence agencies to share reports, but not original materials, with allies. The dossier includes materials purloined from the Nigerien embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001). According to document peddler Rocco Martino (see Early 2000), SISMI later added more documents to the ones he originally obtained from the Nigerien embassy, including a codebook and a dossier filled with documents both genuine and forged. The dossier includes an authentic telex dated February 1, 1999, in which Nigerien ambassador Adamou Chekou wrote to another official about a forthcoming visit from Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican (see February 1999).
Forged Document Asserting Sale of Uranium to Iraq Included - The last and most important document the US receives is a forged memo dated July 7, 2000. This forgery is supposedly a report on the sale of 500 tons of pure “yellowcake” uranium per year by Niger to Iraq (see Between 1999 and 2000 and Summer 2001). Such uranium is useful in making nuclear weapons.
Documents for Money - For Martino’s part, it seems that his only motivation in disseminating the forged documents is money. Italian reporter Carla Bonini later says, “He was not looking for great amounts of money—$10,000, $20,000, maybe $40,000.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]
CIA Analysts Disbelieving of Claims - The initial reaction of the CIA analysts reading over the documents is to dismiss the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy huge quantities of Nigerien uranium as ridiculous. In September 2006, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern will say: “The reports made no sense on the face of it. Most of us knew the Iraqis already had yellowcake. It is a sophisticated process to change it into a very refined state and they didn’t have the technology.” In October 2006, Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say, “The idea that you could get that much yellowcake out of Niger without the French knowing, that you could have a train big enough to carry it, is absurd.” Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who will serve in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia Division in 2002 and 2003, will note in October 2005: “Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore. If Saddam [Hussein] wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore, when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?” McGovern will add that it is routine for “all manner of crap” to come “out of the field.” The CIA’s experienced analysts “are qualified to see if these reports made sense. For some reason, perhaps cowardice, these reports were judged to be of such significance that no one wanted to sit on it.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207-208]
Difference in Dates - Other sources say that SISMI waits until October 2001 to provide the documents to the US (see October 15, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ray McGovern, Karen Kwiatkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, Carla Bonini, SISMI, Adamou Chekou, Lawrence Wilkerson, Wissam al-Zahawie

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. [Washington Post, 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 336; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242] Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 4-5] According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” [Common Dreams, 7/23/2003] In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 211; Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263] Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. [Guardian, 7/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Craig Unger, Richard Kerr, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Lang, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

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

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

Investigative journalist Craig Unger reports that nine US officials believe “the Niger documents were part of a covert operation to deliberately mislead the American public.” The officials are 30-year CIA veteran Milt Bearden; Colonel W. Patrick Lang, a former DIA defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and terrorism; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Melvin Goodman, a former division chief and senior analyst at the CIA and the State Department; Ray McGovern, a veteran CIA analyst; Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia division in 2002 and 2003; Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer who was deputy director of the State Department Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993; former CIA official Philip Giraldi; and Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of operations of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center. [Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, Karen Kwiatkowski, Melvin A. Goodman, Patrick Lang, Larry C. Johnson, Lawrence Wilkerson, Ray McGovern, Vincent Cannistraro, Philip Giraldi, Milton Bearden

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

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