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Profile: US Embassy in Niger
US Embassy in Niger was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US embassy in Niger disseminates a cable reporting that the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “provides sufficient detail to warrant another hard look at Niger’s uranium sales. The names of GON [government of Niger] officials cited in the report track closely with those we know to be in those, or closely-related positions. However, the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001.” The report says that US ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick met with the Nigerien foreign minister to ask for an unequivocal assurance that Niger is not selling uranium to so-called “rogue states.” The cable also notes that in September 2001 Nigerien Prime Minister Mamadou Tandja had informed the US embassy that there were buyers like Iraq who had expressed willingness to pay more for Niger’s uranium than France, but he assured them at that time that “of course Niger cannot sell to them.” However, the cable concludes that “we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that some scheme could be, or has been, underway to supply Iraq with yellowcake from here.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly after the cable is sent, Owens-Kirkpatrick reports to the State Department that “there was no possibility” that Iraq made any sort of uranium deal with Niger. She comes to this conclusion after reviewing the possibility of such a deal with the director general of Niger’s French-led uranium consortium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) holds a meeting with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and several individuals from the DO’s Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the merits of sending Wilson to Niger. Wilson is introduced by his wife Valerie Plame Wilson, who heads CPD’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI). [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 94-95]
Wife Does Not Participate in Meeting - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will write that she brings her husband into the briefing room, introduces him to the “10 or so participants,” and “[a]fter a minute or so, I went back to my desk to attend to what seemed like a hundred other operational crises. When the meeting broke, Joe poked his head in my office to say that the group had asked him to consider going to Niger to discuss the report.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
Wilson's Qualifications - Wilson will later describe himself as “the insider increasing [the CIA analysts’] store of information, supplying that perspective missing from their raw data. I had served as a junior diplomatic officer in Niger in the mid-1970s, a period that happened to coincide with the growth in the uranium business there. We had followed this issue closely from the American Embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, just as my staff and I had when I was ambassador to Gabon, another uranium-producing country, from 1992 to 1995. When I worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration two years later, among my areas of responsibility was the African uranium industry. Rarely did conversations with Africans from uranium-producing countries fail to touch on the subject. Niger, where I had traveled frequently over the years, was always of particular interest.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 8]
Details Shared with Wilson - In the meeting, Wilson learns of a report that purports to document a memorandum of sale from Niger to Iraq, and that the report had aroused the interest of Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)). Cheney’s office has tasked the CIA to determine the truth or falsity of the report. The report is lacking in key details. Wilson’s knowledge of the region, particularly of the government and private interests involved in mining and distributing uranium, will be particularly helpful. Wilson later writes, “The Nigeriens were the same people I had dealt with during and after my time at the National Security Council, people I knew well.” The former minister of mines, the man responsible for oversight of the industry at the time of the alleged sales, is a friend of his.
Skepticism among Participants about Report - Wilson will later describe himself as “skeptical, as prudent consumers of intelligence always are about raw information.” He will note that much of this kind of intelligence is classified as “rumint,” or rumors passing as fact, and is usually “no more reliable than Bigfoot sightings. Rumint is a necessary and unfortunate reality in a world where many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to simple facts.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 14-15] Notes taken by INR analyst Douglas Rohn, as well as e-mails from other participants, indicate that INR expresses skepticism that the alleged uranium contract could have taken place. Rohn, who served as deputy chief of mission in Niger during the ‘90s, writes that it would have been very difficult to conceal such a large shipment of yellowcake because “the French appear to have control of the uranium mining, milling and transport process, and would seem to have little interest in selling uranium to the Iraqis.” INR also says that the embassy in Niger has good contacts and is thus in a position to get to the truth on the matter, and therefore believes the proposed trip to Niger would be redundant. Others attending the meeting argue that the trip would probably not resolve the matter because the Nigeriens would be unlikely to admit to a uranium sales agreement with Iraq. An e-mail from a WINPAC analyst to CPD following the meeting notes, “[I]t appears that the results from this source will be suspect at best, and not believable under most scenarios.” CPD nonetheless concludes that sending Wilson would be worth a try. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 94-95]
Open and Public Visit - Wilson is willing, but points out that he is not a spy, but a former diplomat with no experience with clandestine work. He will be recognized in Niger. Therefore, there can be no expectation of any covert or clandestine actions on his part; everything he does will be open and above board. He also insists on obtaining the approval of both the State Department and the US Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, before entering the country. He expects no payment for his visit, but will accept reimbursement for expenses. The others in the meeting agree. The rest of the two-hour meeting is spent considering and plotting out various scenarios, based on who he might see and what he might learn during his visit. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 16-17] “I went through what I knew about… uranium,” Wilson later recalls. “I went through what I knew about the personalities.… People chimed in, and I answered them as best I could. It was a kind of free-for-all, and at the end they sort of asked, ‘Well, would you be able to clear your schedule and go out there if we wanted?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
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