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The Iraq-Niger Uranium Controversy and the Outing of CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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An examination of the events surrounding the US and British claims that Iraq tried to purchase ‘yellowcake’ uranium from Niger, and the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson as part of an attempt to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson.

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1979: Iraq Imports Uranium from Italy

Iraq imports 4,514 kilograms of natural uranium from Italy. The uranium is used in the Experimental Research Laboratory for Fuel Fabrication (ERLFF) for research and development related to the construction of a nuclear reactor. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later finds that 191 kilograms of uranium is unaccounted for. In 1997, it will note, “This amount is less than the declared accumulation of ‘material unaccounted for’ and measured discards over the period 1982 to 1990 and may be considered to be consistent with the nature of the facility operation.” The remainder is verified and controlled by the IAEA, at the “Location C” storage facility near the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility in central Iraq. [International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices

Iraq procures “yellowcake” uranium from Portugal, Niger, and Brazil. Since neither Niger nor Brazil are members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are not required to submit the transaction to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Portugal, a signatory to the treaty, informs the IAEA of the transfers. Iraq also notifies the IAEA of the transfer in August 1981 and again in July 1982. The total amount of yellowcake uranium secured by Iraq is 563,290 kilograms. The IAEA verifies the amount transferred to Iraq; including the loss of about 40 kilograms from a drum damaged during Iraq’s salvaging and concealment attempts in 1991. Like other uranium transferred to Iraq (see 1979 and 1982), this uranium is verified and accounted for by International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) inspectors, and is kept at “Location C,” a storage complex near the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility in central Iraq. Later inspections show that Iraq has not been fully honest about its uranium purchases; it is not until July 1991 that Iraq declares the full amount of uranium it has received. Furthermore, later inspections will show that “considerable” amounts of uranium cannot be accounted for. By July 1994, IAEA inspectors will verify the complete amounts and dispositions of Iraq’s yellowcake. [International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices

Seyni Kountche, the president of the sub-Saharan nation of Niger, says his country will “sell uranium even to the devil.” Niger, which has large uranium reserves, will sell uranium to Libya, Iraq, and other “rogue nations” in the years to come (see 1979-1982). [National Review, 10/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Seyni Kountche

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger

Osirak nuclear facility.Osirak nuclear facility. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org] (click image to enlarge)On the order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and after heated debate among Israeli leaders, Israeli warplanes strike the Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) Tammuz I nuclear plant at al-Tuwaitha near Baghdad, destroying it and dealing a severe setback to Iraq’s nuclear program. Israel claims it fears Iraq is building a nuclear weapon with which to strike it. Osirak is a French-made nuclear reactor, which is near completion but lacks any nuclear fuel, thereby raising no danger of any radioactive link. Ariel Sharon, concurrently Defense Minister and a proponent of the strike, later says, “This was perhaps the most difficult decision which faced any [Israeli] government during all the years of the state’s existence.” The Israeli government states after the strike, “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing, whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.… Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.” The reactor is slated to be completed by September, 1981, though it would be years before it could produce any nuclear-grade fissionable material. Iraq denies the reactor is developed to produce nuclear weapons, though the construction of the plant gives credence to claims that Iraq is more interested in building a weapon than generating electricity. (After the strike, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says, “Any state in the world which really wants peace… should help the Arabs in one way or another to acquire atomic bombs,” giving further credence to suspicions that Hussein wanted to build a nuclear weapon.) The Israeli strike follows up a September 1980 raid on the Osirak facility by Iranian warplanes (see September 30, 1980). Publicly, Iran and Israel are dire enemies, but Israel has begun secretly selling US-made arms to Iran as a way to counterbalance the threat posed by Iraq (see 1981). [BBC, 7/7/1981; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In 1984, Brookings Institution fellow Lucien Vandenbroucke will write, “Ironically, Israel’s raid may prove to be a brilliant tactical success achieved at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. Certainly, the attack set Iraq’s nuclear program back several years. But the strike also ushered in a de facto Israeli claim to nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, a move that in the long run generally promises to encourage the larger Arab world on the nuclear path.… In the decision-making process, Israeli fears and the propensity to rely on worst-case analyses seem to have prevailed. The advocates of the strike focused on the unreasonable, rather than the reasonable, aspects of Iraqi behavior, and thus even a limited prospect that Iraq might soon acquire a nuclear bomb became more of a risk than they were prepared to accept.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/1984]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, Saddam Hussein, Lucien Vandenbroucke, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices

1982: Iraq Imports Enriched Uranium from Italy

Iraq imports 1,767 kilograms of enriched uranium from Italy, and 6,005 kilograms of depleted uranium from Italy as well. As with its earlier uranium import from Italy (see 1979), this uranium is verified and accounted for by International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) inspectors, and is kept at “Location C,” a storage complex near the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility in central Iraq. [International Atomic Energy Agency, 1997]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices

Valerie Plame, the 22-year old daughter of a military family that followed its Air Force father around the globe during her childhood, joins the CIA. She is one of only 250 or so recruits accepted in the elite Career Trainee Program, a relatively new program installed by CIA Director William Casey and future director Robert Gates. These recruits receive intensive training in everything from academics, government and political structures, and paramilitary operations. Plame is one of the first women accepted in the program. She acquits herself very well in training, winning the respect of her fellow recruits. Classmate Larry Johnson, who will himself go on to a long career in the agency, will later recall of the young woman he knows only as “Val P.”: “She didn’t try to pretend to be something that she was not. She didn’t shoot her mouth off. Looking back, for her age, how so damn young she was, she was remarkably mature, and very serious. It was clear she wanted to be taken seriously.” Only three recruits from the “survivors” of the original class of 250 will go on to work as NOCs—nonofficial covered officers. Plame will be one of those three. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 315-317]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Larry C. Johnson

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Valerie Plame, a young CIA case officer (see Fall 1985), begins her first tour of foreign duty in Athens, Greece. She will remain there for three years, functioning out of the US Embassy under diplomatic cover as, primarily, a recruiter of foreign nationals to serve as CIA assets. Athens is a beautiful but dangerous assignment, with the radical leftist group known as “November 17” having killed a number of US officials over the past years, including CIA station chief Richard Welch in 1975. Plame’s station chief, Doug Smith, will remember her as an ambitious agent who worked hard: “It’s rare that someone on a first tour does a really wonderful job. She did well.” Her deputy station chief, who only allows himself to be identified as “Jim,” will add that he has “a very high opinion of Valerie” and the caliber of her work. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 319-321]

Entity Tags: Doug Smith, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, “Jim” (CIA case officer)

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Fall 1992 - 1996: Plame Becomes CIA ‘NOC’

Valerie Plame, a young CIA case officer working in the Europe Division at the agency’s Directorate of Operations following a tour in Greece (see Fall 1985 and Fall 1989), decides on a risky career move—becoming a NOC, or Nonofficial Covered Officer. As reporter Laura Rozen will later explain: “Becoming a NOC would require Plame to erase all visible connections to the US government, while, with the help of the agency’s Office of Central Cover, developing and inhabiting a plausible new private sector career and professional identity that would serve as useful cover for her to meet and develop potential sources of intelligence value to the agency without revealing herself as an agent of the US government. It also meant giving up the protection of diplomatic status should her covert activities be discovered.” “A NOC has no overt affiliation with the US government,” Plame will later write. “If he was caught, the United States would deny any connection.” The CIA accepts her as a NOC candidate, and in order to distance herself from her former association with her former “cover” career as a junior State Department officer in Athens, Plame begins pursuing double graduate degrees in international affairs and European studies. She studies at both the London School of Economics and at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, where the entire curriculum is taught in French. By 1996 she is ensconced in an apartment in Brussels, where she begins a “career” as an energy executive and secret NOC. She has a far wider range of potential contacts within the corporate world as an apparent private citizen, and her new assignment introduces her to the world of weapons proliferation, WMD, counternarcotics, economic intelligence, technological developments, and counterterrorism. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 332-333]

Entity Tags: Laura Rozen, College of Europe, US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, London School of Economics

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career, Covert Activities

The CIA sets up a number of front companies with the intention of penetrating the nuclear proliferation ring founded by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan. One of the companies is Brewster Jennings & Associates (see Before May 22, 1994), which will be used as cover by Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA officer outed in 2003. The precise way in which the CIA attempts to penetrate the network is not known. [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008] Former CIA Director George Tenet will hint at the methods used in a 2007 book: “The small unit working this effort recognized that it would be impossible to penetrate proliferation networks using conventional intelligence gathering tactics. Security considerations do not permit me to describe the techniques we used. Patiently, we put ourselves in a position to come in contact with individuals and organizations that we believed were part of the overall proliferation problem.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings & Associates, George J. Tenet, Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Covert Activities

The company Brewster Jennings & Associates is established by this time at the latest, as it is registered with Dunn & Bradstreet on this day. [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003] It is one of a number of CIA front companies apparently attempting to penetrate the nuclear technology smuggling ring associated with Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan (see Mid-1990s). It is based in Boston and consists of little more than a name, a telephone number, and a post office box address. Brewster Jennings will later become famous when Valerie Plame Wilson, one of the operatives that used it as cover, is outed in the press as a CIA officer. [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008] Dunn & Bradstreet records say it is a “legal services office” with annual sales of $60,000, one employee, and a chief executive identified as “Victor Brewster, Partner.” However, later investigation suggests there is no such person as Victor Brewster. [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings & Associates

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Covert Activities

CIA agent Valerie Plame leaves Europe after a long and distinguished career as a nonofficial cover (NOC) agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and July 21, 2003) in Greece and Brussels. The New York Times will report in 2003 that Plame may have been forced to return to the US after her name was given to the Russians by double agent Aldrich Ames in 1994 [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] , though that possibility remains unconfirmed. Plame takes a position as a case officer with a new bureau in the agency, the counterproliferation division (CPD), a part of the covert Directorate of Operations. She is hand-picked by the division chief of CPD, James Pavitt, for the slot. The CPD is an unconventional entity, the first bureau without a geographical affiliation; Plame will affectionately refer to it as “the island of misfit toys.” CPD and its counterpart, the Counterterrorism Center (CTC), are tasked to deal with emerging unconventional threats from rogue nations, stateless terrorist, and extremist groups. “The older divisions eyed CPD with deep suspicion and distrust,” Plame will later recall. Pavitt’s decision to include former NOCs such as Plame is controversial, and creates something of a turf war between CPD and the Office of External Development, which generally deals with NOCs. Pavitt wins out because of his close relationship with CIA Director George Tenet. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 349-350]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Aldrich Ames, James Pavitt, Valerie Plame Wilson, George J. Tenet

Category Tags: Covert Activities, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Former US ambassador Joe Wilson and CIA officer Valerie Plame meet for the first time at a reception held at the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Wilson is a political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces in Europe. Plame describes herself as an “energy executive living in Brussels.” Wilson and Plame will marry a year later and will become involved in the “Plame Affair,” when Plame’s affiliation with the CIA is disclosed in the media (see July 14, 2003). After her marriage, Plame will generally be referred to by the name Plame Wilson. Wilson, who is accompanied by General James Jamerson, is there to receive an award from the American-Turkish Council. The reason for Plame’s presence there is not known. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 239-242, 273] However, the American-Turkish Council will later be said to be involved in the smuggling of nuclear weapons material to Turkey and other countries (see Late 1990s-Early 2001 and Mid-Late 1990s), and Plame’s job at the CIA is in its non-proliferation section (see Late February 1999), so she may be there for operational reasons. [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]

Entity Tags: James Jamerson, American-Turkish Council, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career

CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson uses the front company Brewster Jennings & Associates as cover for work against the nuclear proliferation network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan. Details of what exactly she does and whether other CIA officers use it as cover are not known. However, she is said to pose as an “oil consultant” and the company is also said to be involved in alternative energy in some way. [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, her specialty in the agency’s nonproliferation center is biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and “recruiting agents, sending them to areas where they could access information about proliferation matters, weapons of mass destruction.” [New York Daily News, 1/27/2008] Plame Wilson makes a donation of $1,000 to Al Gore’s election campaign in 1999 giving the company’s name as her employer, and also lists it as her employer on her 1999 tax forms. [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Brewster Jennings & Associates, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career, Covert Activities

Intelligence reports suggesting that “rogue states” are trying to obtain uranium spark concern within the French government about the security of the two French consortiums that control Niger’s uranium industry. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] France has reportedly learned that uranium is being extracted from abandoned mines and being sold on the international black market. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] The French consortium, Cogema, controls the only two mines in Niger and transports all the ore to the port of Cotonou in neighboring Benin. From there it is exported to France, Spain, and Japan. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2004]

Entity Tags: France

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Iraq's Connections to Niger

Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, sets off on a trip to several African countries as part of an effort to convince African heads of state to visit Iraq. Saddam Hussein hopes that these visits will help break the embargo on flights to Iraq and undermine the UN sanctions regime. Zahawie’s first stop is Niger, where he meets with the country’s President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara for one hour. Mainassara promises that he will visit Baghdad the following April. (He is assasinated before he has an opportunity to do this.) [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Independent, 8/10/2003; Time, 10/2/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In early 2002, the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI, will allege in a report (see February 5, 2002) sent to the US that the motive behind the visit is to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake” (see October 15, 2001). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] However, no one at this time suggests that the trip’s motives have anything to do with acquiring uranium. Zahawie’s trip is reported in the local newspaper as well as by a French news agency. The US and British governments are aware of the trip and show no concern about Niger, which is actively seeking economic assistance from the United States. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2003, al-Zawahie will tell British reporters: “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq. The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium.” [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Wissam al-Zahawie, Ibrahim Bare Mainassara

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger

Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson, 2007, pp. 358-360]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Osama bin Laden, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996) posing as an energy executive, lists “Brewster-Jennings & Assoc.” as her employer when making a $1,000 donation to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). “Brewster Jennings” will later be revealed to be a CIA front company (see October 3, 2003). [FactCheck (.org), 7/22/2005; Chicago Tribune, 3/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings

Category Tags: Covert Activities, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Former President George H. W. Bush, a former director of the CIA, speaks at the dedication ceremony of the new intelligence center bearing his name. In the course of his speech, Bush says: “We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country.… I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/26/1999] These remarks will later be unearthed in conjunction with the White House’s leaking of the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), and the publication of her name and status by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003).

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson

Category Tags: Exposure of Plame Wilson, Novak Outing of Plame Wilson

A businessman reportedly approaches Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki and insists that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. Mayaki reportedly interprets “expanding commercial relations” to mean that Iraq is interested in discussing uranium sales. According to Mayaki, he does meet the delegation but avoids discussion of trade issues because of UN sanctions on the country. They reportedly never discuss what the businessman had meant when he said Iraq was interested in “expanding commercial relations.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] A US embassy official later tells former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who himself will visit Niger to determine the facts behind American concerns that Iraq is attempting to secure Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999), that Mayaki is extremely wary of dealing with Iraq, and keeps the conversations on very general levels. The Iraqi may have wanted to discuss uranium, the embassy official later recalls, but nothing is ever said on the subject. Wilson later learns from the official that Mayaki speaks to the Iraqi information minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, disparagingly called “Baghdad Bob” by the Americans. At the time, Wilson is not aware of the Iraqi’s identity, so he does not include the name in his report to the CIA. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28] Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center (see February 5, 2003), will later tell a reporter that an item in Wilson’s report (see March 4-5, 2002) leads him to believe that there may be some truth to the Iraq-Niger allegations. Writing about Foley’s assertion in 2004, Wilson says he believes that Foley is referring to the 1999 conversation between the embassy official and al-Sahhaf. Wilson will ask, “Could it be that we went to war over a conversation in which the word ‘uranium’ was not spoken at all?” The Nigerien official later tells Wilson that he wondered if al-Sahhaf might have intended to ask about a possible uranium deal in subsequent conversations. “Was that the smoking gun that could supposedly have become a mushroom cloud?” Wilson will ask. “And so is it possible that, because of that non-conversation, [thousands of] Americans have been killed, and [billions] of national treasure spent?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 424]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Joseph C. Wilson, Ibrahim Mayaki, Alan Foley

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent, will later tell reporters that he provides French officials with documents suggesting that Iraq intends to expand its “trade” with Niger. He does not say from where he obtains these documents. The French assume the trade being discussed concerns uranium, Niger’s main export. At French intelligence’s request, according to Martino, he continues supplying them with documents. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] However Martino’s account is disputed by French intelligence official Alain Chouet who insists that France’s first contact with Martino takes place in June 2002 (see Late June 2002). [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Alain Chouet, Rocco Martino, SISMI

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has spent much of his political career representing the US in West Africa, visits Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate what a Senate investigation (see July 9, 2004) will later call “uranium-related matters.” Wilson is chosen in part because his wife, covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, suggested that since he was going to Niger on business in the near future, he “might be willing to use his contacts in the region” to obtain information. The CIA is interested in a meeting between Niger’s former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, and a delegation from Iraq to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between the two nations. Wilson will later say that the subject of uranium never comes up in a meeting he has with Mayaki (see May 2, 2004). However, CIA analysts will interpret Wilson’s information to mean that Mayaki “interpreted ‘expanding commercial relations’ to mean that the [Iraqi] delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.” The CIA will believe that Wilson’s report bolsters its own suspicions that Iraq is attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. An intelligence officer will later report that Mayaki indicated that the Iraqis had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger. [FactCheck (.org), 7/26/2004; FactCheck (.org), 7/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim Mayaki, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome and one of Italy’s foremost experts on WMD, telephones Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent. Nucera tells Martino of a SISMI intelligence asset working in the Niger Embassy in Rome who is in need of money and who can provide him with documents to sell. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; Il Giornale (Rome), 9/21/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Il Giornale (Rome), 11/6/2005] According to Martino, “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] Martino, who left the agency in 1999, has a long history of peddling information to other intelligence services in Europe, including France’s DGSE. He is weathering financial difficulties, and Nucera’s proposal may be a lucrative one. Nucera tells Martino about a longtime Italian “asset” in the Nigerien embassy in Rome, a woman of around 60 with a low-level position there. The woman will later be dubbed “La Signora” by the Italian press, and be identified as Laura Montini, the Nigerien ambassador’s assistant. Nucera suggests that Martino can possibly use her as SISMI had, paying her to pass on documents stolen or copied from the Nigerien embassy (see January 2, 2001) and March 2007). [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, SISMI, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Marshall, 11/10/2005; Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” [Marshall, 11/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see 1997), returning to duty from maternity leave and now going by her married name, is one of two officers assigned to the Iraq desk of the counterproliferation division (CPD). Plame Wilson’s job involves extensive covert operational responsibility. She supervises and coordinates NOCs (nonofficial covered officers) in several areas of the globe, helping plan and execute operations to recruit Iraqi nationals as CIA assets, focusing on graduate students, scientists, and businessmen, hoping to find information about Iraq’s secretive quest for unconventional weapons parts and technologies. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Plame Wilson is made the chief of operations of the Iraq branch of CPD. That branch is renamed the “Joint Task Force on Iraq,” or JTFI. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 365-366]

Entity Tags: Counterproliferation Division, Joint Task Force on Iraq, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson

Category Tags: Plame Wilson's CIA Career

The CIA contacts France’s intelligence agency, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, with a request that it investigate the security of Niger’s uranium. Niger, a former French colony, has two large uranium mines that are operated by a French Consortium. According to sources interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the cause for the CIA’s concerns is increased chatter from sympathizers of US-designated terrorist groups. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005]

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

Category Tags: International Investigations

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Marc Grossman at an American-Turkish Council meeting in 2005.Marc Grossman at an American-Turkish Council meeting in 2005. [Source: Canal+]An unnamed high-ranking State Department official tips off members of a nuclear smuggling ring about a CIA operation to penetrate it, according to FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds will later leave the FBI, becoming a whistleblower, and will say she knows this based on telephone conversations she translated. The ring is headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, and includes Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, as well as Turkish and Israeli representatives. The official is said to tell a member of the ring that a company the ring wants to do business with, Brewster Jennings & Associates, is a CIA front company. Brewster Jennings & Associates is a front for Valerie Plame Wilson, who will later be outed as a CIA officer in 2003, and possibly other operatives. A group of Turkish agents come to the US on the pretext of researching alternative energy sources and are introduced to Brewster Jennings through a lobby group, the American Turkish Council (ATC). The Turks apparently believe Brewster Jennings are energy consultants and plan to hire them. According to Edmonds, the State Department official finds out about this and contacts a foreign target under FBI surveillance, telling him, “[Y]ou need to stay away from Brewster Jennings because they are a cover for the government.” The FBI target then warns several people about Brewster Jennings, including a person at the ATC and an ISI agent, and Plame Wilson is moved to another operation.
Comments and Denial - The Sunday Times will comment: “If the ISI was made aware of the CIA front company, then this would almost certainly have damaged the investigation into the activities of Khan. Plame [Wilson]‘s cover would also have been compromised, although Edmonds never heard her name mentioned on the intercepts.” The unnamed State Department official will deny the allegations, calling them “false and malicious.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi will comment: “It’s pretty clear Plame [Wilson] was targeting the Turks. If indeed that [State Department] official was working with the Turks to violate US law on nuclear exports, it would have been in his interest to alert them to the fact that this woman’s company was affiliated to the CIA. I don’t know if that’s treason legally but many people would consider it to be.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]
Official Said to be Marc Grossman - The high-ranking State Department official who is not named in the Sunday Times is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [Raw Story, 1/20/2008; American Conservative, 1/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Sibel Edmonds, Valerie Plame Wilson, Philip Giraldi, US Department of State, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Larisa Alexandrovna, Brewster Jennings & Associates, American-Turkish Council, Marc Grossman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Category Tags: Covert Activities

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli, reportedly asks SISMI to provide the US with any useful intelligence it might have. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Jeff Castelli, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reportedly puts pressure on Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, to provide the US with intelligence in an effort to please the Bush administration and make Italy a top US ally. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005] Berlusconi was a member of the Italian neofascist organization “Propaganda Due” (P-2—see 1981). The organization was banned in 1981 and charged with an array of crimes. The organization also had murky ties with some American neoconservatives (see October 1980). [Unger, 2007, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, Bush administration (43), Nicolo Pollari

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

James Bamford.James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Foreign Ministry, SISMI, Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Following a number of meetings in Rome and London between SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence, and the British MI6 [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303-304] , SISMI provides the British with an intelligence report on Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The report—delivered by freelance SISMI agent Rocco Martino to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of Britain’s MI6 in south London—is reportedly based on the collection of mostly forged documents put together in Italy (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). MI6 will include this information in a report it sends to Washington saying only that it was obtained from a “reliable source.” Washington treats the report as an independent confirmation of the Italian report (see October 15, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005; Independent, 11/6/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), SISMI, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, British Support of Uranium Claims

Nicolo Pollari, the newly appointed head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI, visits his counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pressured Pollari to give the US any information he has that would be useful for the US case for war with Iraq. As such, Pollari gives the CIA a dossier concerning the supposed uranium deal between Iraq and Niger, not the first time the CIA has received these documents (see October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001). The actual forged documents are not in Pollari’s dossier. Although CIA analysts will call the report “very limited and lacking necessary detail,” the fact that Pollari himself delivers the dossier adds credibility to the information; as a result, the State Department will direct the US embassy in Niger to look into the allegations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Nicolo Pollari, US Department of State, Silvio Berlusconi, SISMI

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The CIA issues a senior executive intelligence brief (SEIB) summarizing a recent report from SISMI (see October 15, 2001), Italy’s military intelligence service, which suggested that Iraq had struck a deal with Niger to purchase uranium. The CIA report, titled “Iraq: Nuclear-Related Procurement Efforts,” notes, “There is no corroboration from other sources that such an agreement was reached or that uranium was transferred.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte of TheLeftCoaster.Org will point out [ERiposte, 11/4/2005] , there is a discrepancy between this report and the Italian intelligence report it is summarizing. In this report, the CIA states that the uranium purchase deal was approved by the State Court of Niger in “early 2001,” whereas the SISMI report had reported that the approval took place in “late 2000.” The document, upon which this reporting is presumably based, states that the deal was approved by the court on Wednesday July 7, 2000 (which was actually a Friday). [Unknown, n.d.]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI—see (After October 18, 2001) and September 9, 2002), responds to the CIA’s request for clarification on the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see October 15, 2001). Pollari’s page and a half letter explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora [Laura Montini],” who has in the past “given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy.” [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005] Some time around this same date, according to La Repubblica, Pollari discusses the issue with Italy’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino (no relation to Rocco Martino, the document peddler—see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Martino tells Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” Martino’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Ledeen (see (After October 18, 2001) and April 3, 2005). Ledeen will later deny that any such meeting with Pollari ever happened. Pollari will deny any involvement with the Iraq-Niger affair. [Unger, 2007, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Central Intelligence Agency, Antonio Martino, Laura Montini, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Nicolo Pollari.Nicolo Pollari. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italian intelligence (SISMI), is reportedly disappointed with his attempts to communicate with US intelligence. (It is not clear from the reporting what exactly Pollari is dissappointed about. It has been interpreted to have meant that Pollari is disappointed about US intelligence’s refusal to take SISMI’s October 15 report seriously) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly asked Pollari to establish closer relations with Washington (see Shortly after September 11, 2001). According to La Repubblica, the prime minister’s diplomatic advisor, Gianni Castellaneta, advises Pollari to look in “other directions.” The Italian minister of defense, Antonio Martino, invites Pollari to meet with American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, which he does in December (see December 9, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Gianni Castellaneta, Michael Ledeen, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: Iraq's Connections to Niger, International Investigations

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Manucher Ghorbanifar.Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004] Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Michael Ledeen, Jeff Castelli, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Antonio Martino, Mel Sembler, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

The CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq, headed by career officer Valerie Plame Wilson, sends approximately 30 Iraqi-American civilians back to Iraq to interrogate family members who are weapons scientists. The agency hopes that the operation will help close some gaps in the agency’s Iraq intelligence. The plan was devised by Charlie Allen, the CIA’s assistant director for collection. The operation produces a very accurate picture of Iraq’s weapons programs, though the CIA does not realize this at the time. Every single one of family members (see, e.g., May 2002-September 2002) participating in the program return from Iraq with the same information—that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs have long since been abandoned. The program is short-lived. It is shut down by officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who are reportedly jealous of Charlie Allen’s incursions onto its operational turf. The program’s results are buried and never distributed to other bodies within the intelligence community. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12-14]

Entity Tags: Joint Task Force on Iraq, Central Intelligence Agency, Charlie Allen, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: US Attempts to Verify Connection, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson has numerous conversations with Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to the first President Bush (see September 1998), and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, about what Wilson sees as the worrisome drive to war with Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Wilson is particularly worried about the neoconservatives in the current Bush administration and their call for the implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998) by declaring war against Iraq. Scowcroft is dismissive of the administration neoconservatives, calling them “right-wing nuts” and assuring Wilson, “They will not win the policy.” Wilson is not so sure, telling Scowcroft that, as he will write in 2004, “[w]e were committing our future… to a band of fanatics whose approach was the opposite of that pursued by the first President Bush, or articulated by candidate George W. Bush (see October 3, 2000 and October 11, 2000)…” Wilson believes, wrongly that Scowcroft’s “sage counsel [is] being listened to in the White House” (see October 16, 2001). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 290-291]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Brent Scowcroft, Joseph C. Wilson, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Joseph Wilson's Criticism

Two analysts in CIA’s WINPAC division review the Niger documents and notice some inconsistencies. But as they later explain to congressional investigators, they don’t see anything “jumping out at [them] that the documents [are] forgeries.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 164] By this time, at least three other US intelligence analysts, and one Italian journalist have reviewed the documents and raised questions about their authenticity (see Afternoon October 7, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, and Mid-October 2002).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The CIA sends Congress an unclassified report stating: “We believe that Iraq has probably continued at least low-level theoretical R&D associated with its nuclear program. A sufficient source of fissile material remains Iraq’s most significant obstacle to being able to produce a nuclear weapon. Although we were already concerned about a reconstituted nuclear weapons program, our concerns increased in September 2000 when Saddam publicly exhorted his ‘Nuclear Mujahidin’ to ‘defeat the enemy.’ The Intelligence Community remains concerned that Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/2002; New Republic, 6/30/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Though the CIA has chosen not to add anything about the Iraq-Niger allegations (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) to the President’s Daily Briefing, it issues a new report on the purported deal, including what it calls “verbatim text” of the agreement between Iraq and Niger (see February 5, 2002). The neoconservatives in the Pentagon (see Early 2002), in author Craig Unger’s words, “pounce… on the new material, and quickly begin working on their own reports that will allege Iraqi attempts to buy enough uranium to make nuclear weapons.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]

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

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

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

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

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The CIA’s DO Counterproliferation Division (CPD) sends a cable to an unnamed government office or official (the identity of which is redacted in the source document) requesting approval to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate Italian intelligence reports that Iraq has attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The cable also requests additional information from Italy regarding the matter. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Italy, Joseph C. Wilson, Counterproliferation Division

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: US Attempts to Verify Connection, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson.Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press]Officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) decide to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq sought to procure uranium from that country. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a senior CPD officer (see April 2001 and After), relays the request to him explaining that “there’s this crazy report” asserting that Iraq made a deal with Niger on the sale of a large quantity of uranium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly afterwards, she sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the agency’s decision to send her husband to Niger (see February 13, 2002). She writes, “[B]oth State and [the Department of Defense] have requested additional clarification and indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information” (see (February 13, 2002)). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Counterproliferation Division, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

The CIA publishes a classified report that concludes, in part, “information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/3/2003 pdf file; Central Intelligence Agency, 5/30/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Mamadou Tandja, US Embassy in Niger, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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]

Entity Tags: Douglas Rohn, Counterproliferation Division, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Embassy in Niger, Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) provides former ambassador Joseph Wilson with talking points for his scheduled trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002). The points specify that Wilson should ask Nigerien officials if they have been approached, conducted discussions, or entered into any agreements concerning uranium transfers with any “countries of concern.” Wilson should also determine how Niger accounts for all of its uranium each year, the points say. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Counterproliferation Division, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Carlton W. Fulford Jr.Carlton W. Fulford Jr. [Source: US Marine Corps]Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the US European Command, arrives in Niger on a scheduled refueling stop. At the request of US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Fulford joins the ambassador at a meeting with Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou. He explains the importance of keeping Niger’s ore deposits secure. At the meeting, President Tandja assures the ambassador and General Fulford that Niger is determined to keep its uranium “in safe hands.” [Washington Post, 7/15/2003; Voice of America, 7/15/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; US Congress, 7/7/2004] After the meeting, Fulford concludes that Niger’s uranium is securely under the control of a French consortium and that there is little risk that the material will end up in the wrong hands. These findings are passed on to General Joseph Ralston who provides them to General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Washington Post, 7/15/2003; Voice of America, 7/15/2003; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282] The Pentagon will later say that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not informed about the trip or its conclusions. [Voice of America, 7/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, Joseph Ralston, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Richard B. Myers, Aichatou Mindaoudou, Carlton W. Fulford, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

A few days after the State Department determines that the reported secret uranium deal between Iraq and Niger is “unlikely” (see March 1, 2002), former ambassador Joseph Wilson returns from his fact-finding trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson tells CIA officials that he found no evidence to show that any such deal ever took place. [Unger, 2007, pp. 241] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write that the debriefing actually begins shortly after Wilson’s arrival in the US, with “two clean-cut CIA officers, one of whom was the reports officer who had suggested sending Joe to Niger in the first place” (see February 13, 2002), arriving at the Wilson home, “clearly eager to debrief Joe so they could immediately write up an intelligence report on his trip.” Plame Wilson deliberately absents herself from the debriefing taking place in her living room, though she joins her husband and the two CIA officers for a late dinner of takeout Chinese food, where they discuss general subjects. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 29; Wilson, 2007, pp. 112] Based on Wilson’s information, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO)‘s case officer writes a draft intelligence report and sends it to the DO reports officer, who adds additional relevant information from his notes. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The report will be distributed by March 8, 2002 (see March 8, 2002). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 370]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

In response to a request from Vice President Dick Cheney for an update on the Niger uranium issue made a few days earlier, CIA WINPAC analysts provide an analytic update to Cheney’s intelligence briefer stating that the government of Niger has said it is making all efforts to ensure that its uranium will be used for only peaceful purposes. The update says the foreign government service (Italian military intelligence agency, SISMI) that provided the original report “was unable to provide new information, but continues to assess that its source is reliable.” The update also notes that the CIA would “be debriefing a source [Joseph Wilson] who may have information related to the alleged sale on March 5 (see March 4-5, 2002).” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After), whose husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, has recently returned from a trip to Africa to find out the facts behind the allegation that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 13, 2002), receives a copy of the final intelligence report written about her husband’s trip (see March 4-5, 2002). In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson says she receives the report “as a simple courtesy [from] the reports officer” who had suggested Wilson journey to Niger and investigate the allegations. Plame Wilson will recall the report as being “a couple of pages long and fairly straightforward, in the typical bland style of such reports.” She reads the report, makes “no changes,” and gives it back to the reports officer. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, Plame Wilson's CIA Career

The CIA sends a one-and-a-half-page cable to the White House, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, with news that a CIA source sent to Niger has failed to find any evidence to back claims that Iraq sought uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The cable contains an initial report of the source’s findings in Niger. [Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; ABC News, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Washington Post, 6/13/2003; BBC, 7/8/2003; BBC, 7/8/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004] The agency rates the quality of the information in the report as “good,” with a rating of 3 out of 5. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Caveats and Denials - The report does not name the CIA source or indicate that the person is a former ambassador. Instead it describes the source as “a contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record” and notes that the Nigeriens with whom he spoke “knew their remarks could reach the US government and may have intended to influence as well as inform.” A later Senate report on the US’s pre-war intelligence on Iraq will state: “The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was prime minister (1997-1999) or foreign minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it.” Mayaki, according to the report, also acknowledged a June 1999 visit (see June 1999) by a businessman who arranged a meeting between Mayaki and an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report says that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss purchasing uranium. The meeting did take place, but according to the report, “Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.” The intelligence report also says that Niger’s former Minister for Energy and Mines, Mai Manga, told Wilson that there have been no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s. Mai Manga is also reported to have described how the 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 transportation overseas. Manga said he believed it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special clandestine shipment of uranium to a country like Iraq. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]
White House: Report Left Out Details, Considered Unimportant - Bush administration officials will say in June 2003 that the report left out important details, such as the trip’s conclusions. And consequently, the Washington Post will report in June 2003, “It was not considered unusual or very important and not passed on to Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, or other senior White House officials.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003]
CIA Source Doubts White House Claims - But the CIA source who made the journey, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will find this explanation hard to believe. “Though I did not file a written report [he provided an oral briefing (see March 4-5, 2002)], there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission,” he will later explain. “The documents should include the ambassador’s report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a CIA report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
Senior CIA Case Officer Backs Up Source - In 2007, Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will write of the report (see March 4-5, 2002) that if standard protocol has been followed, the report is distributed to “all the government departments that have intelligence components, such as the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, and the overseas military commands. All of us had every reason to believe that their finished report would indeed be sent to the vice president’s office as part of the established protocol.” According to Plame Wilson, who read the report when it was completed (see (March 6, 2002)), much of the report focuses on “Niger’s strict, private, and government controls on mining consortia to ensure that no yellowcake went missing between the uranium mines and the marketplace.” She will write in 2007 that her husband’s report “corroborated and reinforced what was already known.” Both she and her husband assume that the allegations are sufficiently disproven and will not be heard of again. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 112-114]
Little New Information - According to intelligence analysts later interviewed by Congressional investigators, the intelligence community does not believe the trip has contributed any significant information to what is already known about the issue, aside from the details of the 1999 Iraqi delegation. [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ibrahim Mayaki, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, Mai Manga, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Two weeks after the CIA informed the White House and other departments that evidence of an Iraqi attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium is scanty (see March 8, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney appears on CNN to assert the opposite: that Iraq is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Cheney says that Iraq “has chemical weapons… has biological weapons… [and is] pursuing nuclear weapons.” [CNN, 3/24/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection, Media Responses and Participation

The CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) distributes a third and final intelligence report from Italy’s military intelligence service, SISMI, on the alleged 2000 Niger-Iraq uranium purchase deal. The report does not provide any information about its source. [Washington Post, 3/22/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005]

Entity Tags: SISMI, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

CIA Paris Station Chief Bill Murray sends numerous reports to agency headquarters dismissing the theory that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. In one cable, he writes, “Do you want me to send a weekly report that the Eiffel Tower is still standing as well?” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: Bill Murray, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

In part due to pressure from Vice President Cheney, the CIA sends a cable to France’s intelligence agency, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), communicating concerns about intelligence suggesting that Iraq is attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. (Another cable had been sent the year before (see Summer 2001).) Specifically, the CIA says it is concerned about an alleged agreement between Iraq and Niger on the sale of 500 tons of uranium that was signed by Nigerian officials. (In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, DGSE official Alain Chouet will note that the details of this agreement matched those of the forged documents.) [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 241] Niger is a former French colony, and the French keep a tight rein on Niger’s uranium production. Hence, the CIA turns to French intelligence to vet the claim of Nigerien uranium going to Iraq. “The French were managing partners of the international consortium in Niger,” former US ambassador Joseph Wilson will later say. “The French did the actual mining and shipping of [uranium].” [Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209] The CIA asks for an immediate answer about the authenticity of the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] In response, the DGSE sends its head of security intelligence, Chouet, to look into the uranium deal. The initial information Chouet receives from the CIA is vague, he will later recall, except for one striking detail: Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, made an unusual trip to four African countries in 1999, including Niger. CIA analysts fear the trip may have been a prelude to the uranium deal. But Chouet soon learns that the al-Zawahie trip (see February 1999) had not been secret, as the CIA avers, but had been well covered by, among other news outlets, the local Nigerien press. In addition, French, British, and US intelligence had received routine reports on al-Zawahie’s visits. Chouet, head of a 700-person intelligence unit specializing in weapons proliferation and terrorism, sends an undercover team of five or six men to Niger to check on the security of Niger’s uranium. The investigation produces no evidence that al-Zawahie had even discussed uranium with the Nigeriens. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209] Chouet will later recall, “[O]nce back, they told me a very simple thing: ‘the American information on uranium is all bullsh_t.’” [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] The French summarize the results of their investigation in a series of formal cables they send to CIA offices in Langley and Paris. Chouet will later tell the Times that they communicated their doubts about the claims in no uncertain terms. “We told the Americans, ‘Bullshi_t. It doesn’t make any sense.’” [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005] Choeut’s formal reports to the CIA use less coarse language, but he later describes them as candid. “We had the feeling we had been heard,” he will recall. [Unger, 2007, pp. 241] The DGSE considers the issue closed. [Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Alain Chouet, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Wissam al-Zahawie

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: International Investigations, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson participates in the annual conference of the American Turkish Council. One of the keynote speakers is Richard Perle, the neoconservative head of the Defense Policy Board and the chief author of the 1996 position paper “A Clean Break,” which argued for the forcible redrawing of the political map of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). In 1996, Perle had called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. At the conference, Perle makes the same call. Wilson will later recall being deeply troubled by Perle’s “fire and brimstone” speech. The next afternoon, when Wilson is scheduled to speak, he voices his concerns over Perle’s position. Although he had journeyed to Niger to learn the truth or falsity about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), he has not spoken publicly about Iraq in over a decade. He does so because he urgently feels that Perle’s views need to be countered. “No decision is more important than that to send a nation’s sons and daughters to a foreign land in order to kill and perhaps die for their country,” he will write. “As a democracy, we are all participants in that decision. Not to speak out would amount to complicity in whatever decision was taken.” Wilson tells the assemblage that “if we were prepared to entertain the possibility that in coming year Iraq might be reduced to a chemical, biological, and nuclear wasteland, then we should march in lockstep to the martial music played by Perle; if not, we should think about alternatives to war.” His partner at the podium, former Turkish military commander Cevik Bir, is, Wilson will recall, “even more strident than me in his opposition to military action.” The audience, “largely American and Turkish businessmen, [largely] agreed with us,” Wilson will recall. For his part, Perle has long since departed the conference. Wilson will later write: “As I discovered while debating the issue, the prowar advocates were little inclined to listen to the views of others. They had made up their minds long ago, and now it was a matter of ramming their agenda through the decision-making process.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 291-292]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, American Turkish Council, Joseph C. Wilson, Cevik Bir

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Joseph Wilson's Criticism

John Kiriakou, a CIA officer who will later make a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007), is transferred to Iraqi issues at the agency’s headquarters. He had previously been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in Pakistan (see Spring-Summer 2002 and Possibly Before). Kiriakou’s job is to act as an executive assistant to Robert Grenier, the CIA’s Iraq mission manager. In this position he will play a part in the Plame affair (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Mother Jones, 12/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, John Kiriakou

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Misc Entries

Category Tags: Exposure of Plame Wilson

According to French intelligence official Alain Chouet, France receives a “sample” of the forged Niger documents from the CIA. Chouet’s story conflicts with what has been reported elsewhere. According to all other accounts, the US does not obtain the documents until mid-October 2002, some three and a half months later. Explaining this to the Los Angeles Times, Chouet recounts: “If what I’m saying surprises you, I can’t help it. I tell you I received a ‘sample’ of those documents in the summer of 2002 from Langley. They sent the sealed envelope to Paris through the usual intelligence channels. I can remember they were no more than a dozen pages. There was a short introduction where the CIA explained the meaning of the documents and no more than three complete documents, I would say. After a quick scrutiny we decided it was all rubbish. Gross fakes. The document which struck me most referred to the Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See. Reading that page, I thought back to the odd and general request of summer 2001 and wondered: ‘Hey, the Americans… they have had this stuff for one year and they tell us only now, after we have already been to Niger twice.’ Anyway the Americans didn’t say who they got that stuff from, then or later. But we discovered things ourselves.… First of all, those documents, as far as one could read, led to the Niger Embassy in Rome.” [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] Coincidentally, it is on this day that Martino first contacts the French with an offer to sell them the forged documents (see Late June 2002). [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler, attempts to sell a collection of mostly forged documents (though it is not clear precisely what documents these are) to the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s intelligence agency for $100,000. (According to Martino, he has been selling documents to the French since 1999 (see June or July 1999).) The documents suggest that Niger agreed to sell uranium to Iraq in 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Knight Ridder, 10/25/2005; Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005] The French insist on reviewing the documents before there is any exchange of money. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] In a matter of days, French intelligence determines the documents are not authentic. [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005] SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, is reportedly aware of Martino’s dealing with the French, and may have actually arranged them. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Rocco Martino, SISMI, Antonio Nucera

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, White House Leak of Classified Info, Media Responses and Participation

According to a senior intelligence official interviewed by the Associated Press in June of 2003, the CIA shares with Britain the results of Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), advising British intelligence that claims that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger are unsubstantiated. But another report, by the Observer the following month, contradicts this AP report. It cites a series of letters to the British Foreign Affairs Committee which show that although the US had asked Britain not to use the Africa-uranium claim, they did not provide any details about Wilson’s mission to Niger. [Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Observer, 7/13/2003; Time, 7/21/2003] In spite of this warning, Britain publishes a dossier in September which includes the claim.(see September 24, 2002)

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraq's Connections to Niger, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The Defense Intelligence Agency releases an intelligence assessment entitled “Iraq’s Reemerging Nuclear Program” that claims, “Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” for the production of nuclear weapons. The DIA is referring to the tale of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal (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), as well as purported dealings with Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The assessment says that “DIA cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources.” [Defense Intelligence Agency, 9/2002 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 259]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

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

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

The first draft of the British intelligence dossier entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” (see February 5, 2003) is circulated. The principal author is John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and therefore the report comes to be known as the “Scarlett dossier.” Scarlett had considerable input from intelligence officials and Downing Street officials, including communications director Alastair Campbell, who will later insist he gave nothing more than “presentational” advice and did not pressure Scarlett to “sex up” the dossier. (Campbell’s claim will be challenged when evidence is later produced that shows senior press official John Williams helped Scarlett write the dossier—see February 18, 2008.) Section 6 of the first draft states flatly that “Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa.” The context of the section makes it clear that the reference is not to uranium purchased by Iraq from Niger in 1982 and later sealed and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is clear that the reference is to the supposed uranium deal from 1999-2000. That deal was clearly never made, and allegations to the contrary were based upon fabricated documents. Fabricated evidence or not, the dossier states that not only was Iraq seeking uranium, but that uranium “has been purchased.” Eight pages later, the dossier claims that “there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” a significant language shift—from flat certainty to an assertion of “compelling evidence.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes that “recent intelligence… indicates” Iraq “has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear programme that would require it.” The document’s claims fluctuate from one section to the next. [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003] The final version will be released later in the month, and include the same vagaries of language (see September 24, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Scarlett, International Atomic Energy Agency, John Williams, Joint Intelligence Committee, Alastair Campbell

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

White House speechwriter Michael Gerson contacts John Gibson, another speechwriter, at his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room where he is putting the final touches on Bush’s upcoming speech to the UN. Gerson asks him to contact National Security Council aide Robert Joseph about some new intelligence that Gibson might be able to insert into the speech. If it’s not used in the speech, “it’s something we might leak to the New York Times,” Gerson says. Gibson calls Joseph, who tells him to write in the speech that Iraq was caught trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger. Simultaneously, the office of Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, asks the CIA to clear language so that President Bush can state: “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake (see 1979-1982 and Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001).… The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.” But later in the day, the CIA rescinds its approval for this passage, saying that the information for this allegation had come from a single source and was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The reference to the alleged attempt to obtain uranium is dropped. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 85-86; Unger, 2007, pp. 259]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Joseph, Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, John Gibson, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

Panorama, an Italian weekly owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reports that Iraq’s intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, obtained 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria [not Niger, as other reports at this time are alleging] through a Jordanian intermediary. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Panorama

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Media Responses and Participation

The second draft of the “Scarlett dossier” (see September 10-11, 2002) on Iraqi WMD is circulated. As with the first draft, the language of exactly how certain British intelligence is about the Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see Before September 2002) varies from section to section. One page states flatly that “[u]ranium has been sought [by Iraq] from Africa,” but another page says there is “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply” of uranium. Such language shifts (similar to those in the first draft) may mean little to the lay reader, but are very significant within the intelligence community. In the first draft, principal author John Scarlett’s executive summary added to the confusion by saying that “recent evidence… indicates” Iraq has tried to purchase uranium from Africa, an even less certain phrasing. But this draft’s executive summary will be redacted from public view. [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003]

Entity Tags: John Scarlett

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

In a classified session, George Tenet and other intelligence officials brief the Senate Intelligence Committee on the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In his summary of the document, Tenet reportedly says that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. Though he mentions that there are some doubts about the reliability of the evidence, he does not provide any details. [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; ABC News, 6/16/2003] Tenet also says that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq (see July 2001) were intended for its nuclear program, that the country has a fleet of mobile biological weapons labs, and that Iraq has developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be armed with chemical or biological weapons for an attack against the US mainland. At one point during the session, a committee staff member slips Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) a note suggesting that the senator ask Tenet what “technically collected” evidence does the CIA have that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Biden asks the question and Tenet replies, “None, Senator.” Everyone becomes silent. Biden, apparently annoyed by the answer, asks Tenet, “George, do you want me to clear the staff out of the room,” meaning that if the intelligence is so classified that it shouldn’t be shared with staffers he will ask them to leave. But Tenet says, “There’s no reason to.” When Tenet finishes his testimony, he leaves to attend his son’s basketball game. Other senators also leave. The next witnesses are Carl Ford, Jr., the State Department’s chief intelligence officer, and Rhys Williams, the chief intelligence officer in the Energy Department. Both men say they do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for a nuclear program. But few senators are still in the room to hear these opinions. After the hearing, Peter Zimmerman, the committee’s scientific advisor, asks Robert Walpole the CIA’s national intelligence officer for nuclear weapons, to show him one of the tubes referred to by Tenet. Zimmerman looks at the sample Walpole brought and becomes immediately doubtful. He then grills Walpole on several technical details, who fails to provide any convincing answers. Zimmerman gets the impression that Walpole has little understanding of centrifuges. “I remember going home that night and practically putting my fist through the wall half a dozen times,” Zimmerman later recalls. “I was frustrated as I’ve ever been. I remember saying to my wife, ‘They’re going to war and there’s not a damn piece of evidence to substantiate it.’” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 117-119]

Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Robert Walpole, Peter Zimmerman, George J. Tenet, Rhys Williams

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence.Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence. [Source: CIA]The final, published report from British intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs is released. Prepared by Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and known as the “Scarlett dossier,” it contains much the same vagaries of language that the previous draft versions contained (see September 10-11, 2002 and September 16, 2002).
Contradictory Claims about African Uranium - Chapter 3 tells the reader “what we know” about Iraqi WMD, including the statement that “Uranium has been sought from Africa.” Unfortunately, the first and second drafts’ language clearly indicated that British intelligence does not “know” anything about the uranium deal, but merely believes the claim to be true. Author Dennis Hans writes in 2003, “Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions, and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying ‘we know’ when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.” The language of the final draft contradicts the claim of established fact; later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of earlier drafts has been downgraded to merely stating, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.” The language is similar to that of the first draft, but a statement saying “we judge” is not the same as a statement saying “we know.” Hans concludes, “In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a ‘judgment’ in the executive summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague ‘there is intelligence’ claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.” Prime Minister Tony Blair uses the dossier to flatly assert that “we now know the following”: that Iraq indeed tried to purchase uranium from Africa, “though we do not know whether he has been successful” (see September 24, 2002). [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003; Hutton Inquiry, 1/28/2004] Later reporting will reveal that the main source for the dossier’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that was based on the same set of forged documents that formed the basis of the US allegations. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
'No Definitive Intelligence' on Aluminum Tube Allegations - In the section discussing Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the dossier says there “is no definitive intelligence evidence” that the shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted by the CIA was intended for use in an Iraqi nuclear program. This assessment of the tubes contradicts the majority view at the CIA. [United Kingdom, 9/24/2002]
'Echo Chamber,' 'Disinformation Campaign' - Former CIA official Milt Bearden will later say, “When you are playing a disinformation campaign, you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.’” Author Craig Unger will note that by the time the “Scarlett dossier” is released, between the various US and British claims and the array of reports in the media, it seems as if the claims of Iraq trying to buy Nigerien uranium are coming from multiple sources, “when in fact there [is] merely an echo chamger of corroboration.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 259]
Claim that Iraq Can Launch WMD within 45 Minutes - Perhaps the most infamous portion of the dossier is the claim that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction against chosen targets within 45 minutes of the order being given. That particular claim was not in the drafts of the dossier, and was apparently inserted by Blair administration officials seeking to bolster the case for war with Iraq. The Blair government will later deny that assertion. [Associated Press, 2/18/2008] After it is revealed early the following year that the US had relied on intelligence based on forged documents, the British will insist that they have additional evidence to support their claims (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003). [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Milt Bearden, Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, Dennis Hans, Craig Unger, SISMI, Central Intelligence Agency, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

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

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents

After learning that the recent British dossier on Iraq (see October 7, 2002) included the allegation that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger, Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who had visited Niger in February 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and concluded the allegations were false, contacts the CIA and advises the agency to inform the British about his trip. [Independent, 6/29/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Joseph Wilson's Trip to Niger

A member of the National Security Council staff speaks with a CIA analyst about the allegation that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The CIA analyst reportedly tells the NSC staff member that the claim should be removed from an upcoming speech (It is not known which speech this concerns, though it could be Bush’s speech in Cincinnati). The CIA analyst later tells a Senate investigative committee that the NSC staff member said removing the allegation would leave the British “flapping in the wind.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. [London Times, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, London Times, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: British Support of Uranium Claims, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices

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

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection, White House Leak of Classified Info

Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. When asked by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) whether he has read the British white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq and whether he disagrees with any of its conclusions he responds: “[T]he one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We’ve looked at those reports and we don’t think they are very credible…” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Jon Kyl

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Robert D. Walpole, National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In response to a question from Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) regarding his assessment of Britain’s recent white paper (see September 24, 2002) on Iraq, he says that the British “put more emphasis on the uranium acquisition in Africa than we would.” He added: “There is some information on attempts and, as we said, maybe not to this committee, but in the last couple of weeks, there’s a question about some of those attempts because of the control of the material in those countries. In one case the mine is completely flooded and how would they get the material…” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Walpole, Fred Thompson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Iraqi Uranium and Nuclear Devices, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” [Washington Post, 7/23/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262] Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Gerson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” [Washington Post, 7/13/2003; Washington Post, 7/23/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262] The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. [Washington Post, 7/23/2003] Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 261-262]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Central Intelligence Agency, Condoleezza Rice, George J. Tenet, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure, Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

One day after receiving the Niger documents (see Afternoon October 7, 2002), Elisabetta Burba meets with her editors and expresses her concern that the documents might be fakes. She and her husband, a historian, closely reviewed the documents and noted several apparent problems; for example, that the amount of uranium specified in the documents—500 tons—is very large, and that the letters do not include details on how the uranium would be delivered. She proposes that she travel to Niger to determine the document’s authenticity. [Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 147] But Burba is instructed by the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Carolo Rossella, who is known for his ties to the Berlusconi government, to hand them over to the American embassy in Rome for verification. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003]

Entity Tags: Carlo Rossella, Elisabetta Burba

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Media Responses and Participation

Senior Bush neoconservatives, angry at the US intelligence community’s refusal to allow the Iraq-Niger uranium deal allegations into President Bush’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), begin purging “troublesome” intelligence analysts. One such victim is Bruce Hardcastle (see Early 2002), the DIA’s intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. Hardcastle has challenged Bush officials, telling them “that the way they were handling evidence was wrong.” In retaliation, not only does Hardcastle lose his job, but his position is eliminated entirely. DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later recall: “They wanted just liaison officers who were junior. They didn’t want a senior intelligence officer who argued with them.” Lang will recall Hardcastle saying, “I couldn’t deal with these people.” Lang continues: “They are such ideologues that they know what the outcome should be.… They start with an almost psuedo-religious faith. They wanted the intelligence agencies to produce material to show a threat, particularly an imminent threat. Then they worked back to prove their case. It was the opposite of what the process should have been like, that the evidence should prove the case.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Bruce Hardcastle, Patrick Lang, Defense Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure

Vice President Cheney’s man in the State Department, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, takes steps to ensure that only the “right” intelligence analysts will be allowed to attend meetings on Iraq, after the embarrassment of having the CIA refuse to allow President Bush to accuse Iraq of attempting to buy uranium from Niger (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Bolton bars Greg Thielmann, the director of the State Department’s INR (its in-house intelligence bureau), from attending any more meetings on any related subject. Thielmann had questioned the forged Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and February 12, 2002). “Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling them what he wanted to hear,” Thielmann will later recall. “I was intercepted at the door of his office and told, ‘The undersecretary doesn’t need you to attend this meeting anymore. The undersecretary wants to keep this in the family.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 263]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US Department of State, John R. Bolton, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Gov't Propaganda, Pressure

Italian freelance information peddler and former SISMI agent Rocco Martino, surprised at the tremendous media coverage his documents alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium deal are receiving (see September 24, 2002,March 2000, Late June 2002, and Summer 2004), approaches Elisabetta Burba, a journalist for a Milan news magazine, Panorama. Martino and Burba have worked together in the past; she considers him to be a reliable source. Panorama is edited by Carlo Rossella, a close political ally of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (see October 16, 2001). Berlusconi is a close ally of the Bush administration, and is actively working with the US to promote the war with Iraq. One of Panorama’s foreign contributors is American neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see December 9, 2001). These are all considerations which may have influenced Martino’s decision to contact Burba rather than a journalist with another news outlet. He tells her that he has some documents (see March 2000) that might interest her. [Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 259-261; Washington Post, 4/3/2007]
'Let's Make This War Start' - They meet at a restaurant in Rome. Martino tells Burba that he has documents proving that Iraq made a deal to purchase hundreds of tons of uranium from Niger. “Let’s make this war start,” he says. “This is a megagalactica situation.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 147]
The 'Italian Letter' - Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter from Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, giving his formal approval for a deal for Niger to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Iraq. Washington Post reporter Peter Eisner will later write, “This was the smoking gun in the package, claiming to show the formal approval of Niger’s president to supply Iraq with a commodity that would in all likelihood only be used for a nuclear weapons program: Iraq had no nuclear power plants.” The letter is written in all capital letters, like an old telex, is dated July 27, 2000, and bears what Eisner describes as “an odd shield on the top, a shining sun surrounded by a horned animal head, a star, and a bird.” It is marked “Confidential and Urgent.” The letter reads in part, “500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases.” It bears a seal reading “The Office of the President of the Republic of Niger.” Written over the seal is a barely legible signature, apparently from Tandja. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007]
Cash on Corroboration - Martino hands over copies of the documents, totaling some 22 pages, mostly in French, and offers to sell Burba the originals. Skeptical but interested, Burba agrees to pay Martino 10,000 euros—about $12,500—for the documents if they can be corroborated by independent authorities. When Burba informs Rossella of the deal later in the day, he proposes sending her to Africa to investigate the claim (see October 16, 2002 and After), and insists she give copies of Martino’s documents to the US embassy. “I think the Americans are very interested in this problem of unconventional weapons,” he tells her. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 259-261; Washington Post, 4/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Peter Eisner, Panorama, Rocco Martino, Michael Ledeen, Bush administration (43), Elisabetta Burba, Mamadou Tandja, Saddam Hussein, Carlo Rossella, Silvio Berlusconi

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, Media Responses and Participation

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Ian Kelly, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Panorama, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Forged Iraq-Niger Documents, US Attempts to Verify Connection

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, having broken his decade-long silence on Middle Eastern affairs just months before (see May 2002), pens an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News titled “How Saddam Thinks.” Wilson warns of a “bloody American invasion and long occupation of Iraq” if President Bush follows up on his threats of “regime change,” with the United Nations failing to derail the US push for war with forceful weapons inspections.
Crucial Lessons of Desert Shield/Desert Storm - “Both the US and UN approaches are dangerously flawed,” he warns. “They ignore crucial lessons we learned in the Persian Gulf War about how Saddam thinks.” If Bush does go to war, Wilson writes, “Saddam [Hussein] will use every weapon in his arsenal to defend himself,” which may well include chemical and biological weapons. “But,” he continues, “history also shows that the less-confrontational approach favored by some on the Security Council—France and Russia—isn’t likely to work, either. Saddam has, after all, repeatedly flouted UN resolutions and ignored its demands to let weapons inspectors back into the country for almost four years.” Wilson recalls listening to Hussein gloat over the prospect of slaughtering American soldiers during Desert Shield (see August 6, 1990), and the difficulties Wilson and his fellow diplomats encountered in persuading Hussein to release hundreds of foreign hostages intended for use as “human shields” (see August 8, 1990).
Hussein a 'Malignant Narcissist' - Wilson writes that “[w]e learned firsthand… what the CIA psychiatrists have said for years: Saddam is an egomaniacal sociopath whose penchant for high-risk gambles is exceeded only by a propensity for miscalculation. Those psychiatrists, who study the characters of world leaders, believe that he suffers from what is popularly called ‘malignant narcissism,’ a sense of self-worth that drives him to act in ways that others would deem irrational, such as invading neighboring countries. But the trait also makes him highly sensitive to direct confrontation and embarrassment, even as he is contemptuous of compromise.”
Confrontation without War - Wilson found that a confrontational, “in your face” approach worked the best in getting the desired results from Hussein (see August 8-9, 1990). Wilson recommends revisiting the techniques that worked during the 1991 Gulf War, incorporating “[a]n aggressive UN-sanctioned campaign to disarm Iraq—bolstered by a militarily supported inspection process—would combine the best of the US and UN approaches, a robust disarmament policy with the international legitimacy the United States seeks.” Wilson continues: “Our message to Saddam can be simple: ‘You are going to lose your weapons of mass destruction capability either through the inspections or through a sustained cruise-missile assault on the 700 suspicious sites the United Nations has already identified. If you rebuild them, we will attack again. And if you use weapons of mass destruction or attack another country in the region, we will destroy you and your regime.’ The decision to live or die then becomes his to make. The ultimate lesson of the Gulf War may be that when offered the choice, Saddam will sacrifice almost everything before sacrificing his own life or grip on power.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 10/13/2002]
Response - Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board chief Brent Scowcroft (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002) asks Wilson if he can “take [the editorial] over to the White House.” Scowcroft says that White House officials need to hear the views of someone who actually has experience with Iraq and with Hussein. Days later, Wilson receives a note from former President George H. W. Bush indicating that he agrees wholeheartedly with Wilson’s position. The op-ed will also garner invitations from a variety of television news shows for Wilson to appear as a commentator. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 295-297]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (43), Brent Scowcroft, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, United Nations Security Council

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Joseph Wilson's Criticism

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