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Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)

France installs a cadmium sulfide (CdS) photovoltaic system to operate an educational television station at a village school in Niger. (US Department of Energy 2002 pdf file)

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)

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). (Robbins 10/31/2003)

Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in Niger. The State Department’s May 1989, September 1989, January 1990, September 1990, and January 1991 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list him as the political officer at the US embassy in Niamey. (US Department of State 5/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State 9/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State 1/1990, pp. 35; US Department of State 9/1990, pp. 32; US Department of State 1/1991, pp. 62) However, given his CIA affiliation, Blee is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

The United Nations passes Resolution 678. The resolution gives Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw entirely from Kuwait (see July 25, 1990) and restore its national sovereignty. The US uses UN authority to build a “coalition” of nations to support its upcoming “Desert Storm” operation designed to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait (see January 16, 1991 and After). 34 countries contribute personnel: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. West Germany and Japan do not contribute forces, but they do contribute $6.6 billion and $10 billion, respectively, to the cause. While some countries join out of a sincere belief that Iraq must not be allowed to dominate the region and control Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 7, 1990), others are more reluctant, believing that the affair is an internal matter best resolved by other Arab countries, and some fear increased US influence in Kuwait and the region. Some of these nations are persuaded by Iraq’s belligerence towards other Arab nations as well as by US offers of economic aid and/or debt forgiveness. (NationMaster 12/23/2007) As with all such UN resolutions, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein rejects this resolution. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996)

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. (Huband 8/2/2004) France has reportedly learned that uranium is being extracted from abandoned mines and being sold on the international black market. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 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. (Drogin and Hamburger 2/17/2004)

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.) (Mackay 7/13/2003; Whitaker 8/10/2003; Fattah 10/2/2003; Hersh 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). (Hersh 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. (Hersh 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.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003)

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)

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. (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 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). (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005)

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)

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)

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. (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 8/2/2004; Chiocci 9/21/2004; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Chiocci and Sechi 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.” (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 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). (Rufford 8/1/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 207)

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.” (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 8/2/2004; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Marshall 11/10/2005; Smith 4/9/2006; Unger 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. (Smith 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)

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; Hersh 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003; Bonini and d'Avanzo 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. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Collier 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. (Huband 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. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 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. (Smith 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)

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). (Unger 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. (Isikoff and Thomas 7/28/2003; Bonini and d'Avanzo 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.” (Rufford 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)

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.” (Rufford 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).

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)

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). (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005; Collier 10/30/2005; Buncombe, Phillips, and Whitaker 11/6/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 228-229)

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)

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)

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).

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)

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.” (McGovern 7/25/2005)

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. (Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; Hersh 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; Hersh 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)

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)

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. (Cloud 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. (Cloud 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)

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)

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)

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)

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)). (Kristof 5/6/2003; Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 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.” (Leupp 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.” (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Landay 6/13/2003; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; CBS News 7/11/2003; Ward 1/2004; Wilson 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson 2007, pp. 113)

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.” (Priest and Milbank 7/15/2003; Belida 7/15/2003; Burrough et al. 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. (Priest and Milbank 7/15/2003; Belida 7/15/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282) The Pentagon will later say that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was not informed about the trip or its conclusions. (Belida 7/15/2003)

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. (Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 96-97; Unger 2007, pp. 241)

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)

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)

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. (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; Landay 11/4/2005)

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)

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.) (Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 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. (Bonni and D'Avanzo 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. (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005; Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 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.’” (Bonni and D'Avanzo 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.’” (Bonni and D'Avanzo 12/1/2005; Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 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)

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. (Pincus 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)

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.” (Pincus and Allen 7/13/2003; Milbank and Pincus 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. (Milbank and Pincus 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)

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. (Priest 7/20/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003)

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; Huband 8/2/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 259-261; Eisner 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. (Eisner 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; Hersh 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo 10/31/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 259-261; Eisner 4/3/2007)

The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58) Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 162; CBS News 4/23/2006) According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 261)

Wayne White, the deputy director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, receives a copy of the Niger documents. Within about fifteen minutes, White, who once served in Niger, suspects that the documents may not be authentic. In particular, he believes that the uranium deal would have been completely impractical. (Bender and Kranish 11/5/2005; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 162)

An unnamed intelligence analyst visits Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, and discusses the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal with him. The analyst says that it would have been very difficult to transport the large quantities of uranium specified in the documents across the barely paved roads of Niger to a port city without being noticed. According to Wilkerson, by the time they finish talking about the documents, they are “laughing their _sses off.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 163)

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes to the State Department and White House to warn senior Bush administration officials that he believes the Iraq-Niger documents are forgeries (see January 12, 2003 and February 17, 2003) and should not be cited as evidence that Iraq is pursuing WMD (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). ElBaradei will later say he never received a reply despite repeated follow-up calls to the White House, the State Department, and the National Security Council. State Department officials will later say they do not know if Secretary of State Colin Powell ever saw the letter. (Leopold 1/27/2006)

Nicolo Pollari, the chief of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI, personally warns the CIA that the documents “proving” that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) are fakes. (Leupp 11/9/2005)

An official with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asks the US for information it has that can verify the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Grier 11/15/2005)

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

White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 169) Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 171)

A CIA analyst who specializes in the Iraqi nuclear program receives a copy of the forged Iraq-Niger documents. He had previously read a copy of the State Department’s analysis of them (see January 12, 2003), after which he realized he had never seen the documents the analysis apparently debunked, and requested them. (Grier 11/15/2005)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger almost a year ago to determine the truth or falsehood of the story that Iraq attempted to secure 500 tons of uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and his wife, CIA case officer and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson, both watch President Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). According to Plame Wilson’s 2007 book Fair Game, Wilson watches from a Canadian television studio, brought there to comment on the address immediately afterwards. His wife watches from their Washington, DC, home. Plame Wilson will recall being dumbstruck at Bush’s “16 words” claim that British intelligence had found a clandestine attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from an African nation. She will write: “What? Had I heard him correctly? Hadn’t Joe’s report on his trip to Niger nearly a year ago (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002), distributed throughout the intelligence community, including presumably the vice president’s office, proved the emptiness of these charges?” When Wilson returns home, he and his wife, according to Plame Wilson’s recollection, “briefly discussed what we thought the president’s claim could have meant. It seemed so odd.” The next day, Wilson asks a friend at the State Department about the claim, and notes that Bush’s assertion is not borne out by the facts. If Bush had indeed referred to Niger in the speech, then his report, along with those of the US Ambassador to Niger and General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), “had all been wrong. Or had the president misspoken? In that case, the record needed to be corrected.” Wilson’s friend replies that Bush may have been speaking of one of the other African countries that produce uranium—Gabon, South Africa, or Namibia. Wilson accepts the explanation for the time being. As a side note, Plame Wilson adds at this point in her book, “Several years later, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs told Joe, ‘You don’t think that if we had seen the State of the Union address before it was delivered, that we would have allowed that phrase to remain in it, do you?” (Wilson, 7/6/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 313-314; Wilson 2007, pp. 125-126)

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

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson attempts to contact the White House through his contacts in the State Department and Senate with the message that it needs to correct the record on Iraq, specifically the allegation Bush recently made that Iraq sought uranium from Africa (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson had been sent to Niger nearly a year before by the CIA to investigate these claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Both he and the current US ambassador in Niger confirmed that the country’s uranium supplies were under the complete control of a French consortium and that it would have been impossible for Niger to divert uranium to Iraq. Wilson also tells his contacts about General Carlton W. Fulford Jr’s trip (see February 24, 2002) to Niger. On that trip the four-star Marine Corps general had similarly reported to Washington that the purported uranium deal was probably not true. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 174) The White House refuses to communicate with Wilson. The only message he receives is one from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice saying that he can state his case in writing in a public forum. (Leopold 1/23/2007)

Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, returns to Vienna after having interviewed several current and former Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The Iraqis denied that their government had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, as has been alleged by the Bush administration. Baute does not believe the Iraqis were telling the truth and intends to confront them with the Niger documents after he has researched the details of the purported uranium purchase deal that is described in the documents. He is concerned to see that the documents contain a note from US intelligence officials that reads, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” Baute conducts an initial Google search for a few keywords and phrases from the documents and quickly finds an inaccurate reference to Niger’s constitution. “At that point,” Baute later recalls, “I completely changed the focus of my search to ‘Are these documents real?’ rather than ‘How can I catch the Iraqis?’” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 202-203; Unger 2007, pp. 289) Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters how easy it was for Baute to determine that the documents were fakes. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly,” she says. (Grice and Usborne 6/5/2003) In another interview, Fleming adds: “It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries. We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day.” (Hamburger and Efron 8/25/2005) When Baute asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later recall in an interview with Seymour Hersh. (Hersh 3/31/2003) There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Erroneous Postmark - A letter dated October 10, 2000 bears a September 28 postmark, indicating it was received over two weeks before its supposed writing. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Names and Titles Incorrect - Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou. Experts say the signature is an obvious forgery. An IAEA official will tell Reuters: “It doesn’t even look close to the signature of the president. I’m not a [handwriting] expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” (Unknown n.d.; Sallot 3/8/2003; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Hersh 3/31/2003; Landay 6/13/2003) The incorrectly postmarked letter is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou”—Niger’s foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Hersh 3/31/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237) Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican. When al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. (Unknown n.d.; Whitaker 8/10/2003)
Letterhead Erroneous - In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. (Landay 6/13/2003) The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger’s ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003)
Incorrect Citation of Constitution - Another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution instead of the one enacted in 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Misspellings, Incorrect Dates - Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not correspond to the correct days of the week. (Stober 3/18/2003) One of the letters is dated July 30, 1999, but refers to agreements not enacted until 2000. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Unrealistic Uranium Requests - The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger’s ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing‘… [an] IAEA official told me.” (Hersh 3/31/2003) Furthermore, the purported agreement calls for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters, a tremendously difficult undertaking. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Denial of Signature - Al-Zawahie is asked whether he had signed a letter on July 6, 2000 that concerned Nigerien uranium (see February 1999). Al-Zawahie will later recall telling the inspectors, “I said absolutely not; if they had seen such a letter it must be a forgery.” Al-Zawahie provides his signature to IAEA inspectors; he will later say, “[T]hose letters must have convinced the IAEA team that the document they had was a forgery.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003)

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the Niger documents (see March 2000) are not authentic (see March 7, 2003), the US and British governments stand behind their claim that Iraq had sought uranium from an African country. The two countries maintain that they have additional evidence—from multiple sources—but do not elaborate. Pressed by journalists and inspectors to reveal their evidence, the two governments refuse. The IAEA tells Reuters that when it asked the US and Britain whether or not they have additional evidence that Iraq had tried to procure uranium, the answer was “no.” (Charbonneau 3/26/2003)
'Information Blackout' - Additionally, an informed UN official tells the Washington Post that the US and Britain were repeatedly asked for more information. Neither government, the official explains, “ever indicated that they had any information on any other country.” (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003) An unnamed Western diplomat tells the Independent: “Despite requests, the British Government has provided no such evidence. Senior officials at the agency think it is involved in an information black-out.” (Independent 7/17/2003)
British Stick With Story Even after US Backs Away - The British will hold to their story even after top US officials admit (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) that Bush should not have included the claim in his State of the Union speech.(see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) (Sanger 7/8/2003; Whitaker and Lashmar 7/20/2003)
Additional Evidence Initially Believed to be French Intel Reports - The London Times will later suggest that Britain’s additional evidence consisted of reports provided by the French in 1999 alleging that Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie’s visit to Niger (see February 1999) was aimed at securing a deal to purchase uranium. (Smith 11/6/2005) As one British foreign official explains to the Independent: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “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…. I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003)
Actual Evidence Provided by Italian Reports Based on Forged Documents - Later reporting will reveal that the main source for Britain’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that traced back to the forged Niger documents. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005) “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” an unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency later tells the Daily Mail. (Agence France-Presse 7/15/2003)

The CIA sends the Senate Intelligence Committee a background paper titled “Purported Iraqi Attempt to Get Uranium from Niger.” The paper sums up the CIA’s knowledge of the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal to date. (Central Intelligence Agency 4/3/2003 pdf file)

John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” (Central Intelligence Agency 6/10/2003 pdf file; Rozen 12/21/2007) After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).

John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA, meets with Vice President Dick Cheney. McLaughin is prepared with answers to Cheney’s questions about the Joseph Wilson trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 8, 2002). (Marcy Wheeler 6/22/2007)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, in Nigeria with President Bush and his entourage, hosts an early-morning press gaggle in which he discusses war critic Joseph Wilson and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims. (The gaggle takes place at 8:20 a.m. local time; Eastern Daylight Savings Time in the US is five hours behind.) In light of recent admissions that the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Fleischer tries to steer the press’s attention onto Wilson, saying that he “also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official, Wilson, meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanding commercial relations between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it, who never said anything about forged documents, reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.” Fleischer is referring in part to a 1999 trip by Wilson to Niger to investigate earlier claims of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999). (White House 7/12/2003) In the CIA debriefing for his 2002 trip to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002), Wilson did not say that Iraqi officials were attempting to engage Nigerien officials in negotiations to buy uranium; in neither of his missions to Niger did any Nigeriens ask him to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss commercial ventures of any kind. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later subpoena the transcript of Fleischer’s press gaggle for his investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 22, 2004). (Marcy Wheeler 11/1/2005)

The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” (Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 100) “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” (Fox News 7/13/2003)
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” (Rice 7/13/2003) On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” (Fox News 7/13/2003) On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” (CNN 7/13/2003)
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). (CNN 7/13/2003)

An unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tells the Daily Mail that the agency believes that Britain’s Africa-uranium claim is based on the same alleged transaction referred to in the forged Niger documents (see March 2000). “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” the source says. (Agence France-Presse 7/15/2003)

Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. (Cooper, Calabresi, and Dickerson 7/17/2003)
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).

One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” (Weinberger 7/18/2003)
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 146-147) Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338)
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 338-339)

Hama Hamadou.Hama Hamadou. [Source: Sangonet (.com)]The prime minister of Niger, Hama Hamadou (whose name is sometimes spelled Amadou), denies that Iraq ever attempted to buy uranium from his country (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, and March 7, 2003), and challenges British Prime Minister Tony Blair to produce the evidence that he says proves the claim. Hamadou says Niger is an ally of Britain and the US, since it sent 500 troops to fight against Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War. “Is this how Britain and America treat their allies?” he asks. “If Britain has evidence to support its claim then it has only to produce it for everybody to see. Our conscience is clear. We are innocent.” The US has admitted that its claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger was based on forged documents (see March 8, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), but Britain continues to insist that it has intelligence from “independent sources” that proves the claim. Britain has not shared this intelligence with anyone. Hamadou denies that Iraq and Niger ever entered into any negotiations over uranium. “Officials from the two countries have never met to discuss uranium,” he says, and continues: “We were the first African country to send soldiers to fight against Saddam after the invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Would we really send material to somebody whom we had fought against and who could could destroy half the world with a nuclear bomb? It is unthinkable.” Hamadou says no one from either Britain or the US has formally accused Niger of any involvement in any uranium deals with Iraq. “Everybody knows that the claims are untrue,” he says. “We have survived famine in Niger. We can survive this.” (Harrison 7/27/2003)

A former Bush administration official warns Niger’s president to keep quiet about the forged documents alleging Iraq attempted to buy enriched uranium from his country (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), according to a Sunday Telegraph report. Nigerien Prime Minister Hama Hamadou has said that Iraq never attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 27, 2003). According to the report, Herman Cohen, a former assistant secretary of state for Africa, visits the Nigerien capital of Niamey, and calls on President Mamadou Tandja. Senior Nigerien government officials later say that Cohen makes it clear to Tandja that he needs to stay quiet about the forgeries. “Let’s say Mr. Cohen put a friendly arm around the president to say sorry about the forged documents, but then squeezed his shoulder hard enough to convey the message, ‘Let’s hear no more about this affair from your government,’” one Nigerien official will tell a Telegraph reporter. “Basically he was telling Niger to shut up.” It was a Telegraph reporter who interviewed Hamadou earlier in the week. Bush administration officials deny attempting to “gag” Tandja or the Nigerien government. That denial is contradicted by the Nigerien official, who says there was “a clear attempt to stop any more embarrassing stories coming out of Niger” by the Americans. The official says the warning is likely to be heeded: “Mr. Cohen did not spell it out but everybody in Niger knows what the consequences of upsetting America or Britain would be. We are the world’s second-poorest country and we depend on international aid to survive.” (Harrison 8/8/2003; Leupp 11/9/2005)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, discussing his two trips to Niger in 1999 (see Fall 1999) and 2002 (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) to investigate whether Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium from that nation, says that in 1999 he never discussed the subject of uranium purchases. Wilson, who met with former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki, says: “At that meeting, uranium was not discussed. It would be a tragedy to think that we went to war over a conversation in which uranium was not discussed because the Niger official was sufficiently sophisticated to think that perhaps he might have wanted to discuss uranium at some later date.” He will later tell Senate Intelligence Committee staffers that Mayaki was leery of discussing any trade issues at all because Iraq was under United Nations sanctions. (FactCheck (.org) 7/26/2004)

Several days after CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s conversation with the junior records officer who confirmed that he was the one to suggest that Plame Wilson’s husband go to Niger (see After July 12, 2004), the officer shows Plame Wilson a crumpled copy of a memo he has written, stating that his Senate testimony had been twisted, and that he, not her, had suggested Joseph Wilson for the Niger trip. Plame Wilson will write, “I was filled with gratitude.” The officer says he had asked his supervisor if he could testify to the Senate a second time and was flatly turned down. Plame Wilson will write: “With the clear wisdom of hindsight, I should have immediately approached the senior management of CPD [the CIA’s counterproliferation division] and asked for their support to correct the report’s omission of the junior CPD’s testimony. I should have aggressively pushed for an investigation into how the report distorted the issue of how and why Joe was selected for the mission to Niger. I should have asked to make a photocopy of my colleague’s memo, and put it into a safety deposit box for safekeeping. I should have asked my former supervisor to clarify his role in Joe’s selection.… But I did none of these things. I was much too passive, feeling boxed in, afraid of repercussions. If I spoke out I would lose my job. If I didn’t, it might doom my marriage. It was a miserable time for me and Joe—both of us existing in separate but connected rooms in hell.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 193-194)

London’s Sunday Times interviews the person it calls “a mysterious middleman who was a key figure in the notorious Niger uranium hoax before the Iraq war.” The middleman is information peddler Rocco Martino, though Martino uses the alias “Giacomo” in the interview. He claims to have been an “unwitting dupe” in the passing of forged documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Early 2000). Martino confirms that he has worked as a low-level agent for the Italian military intelligence service SISMI, and says that the agency used him to spread the forged Iraq-Niger documents. “I received a call from a former colleague in SISMI,” he says. “I was told a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me. I met her and she gave me documents. Sismi wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” Martino is referring to Laura Montini, another SISMI asset (see March 2000). He says he believed the documents were real when he gave them to various intelligence contacts and journalist Elisabetta Burba (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). (Rufford 8/1/2004; Huband 8/2/2004)

Western intelligence officials say that a French intelligence operation to protect Niger’s uranium industry and to prevent weapons proliferation is the inadvertent cause of the forged documents alleging a surreptitious attempt by Iraq to procure uranium from Niger. The operation began in 1999, the officials say. In 2000, French intelligence officials received documents from Italian information peddler Rocco Martino, a source they had used before, that indicated Iraq wanted to expand economic “trade” with Niger. The intelligence officials assumed Iraq wanted to trade for uranium, Niger’s main export. Alarmed, the French asked Martino to provide more information, which, the Financial Times reports, “led to a flourishing ‘market’ in documents.” The next documents Martino provided to the French were forgeries, later exposed as such by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003). The US, which used the documents to support President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger in his 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), later disavowed the claim; the British have yet to do so, insisting that they have other evidence showing the truth behind the allegations. Martino recently confirmed that the documents originated from contacts provided to him by Italian intelligence (see Late July, 2004). A Western intelligence official says: “This issue shows how vulnerable intelligence services and the media are to tricksters like Martino. He responded to a legitimate… demand from the French, who needed the information on Niger. And now he is responding to a new demand in the market, which is being dictated by the political importance this issue has in the US. He is shaping his story to that demand.” (Huband 8/2/2004)

CBS’s Ed Bradley.CBS’s Ed Bradley. [Source: Associated Press]CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 9/23/2004; Jacoby 9/29/2004) The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).

Italian document peddler Rocco Martino, who first sold the forged documents purporting to prove a secret uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004), tells the British news daily The Guardian: “It was the Italians and Americans who were behind it. It was all a disinformation operation. [I was] a tool used by someone for games much bigger than me.” (Unger 2007, pp. 237)

According to CounterPunch, the Italian Parliament releases a report on the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The report names four people as the most likely forgers: neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see April 3, 2005), former CIA agent Duane Clarridge (see Late 1998), Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996 and February 2002), and Chalabi’s close friend and colleague Francis Brooke, who belongs to the Rendon Group, a public relations group formed by the Pentagon in part to promote Chalabi and the INC (see May 1991 and Mid-December 2003). The report suggests the forgeries may have been planeed at a December 2001 meeting in Rome (see December 9, 2001) that involved Ledeen, head of the Italian intelligence service SISMI Nicolo Pollari (see September 9, 2002), and accused spy Larry Franklin (see December 9, 2001). (Leupp 11/1/2005; Leupp 11/9/2005) When the report is publicized in November 2005, Italian government officials will deny the existence of any such report, a denial bolstered by media reports. Journalist Laura Rozen will write that no such report was ever produced, nor was a parliamentary investigation into the Niger forgeries held by the Italian parliament at the time. “There is no parliamentary report,” a spokeswoman for Enzo Bianco, a member of Italy’s parliament, will say. Nor is there an unpublished report, the spokeswoman will say. Rozen will write that Bianco’s spokeswoman “does not just appear to be engaged in a cover up of a secret report. No one in Italy seriously investigating the Niger forgeries has heard of such a report.” The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will also report that no such parliamentary report was ever written. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who will say he knew of rumors about such a report at one time, will also say that no such report exists. “There is no published report,” he will tell Rozen. “If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report.… I think this stuff is just getting circulated.” (Laura Rozen 11/3/2005)

Controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the Bush Defense Department, confirms that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama. A Panorama reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was one of the first to come across forged documents that purported to prove Iraq had attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see September 12, 2002 and Afternoon October 7, 2002). Ledeen is widely suspected of playing a role in channeling those forged documents to the CIA (see October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and April 3, 2005), though he has always denied doing so. Ledeen confirms that “several years ago” he was a “twice a month” contributor to Panorama, but refuses to give further details. He also denies, again, any involvement in the Niger documents: “I’ve said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared in the press,” he writes. “I have not discussed it with any government person in any country.” Reporter Larisa Alexandrovna notes that Ledeen wrote for Panorama during the time that the magazine received the forgeries from an Italian intelligence peddler, and sent them from the US Embassy in Rome via backchannels to the US State Department. Around that same time, Ledeen also allegedly facilitated an unusual meeting between the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration (see September 9, 2002). Hadley has denied discussing anything about uranium during that meeting. (Alexandrovna 1/17/2006)

In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” (Unger 2007, pp. 206-207)

A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. (Knoller 12/19/2007; Hunt 12/19/2007; Gerstenzang 12/20/2007)

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