Wednesday :: Aug 17, 2005

Uranium from Africa and the Valerie Plame expose (Treasongate): A Synopsis

by eriposte

[Last updated on 1/27/07, with further updates expected]

Based on an extensive review and analysis of this topic, I have briefly summarized my main findings in the following sections. My body of work on this topic is extensive and I cannot cover every bit of my reporting in this page - so I've focused on some key elements broken down by section. Each section contains links to the corresponding detailed analyses/evidence. I should add that some of my findings have been picked up by European media outlets - the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the British magazine Private Eye (and my research also prompted former Ambassador Joe Wilson to mention this website on CNN). Investigative journalists like Murray Waas and Laura Rozen have mentioned some of my findings on their blogs (also see this Vanity Fair article by Craig Unger that mentions the work done at TLC). Some findings were also confirmed in an article by Murray Waas in National Journal (which does not specifically cite my post).

1. The Scope, Validity and Basis of Bush's uranium from Africa claim

1.1 The scope of the uranium claim was restricted to Niger and it did not refer to other countries in Africa

1.2 The validity of the uranium claim

1.2.1 The claim was false

1.2.2 The claim was really about uranium being bought, not sought

1.2.3 The alleged French connection (to the British uranium claim) doesn't hold up to scrutiny

1.2.4 The role of the pathological Condi Rice in the ensuing cover-up

1.3 Forged or fabricated claims were the basis of the uranium from Africa allegation

1.4 Summary: The uranium from Africa claim in a nutshell

2. Who Forged the Niger Dossier and Why?

2.1 Was the fake uranium "accord" part of the Niger dossier or was it forged separately?

3. How the Niger forgeries were "mainstreamed" into the CIA intel reports, despite being obviously fake documents

3.1 The role played by someone in SISMI in hiding (or changing) obviously fake material in order to transmit potentially "plausible" claims to the CIA

3.2 Bush administration complicity in perpetrating the bogus claims from the forgeries

4. Why the CIA retracted the uranium claim by Sep/Oct 2002

5. Why the uranium claim nevertheless made it into the Bush 2003 SOTU: It was "stovepiped" to the WH by a few individuals at WINPAC

6. What did the CIA and Bush administration know about the Niger forgeries and when did they know it?

7. The uranium from Africa/SOTU aftermath

7.1 The Joseph Wilson op-ed and its significance

7.2 Why the key criticisms of Joseph Wilson are incorrect or false

7.3 The Valerie Plame expose and the myriad false talking points from the GOP/Bush admin relating to the expose

7.4 Involvement of Bush administration officials in the Valerie Plame expose

1. The Scope, Validity and Basis of Bush's uranium from Africa claim

The following two sections highlight the key findings on this topic.

1.1 The scope of the uranium claim was restricted to Niger and it did not refer to other countries in Africa

Prior to George Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, the Bush administration - on more than one occasion - claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to seek uranium from Africa (Niger). In the 2003 State of the Union (SOTU), Bush specifically claimed that:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa

In the ensuing controversy, some Bush administration officials repeatedly made the assertion that the SOTU claim was based not just on "intel" relating to the African country of Niger, but also on "intel" relating to other countries in Africa (such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo). A systematic analysis of US and British Government reports proves that this assertion is categorically false. Specifically:

Further, Bush administration officials themselves admitted on multiple occasions that the uranium claim was based on Niger and that there was no credible evidence relating to other African countries. In fact, their admissions to Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Henry Waxman occurred on the record in official letters/communications that preceded Joseph Wilson's July 2003 op-ed.

1.2 The validity of the uranium claim

The uranium claim was false but the Bush administration embarked on a campaign of falsehoods and deception to shift attention away from this.

1.2.1 The claim was false

Multiple pieces of evidence show that the Bush 2003 SOTU uranium from Africa claim - which the Bush administration withdrew after Joseph Wilson's July 2003 op-ed - was false.

1.2.2 The claim was really about uranium being bought, not sought

A little reported fact is that the Niger uranium claim in the U.S. NIE as well as the British uranium claim in the September 2002 British White Paper were both based on intel that alleged Iraq had actually purchased uranium from Niger (rather than Iraq having merely sought uranium from Niger). I have shown systematically (example) that the terminology "sought" was introduced by the US IC to play down the intel relating to a uranium purchase owing to lack of evidence that uranium had in fact been "bought". Therefore, the Bush and Blair administrations' subsequent use of the term "sought" (in a manner that distorted the original context) was simply a smokescreen to deceive the media and the public into believing that Joseph Wilson's trip somehow did not debunk the intel that was the basis of the original uranium allegations. It should be noted, as well, that the IAEA debunked both the "bought" and "sought" aspects of the uranium claim (keep in mind these were not independent allegations).

P.S. The Key Judgements of the NIE did not include the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. It was deliberately left out. Further, the inclusion of the uranium claim in the body of the NIE did not in any way imply that this was a consensus judgement of the intelligence community.

1.2.3 The alleged French connection (to the British uranium claim) doesn't hold up to scrutiny

In a Nov 6, 2005 article in the London Times Michael Smith reported, among other things, that:
(a) the previously hidden evidence that the British used to justify their uranium claim came from French intelligence (DGSE),
(b) the French did not (initially) reveal this intelligence to the CIA, and
(c) both the French and the British stand by this claim even today.

In an analysis of Smith's article I demonstrated that this alleged French connection and accompanying "evidence" from the British Government was complete bunk. The detailed analysis of the alleged French connection described in Smith's article is in this post; let me note briefly that among the various obvious problems with the article is the claim it advances that the "credible" evidence that the British allegedly had came from the French in early 1999. As I explained in my response, this could not have been the case because it contradicts the observations in two British parliamentary reports, which stated or implied that the alleged intel was obtained in 2002.

Smith's wrote a subsequent article which interestingly advanced the claim that the French intel was obtained and sent to the British in 2002, without acknowledging that the claims in his previous article were incorrect. In Smith's latest article (and his related blog posts), the intel now claimed to be the basis of the British uranium allegation is "a letter from Wissam Zahawi, the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, dated July 6, 2000, specifically talking about obtaining uranium." Smith states that this letter is considered "credible" by the British and French intelligence services, that this is separate from the contents of the forged Niger dossier, and that this letter has not been shared previously with either the IAEA or the U.S. Government (CIA).

In a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3), I demonstrated that the newly reported and alleged "evidence" is also completely bunk. This so-called evidence also fails the basic test of consistency vis-a-vis the British parliamentary reports that discussed the uranium claim. Specifically, the British Taylor Report had indicated (also see Section 3 below) that there were two sources in 2002 for the British Niger uranium claim and only one of the two was based on documentary evidence (which was traceable to the known Niger forgeries). The other source was alleged to NOT be documentary in nature. In contrast, Smith's latest article claims that the second (remaining) "credible" source was a documentary source - an actual document (the "Zahawi letter" forgery) - thereby contradicting the findings of the Taylor report. Worse, contrary to all the claims in Smith's latest article and blog posts, based on existing information and public statements from the IAEA to-date, the alleged "letter" from Wissam al-Zahawie dated July 6, 2000 was (is):

  • A forgery
  • One of the documents that was reviewed by the IAEA and dismissed as fake

In fact, British reporter Solomon Hughes followed through with the IAEA as a favor to me and informed me that "The [IAEA] also said they had no knowledge of a supposedly "credible" document from the French government relating to an Iraq-Niger uranium trade..."

P.S. Unfortunately, Smith's discussion of the uranium claim and the Niger forgeries displays a significant lack of knowledge of many of the established facts; readers of his articles on the Nigergate matter are advised to take any claims advanced therein with gigantic sacks of salt.

1.2.4 The role of the pathological Condi Rice in the ensuing cover-up

It is fair to say that outside of George Bush and Dick Cheney, no one lied so casually and blatantly and repeatedly deceived Americans as willfully as Condi Rice did (which may explain why, like Bush and Cheney, she has long been a favorite of some in the media and got promoted to Secretary of State in Bush's second term). In particular, her answers to the Press aboard Air Force One on July 11, 2003, in the aftermath of the Joseph Wilson op-ed, were simply breathtaking in their sheer mendacity. As Bush's then National Security Advisor and spokesperson, Rice demonstrated a strong inclination towards what can only be fairly described as compulsive lying (on a variety of topics) in order to deliberately deceive the American public.

Specifically in the context of the uranium from Africa claim, Rice, in a short time span, lied repeatedly about the scope, validity and basis for the uranium from Africa claim, as chronicled at this link.

1.3 Forged or fabricated claims were the basis of the uranium from Africa allegation

As discussed above, the country of Niger formed the sole basis of the uranium from Africa claim. That said, the CIA actually had two documentary sources of fabricated Niger uranium information - the well-known Niger forgeries (peddled by Rocco Martino) and a separate documentary source. The documents from the forged Niger dossier that was put into circulation by Rocco Martino were the principal basis for the uranium allegation. This becomes evident from an analysis of US Government reports:

In fact, despite British denials, even the British uranium from Africa claim can be traced back to the contents of the Niger forgeries:

As for the separate fabricated documentary source for the uranium claim, that is discussed in Section 2.

1.4 Summary: The uranium from Africa claim in a nutshell

Once you strip away the obfuscations, misleading statements, or bamboozling in the US and British Government Reports, there are/were essentially two pieces of relevant evidence relating to the uranium from Africa (Niger) claim:

  • An allegation that a trip by Iraq's Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger in 1999 had to do with seeking uranium [or with kicking off an attempt to "recently" seek uranium] (let's call this Allegation A)
  • An allegation that Iraq had signed a contract to purchase large quantities of uranium from Niger (Allegation B)

Allegation A (Saddam "sought" uranium) was based on essentially two sources, if you will:

  • Source A1: Independent reports of Al-Zahawi's trip (which had nothing to do with uranium)
  • Source A2: Intel reports (ultimately based on the forged Niger documents and the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord") linking Al-Zahawi's trip to an attempt to seek uranium

Allegation B (Saddam "bought" uranium) was based on one source:

  • Source B: Intel reports (ultimately based on the forged Niger documents and the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord") alleging a uranium sale by Niger to Iraq

The CIA knew no later than sometime in Sep 2002, and likely by early August 2002 (or earlier), that the uranium claim was not credible and that sources A2 and B were not trustworthy. (Additionally, when the Niger documents were revealed as forgeries, it meant that Source A2 and Source B got completely discredited). What remained was Source A1. But the CIA already knew that Source A1 was not credible evidence of Iraq seeking uranium (also see the IAEA rebuttal captured in the Butler Report) - so they completely abandoned the uranium claim by no later than September/October 2002.

The British must have known this as well, but persisted with Allegation A with no credible evidence (using a deliberately misleading justification in the Butler Report); in other words, they decided to keep making an unproven (false) assertion. Partly, this was to save face because their White Paper had already made the uranium from Africa claim; but it is also more than likely that they stuck by their claim to provide the last bit of support to Bush in the aftermath of Joseph Wilson's op-ed and the Bush administration's retraction of the SOTU uranium claim in July 2003, shortly before the exposure of Valerie Plame's secret CIA identity by the Bush White House. [Some of the evidence that backs up the above summary is presented in my post titled: "Treasongate: Uranium from Africa in a Nutshell". Note that while the position of the CIA's seniormost officials (and CIA's NESA) was fairly unambiguous - namely that the uranium claim was basically bunk - some individuals at WINPAC continued to peddle this claim for months afterward. That aspect is discussed below in Sec. 5.]

P.S. It is instructive to note that the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that the forgers who cooked up the Niger dossier became aware of the 1999 Wissam Al-Zahawie visit and specifically misused documents they obtained relating to that trip to create the illusion of Iraq seeking and buying uranium from Niger.

2. Who Forged the Niger Dossier and Why?

As for who forged the well-known dossier, there have been numerous reports raising various possibilities - such as a cabal of ex-CIA agents, a cabal of neocons including Michael Ledeen, and a cabal in Italy with multiple individuals affiliated in some form or another with SISMI (Italian intelligence). Of these different theories, the fact that a SISMI-affiliated cabal (La Signora - a SISMI asset in Rome's Niger embassy, Rocco Martino - a former SISMI spy, Antonio Nucera - a SISMI colonel, and Zakaria Yaou Maiga - a Nigerien embassy official) played some role in facilitating, creating and/or disseminating the forgeries, has been credibly confirmed. Laura Rozen has reported in The American Prospect that additional individuals in SISMI had some role in the creation of the forgeries. What has not yet been ruled out is whether this cabal had additional co-conspirators inside or outside SISMI.

My investigation at The Left Coaster - of the CIA intel reports and the Niger forgeries - provides credible evidence that someone inside SISMI must have been involved in the masking of some of the fake information in the forgeries in order to "mainstream" them into the intel reports of Western intelligence agencies like the CIA (more on this in Sec. 3 below). A separate investigation of mine indicates that SISMI must have fabricated the Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" - which was not part of Rocco Martino's forged Niger dossier - on their own (more on this in Sec. 2.1 below).

I have addressed the question of why the Niger documents may have been forged in a detailed post. As I explained in that post:

  • It is possible that the forgeries may have been originally conceived as part of a "counterintelligence operation against the suspected chief of Iraqi intelligence in Rome". However, the possibility that a disinformation campaign to aid the Bush administration's aggressive pro-war stance vis-a-vis Iraq was an additional or subsequent motive for the creation of the forgeries is a realistic one.
  • At least two of the individuals involved in the forgery cabal had a financial motive (SISMI-mole Laura Montini aka La Signora and former SISMI agent Rocco Martino). However, everything else we know about this case now strongly points towards the explanation that even if Martino was aware that the dossier's provenance might be questionable he was probably assured by his partners in SISMI that the information in it was ultimately credible - an assurance he would have needed, in order to be convinced that there was some financial gain possible in his role as a paid informant (where credibility is key). The motive of SISMI was clearly different.
  • There were individuals within SISMI who obviously knew that the source of their "intel" (the forged dossier) was completely bogus. Despite that knowledge, they not only decided to use the allegations, they actively cherry-picked or altered the text before transmitting the claims to the CIA and other agencies in order to make the disinformation seem plausible (Sec. 3). The motive behind this effort was clearly to support an aggressive pro-war U.S. stance vis-a-vis Iraq.
  • Evidence (Sec. 2.1) indicates that the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" ("verbatim text") must have been fabricated directly by one or more individuals within SISMI. The obvious motive for the fabrication of the "accord" (or the "verbatim text" of the "accord") was to make the CIA believe that the "intel" sent to the CIA by SISMI prior to Feb 2002 - on the existence of an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" - was "credible". This was part of the disinformation campaign to support the Bush White House's pro-war PR efforts against Saddam Hussein. Indeed, it was the DIA's report on the "verbatim text" of the "accord" that prompted Dick Cheney's question to the CIA which led to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger.
  • There is no documentary evidence so far that former, disgruntled CIA officials or American neocon fraudsters were involved in the creation or dissemination of the forgeries. Further, claims that French intelligence was somehow responsible are completely baseless. The picture that emerges is a campaign by some individuals within the Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, to systematically provide known-fraudulent information to the Bush administration to help them in their aggressive PR campaign against Iraq. This campaign (a graphical depiction is shown here) rivals those of fraudsters linked to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and is arguably more serious in nature considering how it helped the Bush White House build a nuclear case for war.

2.1 Was the fake uranium "accord" part of the Niger dossier or was it forged separately?

One not-so-widely known aspect of the Niger uranium hoax is that the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" itself was NOT part of the forged dossier peddled by Rocco Martino. When Rocco Martino shared the forged Niger dossier with Elisabetta Burba of Panorama magazine, there was no uranium sale "accord" among the numerous fake letters, memos and documents that he gave Burba (there was only an alleged "cover page" for the "accord"). The IAEA themselves never received anything purporting to be the accord from the U.S. Government. In other words, there exists an entire forged dossier with fake allegations about a uranium sale accord, but no actual accord in the dossier. Moreover, given that the CIA received the "verbatim text" of the accord from SISMI in February 2002 (which prompted Dick Cheney's inquiry that led to the Wilson trip) and that the accord was not in the Martino dossier, how did the "verbatim text" come into existence?

In fact, the accord or the "verbatim text" have never surfaced to date despite being a key ingredient in this whole fraud. The forged Niger documents are all over the internet - but the fake uranium sale "accord" is not. Why is that exactly? The explanation is simple enough. Making the bogus uranium sale "accord" public will raise highly unpleasant questions about who forged the uranium sale "accord" and the Niger dossier and why. I discovered the significance of the "missing" accord through an investigation at The Left Coaster. In March 2006, I showed that a careful reading of a terse footnote in the Robb-Silberman report leads us to conclude that the "accord" itself was likely fabricated by SISMI. I confirmed this in a subsequent post in June 2006 based on information received from the IAEA through British journalist Solomon Hughes (who writes for the British magazine Private Eye).

Let me step back and explain the significance of this. The CIA actually had two documentary sources of fabricated Niger uranium information, as CIA DO revealed in a footnote in the Robb-Silberman report:

  • The well-known Niger dossier peddled by Rocco Martino
  • A separate documentary source that closely matched what was in the Niger dossier

The evidence I published in March/June 2006 indicates that the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" was the separate documentary source and that it was not part of the Martino dossier. Put simply, what this means is that one or more individuals within SISMI must have fabricated the "accord".

3. How the Niger forgeries were "mainstreamed" into the CIA intel reports, despite being obviously fake documents

Understanding the mechanism of "mainstreaming" of the forged Niger documents, requires a compelling answer to this basic question:

Since the Niger forgeries were the basis of the original CIA reports, why is it that the obviously faked names and dates in the Niger dossier are not mentioned in any of those reports? Why is it that the original CIA reports appear to mention only material that couldn't be summarily dismissed as fake?
After all, despite the obvious inconsistencies in names and dates in the forgeries and the fact that the CIA's intel reports were subsequently discovered to have been based on claims in the Niger forgeries, the CIA and INR stood behind this blanket statement in the SSCI report:
There were no obvious inconsistencies in the names of officials mentioned or the dates of the transactions in any of the three reports. [page 47]
One possible explanation for this is that the CIA and INR were lying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). However, I don't find this explanation compelling at this time (although the CIA's comments to the SSCI were highly misleading since they knew far more about the whole affair than they let on to the SSCI - see Sec. 3.2 and Sec. 6). One of the reason why the sentence (above) from the SSCI report seems reasonable is that what the CIA saw and reported was evidently also seen by INR, and INR was deeply skeptical about the "uranium from Africa" claims almost from day one (even without supposedly knowing that the intel was based on material from forged documents). If INR had seen obviously fake names or dates in the original intel reports, it is more than likely that they would have summarily dismissed the Niger uranium "intel" as a hoax. After all, when the forgeries publicly surfaced in October 2002, it was an INR analyst who immediately noticed some of the dubious/fake material in the documents.

Since the "CIA lied" explanation is not compelling, the question that it raises is the following:

If the CIA did not know about the obviously fake names and dates in the original Niger "intel" reports, did their source know? Did their source pass on select extracts (from the Niger forgeries) which had a slight whiff of plausibility while leaving out the portions that would have revealed the intel to be obviously bogus?

The answer is discussed below.

3.1 The role played by someone in SISMI in hiding (or changing) obviously fake material in order to transmit potentially "plausible" claims to the CIA

The Niger uranium hoax was not just about the creation of the forgeries. It was primarily about how the forgeries were intended to be used. To understand this, it's worth recalling some well-known facts:

In an investigative series in 2005, I demonstrated that the forgeries were "mainstreamed" by SISMI by cherry-picking statements from the forged documents and transmitting them to Western intelligence agencies while withholding some of the information that would have made it obvious that the transmitted allegations were completely bogus. For example, SISMI's 10/15/01 report to the CIA was based on forged Niger Doc 4. Per the Phase I SSCI report, there is no indication that the CIA was sent the "received date" marked on the forgery - 9/28/00, which was ~2 weeks prior to the sent date (10/10/2000). If this information had been transmitted to the CIA along with the allegations in that document, it would have immediately revealed that the "intel" was fake (more details on this here).

That's not all. As I also demonstrated, a name appearing on the same forgery was altered before the SISMI transmission to the CIA because the name on the forgery was so obviously wrong that it would have made it immediately clear to the recipient of the transmission - the CIA - that the allegations were fabricated. Specifically, forged Niger Doc 4 which SISMI's 10/15/01 report to the CIA was based on, was a letter allegedly signed by Nigerien Foreign Minister Allele Elhadj Habibou. However, per the Phase I SSCI report, the 10/15/01 report actually claimed that it was signed by Nassirou Sabo. As it turns out Nassirou Sabo would have been the correct signatory if the letter had been real (based on its October 2000 date) since Habibou was not Foreign Minister of Niger at that time. [Note: My finding was subsequently picked up and confirmed by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica].

What this indicates is that there were individuals within SISMI who knew that the source of their "intel" (the forged dossier) was completely bogus. Despite that knowledge, they not only decided to use the disinformation, they actively cherry-picked or altered the information before transmitting the allegations to the U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies, in order to make the information seem plausible.

3.2 Bush administration complicity in perpetrating the bogus claims from the forgeries

While the role of SISMI in "mainstreaming" the Niger forgeries certainly deserves a detailed investigation, the Bush administration is not easily exculpated in this scam. For example, there is the still-to-be-explained altering of a key date in one of the CIA intel reports (which I have discussed in two posts). Specifically, a review of the SSCI Report shows that the CIA issued two intelligence reports on the Niger uranium claims within a space of a few days in Oct 2001 and there is a glaring discrepancy between the two (which no one else seems to have noticed) :

  • On 10/15/01, it is stated that the State Court of Niger approved the alleged uranium deal in late 2000.
  • On 10/18/01, it is stated that the State Court of Niger approved the alleged uranium deal in [early] 2001.

It is difficult to believe this was just an inadvertent error because the first report specifically used a qualifier for the year 2000 ("late 2000"), and the report from three days later changes the date to 2001. In the latter case, the context of the sentence ("early this year") indicates that the qualifier for 2001 was 'early' 2001. So just replacing 2000 with 2001, or vice versa, wouldn't make them consistent.

What does the Niger forgery corresponding to the above claim say?

That forgery is Doc 5 - the fake "Annexe 1" to the fake uranium sales agreement - wherein the State Court of Niger allegedly "approved" the deal. Doc 5 says this (translation by Cryptome, bold text is my emphasis):


Remember, the CIA did possess some or all of the contents of fake Doc 5. How do we know that? Well, they indirectly admitted it in the Senate (SSCI) report:

The foreign government service did not provide the DO with information about its source and the DO, to date, remains uncertain as to how the foreign government service collected the information in the three intelligence reports...The only mistake in any of the reports regarding dates, is that one date, July 7, 2000, is said to be a Wednesday in the report, but was actually a Friday. [page 47]

Now, perhaps July 2000 can loosely be called "late 2000", but July 2000 certainly isn't early 2001. The question is: what happened between October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001, that prompted the CIA to change the year of the alleged State Court approval? Did the CIA raise the obvious concern about "Wednesday, July 7 2000" with their source and get some "clarification" in response, with a different date? Or did the report on 10/18/01 inadvertently pick up the 2001 date from a different (unsurfaced) document (after all, the 10/18/01 report refers to Niger's alleged plans in early 2001, which is not in Doc 5) which specified a different date of (alleged) approval by Niger's state court?

Shortly after I published the above analysis, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that:

The SISMI director admits – and he even did so before Italian Parliament – that on 18 October 2001 he forwards "information" to US intelligence confirming the “credibility of a source named La Signora", who in the past had already delivered “the genuine article” filched from inside the Embassy of Niger in Rome, located at via Antonio Baiamonti No. 10.

This obviously raises questions about the contents of the SISMI communiques to the CIA on October 15 and October 18, 2001 (and any CIA responses to SISMI during this time period) and whether something in those communiques was the basis for the CIA's unexplained altering of the alleged Niger court approval date in their Oct 18, 2001, intel report.

That's not all. There are also serious questions raised by:

...and so on. (A few initial questions regarding some of these issues were captured in this post).

4. Why the CIA retracted the uranium claim by Sep/Oct 2002

There is solid evidence that the CIA was alerted by French intelligence (DGSE) to the bogus nature of the uranium claims (and possibly that the claims originated from the forgeries) by mid-summer 2002 - something that was not even mentioned in the Senate (SSCI) Report. This was likely a key reason why the CIA dramatically backtracked from the uranium claim by no later than Sep/Oct 2002 (and possibly by early August 2002). (NOTE: There are also multiple reports indicating that the CIA was aware of the forged Niger dossier as early as Fall 2001).

There is also a lone unconfirmed report regarding a communique from Italian intelligence, which has not been independently confirmed (as far as I know). It was mentioned very briefly in a Washington Post article on March 22, 2003 (emphasis mine):

U.S. intelligence officials said they had not even seen the actual evidence, consisting of supposed government documents from Niger, until last month. The source of their information, and their doubts, officials said, was a written summary provided more than six months ago by the Italian intelligence service, which first obtained the documents.

This is pending further confirmation and I hope to discuss this topic in the future, time permitting (two posts are here and here). However, see Section 6 for more details pertaining to this.

5. Why the uranium claim nevertheless made it into the Bush 2003 SOTU: It was "stovepiped" to the WH by a few individuals at WINPAC

A systematic analysis of the SSCI Report indicates that:

  • the uranium from Africa hoax in the Bush SOTU was largely due to the "cooperation" (with the White House) of a few individuals at WINPAC
  • there were significant opposing views within the CIA on the uranium claim (especially within CIA NESA, even setting aside INR's well-known dissent that the claim was "highly dubious"), and
  • the position of the CIA's top management (including then-DCI George Tenet) was that the uranium claim was not credible

The picture that emerges is that the uranium from Africa claim was stovepiped to the White House by certain individuals at WINPAC (link) using known bogus (raw) "intel" (link), in order to meet the White House's expectations, while a parallel communication channel that even included then-DCI George Tenet was trying hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the WH to drop the uranium claim (link). Thus, a rogue operation involving select WH-cooperative personnel in a WH-created group within the CIA (WINPAC) was conveniently used to paint the "CIA" as a monolithic entity that got the intel "wrong".

For example, in the first week of October 2002, the NSC/WH was evidently receiving two opposing views on the uranium matter from the CIA - the WINPAC view and the official view of the CIA conveyed by someone as high as George Tenet in a far more aggressive and categorical manner. Yet the WH did not tell their WINPAC contacts that they were wrong, and that they should be following the lead of George Tenet (link). Obviously, the WH did not want to do so because they wanted to peddle the fake uranium claim and use their cooperative plants contacts inside WINPAC for cover. [It should also be noted that the uranium claim was added to the NIE not from a CIA paper but from a DIA paper - also see here].

The stovepiping by the WINPAC officials in question becomes evident based on the following sequence of events which I have described here and here:

  • 9/11/02: CIA tells the British that they don’t trust the uranium claim
  • 9/11/02: Simultaneously, WINPAC tells the NSC/WH they can use the uranium claim and suggests specific wording
  • 9/11/02: CIA tells the White House they should not use the WINPAC-approved uranium claim [added based on this post]
  • 10/4/02: NSC sends draft of speech with the 9/11/02 WINPAC-suggested wording to ADDI
  • 10/5/02 and 10/6/02: ADDI, DCI, etc. start major pushback and tell NSC/WH to get rid of the uranium claim (previously approved by WINPAC) since it is not credible at all
  • 10/7/02: NSC takes out the WINPAC-approved uranium claim from Bush’s speech
  • 10/7/02: NSC, in parallel, gets WINPAC approval for uranium claim (for another paper “Grave and Gathering Danger”)

[The only piece of information that is inferred in the above sequence is that it was WINPAC who approved the uranium claim on 9/11/02 (and this is a justifiable inference as I explain here). The rest of the information is more direct or obvious in the Senate (SSCI) Report. So, one of the obvious questions is this: why would the NSC/WH blindly accept WINPAC’s approval of a uranium claim on 10/7/02, when on the same day they removed a previous WINPAC-approved uranium claim on another draft, after WINPAC’s big boss (Tenet) asked them to kill the claim?]

Thus, the data shows a clear pattern that when the White House wanted to have a (uranium) claim approved, they went to their contacts in WINPAC. Some WINPAC personnel were repeatedly misrepresenting the CIA's actual judgment on the uranium claim on multiple occasions. Most of these incidents occurred after George Tenet and other senior CIA officials had directly told the White House/NSC that the uranium claim was not credible, that the British claim was not credible on this matter and that the President should not be a "fact witness" on this issue. Many incidents occurred after senior WINPAC officials knew that the claim was bogus (link). In fact, the White House's "approvers" within WINPAC were so blatant in misrepresenting the intelligence that it was even discussed in an email exchange between a DOE analyst and an INR analyst (link).

The analysis also (indirectly) suggests that there was probably a battle of sorts on the uranium claim, between WINPAC on the one hand and the rest of the CIA on the other - especially CIA NESA, which like WINPAC, is part of the CIA's DI (link; also see this link). In the end, George Tenet made a decision to flush NESA (and others) down the toilet in exchange for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, by allowing the White House to scapegoat the CIA as a whole on the uranium matter and allowing the Bush administration to get away with a litany of misleading statements and lies that misrepresented the intelligence assembled by the IC.

It is also rather odd that NESA, which originally issued a report on 5/10/02 supporting the uranium claim and then changed their mind starting 8/1/02 (possibly due to the feedback received from French intelligence - link) seemed to not figure much in the intel reporting on the uranium claim subsequent to October 2002. Was this because of their repeated attempts to point out (especially in early October 2002) that the uranium claim was not credible (link)? Why did WINPAC's false reporting get precedence over NESA's more accurate reporting on the uranium claim after early October 2002, especially considering that both NESA and WINPAC were part of the CIA's DI? This question is neither addressed nor answered by the SSCI Report.

[For more details on the WINPAC stovepipe operation please refer to my detailed post on this issue.]

6. What did the CIA and Bush administration know about the Niger forgeries and when did they know it?

This is another aspect of the uranium matter that has not been explored in depth by the media - and it is the focus of an ongoing series.

A number of pieces of evidence indicate that the CIA received one or more of the Niger forgeries from a source other than Elisabetta Burba of Panorama magazine and there is at least some evidence suggesting that the CIA received (or at least saw) some of the forgeries even before they got copies of them from Elisabetta Burba in October 2002:

Additionally, in early 2003, the Bush administration turned over some (not all) of the forged Niger documents to the U.N. when the U.N. asked for proof of the U.S. allegation that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Niger. However, in doing so, they deliberately withheld from the U.N., the one document in the forged Niger dossier that was known in the intelligence community to be an obvious forgery.

Based on my analysis above, it is safe to say that there is some reporting to-date which indicates that the CIA was aware of the Niger forgeries around the time they received the SISMI Niger uranium reports in Oct 2001. A former CIA official has also publicly confirmed that the CIA would not have given the Italian (SISMI) reports circulation had it known that the Italian claims were based on the forgeries. There is new evidence (from the Libby trial documentation) that the CIA played a previously undisclosed role in the vetting and transmission of the forged Niger documents in October 2002 (more on this later). These facts have significant implications that have not been recognized in most of the reporting on the Niger uranium matter to-date.

The barely reported facts surrounding (a) Rocco Martino's attempt to peddle the Niger forgeries to the CIA station chief in Rome in Fall 2001 and (b) the October 18, 2001, SISMI communique to the CIA trying to put the CIA's concerns about the credibility of the Niger uranium claims to rest, are revealing because they add to the evidence that shows that the CIA harbored significant doubts about the veracity of the Niger uranium claims from day one and tried, repeatedly, to validate those claims through communications with their overseas agents and other foreign intelligence agencies (in the face of SISMI's relentless campaign). In doing so, the CIA must have been trying to rule out the possibility that the Niger uranium reporting was ultimately from the same forgeries that Martino tried to shop to the CIA station chief in Rome in 2001.

7. The uranium from Africa/SOTU aftermath

The uranium claim led ultimately to the exposure of Valerie Plame's secret CIA identity and the indictments against Lewis "Scooter" Libby (who was at the time the Special Assistant to President George Bush and Chief of Staff of Vice President Dick Cheney).

7.1 The Joseph Wilson op-ed and its significance

Even to a non-partisan observer, the dichotomy in the White House's (and its propagandists') attacks against Joseph Wilson should be obvious. On the one hand they agressively opined that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson should not be taken seriously because they claimed he did not really debunk the Bush SOTU claim. On the other hand, they unleashed intense, coordinated attacks on Wilson and his wife, and used his CIA wife as a political pawn by exposing her secret CIA identity to retaliate against Wilson (and Valerie Plame/Wilson). This made it obvious that the Bush administration actually felt that Wilson's July 2003 op-ed carried a lot of significance, even though they were publicly trying hard to create the impression that it did not. Indeed, the very fact that Wilson's op-ed forced the Bush administration to retract the SOTU claim spoke volumes. Of course, those who routinely parroted the Bush administration spin against Wilson took pains not to notice these obvious facts.

As I have discussed before, Wilson's seemingly insignificant (to his critics) op-ed in July 2003 essentially threatened to shine a much brighter light on the mechanics of how the unjustifiable and false uranium claim actually made it into the SOTU speech, despite the Bushies' PR spin that it was because of miscommunication or 'honest' mistakes or [fill in the blanks]. Thus, the significance of his op-ed must be viewed not solely in the context of what it revealed on its face, but also in the context of what it threatened to reveal once Americans who read the op-ed began to raise serious questions. (After all, isn't that the usual story with whistleblowers?) It was therefore not surprising that the Bush administration responded by first trying (unsuccessfully - see below) to discredit the facts offered by Wilson ('he missed other countries in Africa', 'he couldn't have k

eriposte :: 7:09 AM :: Comments (42) :: TrackBack (1) :: Digg It!