Tuesday :: Jul 8, 2003

The Niger Lies on Both Sides of the Pond Begin to Unravel

by Steve

Yikes! The lies keep coming back to bite the White House. Yesterday and today, both the White House and Tony Blair insisted that there was additional evidence that Saddam was attempting to buy uranium from an African country, other than the now-discredited Niger connection. Since the White House tried to back away from the SOTU lie and bury this story yesterday, the IAEA has told British papers that the only evidence they received on this was from, you guessed it, the United States.

And last night’s about-face by the White House in admitting that Bush’s claim in the SOTU was incorrect has now cut the legs off Blair, who was telling Parliament as late as today that he still believed there was other evidence to back up the story.

The White House has dealt a devastating blow to Tony Blair by rejecting as flawed British claims that Saddam Hussein attempted to buy uranium from Africa to restart his nuclear weapons programme.

The Bush administration was in full retreat yesterday with officials admitting that the allegation should not have been included in President George Bush's State of the Union address. The American admission represented the first serious split between London and Washington over the case against Saddam and exploded into a full-scale row in Westminster as Mr Blair told senior MPs that the Government was standing by its story.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour backbenchers demanded that Mr Blair release the intelligence behind the allegation to an independent inquiry. Monday was the first time the US had admitted publicly that key "evidence" backing the claim that Iraq was trying to "reconstitute its nuclear weapons programme" was false. The threat of Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons became central to the British and American governments' case for war. Tony Blair told MPs in September that Saddam was "actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability".

Mr Blair said yesterday the intelligence services were standing by their allegation that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium, despite a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in March dismissing the claims as based on crude forgeries. Questioned on the Niger affair by the Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Blair said the claims were based on multiple sources and did not rely on the forged documents obtained by the IAEA.

He said: "There was an historic link between Niger and Iraq. In the 1980s Iraq purchased somewhere in the region of 200 tons of uranium from Niger. The evidence that we had that the Iraqi government had gone back to try to purchase further amounts of uranium from Niger did not come from these so-called forged documents. They came from separate intelligence."

Questioned in the Commons yesterday, Jack Straw said: "The information which was included in the dossier and assessed as reliable relating to the purchase of uranium - not that they had purchased it but Iraq had sought to purchase it - was based on sources quite separate than those based on the forged documents."

Mystery still surrounds the original source of the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. Foreign Office officials have admitted that it was passed on by a foreign intelligence service but insist that it fitted a pattern of evidence that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear weapons programme. Ministers have confirmed that they have not passed information on Niger to the IAEA, despite a commitment to co-operate with the nuclear weapons inspectorate.

But the IAEA is now telling the British media that they are aware of no separate intelligence on the issue, and the only evidence they have seen came from the bogus documents received from the US.

Fresh doubts were raised yesterday about Britain's "separate intelligence" which, Tony Blair claimed, proved Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Africa. Senior British officials told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee a fortnight ago that the intelligence had been passed to the International Atomic Energy Agency investigating Saddam Hussein's alleged plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

But yesterday it was revealed that the IAEA has no record of receiving "separate information". The only intelligence it had received came from the United States and contained documents that proved to be forged.

Mr Blair and members of his Cabinet have insisted that Britain has extra material, separate and independent from that of the US, and the Prime minister did so again yesterday.

British officials have said that it originated from an unspecified "foreign service", and officials have privately intimated that it did not come from either the US or Israel.

However, senior diplomatic sources close to the IAEA were adamant yesterday that the only intelligence on Iraq allegedly acquiring uranium from Africa was received from the US.

When giving evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was questioned repeatedly about Britain's "separate" Iraq-Africa intelligence.

Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, said: "We are talking about fresh intelligence which came to your Government and which underpinned putting into the September 2002 dossier the detailed statements that were made in emphatic terms about uranium supplies to [sic] Africa. That intelligence was under the obligation of your Government to pass on to the IAEA. When was it done?"

William Ehrman, the Foreign Office's director general of Defence and Intelligence, accompanying Mr Straw, replied: "The intelligence came from a foreign service, and it was briefed to the IAEA in 2003." Sir John asked: "What date in 2003?" Mr Ehrman responded: "I would have to check."

Mr Straw was also asked when Britain first learned that the US-supplied documents to the IAEA were forgeries. He replied: "We will find out." However, there has been no further information to the committee.

A senior diplomatic source close to the IAEA said yesterday: "The only information we received was from the US, and this included documents which turned out to be forgeries. This was sent to us in February.

"We certainly have not received anything from Britain, and we have not received anything from a third country.

So right there, Mr. Ehrman has been caught lying to the committee.

"It did not take long to uncover the forged documentation. We did a Google search and discovered that someone named as a minister in the Niger government has stopped being so years ago. A lot of it was pretty crude - a cut and paste job."

A Google search is all it took for the IAEA to find out that the entire American intelligence and foreign policy community were full of crap. Yet no one in the White House in the days and months leading up to the SOTU had the guts to tell the President that part of his case for war was based on forgeries from noncredible sources that could be fact-checked through Google?

Exactly how well-run is this MBA administration when the Vice-president who sent Wilson on his mission, the NSA and the Secretary of State whose staff debriefed him after his return and heard his doubts, and the President who didn’t want to hear it ignored the information for nine months between the visit and the SOTU?

US soldiers died because they were sent to deal with this allegedly imminent threat. The defense that “we didn’t know” will no longer wash.

Steve :: 6:14 PM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!