Monday :: Jul 18, 2005

Treasongate (Part V), Addendum II: The Butler Report and uranium/Africa


by eriposte

[NOTE: This was originally posted on 7/18/05, significantly enhanced with a lot of additional information posted on 8/15/05, 12/2/05, 12/24/05 and 5/28/06]

This is the next part of my examination of the reports claimed to have supported Bush's "uranium in Africa" claim in the 2003 State of the Union (SOTU), in contrast to Joseph Wilson's claims.

The U.K.'s Butler Report, as those who may be familiar with its whitewashing may know, is the one that declared Bush's "16 words" SOTU claim "well-founded". As explained in page 123 of the report, they declared this based on the following premise:

  • Bush only referred to the British Government's "intelligence" in his SOTU claim
  • The British Government's "intelligence" supports the claim that Saddam was seeking uranium from Africa and the CIA agreed with this
  • Therefore, Bush's claim was "well-founded"

Let's set aside the fact that this was yet another of those fake, post-facto justifications for Bush's claim, as manifest from the Bushies' own statements about the real backing for his claim, prior to the "the British say it's credible" defense (see Treasongate, Part V). Let's also set aside the Iraq Survey Group report (see Treasongate (Part V), Addendum I (ISG and uranium/Africa)) that showed that the "seeking" uranium claim was unfounded. A careful study of the Butler Report shows how it was the British Government's contribution to the art of bamboozling and how the U.K. had no credible evidence prior to the Iraq war, for their claims about Saddam seeking uranium from Africa. In fact, it is clear that the British knew well in advance of Bush's SOTU statement that their own claim was not credible. Further, an accurate reading of Bush's SOTU statement makes it clear that his statement was false, regardless of what the British claimed.

This review is split into the following sections. The evidence presented below also makes it obvious why the Butler Review was a complete whitewash and deliberately deceived the British public.

1. CIA agreement

2. Iraq's 1999 Niger visit

3. The forged Niger documents

4. Other sources in Africa

5. Bought or sought?

6. Bush's 2003 SOTU claim

CONCLUSIONS


1. CIA agreement

Butler Report, p. 123:

In preparing the [September 2002 British] dossier, the UK consulted the US. The CIA advised caution about any suggestion that Iraq had succeeded in acquiring uranium from Africa, but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought.

The CIA agreed with the British and that settles it, right? Wrong. That's what is called whitewashing. Here are some key statements about the CIA's view of the British "evidence" of Saddam's seeking uranium from Africa in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report (bold text is my emphasis):

[p. 50] On September 24, 2002 the British Government published a White Paper on Iraq's WMD saying, "there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
...
[p. 54] On October 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI testified before the SSCI. Senator Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British white paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We've looked at those reports and we don't think they are very credible..."
...
On October 4, 2002, the NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs testified before the SSCI. When asked by Senator Fred Thompson if there was disagreement with the British paper, the NIO said that "they put more emphasis on the uranium acquisition in Africa that we would." He added, "there is some information on attempts and, as we said, maybe not to this committee, but in the last couple of weeks, there's a question about some of those attempts because of the control of the material in those countries. In one case the mine is completely flooded and how would they get the material..."
...
[p. 56-57] Based on the analyst's comments, the ADDI [Associate Deputy Director for Intelligence] drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy National Security Advisor and the [Cincinnati] speech writers. Referring to the sentence on uranium from Africa the CIA said, "remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory."...
Later that day, the NSC staff prepared draft seven of the Cincinnati speech which contained the line, "and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa." Draft seven was sent to CIA for coordination...
The ADDI told Committee staff he received the new draft on October 6, 2002 and noticed that the uranium information had "not been addressed," so he alerted the DCI. The DCI called the Deputy National Security Advisor directly to outline the CIA's concerns. On July 16, 2003, the DCI testified before the SSCI that he told the Deputy National Security Advisor that the "President should not be a fact witness on this issue," because his analysts had told him the "reporting was weak." The NSC then removed the uranium reference from the draft of the speech...
Although the NSC had already removed the uranium reference from the speech, later on October 6, 2002 the CIA sent a second fax to the White House which said, "more 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.

There's a lot more in the SSCI Report and reading it gives you a picture of what clearly went on in the run-up to the war. Magically, information that should not have been in Bush administration claims somehow kept appearing in those claims because of mysterious mistakes and lack of "coordination". Despite the clear statements by the topmost people in the CIA (Deputy DCI and DCI) that the British "intelligence" on Saddam seeking uranium from Africa was not worth the paper it was printed on, it somehow kept appearing in speeches, including the SOTU. We know why that is the case, but let's be clear that the Butler Report's claim about CIA agreement with the U.K. claims was false. It may be that the CIA had a wink, wink, "OK, you guys publish what you want" agreement with the U.K., but the CIA's factual statements on the actual evidence (or lack thereof) make it clear what the truth was, not to mention the fact that the CIA communicated their lack of confidence in the British claims to the British, prior to the release of the British White Paper.

British Labor MP Lynne Jones has written about this fairly extensively on her website. As Jones has pointed out [I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis. Please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting]:

1.1....in their report of September 2003[9]the Intelligence and Security Committee, tell us that, on 11 September 2002, prior to the publication of the 24 September 2002 Dossier, the CIA ‘made comments’ about the uranium claim (which the Government confirmed were ‘concerns’ in a written answer to Lynne Jones[10])
...
1.7. However, despite reporting that the CIA had made comments prior to the publication of the Dossier, the ISC did not raise the outstanding questions from the FAC about the CIA reservations but stated, inaccurately, that:

At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports[18]

1.8. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s own conclusion, that it was reasonable to include the uranium claim in the September 2002 Dossier, is questionable as their report inaccurately states that nothing had challenged the accuracy of the UK Secret Intelligence Service reports despite the ISC’s knowledge that the CIA had raised concerns prior to the publication of the claim.

The British Government also misled their Parliament about supposed CIA "support" in another way. Since the Butler report was trying its best to absolve Lord Butler's political masters running the British Government, they conveniently ignored this as well and continued to deceive the public about CIA "support". Here is another relevant extract from Jones' website [I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis. Please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting]:

1.2. The FAC asked if any British official asked for an explanation[12]. The Foreign Secretary did not answer this question directly but responded by saying that a CIA National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment supported the UK view[13]. The Chair of the FAC subsequently pointed out that the quote given by Jack Straw of the NIE on Iraq's WMD, appears simply to report, rather than "support", the UK view[14]. Despite this, in their Response to the FAC Report, the Government repeated the claim that the CIA “supported” their view and, in this instance, did not provide the quotation in question.[15]
...
1.5. The quote the Foreign Secretary gave of a CIA Intelligence Estimate to back up the UK position, appears simply to report, rather than "support" the UK view. Even after the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman pointed this out, the claim of CIA “support” was reiterated in the Government’s official Response to the FAC Report, without providing the CIA quotation in question. The Butler Committee should report on whether the Foreign Secretary misled the FAC in giving these responses.

What Jones is pointing out is the following. The U.S. NIE claim on the "uranium from Africa" issue was as follows (reported in the U.S. Senate (SSCI) Report, page 52):

Regarding uranium from Africa, the language of the NIE said:
...

  • A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement.

As I have shown in Section 4 below, the British claim was based solely on Niger, so the above extract is the relevant one. Thus, as Jones has highlighted, the NIE did not independently "support" the British claim. Rather, the NIE simply reported a "foreign government service" claim. Not to mention, subsequent to the publication of the NIE, the CIA made it very clear that they did not consider the "uranium from Africa" claim from the British to be credible (as I discussed above).

UPDATE: I would urge readers who want to understand the issue of the CIA's position on both the British paper's, and the NIE's, claim on uranium from Africa to read this post where I have analyzed the myth that the "CIA stood by the NIE claim" on uranium from Africa.


2. Iraq's 1999 Niger visit

The Butler Report offers only one piece of supposed evidence for the British "uranium from Africa" claim. However, that "evidence" was bunk. This becomes clear based on a careful review of the available data, split into the following sub-sections.

2.1 IAEA rebuttal

2.2 A story of deception; all roads lead to the forged Niger documents

2.3 Supposed smoking-gun justification of uranium claim misses other obvious justifications

2.4 The alleged French connection


2.1 IAEA rebuttal

The Butler Report claims that "intelligence" showed that the known visit to Niger in February 1999 by Iraq's Wissam Al-Zahawie was "for the purpose of acquiring uranium". Yet, the Report features a lengthy extract from the IAEA, where the IAEA specifically explains why the evidence was quite strong that this visit had nothing to do with purchasing uranium (more discussion on this visit here). The British Government (and the Butler Report) just decided to ignore the IAEA explanation because it had faith in its own "credible" intelligence.

AN IMPORTANT ASIDE: Note that the Butler Report excludes the meeting between Iraqis and Nigeriens that occurred in July 1999 - namely, they did not consider that to be evidence for the uranium claim. As this footnote in the Butler Report points out:

This [Feb 1999] visit was separate from the Iraqi-Nigerien discussions, in the margins of the mid-1999 Organization of African Unity meeting in Algiers, attested to by Ambassador Wilson in his book "The Politics of Truth" (Carroll & Graf, NY 2004, p28).

This is significant in the context of ambassador Joseph Wilson's report from Niger.


2.2 A story of deception; all roads lead to the forged Niger documents

The fact that the intelligence referred to by the British was not credible is made more obvious by British Labor MP Lynne Jones's observations [I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis. Please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting]:

4.40. On 31 March 2003, Mike O’Brien MP, Under Secretary of State at the FCO answered a Parliamentary Question from Chris Mullin MP (now himself a Foreign Office Minister) stating that the UK Government continued to have confidence that the ‘uranium claim’ was backed up by a ‘variety of sources’.[34] This is contradicted by the ISC Report which tells us that the Government only had two sources, one of which was under consideration in the light of the knowledge of forgery of documents.

4.41. On 1 September an answer by Bill Rammell MP, Under Secretary of State at the FCO, stated that the intelligence upon which the UK Government relied came from ‘the intelligence service of another Government’[35]. In correspondence with Lynne Jones MP (attached as Appendix 1) in a letter dated 23 September 2003, the Prime Minister also reiterated that the intelligence did not come from the UK but from another country. This contradicted remarks of 27 June 2003 by Alistair Campbell, then Director of Communications for 10 Downing Street and responsible to the Prime Minister, who said on Channel 4 News:

“the British intelligence put what they put in that dossier on the basis of British intelligence. Get your facts right before you make serious allegations against a government.”[36]

4.42. In correspondence with the Prime Minister, Lynne Jones has requested clarification on this point but clarification has not been provided.

4.43. Lynne Jones wrote to Jack Straw on 27 May 2004 to complain that the Government were not answering Parliamentary Questions on the ‘uranium claim’[37] but instead simply referring to the Butler Review, thereby replacing Parliamentary accountability with a secret inquiry on these matters (reply still outstanding at time of writing).

4.44. We recommend that the Butler Committee ask Ministers for an explanation for the discrepancy between the Parliamentary answer in March 2003 that stated that the Government had confidence in a ‘variety of sources’ and the subsequent revelation by the Intelligence and Security Committee that the Government had only two sources, one of which was ‘under consideration’ in the light of the knowledge of forgery of documents.

4.45. We recommend that the Butler Committee investigates the contradiction between the statement the Prime Minister and other Ministers made, that the UK claim was based on a foreign intelligence source and the statement made by Alastair Campbell that “the British intelligence put what they put in that dossier on the basis of British intelligence”.

4.46. We recommend that the Butler Committee look at all Parliamentary Questions the UK Government have answered by reference to the Butler Review and investigate the issues raised.

4.47. In a letter to Lynne Jones MP dated 23 September 2003, the Prime Minister suggested that the UK Government did not consider the IAEA to be in possession of the intelligence available to the UK:

We have, of course, encouraged all states that have relevant information to pass it to the IAEA in accordance with the provisions of Article 10 of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, and it is disappointing that there remains evidence that has not been made available to them.

4.48. On 30 January 2004, however, this was subsequently contradicted by Jack Straw, when he revealed[38] that it was the UK Government’s understanding that the intelligence upon which the UK relied was discussed by the originators with the IAEA before the Agency concluded the allegations were unfounded. Lynne Jones contacted the IAEA on 19 May 2004 to ask whether a ‘third party’ discussed or showed evidence with the IAEA and what assessment the IAEA made of any such discussion/evidence. On 25 May 2004, Mark Gwozdecky, Spokesperson and Director Division of Public Information (MTPI) of the IAEA responded as follows:

I can confirm to you that we have received information from a number of member states regarding the allegation that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger. However, we have learned nothing which would cause us to change the conclusion we reported to the United Nations Security Council on March 7, 2003 with regards to the documents assessed to be forgeries and have not received any information that would appear to be based on anything other than those documents.

4.49. We recommend that the Butler Committee invite the IAEA to make available to them all the information they have received on the uranium claim.

4.50. On 7 June 2004, Lynne Jones tabled a parliamentary question asking what the basis is for the Foreign Secretary’s understanding that the intelligence upon which the UK Government based its claim was discussed by the originators with the IAEA. The Government’s response was that they were withholding details of intelligence exchanges with allies under Exemption 1 (c) of Part 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.[39] If, as Jack Straw indicates, the originators of the intelligence upon which the UK Government based its claim did discuss their intelligence with the IAEA before 7 March 2003, the evidence upon which the UK Government relied did not cause the IAEA to change their conclusion that these allegations were unfounded.

4.51. The Iraq Survey Group has not been able to verify the UK Government’s claim. On the contrary, in the January 26 2004 edition of the New York Times, Dr. David Kay, who resigned as head of the ISG said his team had uncovered no evidence that Niger had tried to sell uranium to Iraq for a nuclear weapons program (see press Annex, page 91).

4.52. In light of Jack Straw’s statement in a Parliamentary answer, that the UK Government understands the intelligence upon which they relied was discussed with the IAEA before the Agency reported the fake intelligence in March 2003, we recommend that the Butler Committee compares any information supplied by the IAEA with the primary intelligence source upon which the UK relied, ask whether it is reasonable for the UK to continue to stand by the claim and considers whether amendments should have been made to the assessment in the 24 September 2002 Dossier.

This set of observations is quite damning for more than one reason.

(i) Firstly, it is clear that the British Government was lying to the public about the source and credibility of the Niger intelligence (the Feb 1999 visit), as manifest in their self-contradictory claims.

  • Did the intelligence come from multiple sources? No, as discussed in this section and Section 3 below, it came from a single source.
  • Did it come from the British themselves? Apparently not since they claimed that it came from a foreign intelligence service (FIS) and asserted dubiously that, therefore, further information about it could not be shared.
  • Did the FIS share the intel with the IAEA? Clearly, the evidence shows they did, despite Blair's denial.
  • Did the CIA communicate its lack of confidence in the credibility of the intel to the British before the British White Paper was published in September 2002? Yes, even though the British Government tried to mislead the public by suggesting there were no challenges to the credibility of their intel prior to the IAEA review.

All, in all, if the intelligence was clean and credible, there should be no reason for all these contradictory, deceptive or false claims.

(ii) Secondly, it is clear that the IAEA had debunked the British claim as well as the supporting intelligence sourced to one or more countries by the British (the same intel that they claim they could not reveal)

(iii) Thirdly, the IAEA's comments in 2004 indicates that all the Niger intelligence cited by the British ultimately relied on the same forged Niger documents, despite the British denials. Here is a repeat of those comments cited by Jones:

4.48. ....On 25 May 2004, Mark Gwozdecky, Spokesperson and Director Division of Public Information (MTPI) of the IAEA responded as follows:

I can confirm to you that we have received information from a number of member states regarding the allegation that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger. However, we have learned nothing which would cause us to change the conclusion we reported to the United Nations Security Council on March 7, 2003 with regards to the documents assessed to be forgeries and have not received any information that would appear to be based on anything other than those documents.

In fact, there is separate, credible evidence that supports the observation that even the 1999 Niger visit cited by the British was almost certainly based on the same forged Niger documents. As I briefly mentioned in another post (where I showed that there was only one set of Niger documents, that they were forged, that they were the basis of the intel that sent Joseph Wilson to Niger, etc.), reader Pat Conway made some observations on one of the forged (Niger uranium) documents in the context of the Al-Zahawie visit:

Doc 2: Get Zahawie’s Answer has different idiosyncrasies than Docs 3, 4 and 5. First of all, the name of the government on the letterhead has changed. While Doc 4 refers to the “Conseil Militaire Supreme”, Doc 2 has the “Conseil de Reconciliation Nationale”. The name of the foreign ministry has been updated. “Et De La Cooperation” in Doc 4 has been replaced by “Et De L’Integration Africaine” in Doc 2. The seal of the foreign ministry has also changed (note the placing of the little shield) and a coat of arms has been added to the top of the page. Most importantly, they’ve changed the name of the foreign minister. Instead of Allele Habibou, Doc 2 claims to be signed by Nassirou Sabo.

Close, Cabal, but no cigar! While Sabo was Niger’s foreign minister in October 2000, like the first FIS report says, Doc 2 is dated 30 July 1999. The late nineties, it seems, was a choppy period for the Nigerien foreign ministry. In 1999, the foreign minister was Aichatou Mindaoudou. Sabo did not get the job until January 2000. Another difference is that Doc 2 has the uranium agreement signed on the 28 June 2000, whereas Docs 3, 4 and 5 have it signed more than a week later on the 5-6 July.

So I think that while Docs 3, 4 and 5 were forged sometime before the first FIS report in October 2001, Doc 2 was definitely forged later, probably before the second report in February and after the Cabal had gotten some ‘feedback’.

The second FIS report is the first to implicate Iraqi ambassador Wissam al-Zahawie in the uranium deal. (Robb-Silberman p. 76) Doc 2 also ties Zahawie to the deal, whereas Docs 3, 4 and 5 don’t mention him. I think Doc 2 was forged so the FIS could ‘name-drop’ Zahawie into the second report and clue the CIA to the pre-existing intelligence on Zahawie’s 1999 Niger trip.

Considering everything that has been discussed in this post on the "uranium from Africa" hoax, Pat's conjecture appears quite plausible and it is supported by the IAEA observation that all the evidence they received for the "uranium from Africa" claim from various countries (including the British) was linked to the forged documents in some form or another.

But that's not all.

I have pointed out that the CIA was aware that the Niger/Africa intel was not credible and likely dubious, and that, based on their behavior in response to the public emergence of the forged documents in October 2002, it was obvious they knew that the intel (and the source documents it was based on) was (were) not trustworthy, well before the SOTU (most likely prior to September 22, 2002). So, it is not surprising that they warned the British not to trust the intel. Thus, the British must have known (prior to Bush's SOTU) that their intel was not trustworthy. However, they kept peddling it nonetheless, probably to save face after their White Paper had been published in September 2002. After the Bush SOTU, the pressure on them to keep peddling their false claim must have been even higher, to provide (mythical) cover for Bush.

This additional extract from MP Lynne Jones' report provides support for the notion that the British must have known that they were peddling nonsense [I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis. Please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting]:

1.3. The UK Government confidence in their intelligence should not have prevented them from investigating the CIA reservations prior to the publication of the September 2002 Dossier.

1.4. The idea that the UK intelligence services would not have been aware of the CIA’s reservations via their normal working practices was challenged by Andrew Wilkie, formerly a Senior Intelligence Analyst at the Australian Office of National Assessments. In his oral evidence to the FAC on 19 June 2003, Mr Wilkie stated:

my understanding from having worked in the intelligence community is that the fact that the CIA disputed the uranium from Niger, that was known in the CIA early in 2002 and was shared with allied intelligence agencies through the normal intelligence sharing processes. As far as I am concerned the fact that that uranium claim was false would have been known by the British intelligence services months before this document [the September 2002 dossier] went to press.[16]


2.3 Supposed smoking-gun justification of uranium claim misses other obvious justifications

The Butler Report's conclusions state (emphasis mine):

503. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.

The last sentence is deliberately misleading. The reference to Niger's exports conveniently excluded Iraq's exports (oil/petroleum products) which could easily have been a justification for Iraq-Niger contacts.

Indeed, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) which also examined the "uranium from Africa" claim (and found it baseless) said:

Regarding specific allegations of uranium pursuits from Niger, Ja’far claims that after 1998 Iraq had only two contacts with Niamey—neither of which involved uranium. Ja’far acknowledged that Iraq’s Ambassador to the Holy See traveled to Niamey to invite the President of Niger to visit Iraq. He indicated that Baghdad hoped that the Nigerian President would agree to the visit as he had visited Libya despite sanctions being levied on Tripoli. Former Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See Wissam Zahawie has publicly provided a similar account.

  • Ja’far claims a second contact between Iraq and Niger occurred when a Nigerian minister visited Baghdad around 2001 to request assistance in obtaining petroleum products to alleviate Niger’s economic problems [eRiposte emphasis]. During the negotiations for this contract, the Nigerians did not offer any kind of payment or other quid pro quo, including offering to provide Iraq with uranium ore, other than cash in exchange for petroleum.
  • ISG recovered a copy of a crude oil contract dated 26 June 2001 that, although unsigned, appears to support this arrangement.

The point of my reproducing the ISG extract is that warmongers and Wilson-bashers made a habit of claiming that buying uranium would have been Iraq's only commercial interest with Niger, even though it was obvious that the real interest could have been to sell oil products to Niger.

More importantly, as mentioned in the above extract, the possibility of oil exports was not the only reason to doubt the British claim. Iraq had made it clear that the 1999 visit was intended to try and weaken the U.N. sanctions by urging other countries to visit Iraq (see here for example). The fact that Iraq was trying for a long time to break the back of the U.N. sanctions was well known and should not have been a "surprise" to anyone (other than, say, the 101st Fighting Keyboarders). Indeed, the fact that Wissam Al-Zahawie, during his 1999 trip to Africa, visited not just Niger but also Burkina Faso, Benin and Congo-Brazzaville, none of which are uranium producers, should have provided additional evidence for the case that his trip to Africa could easily have been for other reasons. By intentionally ignoring this, the Butler Report demonstrated a deliberate intent to mislead the British public. [P.S. Also note yet another possible motivation behind Iraq's trip noted by former DGSE Vice Director Alain Chouet].

NOTE: In my post titled "Treasongate: Uranium from Africa in a Nutshell" I have provided a brief discussion of the significance of the insertion of Wissam Al-Zahawie's name into the Niger uranium allegations. Also, since there has been some blogosphere commentary that misunderstood the British allegation, I have dispelled some myths on that in the post "Treasongate: The Real Significance of the Niger Uranium Forgery Stories in La Repubblica - Part II".


2.4 The alleged French connection (added 12/24/05 and updated 5/28/06)

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
  • Handed over to the IAEA by the U.S. Government as part of the package of forged Niger documents [this last inference may change if the IAEA issues a public statement saying otherwise]

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.


3. The forged Niger documents

Josh Marshall (Talkingpointsmemo) has covered a third aspect of the Butler Report, where the forged Niger documents are briefly mentioned:

As the Butler Report puts it ...
We have been told that it was not until early 2003 that the British Government became aware that the US (and other states) had received from a journalistic source a number of documents alleged to cover the Iraqi procurement of uranium from Niger. Those documents were passed to the IAEA, which in its update report to the United Nations Security Council in March 2003 determined that the papers were forgeries ... The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it.
In other words, whatever the deal was with those forgeries, it doesn't affect our judgment because we didn't have the forgeries.

This is what can only be called an artful rendering of the truth.

No, they didn't have the forged documents. But one of their two reports -- indeed, the more important of the two -- was a written summary of the documents provided by Italy -- the same summary the Italians had earlier provided to the Americans, which the CIA used to brief Joe Wilson before they sent him off to Niger. The second report came to them apparently only a week or so before they issued their public document with the claim about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa.

This point is pretty widely understood by people following or reporting on this story. But what's interesting to note is the difference between the Butler Report's rendition of events and that of a UK parliamentary committee report [link obsolete; here's a working link] produced in September 2003 and chaired by Ann Taylor, an MP who would later serve as a member of the Butler committee.

Here's how the parliamentary committee described the Brits' two sources of evidence on pages 27 and 28 (emphasis added)...

89. The Committee questioned the Chief of the SIS about the reporting behind these statements. We were told that it came from two independent sources, one of which was based on documentary evidence. One had reported in June 2002 and the other in September that the Iraqis had expressed interest in purchasing, as it had done before, uranium from Niger. GCHQ also had some sigint concerning a visit by an Iraqi official to Niger.

90. The SIS’s two sources reported that Iraq had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger, but the sources were uncertain whether contracts had been signed or if uranium had actually been shipped to Iraq. In order to protect the intelligence sources and to be factually correct, the phrase “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was used. At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports.

91. In February 2003 the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) received from a third party (not the UK) documents that the party had acquired in the autumn of 2002 and which purported to be evidence of Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. In March 2003 the IAEA identified some of the documents it had received as forgeries and called into question the authenticity of the others.

92. The third party then released its documents to the SIS. The SIS then contacted its source to check the authenticity of its documentary evidence. The SIS told us that its source was still conducting further investigations into this matter.

93. The SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source and consequently the SIS continues to believe that the Iraqis were attempting to negotiate the purchase of uranium from Niger. We have questioned the SIS about the basis of its judgement and conclude that it is reasonable.

That penultimate sentence is key. By saying the documents didn't affect the judgment on the second source, we can fairly infer that they did affect the judgment of the first -- namely, because the documents (or rather a summary of them) were the first source.

As I say, there's a lot of jargon and bureaucratic gobbledygook here. But the key point is that the authors of the earlier report felt free to be candid about what the Butler Report chose to keep hidden -- namely, that most of the British judgment about 'uranium from Africa' was based on the phony documents the Butler Report claims had nothing to do with their judgment.

Note that the "second source" (whose judgment was supposedly trustworthy, but not really) was the one associated with the claim that Iraq's visit to Niger in February 1999 was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. The conclusion of the Butler Report (p. 125, paragraph 503) clearly uses this visit alone as the evidence for the statement that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa - and this has been discussed at length in Section 2.

Moreover, the Taylor Report's statement that:

...the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source...

does not preclude the possibility that the second source was based on second-hand reporting or assertions that were ultimately based on the contents of the Niger dossier/documents. The Wissam Al-Zahawi trip to Niger in 1999 was never in dispute (what was in dispute was that the trip had anything to do with uranium) and the Niger dossier in fact had a document which was likely authentic - Doc 1, which discussed the planned Al-Zahawie trip. Alongside, was Doc 2 which was a forgery which tried to link Wissam Al-Zahawie to uranium and it is well known that multiple Western intelligence agencies received the Niger uranium reports from SISMI. So, it is likely that the British Government was simply misleading their parliamentary committees on the second source and just asserting that Al-Zahawie's trip had something to do with uranium even though there was no credible intel from anyone proving that was the case. Rather, as the evidence discussed in Section 2 shows, all of the British claims were ultimately traceable in some form or the other to the contents of the Niger dossier.


4. Other sources in Africa

It is crystal clear that the British "uranium from Africa" claim was based entirely on Niger and not based on any other country (e.g., the Democratic Republic of Congo). This is obvious from both British reports that examined the "uranium from Africa" claim.

Let's start with the UK Parliamentary Report chaired by MP Ann Taylor that came out in September 2003. As the report points out (emphasis mine):

89. The Committee questioned the Chief of the SIS about the reporting behind these statements. We were told that it came from two independent sources, one of which was based on documentary evidence. One had reported in June 2002 and the other in September that the Iraqis had expressed interest in purchasing, as it had done before, uranium from Niger. GCHQ also had some sigint concerning a visit by an Iraqi official to Niger.

90. The SIS’s two sources reported that Iraq had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger, but the sources were uncertain whether contracts had been signed or if uranium had actually been shipped to Iraq. In order to protect the intelligence sources and to be factually correct, the phrase “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was used. At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports. [page 28]

So, that's open-and-shut. Does the Butler Report contradict this? No.

The Butler Report tries its best to bamboozle people with its wording in the body of the report, but its conclusions make it clear that Niger was the sole country that the British referred to when they said "Africa".

Here are the relevant paragraphs from the Butler Report (emphasis mine).

494. There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.
...
499. We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:

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

was well-founded.
...
503. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.

d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it.

Notice the dead-giveaway that the Congo "evidence" was bunk?

  • Congo "evidence" cited in isolation in paragraph 494
  • Niger and Congo cited in paragraph 499, but in a carefully worded manner "...on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo..." [see the comments section for more explanation on why this is misleadingly worded; in brief, "covering both" is not the same as saying that both the Niger and DRC evidence was credible]
  • Congo conspicuously left out in the conclusion of the report (paragraph 503) where the main reason supporting the British claim is stated to be the 1999 Niger visit

The bottom line is that in the conclusion of the Butler Report, it is made very clear that the British "uranium from Africa" claim referred only to Niger (not some other country or countries in Africa).

There is another aspect to the evidence relating to the Democratic Republic of Congo which I had not realized at the time I originally wrote this post, but realized subsequently - as I described in a follow-up post in the context of the Senate (SSCI) Report. My initial thought was that the CIA's mention of a flooded mine related to Niger, but when I re-read the portion and analyzed this in the context of all the other Niger evidence (where there was no mention of a flooded mine), it suggested to me that the flooded mine corresponded not to Niger but to the evidence supplied by the British on the Democratic Republic of Congo ("the Congo" for short). Thus, it is more than likely that the British were told by the CIA that their claim that Iraq had (in 1999) sought uranium from the Congo or concluded a uranium deal (in 2002) with them, did not pass the smell test because the Congo did not have an active uranium mine (the existing mine had long been flooded and sealed) and that indirect extraction of uranium from other minerals in the Congo could certainly not have produced the kind of tonnage ("significant quantities") that Iraq would have supposedly needed.

It is no surprise then, as the Washington Post reported (emphasis mine):

British officials said they "stand behind" the original allegation. They note they never mentioned "Niger," the subject of the forged documents, and imply, but do not say, that there was other information, about another African country. But an informed U.N. official said the United States and Britain were repeatedly asked for all information they had to support the charge. Neither government, the official said, "ever indicated that they had any information on any other country."

5. Bought or Sought?

There's another aspect of the British claim that has not been publicized much and it appears Dennis Hans at Scoop was the first one who caught this (also see here). This is an important aspect since it reveals the fundamental lack of credibility associated with the claim and sheds more light on the word games used by the British and the U.S. Governments to try and salvage Bush's and Blair's false claims.

I have to thank British Labor MP Lynne Jones for this observation as well [I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis. Please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting]:

1.11. The Hutton Report referred to the claim that Iraq sought to procure uranium from Africa in Paragraph Chapter 6 which details in Paragraph 212 that on 17 September Alastair Campbell sent the following minute to John Scarlett:

3. Can we say he has secured uranium from Africa.

1.12. The response from Mr Scarlett was:

3. on the uranium from Africa, the agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting allows us only to say that he has 'sought' uranium from Africa.

1.13. The phrase “brokered with some difficulty with the originators” and the fact that the statements in the draft were changed from ‘procured’ [or 'purchased', see page 6 here - eRiposte] to ‘sought’ [see page 25 here - eRiposte] uranium, raises concerns that the Government was not objective in its approach to evidence-gathering and verification and was determined to include intelligence in the Dossier which would give teeth to the idea that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons programme.

1.14. We recommend that the Butler Committee seek an explanation from John Scarlett for his comment that the evidence upon which the UK relied was “brokered with some difficulty with the originators” and investigate whether the uranium claim was something the intelligence services were looking for to help fit the case the Government wished to make, leading to an approach to evidence-gathering and verification that lacked objectivity or whether it was information that presented itself as part of the intelligence services’ normal investigations.

As Jones points out in a footnote, here is how the intel was "reinterpreted" within a period of a few days (emphasis mine):

5. 10/11 September – draft version of the 24 September 2002 Dossier - Hutton Report (Appendix 9)

The Hutton Report reproduces the 10/11 September[1] draft version of the dossier which twice states that Iraq had purchased uranium (specifying from Africa only once) and once states that Iraq had sought the supply of uranium from Africa.[1]

16 September – draft version of the 24 September 2002 Dossier - Hutton Report (Appendix 10)

The Hutton Report also reproduces the draft dossier of 16 September[1] which removes all statements that Iraq had purchased uranium (specifying from Africa only once) but three times states that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa.

The change in the wording of the uranium claim from "purchased" to "sought" is more than just a technicality because the change was not based on any new intelligence - it was based on a reinterpretation of the same intelligence ("brokered with some difficulty with the originators") over a period of a few days. This should have set off a warning flag immediately to the Butler Committee and other committees, but they whitewashed it. [NOTE: The game of "bought" v. "sought" also played out in the United States. I refer readers to another post of mine for a discussion on that: "Treasongate: Desperately Seeking (or Buying) Uranium"]

It defies common sense that intel which supposedly confirmed a deal having been signed, suddenly (over the course of a few days) got reinterpreted to state that uranium had only been sought, not purchased. Why would intel that indicated a sale be considered not credible, and yet the same intel (or other intel from the same source) be considered credible in the context of the "seeking" uranium claim? This doesn't pass the smell test.

In a separate post - Uranium from Africa: How "Bought" Became "Sought" - Part 1: The British Uranium Claim - I examined the "bought" v. "sought" game played by the British in greater depth. I have demonstrated why this was not just an act of deliberate deception but one that provides unambiguous evidence that the British uranium claim was based specifically on "evidence" that Iraq had purchased uranium from Africa and not on evidence that Iraq had merely "sought" uranium from Africa.

Finally, this provides additional, independent support that the intel peddled by the British was all based on the forged Niger documents (just as this was the case with the CIA's intel). Let me offer here a speculative chronology of what I think may have transpired.

  • The original British claim was based on the forged Niger documents (which is the only set of documents mentioning both the alleged uranium sale by Niger to Iraq and Wissam Al-Zahawie's visit to Niger in the context of uranium)
  • The CIA realized that the intel was dubious and not trustworthy and they told the British that prior to the publication of the latter's White Paper (perhaps the Italians also told the British?)
  • The British went back to their source (almost certainly the Italians) and after some haggling decided that it was less risky to push the "sought" uranium angle because they knew Al-Zahawie had in fact made a trip to Niger in 1999 (this was well known and uncontested) and it would be easy to make an assertion that it had to do with seeking uranium even without any real, credible proof

Of course, I admit that the sequence above is just speculation, but the reality was probably not significantly different.


6. Bush's 2003 SOTU claim

Even if we ignore the details of the British Government's deceptions and manipulation of intelligence on the "uranium from Africa" claim, a straightforward reading of Bush's SOTU claim shows why it was false.

Here are the exact words used by George W. Bush in the 2003 State of the Union (SOTU):

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

The word "learned" implies two things. First, that the British had credible, believable evidence, that Saddam recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Second, that the U.S. trusted the British claim. This latter part is obvious because Bush did not say that the British "claimed...", but rather that the British had "learned...".

The discussion in the previous sections showed that the British government, in reality, learned no such thing. The British claimed (i.e., asserted) that Saddam sought uranium from Africa, but a reasonably critical review of their claims reveals them to be mere assertions (bunk); indeed, the evidence makes it clear that the British Government made numerous false or misleading claims in order to peddle their so-called evidence and that their "evidence" was actually alleging that Iraq had bought uranium from Africa.

The fact is, the CIA did not consider the British intel to be credible and they said so repeatedly prior to the Bush 2003 State of the Union (SOTU). INR had always considered the uranium claim to not be credible. So, Bush's SOTU statement was false since he was confidently endorsing a claim that our own intelligence agencies had discarded as not being credible. In other words, if A knew B was peddling something that is not credible and therefore discarded B's claims, for A to later claim that we trust B because B trusts itself is the height of dishonesty. Either you trust B or you don't. Both cannot simultaneously be true.

It is also instructive to note something that the U.S. SSCI Report and the British Butler Report deliberately hid from the public. Around the time of Bush's SOTU speech and immediately prior to Colin Powell's Feb 2003 speech to the UN that occurred shortly after Bush's SOTU speech, the CIA communicated with the British regarding the uranium claim and based on the information exchanged, Colin Powell did not find the uranium allegation to be credible. This is significant for many reasons but particularly so because the only (fake) defense that the Bushies were left with after they re

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