Sunday :: Jul 24, 2005

Uranium from Africa and the Senate (SSCI) Report - Part 1


by eriposte

This is the first part of the series I introduced earlier today focusing on the findings on the "uranium from Africa" issue in the whitewash Senate Report - the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). This part addresses the following question:

Did the conclusions of the Senate Report really provide justification for the claim that Saddam Hussein was in fact recently seeking significant quantitites of uranium from Africa?

Without any doubt, the answer is a resounding NO.

To see why, let's first note 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

Before we get into the innards of the Senate Report on this claim, let me make an important observation. I've already shown that the British government, in reality, learned no such thing. The British may have claimed that Saddam sought uranium from Africa, but a reasonably critical review of their claims reveals them to be bunk -- and this was known before the start of the Iraq war.

Having said that, let's review how the Senate Report did not really substantiate Bush's claim (note that all bold/italicized text in quotes are my emphasis, not the Senate Report's emphasis).

1. The CIA and the British Government's claim

2. The Senate Report's own conclusions

3. The position of the CIA at the time of Bush's SOTU claim

4. The position of the CIA soon after Bush's SOTU claim

5. The position of INR prior to Bush's SOTU claim

6. The position of the State Department soon after Bush's SOTU claim

CONCLUSIONS


1. The CIA and the British Government's claim

Bush specifically used the word "learned" in his SOTU claim. The use of this word implies that the United States somehow, independently accepted the British Government's claim as being true. However, that was not the case even before Bush's SOTU, even at a senior level in the CIA. As the New Republic (TNR) observed:

Bush, after all, did not state that the British "believed" Saddam had tried to buy uranium or even that the British "claimed" he had done so. Rather, he said the British "had learned" that this was the case, a phrasing clearly implying that the president believed the Brits to be correct--a position his own intelligence agencies had explicitly disavowed.

Indeed, the Senate Report offers more than one piece of evidence that shows that the CIA specifically discounted the British claims on Saddam seeking uranium from Africa prior to the SOTU, even though due to the Senate Report's whitewashing one does not really know why the CIA allowed the claim to get into the SOTU (among other things it is pointed out that then-DCI Goerge Tenet did not even read the SOTU draft).

Here's one example from the Report:

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..." [page 54]

Here's another:

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..." [page 54]

And another, also from the October 4, 2002, timeframe:

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. [pages 56-57]

Of course, many senior Bush administration figures had made similar claims about Saddam's alleged quest for uranium without referring to the British. So, some diehard Bush fans may (and do) claim that we had our own evidence backing up the uranium claim. Given that line of argument from the Bushies, the question we need to address is this:

Since the British claims lacked any credibility, did the U.S. have credible intelligence excluding British sources to substantiate the claim that Saddam was in fact recently seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa?

The answer again, is NO, as I show in the remainder of this post.

2. The Senate Report's own conclusions

Let's begin with a key conclusion of the report from page 125 (and as I've mentioned at the top of this post, all emphasis is mine):

The Committee did not find that the information showed Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure uranium" as indicated in the NIE, but it did indicate that Iraq may have been trying to acquire uranium.

Note the emphasis on the word may. To put it bluntly, Iraq may have been trying to send a man to the moon too, but that doesn't mean we know for a fact that they were trying to send a man to the moon.

The Senate report's conclusion is a dramatically different statement based on the same intelligence used by the Bush administration to claim that Saddam's alleged attempt(s) to seek uranium from Africa was a certainty. In reality, there was no certainty, there was a lot of incredulity and doubt - yet the Bush administration portrayed the claim as being 100% certain. Taking this observation from the Senate Report, along with the realities of the Butler Report and the ISG Report, we can say this for starters:

Anyone who claims that the Senate (SSCI) report vindicated the claim that Saddam was in fact seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa, is spouting something that is demonstrably false

Another conclusion in the Senate Report makes it clear that the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa was not supported by the facts.

Conclusion 16. The language in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq's possible procurement attempts. [page 75]

Again, note the use of the word "possible". No certainty (even on "trying to procure", let alone actually procuring) -- lots of doubt.

3. The position of the CIA at the time of Bush's SOTU claim

Even if you ignore the CIA's clear statements (Section 1 above) that they thought the British claims on uranium from Africa were not credible, it is worth noting this extract from the Senate Report:

At the time the President delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech. CIA Iraq nuclear analysts and the Director of WINPAC told Committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries. [page 66]

Note the use of the word "probably". Once again, this is a very important distinction from the certainty expressed in the Bush SOTU claim. As I said before, one could attach "probably" to just about anything, e.g., "Saddam Hussein was probably trying to send a man to the moon" - but that's quite different from saying that one knows for a fact that he was trying to send a man to the moon or that he actually sent a man to the moon.

4. The position of the CIA soon after Bush's SOTU claim

A little over a month after Bush's SOTU claim, the IAEA exposed the Niger documents as forgeries. What did the CIA have to say then?

Let's start with the observation (in the Senate Report) noted above:

CIA Iraq nuclear analysts and the Director of WINPAC told Committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries. [page 66]

Note the use of the word "probably". Once again, this is a very important distinction from the certainty expressed in the Bush SOTU claim.

Here's another:

On February 27, 2003, the CIA responded to a letter from Senator Carl Levin, dated January 29, 2003, which asked the CIA to detail "what the U.S. IC knows about Saddam Hussein seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The CIA's response was almost identical to the U.S. Government points passed to the IAEA/INVO in early February, saying "[redacted] of reporting suggest Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger." The response says the CIA believes the government of Niger's assurances that it did not contract with Iraq but says, "nonetheless, we question, [redacted], whether Baghdad may have been probing Niger for access to yellowcake in the 1999 time frame." The CIA's response made no mention of any concerns about the validity of the documents and left out the sentence, "we cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims," that had been included in the U.S. Government IAEA/INVO points. [page 69]

(Note that the CIA's response to Sen. Levin referring only to Niger (even though the question was about Africa), was very similar to the response from the State Department's Paul Kelly (directly on behalf of the White House) to Rep. Henry Waxman, where he also replied to the question about uranium from Africa by only referring to Niger.)

And another:

On June 17, 2003, nearly five months after the President delivered the State of the Union address, the CIA produced a memorandum for the DCI which said, "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." This memorandum was not distributed outside the CIA and the Committee has not been provided with any intelligence products in which the CIA published its corrected assessment on Iraq's pursuit of uranium from Niger outside of the agency. [page 71]

It's time to be very clear on three crucial points on this whole "uranium from Africa" hoax that was pulled on Americans.

First, the CIA reacted to the expose of the Niger forgeries by abandoning the uranium from Africa claim. The CIA (and the State Department/White House) only referred to Niger when a question was raised about Africa from top Democrats in Congress. In other words, the Bush administration, shortly after the SOTU claim, acknowledged that the use of the term "Africa" was meant to be a proxy for "Niger", not as a proxy for a list of African countries that are in favor with the Right on a given day. This fact - that Bush really meant "Niger" when he said "Africa" - is no surprise at all. This has been blindingly obvious from early on except for Bush administration apologists who repeatedly decided to ignore much of the facts to push their own flawed narrative again and again.

Second, as has been well-known for a long time now, the CIA (and others) made it very clear that the SOTU claim and the whole uranium in Africa claim was based specifically on the Niger forgeries. (I will discuss this at greater length in a subsequent post).

Third, the CIA was told of the Niger forgeries by the IAEA before the start of the Iraq war. So, they knew that the uranium claim was invalid before the war started. Yet, some Bush administration members and apologists were pushing the fake claim (invoking mythical "evidence" from other countries, for example), even after Joseph Wilson's op-ed, months after the start of the war (July 2003).

5. The position of INR prior to Bush's SOTU claim

Needless to say, the State Department's INR had long dissented from the whole uranium from Africa claim in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE):

INR prepared two separate boxes, one for the key judgments section and a two page box for the body of the nuclear section, which included a sentence which stated that "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious." [page 53]

Additionally, INR had already pointed out that the Niger documents were a hoax, well before the SOTU:

The INR Iraq nuclear analyst told Committee staff that the thing that stood out immediately about the documents was that a companion document - a document included with the Niger documents that did not relate to uranium - mentioned some type of military campaign against major world powers. The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran, and was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome, which all struck the analyst as "completely implausible." Because the stamp on this document matched the stamp on the uranium document, the analyst thought that all of the documents were likely suspect. [page 58]

Let me take a moment here to offer kudos to INR (and the analyst in question) for not only getting it right again and again, but for standing up for the truth.

6. The position of the State Department soon after Bush's SOTU claim

The Senate Report has a rather cryptic paragraph (which likely hides a lot of what happened in the background) which tries to hint at why then-Secretary of State Colin Powell dropped the uranium reference entirely from his speech to the U.N., a few days after the Bush SOTU.

At the White House's request, the initial input for the [Powell] speech came from the CIA. The CIA sent the input to the White House which reworked it and added additional material.
...
According to the CIA's former ADDI for Intelligence for Strategic Programs, who was the point person for coordinating the [Powell] speech, the CIA removed some of the information that the White House had added to the speech, gathered from finished and raw intelligence, because the information was single sourced and uncorroborated. All of the individuals interviewed by Committee staff who were involved in drafting and coordinating the speech, said that they never saw any drafts that referenced Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa. The ADDI told Committee staff that a White House staffer and the Secretary asked about the uranium information, but after discussing the issue with a WINPAC analyst, did not want to include the information in the speech. Committee staff spoke to the WINPAC analyst, but he remembered discussing the issue with a State Department staffer, not a White House staffer. Committee staff interviewed the State Department staffer who said that he did ask about the uranium reporting. He said he asked the analysts if they had any new information on the reporting and, when they said they did not, he dropped the issue. [page 67]
...
On February 5, 2003, Secretary Powell briefed the UN. His speech did not mention Iraqi uranium procurement efforts. [page 68]

Of course, not mentioned is Powell's quote later in the year. As Tony Karon remarked in Time magazine:

Secretary of State Colin Powell has attempted to ride out the yellowcake crisis by defending Bush and at the same time clearing his own name by making clear that he never repeated that particular untruth. Combining those two objectives can be tough. "At the time of the president's State of the Union, a judgement was made that was an appropriate statement for the president to make," he told reporters in South Africa last week, referring to the Niger allegation. "When I made my presentation to the United Nations and we really went through every single thing we knew about all of the various issues with respect to weapons of mass destruction, we did not believe that it was appropriate to use that example anymore. It was not standing the test of time. And so I didn't use it, and we haven't used it since." The test of time?! Exactly eight days passed between the president's speech and the secretary's UN presentation.

CONCLUSION

This post systematically demonstrates that the Senate Report, rather than offering support for Bush's SOTU claim on "uranium from Africa" offers a mass of evidence that makes it clear that that claim was unfounded and false. Put another way, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was/is right on his broad claims, even if he may have been confused or mistaken over some (mostly minor) details.

In particular, the Senate report substantiates what has been known in the public record.

First, the CIA reacted to the expose of the Niger forgeries by abandoning the uranium from Africa claim. The CIA (and the State Department/White House) only referred to Niger when a question was raised about Africa from top Democrats in Congress. In other words, the Bush administration, shortly after the SOTU claim, acknowledged that the use of the term "Africa" was meant to be a proxy for "Niger", not as a proxy for a list of African countries that are in favor with the Right on a given day. This fact - that Bush really meant "Niger" when he said "Africa" - is no surprise at all. This has been blindingly obvious from early on except for Bush administration apologists who repeatedly decided to ignore much of the facts to push their own flawed narrative again and again.

Second, as has been well-known for a long time now, the CIA (and others) made it very clear that the SOTU claim and the whole uranium in Africa claim was based specifically on the Niger forgeries. (I will discuss this at greater length in a subsequent post).

Third, the CIA was told of the Niger forgeries by the IAEA before the start of the Iraq war. So, they knew that the uranium claim was invalid before the war started. Yet, some Bush administration members and apologists were pushing the fake claim (invoking mythical "evidence" from other countries, for example), even after Joseph Wilson's op-ed, months after the start of the war (July 2003).

A final point. There is a cryptic conclusion in the Senate report which I found intriguing (it is cryptic because the details associated with this conclusion have been blacked out/classified).

Conclusion 20. The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) comments and assessments about the Iraq-Niger uranium reporting were inconsistent and, at times contradictory. These inconsistencies were based in part on a misunderstanding of a CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) Iraq analyst's assessment of the reporting. The CIA should have had a mechanism in place to ensure that agency assessments and information passed to policymakers were consistent. [page 78]

A WINPAC analyst...I wonder who that was.

Anyway, we'll continue the analysis of the Senate Report in the next installment.

eriposte :: 10:51 AM :: Comments (6) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!