Monday :: Jul 25, 2005

Uranium from Africa and the Senate (SSCI) Report: Part 3A-1

by eriposte

This is a continuing series 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). [Previous parts: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]

This part (one of several sub-sections to Part 3) analyzes the first two "intelligence" reports cited in the Senate Report regarding Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger, to assess whether this intel was credible by itself. Note that all bold text or highlights in this page are my emphasis.

First two reports from a Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS-A) in Oct 2001/Feb 2002 on alleged Iraq-Niger year 2000 uranium deal

To those who may not have followed the whole uranium from Africa issue closely, two observations are in order regarding these reports (note that FIS-A is my terminology, not that of the Senate report):

  • These two reports preceded former Ambassador Joe Wilson's (late Feb/early March 2002) trip to Niger that was set up by the CIA (not Wilson's wife) in response to a query from the Vice President
  • These two reports pre-date the public emergence (in Oct 2002) of the infamous, forged Niger documents

[In a subsequent installment of this series, I will discuss at length the possible link between these intelligence reports from FIS-A and the forged Niger documents. In this post, I summarize and analyze the reports for their intrinsic credibility or lack thereof and provide a conclusion on each report's credibility.]

(i) Report 1, Date 10/15/01

Summary [page 36 of Senate Report] :

Reporting on a possible uranium yellowcake sales agreement between Niger and Iraq first came to the attention of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) on October 15, 2001. The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) Directorate of Operations (DO) issued an intelligence report [redacted] from a foreign intelligence service indicating that Niger planned to ship several tons of uranium to Iraq [redacted]. The intelligence report said the uranium sales agreement had been in negotiation between the two countries since at least early 1999, and was approved by the State Court of Niger in late 2000. According to the cable, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja gave his stamp of approval for the agreement and communicated his decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The report also indicated that in October 2000 Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had concluded an accord to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Redacted].


  • The Senate report points out that the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) analysts only considered the above reporting as "possible" evidence and not a certainty. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) "regarded the report 'highly suspect,' primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry." [page 36]
  • The Senate report also points out that "On November 20, 2001, U.S. Embassy Niamey [Niger] disseminated a cable on a recent meeting between the ambassador [NOT Joe Wilson but rather the U.S. ambassador to Niger] and the Director General of Niger's French-led consortium. The Director General said "there was no possibility" that the government of Niger had diverted any of the 3,000 tons of yellowcake produced in its two uranium mines." [page 37]


Although the CIA wrote a paper on this report on October 18, 2001 (noting the lack of corroboration of this report from any other sources), this report, in itself, was NOT (and could NOT be) considered credible proof of Iraq seeking uranium from Africa. The intelligence community (IC) was looking for further information and corroboration.

As an aside, I found it interesting that this "intel" surfaced barely a month after 9/11/01.

(ii) Report 2, Date 2/5/02

Summary [pages 37-38] :

Reporting on the uranium transaction did not surface again until February 5, 2002 when the CIA's DO issued a second intelligence report [redacted] which again cited the source as a "[foreign] government service." Although not identified in the report, this source was also from the foreign service. The second report provided more details about the previously reported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement and provided what was said to be "verbatim text" of the accord.

[Redacted]. Subsequently, the governments of Niger and Iraq signed an agreement regarding the sale of uranium during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. The report indicated that 500 tons of uranium per year [redacted].

IC analysts at the CIA and DIA were more impressed with the detail and substance of the second report...INR analysts continued to doubt the accuracy of the reporting, again because they thought Niger would be unwilling and unable to sell uranium to Iraq and because they thought Iraq would be unlikely to risk such a transaction when they were "bound to be caught." Because of these doubts, an INR analyst asked the CIA whether the source of the report could submit to a polygraph. [Redacted]. A CIA analyst also inquired about the source and says he was told by the CIA's DO that the report was from a "very credible source."

Several analysts interview by Committee staff also pointed out that information in the second intelligence report matched [redacted] reporting from 1999 which showed that an Algerian businessman, Baraka, was arranging a trip for the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, to visit Niger and other African countries in early February 1999. [Redacted].


  • As the Senate report explains [pages 38-39], the Director of Central Intelligence's (DCI) Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) published a report sometime after 2/12/02 with "limited distribution" in which the lack of corroboration and the fact that the second report was partly contradicted by reporting from the U.S. Embassy at Niamey was noted. The report went on to say that "information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated."
  • On 2/18/02, the U.S. Embassy at Niamey sent a cable suggesting that the reporting warrants "another hard look at Niger's uranium sales" and that the names of Niger Government officials cited in the report "track closely with those we know to be in those, or closely-related positions." While they did not want to dismiss the possibility of some Iraq-Niger deal, the embassy also wrote that "the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001," and that the Nigerien Prime Minister had offered an assurance in September 2001 that Niger cannot sell uranium to Iraq. They also suggested raising the issue to France, despite "France's solid assurances that no uranium [from Niger] could be diverted to rogue states."


The lack of corroboration of this report and other factors made sure that INR's skepticism - and to some extent the CIA's skepticism - remained. It also seems likely that the source did not take a polygraph test.

The attempt to link this report to the 1999 visit is a red herring because, as the IAEA explained in early 2003 (before the start of the Iraq war), the 1999 trip to Africa by an Iraqi delegation had nothing to do with seeking uranium. The United States' Iraq Survey Group later arrived at the same conclusion. The Africa trip was aimed at inviting heads of African states to visit Iraq as a means of eventually trying to weaken the U.N. sanctions. As Wissam al-Zahawi later explained to Time magazine (via reader Patrick):

The veteran diplomat has spent the eight months since President Bush's speech trying to set the record straight and clear his name. In a rare interview with Time, al-Zahawie outlined how forgery and circumstantial evidence was used to talk up Iraq's nuclear weapons threat, and leave him holding the smoking gun.

He had been sent to Niger — as well as Benin, Burkina-Faso and Congo-Brazzaville — he explains, as part of an effort to convince African heads of state to visit Iraq. Such visits would break the embargo on flights to the country, and Baghdad hoped this would undermine the UN sanctions regime. The inspiration for the project, al-Zahawie suspects, had been recent visits by African leaders to Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi, which had broken the embargo on flights to that country.

"I took it to be a routine assignment," al-Zahawie notes. "I had done this sort of thing before, and I was senior in the foreign ministry." Plus, it was easier for al-Zahawie to do it from Rome than for any diplomat to come out of Baghdad.

Niger had been his first stop, where he spent an hour speaking with then President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara. Mainassara greeted al-Zahawie warmly, and turned out to be the only leader on his itinerary to accept Baghdad's invitation, promising to visit Saddam in April. The next day, al-Zahawie left to continue his trip, and was back at the Holy See in a matter of days.

Al-Zahawie proclaims innocence of Niger's status as one of the world's largest exporters of yellowcake — despite the fact that the West African nation had been Iraq's principal supplier during the 1980s. "Frankly, I didn't know that Niger produced uranium at all," he claims, emphasizing that he would have had no technical knowledge to even discuss such matters.

Dr Z at Daily Kos has also commented on the Baraka/al-Zahawie story (using other articles) showing that this did not have anything to do with Iraq seeking uranium.

Moreover, the U.S. embassy in Niger pointed out that there were some questions about the report including a significant discrepancy between the alleged uranium order (from Iraq alone) v. the publicly-known production capability of the mines. As the WINPAC report also noted: "US diplomats say the French Government-led consortium that operates Niger’s two uranium mines maintains complete control over uranium mining and yellowcake production." Hence, the embassy suggested it was worth exploring the allegation further to assess its validity.

In short, this second report did not in any way offer credible proof that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.

It must be noted that a report was written by the DIA on 2/12/02, misleadingly titled "Niamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad" and it was after reading that report that Vice President Dick Cheney asked "his morning briefer for the CIA's analysis of the issue." The WINPAC report mentioned above (stating "we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated") was a response to Cheney's request. [pages 38-39]

Niger coverage continues in the next installment.

eriposte :: 8:31 AM :: Comments (14) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!