Uranium from Africa and the Senate (SSCI) Report: Part 3A-6
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, Part 3A-1, Part 3A-2, Part 3A-3, Part 3A-4, Part 3A-5]. This post examines the strange case of the "West African businessman" and "warehoused uranium" in Benin. (Note that all bold/highlighted text is my emphasis).
3A-6. Report from U.S. Navy in Nov 2002 regarding alleged storage of Iraq-bound Niger uranium stored in Benin
The Senate Report says:
On November 25, 2002, The Naval [redacted] issued a very brief report (Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [redacted] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President. The report provided the name and telephone numbers for the individual, a West African businessman, who was responsible for coordinating the alleged uranium transaction and indicated that he was willing to provide information about the transaction. CIA's DO told Committee staff that the businessman has never been contacted and the DO has not made an effort to determine whether this individual had any useful information. [page 59]
First of all, the CIA's behavior, as depicted by the Senate report, continued the interesting trend seen from the time period prior to the release of the forged Niger documents to the Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba. Namely, the CIA (and other intelligence services) largely ignored it. One would have thought they'd have jumped up and down with joy upon hearing yet another "independent" confirmation of the
fake Niger story - and rushed to call the businessman, but that was not the case. Thus continued the case of the dog that did not bark - obviously because the story just seemed so darn familiar.
As reader Pat Conway noted astutely (referring to the forged Niger documents 3 through 7 listed in his write-up):
Enter the West African Businessman. (I’m going to call him the WABman for short – it sounds espionage-y.)...
So, let me get this straight. This WABman, shows up out of the freaking blue, tells the US Navy three specific things about the fake Niger deal he could only have known from the forged Niger docs or the three FIS reports.
- There is a deal for a “large quantity” of uranium between Iraq and Niger. (Docs 3, 4, 5 and 6)
- The uranium was sold to Iraq by Niger’s president. (Doc 3)
- The uranium is being stored in Cotonou, Benin, ready for shipment. (Doc 7)
Is this dude psychic? Niger isn’t alleged as the target of Iraq’s attempted uranium procurement until December 19 when the State Department accidentally posts it on the Internet. (Senate p. 61). The forged Niger docs don’t become public until March, 2003, after they were sent to the IAEA. (Senate, p. 69). Yet, somehow, months earlier, the WABman has specific information about a uranium deal that didn’t exist. He’s either psychic or he’s Cabal. And, I’ll tell ya, I don’t believe in psychics.
But, wait. It gets better. The WABman leaves his name and number with the Navy. Somebody’s got in touch with him, right? Right? Wrong! Neither the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the Pentagon’s Defense Humint Service, or the US Navy has ever bother to pick up a phone and give this guy a call. (Senate p. 60). Doesn’t that tick you off? I wanna know where this guy got his information.
In fact, it’s suspicious the WABman goes to the Navy to tell his story. How do you tell the US Navy anything? Do they have offices in West Africa you can just walk into? Did the WABman semaphore a passing battle cruiser? Considering that Niger is a land-locked country, I think it’d be easier just to drop into a US embassy, of which there are several in the region. [eRiposte note: It should be noted that unlike Niger, Benin is not land-locked and Cotonou is a port city, but I think Pat is just enjoying a nice dose of snark here and it matters not whether the WABman was in Benin or Niger. The important point in Pat's comment is the similarities of WABman's story to what was in the forged documents.]
I think the WABman wanted to avoid the State Department’s INR, which certainly would have been sceptical of his claims and would have more thoroughly investigated who he was. The Defense Humint Service didn’t check the WABman’s warehouse in Benin until more than three weeks later on December 19. (Senate p. 60). They found no uranium, just bales of cotton. This was not reported until February 10, 2003. According to the Senate Report, there had been a coup in Ivory Coast and so the Defense Attaché for the region had been “occupied with other responsibilities.” (Senate p. 68).
As for the cotton bales story, there's a little more to it that I should mention. Here is the Senate Report:
On February 10, 2003, the U.S. Defense Attache in Abidjan (the capital of the African country, Ivory Coast) reported that its reports officer examined two warehouses in Benin suspected of storing uranium on route to Iraq on December 17, 2002. The visit was conducted almost a month after [the] Navy report...The report indicated that the warehouses appeared to contain only bales of cotton. A CIA operations cable on the inspection noted, however, it was not possible to determine if the cotton bales concealed the uranium shipment and that no radiation detection equipment had been used during the inspection. The DIA told Committee staff that this report was not published sooner because of a coup in Ivory Coast and a civil war and unrest in Liberia, a country for which the Defense Attache in Abidjan had temporary responsibility, occupied the office with other responsibilities. [page 68]
The CIA then received another intel report in Jan 2003:
On January 27, 2003, a CIA intelligence report [redacted] indicated that foreign government service reported that the uranium sodium compound in storage at the warehouse in Cotonou, Benin was destined for France, not Iraq. [page 64]
Finally, as we have heard repeated myriad times by now:
On April 5, 2003, the NIC issued a Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM)...The SOCM said, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The IC agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication. We judge that other reports from 2002 - one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey - do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale." The SOCM added, "the current government of Niger [redacted] probably would report such an approach by the Iraqis, especially because a sale would violate UN resolution 687." [page 71]
Of course, despite the clear statements that the Benin story was not credible, [Crying] Wolfowitz's DIA unsurprisingly continued to peddle the fake Benin story even as late as June 12, 2003.
This report had no credibility, was almost certainly based on the same bogus Niger documents, and the CIA and NIC didn't trust it. The CIA, by largely ignoring this claim from the beginning made it clear to those who read between the lines that this intel wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.