Saturday :: Jul 30, 2005

Uranium from Africa and the Senate (SSCI) Report: Part 3B - Democratic Republic of the Congo


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, Part 3A-1, Part 3A-2, Part 3A-3, Part 3A-4, Part 3A-5, Part 3A-6, Part 3A-7, Part 3A-8].

Having covered the intelligence relating to Niger in Part 3A-1 through Part 3A-8, we now move on to the intelligence cited in the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here, we meet the "flooded mine". (Note that all bold/highlighted text in this post is my emphasis).

3B. Alleged attempts to procure uranium from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Summary

This bit of "evidence" is initially mentioned in passing, within a heavily redacted footnote, in the Senate Report:

Throughout the time the Niger reports were being disseminated. the [redacted] CIA Iraq nuclear analyst said he had discussed the issue with his INR colleague and was aware that INR disagreed with the CIA's position...The CIA analyst said he assessed at the time that the intelligence showed both that Iraq may have been trying to procure uranium in Africa and that it was possible Niger could supply it. He said his assessment was bolstered by several other intelligence reports on Iraqi interest in uranium from other countries in Africa.6 [page 47]

Footnote 6 refers to this:

[Redacted] Several intelligence reports [redacted] alleged Iraq wanted to purchase uranium from countries in Africa. [Redacted] said Iraq had offered the Democratic Republic of the Congo [redacted]. Two CIA intelligence reports from separate sources in March and April 1999 said a delegation of Iraqis, [redacted] had arrived in Somalia in March to evaluate and discuss [redacted] uranium from a Somali [redacted]. [page 47]

In September 2002, the DIA also issued an assessment citing "Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo." [page 48]

Analysis

Later in the Senate Report, a relevant extract from a draft of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), prepared on September 23, 2002, is provided:

Reports indicate Iraq has also sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [page 52]

Already you can see that the claim regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had been watered down to "possibly". Thus, a claim that they knew for a fact that Saddam was seeking uranium from the DRC would have been inconsistent with their intelligence. (Note: In the following, I refer to the DRC in short as "the Congo". The DRC was formerly known as Zaire and is also known as Congo (Kinshasa) and should not be confused with another African country, Congo-Brazzaville).

Additionally, we all remember the INR dissent to the uranium claims in the NIE:

...the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious. [page 53]

At a number of levels, the evidence is unambiguous that the Congo intel was never credible and that the SOTU claim was NOT based on the Congo intel. In brief:

1. If the argument is that the SOTU claim was based on British intelligence, then, as I have already shown previously, the Butler Report concluded quite clearly that the British claim about Saddam seeking uranium in Africa was based on a 1999 Niger visit by an Iraqi envoy Wissam Al-Zahawie - a visit that had nothing to do with uranium. Indeed, even though the Butler Report listed the Congo as among the pieces of intelligence that it examined, the concluding statement of the report specifically did not list the Congo as being part of the reason behind the British claim about Saddam seeking uranium from Africa. (See the APPENDIX for some additional notes on the Congo and uranium, where I cover the Congo's flooded Shinkolobwe mine (ring any bells?) and why the background on that mine shows that it could not have provided "significant quanities of uranium" to Iraq).

2. If the argument is that the SOTU claim was based on American intelligence, then the unambiguous statements of the CIA before and after the SOTU, and numerous, repeated statements issued by various senior officials in the Bush administration (especially AFTER the Wilson op-ed) made it crystal clear that the SOTU claims were based on Niger and not the Congo or the favorite African country of the day for the Right (or for Bob Somerby).

3*. The Robb-Silberman report (The President's WMD Commission) makes it clear that the so-called "evidence" relating to countries other than Niger was never considered credible. The report says:

The Intelligence Community agencies did not effectively authenticate the documents regarding an alleged agreement for the sale of uranium yellowcake from Niger to Iraq. The President referred to this alleged agreement in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003-- evidence for which the Intelligence Community later concluded was based on forged documents [190].

To illustrate the failures involved in vetting this information, some details about its collection require elaboration. The October 2002 NIE included the statement that Iraq was "trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" and that "a foreign government service" had reported that "Niger planned to send several tons" of yellowcake to Iraq [191]. The statement about Niger was based primarily on three reports provided by a liaison intelligence service to CIA in late 2001 and early 2002 [192].

The report hints that the Niger reports were the sole basis for the Bush 2003 SOTU claim. This becomes even more obvious when we consider the contents of Ref. 192 in the report (bold text is my emphasis):

192 Classified intelligence report (Oct. 2001); Classified intelligence report (Feb. 2002) ; Classified intelligence report (March 2002). There was additional reporting that Iraq was seeking to procure uranium from Africa, but this reporting was not considered reliable by most analysts at the time, and it was subsequently judged not credible and recalled. Interview with CIA WINPAC nuclear analysts (Aug. 11, 2004); CIA, Memorandum for the DCI, In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad (June 17, 2003) at p. 2. For example, s eparate reporting indicated Iraq had offered weapons to a country in exchange for uranium. Classified intelligence report (April 1999). There were two human intelligence reports in March-April 1999 indicating that a delegation of Iraqis, Iranians, and Libyans had arrived in Somalia to discuss the possibility of extracting uranium from a Somali mine. Classified intelligence report (March 1999); Classified intelligence report (April 1999). Another report indicated further Iraqi involvement with a uranium purchase. Classified intelligence report (April 2002); see also SSCI at p. 47 n. 6; CIA, Memorandum for the DCI, In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad (June 17, 2003) at p. 2....

In other words, consistent with the information in the Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman Report made it very obvious that the uranium from Africa claim in the 2003 SOTU was based on Niger alone.

[* Added 1/1/06]

BONUS: There is additional after-the-fact evidence for Iraq actually declining an offer of uranium (reportedly from the Congo) from a Ugandan businessman in 2001 -- which the Iraq Survey group pointed out:

So far, ISG has found only one offer of uranium to Baghdad since 1991—an approach Iraq appears to have turned down. In mid-May 2003, an ISG team found an Iraqi Embassy document in the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) headquarters related to an offer to sell yellowcake to Iraq. The document reveals that a Ugandan businessman approached the Iraqis with an offer to sell uranium, reportedly from the Congo. The Iraqi Embassy in Nairobi—in reporting this matter back to Baghdad on 20 May 2001—indicated it told the Ugandan that Iraq does not deal with these materials, explained the circumstances of sanctions, and said that Baghdad was not concerned about these matters right now. Figure 1 is the translation of this document.

(I found it interesting that our "intelligence" missed the one credible case of Iraq declining an offer of uranium from one of these mysterious African businessman, while picking up and amplifying many non-credible reports.)

Conclusion

The evidence is conclusive that claims relating to uranium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were not the basis for Bush's State of the Union claim.

All attempts to cite the Congo claim to defend Bush's SOTU statement constitute obvious post facto myth-making to falsely attack Joseph Wilson and recover from the PR disaster that occurred after the Bush administration withdrew the false SOTU claim.

Appendix

Just for the sake of curiosity I decided to take a closer look at the mention of the Congo in the Butler Report. As the report says [page 122]:

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.

Now, the Butler Report made it very clear in their conclusion that:

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

This proves that any evidence suggesting that an agreement for a sale (by 2002) had been reached was not part of the British claim and can be discarded (it constitutes a "purchase") as somehow supporting Bush's SOTU claim. That leaves the alleged inquiry in 1999, but even that was dropped in the conclusion of the report and was not considered one of the pieces of intelligence backing the British claim. Likewise, as I explained in the analysis section (above), the CIA did not consider the Congo report(s) to be credible and made it very clear time and again that the SOTU claim was not based on the Congo report(s).

Having reviewed the Niger claims in the Senate Report in depth in Part 3A-1 through Part 3A-8, one aspect that I never found in all the articles and reports relating to Niger, was any mention of a flooded mine. Why is this important? Well:

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]

So I simply did a Google search for "flooded uranium mine" to see what I come up with (in Africa). In the first page alone, there were two links to mine stories relating to Africa and both were from the Congo. The second page had another Congo story. (The reference to French authorities clearly referred to the Niger mines, which I have discussed at length in my previous posts).

The mine in question is the Shinkolobwe mine. This July 2004 story in the BBC provides some background on this mine:

The Shinkolobwe mine supplied the uranium in the bombs which the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.

It was officially closed earlier this year but people still mine there for coltan, used in mobile phones.
...
When DR Congo became independent in 1960, the two main uranium shafts were flooded and covered with a concrete slab by the Belgians before their departure.

But activities [meaning, cobalt mining, NOT uranium mining - eRiposte] resumed in 1997.

The mined cobalt is sold to private businessmen who operate furnaces in the area and then export it to the world market via neighbouring Zambia.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, expressed concern about the mine.

It said that trace elements of uranium might be extracted from the mine as an associated mineral along with the cobalt for use by terror groups.

Based on my Google searching so far, it appears that Shinkolobwe is the only real mine in the Congo that contains uranium ore (although Congo appears to have mineral deposits of uranium mixed with other minerals at other places in the country), but there has been no uranium mining going on there for a long time since the uranium mine was flooded and sealed decades earlier. What has been going on is cobalt mining and the attendant traces of uranium that ship with the cobalt, which raises some concerns. More information is available from this highly misleadingly titled article in The Spokesman-Review from June 2004 (as always highlights are mine):

The raw uranium is an inadvertent addition to the miners' real prize – high-grade cobalt in lucrative concentrations – and there is no evidence Congo's uranium is being spirited away to terrorists. The United States, which pressured Kabila to close the mine out of concern over the uranium, said in March it did not believe there was any "worrisome movement" of the radioactive ore at Shinkolobwe.

But some proliferation experts worry because the digging is uncontrolled, and they caution that even small amounts should be tracked for misuse.
...
Industry officials say the heteroginite primarily contains high-grade cobalt. But "trace quantities of uranium are being exported unwittingly" along with it, said Skinner, the mining engineer, a Zimbabwean who is a longtime Congo resident.

The diggers, uneducated, hungry and fearful for their jobs, deny any uranium is being mined.

Provincial governor Aime Ngoy Mukena confirmed to the Associated Press that the heteroginite contains uranium, but he and other officials declined to say precisely how much.

Alex Stewart (Assayers) Ltd., a British-based company that provides lab services to the mining industry, found "a high concentration of the highly radioactive uranium-235 in steels from Shinkolobwe," European Parliament member Bart Staes wrote to the European Commission in 2003.

The isotope uranium-235 is needed to support chain reactions in nuclear reactors and weapons. The metal must be refined first, a process called enrichment.

Foreign experts say the uranium being dug up at Shinkolobwe is not significant enough to attract terrorists – a basic bomb needs a half-dozen tons of the raw ore. But no one consistently monitors how much is being mined or exported.
...
Saddam Hussein's intelligence archives show a middleman in Nairobi, Kenya, offered to supply Iraq with Congo uranium in 2000, Newsweek reported in its May 17 issue. A note in the intelligence service's file suggested Iraq was then under too much international scrutiny to pursue the deal but recommended Iraq "maintain contact" with the middleman.

Of course this 2000 story does not appear in the British report, so it is safe to assume the British did not consider this credible "intelligence". Even if it were, clearly, Iraq was actually depicted as not being interested in pursuing the offer.

But, there's a more important aspect that often gets missed in stories about uranium from African nations other than Niger.

To understand this, let's refresh our memories with Bush's infamous 16 words in the SOTU:

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

The key phrase is "significant quantities". The forged Niger documents repeatedly mentioned the "500 tons" of uranium whereas neither the Congo (nor the Somalia) reference in the NIE or other documents listed in the Senate Report indicate any amounts.

What the above Spokesman-Review story makes clear is that Shinkolobwe would certainly not have been a source for "significant quantities of uranium" considering that the uranium was in minute trace amounts in other minerals and there was/is no uranium mining apparatus in the Congo. In fact the World Nuclear Association (WNA) does not even list the Congo in its table capturing worldwide uranium production figures or worldwide uranium mines. While concerns of illegal uranium extraction exist - and need to be addressed, as the IAEA has insisted - the reports I have read do not provide any examples of uranium smuggling or sales that come anywhere near the significant quantities (see above - 6 tons of raw ore just for a basic nuclear bomb) that Iraq would have needed or allegedly tried to purchase. [More here].

As a side note, here's an observation from Spencer Ackerman in The New Republic:

As a plane ferrying Marine General Carlton Fulford, Jr. was scheduled to land in the Nigerien capital of Niamey on a refueling stop in late February 2002, a call came in from the office of the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick.
...
On the other hand, it's hard to believe that one of the men in charge of the military's operations in most of Africa wouldn't have gotten wind of some Iraq-related uranium suspicions had those suspicions been serious. Yet Fulford traveled to Congo several times during his EUCOM stint, and Congolese uranium exports never crossed on his radar screen. Neither has he ever heard anything about Somalian uranium, though he points out that "that doesn't mean that [such a concern] wasn't there," since Somalia is outside EUCOM's area of responsibility. So when Fulford, an ardent supporter of the war against Saddam, heard Bush declare that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" in this year's State of the Union address, he was perplexed. "Either someone had done him a great disservice by putting that in, or new intelligence surfaced that proved my judgment to be totally off base," he recalls thinking. Since Fulford lost access to "the highest intelligence" only about a month before Bush's speech, the prospect of new information about African uranium was remote--for that matter, the White House had deliberately sourced the claim to a September 2002 British report after a CIA official complained to his National Security Council counterpart that the agency had no confidence in the item. That leaves the alternative. And "disservice" may be too polite a way of putting it.

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