Thursday :: Oct 27, 2005

Treasongate: The Real Significance of the Niger Uranium Forgery Stories in La Repubblica - Part II

by eriposte

In my previous post on La Repubblica's first two articles, I discussed their most significant aspects and how that supported my deduced theory of the mechanics of the bogus uranium from Africa claim. As of last night, three articles have been published by La Repubblica on the forged Niger documents and the blog Nur Al-Cubicle has published English translations of all three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (hat tip: Emptywheel at TNH). That said, some speculative commentary has been offered by some bloggers which reflects a misunderstanding of the British claim. So, I'm going to discuss it here to make sure that people are not left with some confusion in their minds on what the reality is/was.

Let's start with Josh Marshall's post (emphasis mine):

The Brits say that they had multiple pieces of evidence upon which they based their claim. And the forged documents -- which they only found out about much later -- were not one of them. So the discreditation of the forgeries is irrelevant to their finding. The taint, shall we say, does not attach.

My assumption, and that of many others, is that the Brits are, to put it bluntly, full of it on this one. My best guess is that they are holding on to some de minimis 'other' evidence as a placeholder to get out of taking their own lumps in the Niger skullduggery.

In his post, Josh cites a portion of the Butler Report, but he does not cover the Conclusion section of the (uranium part of the) Report, which clearly states what the nature of the 'other' evidence is (although the Report deceives readers on the source and credibility of that "evidence"). So, there's no need to guess what the "other" evidence is. It's in the report (and I sent Josh an email explaining this as well). There also no need to make an assumption that the Brits are "full of it on this one". It is a known fact that they are. More on this shortly.

Kevin Drum at Political Animal has linked to a blog post by Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber and both of them highlight a particular passage (approximate English translation, probably by Farrell) in the third La Repubblica article, discussing the possible origin of the "other" evidence claimed by the Brits:

This “evidence” has never been brought forward....“If it ever were brought forward,” said a source in Forte Braschi to la Repubblica, with a smile, “it would be discovered, with red faces, that it was Italian intelligence collected by SISMI at the end of the 1980’s, and shared with our friend Hamilton McMillan.”

Kevin unfortunately appears to accept this telling of the story, but points to Farrell's post for more. Farrell says:

However, according to La Repubblica the ‘independent’ source was also from Italian intelligence, and related to efforts by Hussein’s regime to obtain uranium in the 1980’s. Hence, it was for all intents and purposes irrelevant to the question of whether Hussein was trying to obtain uranium in post-sanctions Iraq.

Again, this should be taken with a considerable pinch of salt, until and unless there’s independent confirmation.

I'm glad Farrell advises caution here because the claim that the "other" British evidence related to the 1980s is not correct. (La Repubblica is basically citing a source that claims that).

What is correct is that the "other" British evidence is plainly stated in the Conclusion of the (uranium section of the) Butler report, as follows (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.

If you read the rest of the report, it becomes quite clear that they are referring to the trip by Iraqi envoy Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger (and other African countries) in early 1999 (as part of an effort to try and weaken U.N. sanctions by inviting them to visit Iraq). So, the "other" evidence has nothing to do with the 1980s.

Moreover, I have by now explained in multiple posts, why:

  • The British assertion of a uranium angle to the al-Zahawi trip was untrue
  • The British claim about the sources and other details regarding their evidence was untrue
  • The British claim that their "seeking uranium" evidence was separate from what was in the forged Niger documents was not really true
  • Bush's SOTU statement was false, regardless of what the British believed about their own claim

So I'm not going to rehash it here again - just click on the links above for details.

That said, I am going to make some comments about the reference in the La Repubblica article to documents from the 1980s, so that everyone places that information in the correct context.

This English-translated passage from the third La Repubblica article says (bold text is my emphasis):

On September 12, 2002, Panorama magazine hits the newsstands. In a lengthy article titled, War with Iraq? It has already started, decisive yet unverified revelations on Iraqi nuclear rearmament are made to the world. So far, no one has started talking about uranium, let alone 500 tons of the ore. It will be Tony Blair to mention it first, but not until September 24, 2002--two weeks following the meeting between Pollari and Hadley and twelve days after Panorama’s scoop. Inside the 50-page British government document, London affirms that Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Africa. Blair insists that Iraq has attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium from an African nation despite the fact that he has no civilian nuclear program which would require it. Even today, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continues to repeat that the “Italian dossier” was not the basis behind Blair’s words and that MI6 is in possession of previously acquired intelligence. Yet such intelligence “evidence” has never been produced. If it were to come out--a source at Forte Braschi tells La Repubblica, it would be easily discovered with a little sleuthing that that the “evidence” is in fact stale Italian intelligence collected by SISMI at the end of the 1980s and shared with our friend, Hamilton Mac Millan.

As I have discussed above, the "other" alleged British evidence had nothing to do with the 1980s - it had to do with 1999. That said, it is true that the forged Niger documents, themselves, did have some contents relating to the late 1980s. So, La Repubblica's source, who probably did not read the Butler Report, is merely confirming what was already known about the forged Niger documents - namely, that some of the documents used information dating back to the late 1980s. For example:

  • The Nigerien Foreign Affairs minister cited in one of the documents was not in that post since 1989
  • A letterhead was used which belonged to Niger's former military government which was abolished in 1989
  • People associated with fake titles were mentioned in a document - and these people were actually Nigeriens (mostly judges) who served in Niger's Supreme Court in 1989

So, what is useful about this extract in La Repubblica's article is that it confirms the deliberate use of information dating to the late 1980s in forging the documents. In that sense, it is consistent with the known facts about the documents.

A second point. Although the claim that the "other" British evidence had to do with the late 1980s is incorrect, it is clear that the "other" British evidence relied on different information from the late 1990s in the same dossier of documents. They used the fabrication in one of the documents that linked Wissam Al-Zahawie's Feb 1999 Niger trip to an attempt to seek uranium - which was ultimately based on an established fact that was known prior to the creation of the fake documents, i.e., Wissam Al-Zahawie visited Niger, but not for the purpose of seeking uranium. In fact, the forgers admitted that they used the latter information deliberately, in creating the forgeries. As I said in my previous post:

Prior to the appearance of the forged documents, the Al-Zahawi visit was known to have been unrelated to uranium (as the CIA effectively admitted, as IAEA noted in their March 2003 statement and as the Iraq Survey Group independently confirmed later in 2004). However, once a mention of Al-Zahawi's visit was deliberately introduced into the forged documents, with the visit being falsely linked to uranium, it gave the documents a veneer of plausibility (since the trip did occur), while allowing the forgers and the intelligence agencies to claim that this trip was about uranium, even though it was not. Further, because the visit itself occurred, it made it easy for the British to keep claiming that the visit had to do with uranium (with no evidence whatsoever) even after the Niger documents were revealed as forgeries. This was an easy allegation to make and it was easier to sell to the public because, unlike a uranium sale, one could simply allege that Al-Zahawi was "seeking" uranium without any documentary proof for it. That, folks, is how the "sought...uranium from Africa" hoax was perpetrated by the Bush and Blair administrations and extended perpetually by the British Government.

In other words:

  • It is true that British would have had one or more sources for the factual claim that Wissam Al-Zahawie went to Niger in early 1999
  • It is also true that this claim is/was independent of what was in the forged Niger documents
  • What is not true or independent, as it became clear based on a review of the British claims, is the assertion that Al-Zahawi's trip to Niger involved a quest for uranium.
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