Thursday :: Oct 27, 2005

Treasongate: Uranium from Africa and the Robb-Silberman report


by eriposte

I just came across today, for the first time, the Report to the President of the United States of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction - also known as the Robb-Silberman report. Let's just say it was another eye-opener which provides another, decidedly final confirmation for my earlier conclusion that there was only one set of Niger documents, that they were forged and that they were the basis of the reports that led to Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger. (The report actually came out at the end of March 2005 but I just saw it, triggered by this Douglas Jehl article in the Times).

INTRODUCTION

The report's coverage of the uranium topic in its unclassified section is arguably sparse in comparison to the Senate report, but it has some important findings which I want to reproduce. Not much of this should be new to readers here. A ton of information is packed into the following passages in the Iraq section ("Nuclear Weapons Finding 4") and I will mainly use this extract to elaborate further on the significance of these findings:

At the time of the State of the Union speech, CIA analysts continued to believe that Iraq probably was seeking uranium from Africa, although there was growing concern among some CIA analysts that there were problems with the reporting [210].

The IAEA, after receiving copies of the documents from the United States, reviewed them and immediately concluded that they were forgeries [211]. As the IAEA found, the documents contained numerous indications of forgery--flaws in the letterhead, forged signatures, misspelled words, incorrect titles for individuals and government entities, and anomalies in the documents' stamps [212]. The documents also contained serious errors in content. For example, the document describing the agreement made reference to the legal authority for the agreement, but referenced an out-of-date statutory provision. The document also referred to a meeting that took place on "Wednesday, July 7, 2000" even though July 7, 2000 was a Friday [213].

When it finally got around to reviewing the documents during the same time period, the CIA agreed that they were not authentic. Moreover, the CIA concluded that the original reporting was based on the forged documents and was thus itself unreliable [214]. CIA subsequently issued a recall notice at the beginning of April, 2003 for the three original reports, noting that "the foreign government service may have been provided with fraudulent reporting." [215] On June 17, 2003, CIA produced a memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) stating that "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." [216] The NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs also briefed the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, on June 18 and 19, respectively, on the CIA's conclusions in this regard. [217]

SECTIONS

1. Niger forgeries basis of original intel - only one set of documents
2. Colin Powell's U.N. Speech
3. Senate and House Intelligence Committees knew that uranium from Africa claim was baseless, before Joseph Wilson's op-ed in 2003
4. Introduction of Wissam Al-Zahawi visit into uranium claim
5. Niger or other sources in Africa?


1. Niger forgeries basis of original intel - only one set of documents

As the extract above makes it clear (emphasis mine):

Moreover, the CIA concluded that the original reporting was based on the forged documents and was thus itself unreliable [214].

That's as open and shut as it comes. Of course, this is no surprise since I've proven that this was the case - in previous posts.

Footnote 214 refers to this statement (emphasis mine):

214 CIA, Analyses on an Alleged Iraq-Niger Uranium Agreement (undated but prepared sometime after March 7, 2003). See also Senior Publish When Ready, Iraq's Reported Interest in Buying Uranium from Niger and Whether Associated Documents are Authentic (March 11, 2003) (concluding the documents were forgeries). The errors in the original documents, which indicated they were forgeries, also occur in the February 2002 report that provided a "verbatim" text of the agreement, indicating that the original reporting was based on the forged documents.

Again, no surprise there. This is one of the many points I made, to prove this very fact a few months ago.

In fact, it is interesting that Robb-Silberman mentioned one of the examples that turned on the light bulb for me:

The document also referred to a meeting that took place on "Wednesday, July 7, 2000" even though July 7, 2000 was a Friday [213].

[Some of you may recall that the Senate (SSCI) report was highly deceptive on this point.]

That said, the reported matching between the CIA reports and the Niger forgeries masks one very critical difference between the CIA reports and the forged documents - which has enormous implications. I already discussed this months ago and it's clear that no mainstream journalist seems to have yet grasped the significance of it. I will return to this discrepancy probably next week, especially considering my coverage of the La Repubblica articles this week.

Finally, regarding the source of the Niger forgeries, there is this footnote in the Robb-Silberman report (emphasis mine):

218 It is still unclear who forged the documents and why. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating those questions. Interview with FBI (Sept. 21, 2004); see also Interview with CIA/DO officials (Sept. 3, 2004). We discuss in the counterpart footnote in our classified report some further factual findings concerning the potential source of the forgeries. This discussion, however, is classified.


2. Colin Powell's U.N. Speech

This extract refers to two things which I have also discussed before (emphasis mine):

At the time of the State of the Union speech, CIA analysts continued to believe that Iraq probably was seeking uranium from Africa, although there was growing concern among some CIA analysts that there were problems with the reporting [210].

The emphasis on "probably" is deliberate. I have pointed this out before because it shows that there was no certainty associated with this "evidence" prior to the Bush SOTU claim - and Bush expressed certainty.

Footnote 210 refers to the Powell speech (emphasis mine):

10 Interview with CIA WINPAC nuclear analyst (Sept. 20, 2004); see also SSCI at p. 66. Information from the October 2002 NIE on the uranium deal was also provided to Secretary Powell in preparation for his speech to the United Nations, but no statement about uranium from Africa was included in that speech. Department of State and CIA, Joint Report of Inspectors General on Iraqi Attempts to Procure Uranium From Niger (Sept. 2003) at p. 26. Secretary Powell, during his meetings at CIA to vet the speech, was informed that there were doubts about the Niger reporting and did not include it for that reason. Id....

We all know the famous Powell quote about the evidence "not standing the test of time". Note that Powell dropped the claim because of doubts in the Niger reporting, not because of doubts in reporting from the favorite-African-country-of-the-day for Joseph Wilson's critics.

Also recall that all of this was happening before the IAEA reminded pointed out to the US that the documents were forgeries.


3. Senate and House Intelligence Committees knew that uranium from Africa claim was baseless, before Joseph Wilson's op-ed in 2003

This is the only significant new finding for me in this report and it means that any Senate or House Intelligence Committee member who kept claiming, after June 19, 2003, that there was still evidence supporting the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa was simply a brazen liar.

On June 17, 2003, CIA produced a memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) stating that "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." [216] The NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs also briefed the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, on June 18 and 19, respectively, on the CIA's conclusions in this regard. [217]

Why didn't I know about this before? Well, because the Senate (SSCI) Report conveniently left it out as the Robb-Silberman report points out (emphasis mine):

217 Interview with NIO/SNP (Sept. 20, 2004). The SSCI report referenced the memorandum for the DCI, and stated that the memorandum had no distribution outside the CIA. SSCI at p. 71. This reference left the mistaken impression, however, that CIA did not inform others of its conclusions regarding the forged documents and the concomitant reliability of information about a possible uranium deal with Niger. The NIO/SNP emphasized that CIA not only recalled the original reporting as having possibly been based on fraudulent reporting, but the NIO, with CIA and other agencies in attendance, also briefed Congress on the matter. Interview with NIO/SNP (Sept. 20, 2004).

"Mistaken impression". Uh-huh.


4. Introduction of Wissam Al-Zahawi visit into Iraq-Niger uranium claim

Considering I have been harping on the importance of the introduction of Wissam Al-Zahawi's Niger visit in 1999 into the forged documents, I thought I should highlight this once again. (I should have realized this is the report reader Pat Conway was referring to when he first pointed this out). Anyway, here is Robb-Silberman:

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]. One of these reports explained that, as of early 1999, the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican planned to visit Niger on an official mission. The report noted that subsequently, during meetings on July 5-6, 2000, Niger and Iraq had signed an agreement for the sale of 500 tons of uranium [193]. This report stated that it was providing the "verbatim text" of the agreement [194]. The information was consistent with reporting from 1999 showing that a visit to Niger was being arranged for the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican [195].

The reference to "verbatim text" indicates that this was the second Niger intel report - received prior to Joseph Wilson's trip.


5. Niger or other sources in Africa? [added on 12/25/05]

The Robb-Silberman 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.

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