Tuesday :: Dec 20, 2005

WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy, Part 4A -- CIA's WINPAC and Uranium from Africa


by eriposte

UPDATE: Owing to length restrictions, this post is getting randomly truncated by the software. This is out of my control. I have therefore posted a full copy of this post - a mirror post - at this alternative location on The Left Coaster. Please click on this copy if you find the post below to be truncated.


This post is part of a series (see Introduction and Parts 1, 2A-1, 2A-2, 2A-3, 2A-4, 2A-5, 2B-1, 2B-2, 2C, 3, 3A) focused on building a case to demonstrate the Bush White House's intelligence manipulation, fixing and misrepresentation, mostly using published Congressional reports like the Phase I Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report, etc. In previous parts of this series, the focus has largely been the misrepresentation of intel reports by the White House through the use of deliberately misleading or false statements (mostly in the context of the aluminum tubes issue and partly on the uranium from Africa issue). I now turn the focus onto how raw intelligence was deliberately cooked to create dubious or false intel for the White House. In this context, there has been a lot of focus on the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) and other entities (like the Iraqi National Congress - INC), but there is one particular group which has received less attention (in my view) than it deserves. I am referring here to the role played by certain individuals in CIA's WINPAC, especially individuals who were often the White House's co-conspirators contacts within the CIA, in manipulating or misrepresenting raw intel to generate false claims regarding Iraq's alleged quest for WMDs, in order to satisfy the expectations of the Bush White House.

In this part I focus on the role played by a few individuals in WINPAC in perpetrating the uranium from Africa hoax. The picture that emerges is that the uranium from Africa claim was stovepiped to the White House by those individuals using bogus raw "intel", in order to meet the White House's expectations, while a parallel communication channel from the CIA that even included then-DCI George Tenet was trying hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the WH to drop the uranium claim. Thus, a rogue operation involving some personnel in a WH-created group within the CIA (WINPAC) who were cooperative with the WH, was conveniently used to paint the "CIA" as a monolithic entity that got the intel "wrong". In other words, the scapegoating of the CIA for WMDgate was a deliberate act of deception by the Bush administration - to falsely paint the CIA (and other IC agencies) as organizations that had no internal dissenting views regarding the fabricated or misrepresented "intelligence". Additionally, in the first week of October 2002, the NSC/WH was evidently receiving two opposing views on the uranium matter from the CIA - the WINPAC view and the official view of the CIA conveyed by someone as high as George Tenet in a far more aggressive and categorical manner. Yet the WH did not tell their WINPAC contacts that they were wrong, and that they should be following the lead of George Tenet. The reason for this is quite obvious.

This is a long post that is divided into the following sections (for a high-level summary read the conclusions section).

1. Introduction: SSCI Report on the Role of WINPAC

2. Analysis Timeline

2.1 Focus: 8/1/02 though 1/28/03
2.2 Timeline: The CIA's expressed position on "uranium from Africa"

3. The NIE claim on uranium from Africa

3.1 How the NIE claim came about: Not from a CIA Paper
3.2 The CIA did not stand by the NIE claim
3.3 WINPAC knew that uranium claim was bogus/not credible
3.4 The Stovepiping: Most pipes lead back to WINPAC

4. Uranium from Africa: WINPAC v. The Others in the CIA - in a Nutshell

5. Conclusions

Appendix 1: Acronyms used in this post


1. Introduction: SSCI Report on the Role of WINPAC

The Senate (SSCI) Report has this cryptic statement in their Niger conclusions (emphasis mine):

Conclusion 20. The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) comments and assessments about the Iraq-Niger uranium reporting were inconsistent and, at times contradictory. These inconsistencies were based in part on a misunderstanding of a CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) Iraq analyst's assessment of the reporting. The CIA should have had a mechanism in place to ensure that agency assessments and information passed to policymakers were consistent. [page 78]

What does the section in bold really mean?

It's hard to tell exactly since a casual read of the SSCI Report makes it quite difficult to reach this conclusion. With the use of imprecise language and obfuscation, the main body of the SSCI report makes it appear that the CIA was one confused mess on the uranium matter - but then shocks the casual reader with its conclusion (above) that almost seems to come out of the blue.

However, if one were to read the SSCI Report with a fine toothed comb it becomes apparent that:

  • the uranium from Africa hoax in the Bush SOTU was largely due to the "cooperation" (with the White House) of a few individuals at WINPAC (it was more than just one analyst)
  • there were significant opposing views within the CIA on the uranium claim (especially within CIA NESA, even setting aside INR's well-known dissent that the claim was "highly dubious"), and
  • the position of the CIA's top management (including then-DCI George Tenet) was that the uranium claim was not credible

Indeed, the picture that emerges is that the uranium from Africa claim was stovepiped to the White House by certain individuals at WINPAC using bogus raw "intel", in order to meet the White House's expectations, while a parallel communication channel that even included then-DCI George Tenet was trying hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the WH to drop the uranium claim. Thus, a rogue operation involving select WH-cooperative personnel in a WH-created group within the CIA (WINPAC) was conveniently used to paint the "CIA" as a monolithic entity that got the intel "wrong".

All of this becomes evident by analyzing the Senate Report and the positions on the uranium claim expressed by different individuals or groups within the CIA (discussed in the rest of this post and summarized in Section 4).


2. Analysis Timeline

In this section, I discuss my analysis timeline and provide a chronology of the CIA's known positions on the uranium from Africa claim largely using information in the Senate (SSCI) Report.


2.1 Focus: 8/1/02 though 1/28/03

The timeline picked for analysis is 8/1/02 through 1/28/03.


2.1.1 Why 8/1/02?

The SSCI Report's discussion of the uranium claim subsequent to March 25, 2002 (the date of the third and final report by CIA's DO on the Niger uranium allegation) is very sparse until we hit the late-September 2002/early October 2002 period. The time period between March 25, 2002 and September 2002 is covered in barely one page (p. 47-48).

The August 1, 2002 date is significant because this is the first date when a CIA intelligence paper explicitly dropped the mention of the uranium claim. In fact, what is most interesting about the August 1, 2002 CIA report is that it was from CIA NESA and it dropped a claim that was present in NESA's May 10, 2002 report. As the SSCI Report notes (emphasis mine):

On May 10, 2002, the CIA's Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis (NESA) in the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) prepared a Principals Committee briefing book updating the status of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. The document noted that a "foreign government service says Iraq was trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium from Niger."
...
On August 1, 2002 CIA NESA published a paper on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities which did not include the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium information.

Note that, like WINPAC, NESA is part of the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence (DI). So, the timing of NESA's backtracking on the uranium claim is more than interesting. After all, Tom Hamburger et al. reported in the Los Angeles Times recently that (emphasis mine):

More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief [Alain Chouet] of the French counterintelligence service [DGSE] and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.
...
Chouet recalled that his agency was contacted by the CIA in the summer of 2001 — shortly before the attacks of Sept. 11 — as intelligence services in Europe and North America became more concerned about chatter from known terrorist sympathizers. CIA officials asked their French counterparts to check that uranium in Niger and elsewhere was secure. The former CIA official confirmed Chouet's account of this exchange.

Then twice in 2002, Chouet said, the CIA contacted the French again for similar help. By mid-2002, Chouet recalled, the request was more urgent and more specific. The CIA was asking questions about a particular agreement purportedly signed by Nigerian officials to sell 500 metric tons of uranium to Iraq.

Chouet dispatched a five- or six-man team to Niger to double-check any reports of a sale or an attempt to purchase uranium. The team found none.

Chouet and his staff noticed that the details of the allegation matched those in fraudulent documents that an Italian informant earlier had offered to sell to the French.

"We told the Americans, 'Bull - - - -. It doesn't make any sense,' " Chouet said.

Chouet said the information was contained in formal cables delivered to CIA offices in Paris and Langley, Va. Those communications did not use such coarse language, he said, but they delivered the point in consistent and blunt terms.

"We had the feeling that we had been heard," Chouet said. "There was nothing more to say other than that."

The former CIA official could not confirm the specifics of this 2002 communication, but said the general conclusions matched what many in the CIA were learning at the time.
...
Before speaking with The Times last week, Chouet had told part of his story to La Repubblica, a Rome newspaper, prompting Italian investigators to resume their inquiry and seek Chouet's testimony.
...
Still, Chouet said in the interview that the question from CIA officials in the summer of 2002 seemed to follow almost word for word from the documents in question. He said that an Italian intelligence source, Rocco Martino, had tried to sell the documents to the French, but that in a matter of days French analysts determined the documents had been forged.

"We thought they [the Americans] were in possession of the documents," Chouet said. "The words were very similar." The former CIA official said that in fact the U.S. had been offered the same documents in 2001 but had quickly rejected them as forgeries.

The LA Times report (and the preceding La Repubblica article) makes it clear that the French communicated to the CIA no later than mid-2002 ("summer 2002") that the Niger uranium claims were essentially "bull----". Almost certainly "mid-2002" and "summer 2002" occurred between May 10, 2002 and August 1, 2002.

NOTE: I hope to have more on this in a future post. I am told that the reports on the French feedback in 2001/2002 are pretty solid and yet, it is particularly interesting that there is NO mention of this communication (from the DGSE to the U.S. dismissing the uranium claim) in the Senate Report. Was this hidden from the SSCI? If so, why - and what is the SSCI going to do about it?


2.1.2 Why 1/28/03?

The end date for my analysis is intentionally chosen to be the date of George Bush's 2003 SOTU, for obvious reasons.


2.2 Timeline: The CIA's expressed position on "uranium from Africa"

The following table provides a timeline that tracks the position expressed on the uranium claim by different individuals or groups within the CIA during the time period of 5/10/02 (shortly after the SSCI Report's discussion of the 3/25/02 CIA DO Niger uranium intel report) through 2/11/03 (shortly after Powell's UN speech). This information is used in subsequent sections for my analysis.

SSCI Report (page)
Date
Individual/group within CIA issuing comments
Purpose of comments
Did comments support "Saddam sought uranium" claim?
48
5/10/02
NESA
Principals Committee briefing book

Yes, but attributes claim to a foreign government service

[mentioned 500 tons, Niger]

48
8/1/02
NESA
Paper on Iraq's WMD capabilities
NO
N/A
9/11/02
Unknown, but officials senior enough to interact directly with U.K.'s MI6
Response to uranium claim in British White Paper

Almost certainly NO

[the 9/11/02 CIA response to the UK is not mentioned in the SSCI Report, but is captured in comments by a British legislator - Labor MP Lynne Jones; the fact that the CIA response to the British challenged the uranium claim was confirmed later in October 2002 by top CIA officials, per the SSCI Report - see Sec. 3.2.2 of this post]

49
9/11/02
Likely WINPAC
[see Sec. 3.4.1 of this post]
Response to NSC/WH speech draft which included uranium claim

Yes

["caught trying to purchase up to 500 tons..."; note that this was happening at the same time when (presumably) others in the CIA were questioning the British White Paper on the uranium claim and its credibility]

51
9/24/02
Likely WINPAC
[see Sec. 3.4.1 of this post]
Response to NSC/WH speech draft which included uranium claim

Yes

["sought large amounts of uranium and uranium oxide...from Africa"]

51
9/??/02
Possibly a WINPAC analyst [see Sec. 3.4.3]
Coordination of a speech with an NSC/WH staffer

NO

[The analyst claimed to the SSCI that he suggested that the uranium reference be removed and that the NSC staffer said in response that this would leave the British "flapping in the wind". The NSC staffer essentially denied this.]

52
9/23/02
-
NIE first draft

Yes (in the body of the NIE) and NO (in the Key Judgements of the NIE)

See Sec. 3.1 of this post for more details.

52
9/25/02
Unknown CIA analysts
[were they from WINPAC? - see Sec. 3.1 of this post)]
NIE coordination meeting

Yes

The CIA analysts in attendance did not object to the mention but INR added a dissent and all agreed that the uranium claim should NOT be in the Key Judgments.

The NIE was released on 10/1/02.

54
10/1/02
NESA
Talking points for CIA SSCI testimony in the following days

NO
(inferred based on SSCI testimony of Deputy DCI and NIO - see next items in timeline)

[Note, the SSCI Report says a WINPAC analyst sent the NESA analysts some comments - the implication of this is discussed in Sec. 3.3.2 of this post.]

54
10/2/02
Deputy DCI
SSCI testimony

NO

[Disagrees with British White Paper on uranium claim; says the uranium claim is not very credible - see Sec. 3.2.2 of this post]

54
10/4/02
NIO for Strategic/Nuclear Programs
SSCI Testimony

NO

[Disagrees with British White Paper on uranium claim; questions the credibility of the uranium claim - see Sec. 3.2.2 of this post]

55
10/4/02
NESA
Draft of unclassified White Paper on Iraq's WMDs
NO
56
10/??/02
NESA
Classified Iraq handbook for policymakers, etc.

Very weakly (clearly an attempt to downplay the claim, as I have explained before ) - "Iraq may be trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium". Note the use of the word "may" - a dramatic divergence from the certain assertions by WINPAC, DIA, etc. that Saddam had in fact sought uranium.

55-56
10/5/02
NESA
Specify CIA position on uranium claim for Bush's Cincinnati speech

NO

[Comments were conveyed to coordination meeting attended by ADDI for Strategic Programs and apparently not attended by "Both WINPAC Iraq analysts who had followed the Iraq-Niger uranium issue". WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis said he did not recall commenting on the uranium claim but he was part of the discussion - the implications of this are discussed in Sec. 3.3.1 of this post.]

56
10/5/02
ADDI for Strategic Programs
Fax to Deputy NSA/ WH and Bush speechwriters

NO

[Explained why uranium claim was not credible, that it should be removed and that CIA told Congress the "Brits have exaggerated this issue" - see Sec. 3.2.3 of this post.]

56
10/6/02
DCI
Call to Deputy NSA since uranium claim remained in Bush speech draft despite CIA objections

NO

[Explained why uranium claim was not credible, that it should be removed and that the "President should not be a fact witness on this issue" - see Sec. 3.2.3 of this post. ]

56
10/6/02
Likely senior CIA official(s) at the urging of the ADDI or DCI
Another fax to WH to explain why uranium claim is not credible

NO

[Explained why uranium claim was not credible, that it should be removed and that CIA told Congress that "this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British" - see Sec. 3.2.3 of this post.]

57
10/7/02
WINPAC
[see Sec. 3.4.1 of this post]
Response to draft WH paper "A Grave and Gathering Danger" which included uranium claim

YES

["sought uranium from Africa"]

60
12/17/02
WINPAC
Paper in response to Iraq's Declaration of Dec 7, 2002

YES

[Phrase "uranium from Niger" was used and a reference made to the uranium claim in the "U.K. Dossier" (which the CIA had previously challenged - something that the WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis knew and WINPAC Director knew); INR/DOE analysts exchanged email lamenting WINPAC "directing foreign policy" and that WINPAC did not include INR dissent on uranium claim and aluminum tubes - see Sec. 3.4.1.5 of this post.]

60
12/18/02
WINPAC Director
Response to draft of State Department Fact Sheet

YES

[WINPAC Director did not change reference to Niger, but later suggested to NSC staff that it be changed to Africa]

62
1/13/03
-
INR analyst sends email to several IC analysts, CIA included, that "the uranium purchase agreement probably is a hoax"

N/A

62
1/15/03
WINPAC
Response to draft WH paper "A Grave and Gathering Danger" which included uranium claim

YES

["sought uranium from Africa"]

62
1/16/03
2 WINPAC analysts
Niger forgeries sent to them

N/A

[Told SSCI that they "did notice some inconsistencies", but one analyst incredulously claimed that "it was not immediately apparent, it was not jumping out at us that the documents were forgeries" (which could mean anything).]

62
1/17/03
WINPAC
Intelligence paper in response to query from Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

YES

["uranium from various countries in Africa"]

63
1/24/03
NIO for Strategic/Nucl. Programs
Faxed packet of info to NSC for Powell's UN speech from NIE

The SSCI Report claims (page 63) that the NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs, on 1/24/03, faxed the relevant contents of the NIE (including the uranium claim) to the White House to provide materials for Powell's upcoming speech at the UN. This may give the impression that the CIA was supporting the uranium claim. However, this is in contradiction to a later passage in the SSCI report which says that even though the "initial input for the speech came from the CIA" (page 66) there was no draft of Powell's UN speech which had the uranium claim in it (page 67 and page 82, conclusion 25).

The SSCI Report also says that the CIA "removed some of the information that the White House had added to the speech, gathered from finished and raw intelligence, because the information was single source and uncorroborated". (page 67).

64-66
1/"late Jan"/03
WINPAC Director
Discussion of Bush SOTU speech with NSC Special Assistant

Yes and NO.

WINPAC Director did not stand by NIE claim. He also claimed to have told NSC staffer that the CIA did not consider the British claim to be reliable - which NSC staffer denied. WINPAC Director claimed that he agreed to let the WH refer to the British claim. See Sec. 3.2 of this post for a more detailed discussion on this.

66-67
2/2/03
One or more CIA officials (including ADDI)
Powell UN speech coordination

NO

[The narrative is slightly ambiguous since a WINPAC analyst is also mentioned, but the analyst's real position is not clarified.]

68
2/11/03
Senior Africa analyst
Intel assessment sent to other CIA offices

NO

[Mentions that claims could be fraudulent]

Now to the analysis.


3. The NIE claim on uranium from Africa

In this section I discuss a number of pieces of background information that are highly relevant to understanding how the uranium claim made it into the NIE and the role that some individuals in WINPAC played in sustaining a claim that others in the CIA (and INR) had considered bogus or not credible.

3.1 How the NIE claim came about: Not from a CIA Paper

3.2 The CIA did not stand by the NIE claim

3.3 WINPAC knew that uranium claim was bogus/not credible

3.4 The Stovepiping: Most pipes lead back to WINPAC


3.1 How the NIE claim came about: Not from a CIA Paper

One of the many interesting pieces of information in the SSCI Report is this (emphasis mine):

On September 12, 2002, the DCI officially directed the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Strategic and Nuclear Programs to begin to draft an NIE. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) staff drew the discussion of nuclear reconstitution for the draft NIE largely from an August 2002 CIA assessment and a September 2002 DIA assessment, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapons Programs. [page 52]

The SSCI Report also mentions an August 2002 CIA assessment and a September 2002 DIA Assessment earlier in the report and here's what those assessments had to say about the uranium claim (emphasis mine):

On August 1, 2002 CIA NESA published a paper on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities which did not include the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium information.

...In September 2002, the DIA published an intelligence assessment (Defense Intelligence Assessment, Iraqs Reemerging Nuclear Program) which outlined Iraq's recent efforts to rebuild its nuclear program. The report focused on a variety of issues related to Iraq's nuclear efforts, including procurement efforts, nuclear facilities, consolidation of scientists and uranium acquisition. On the latter issue, the assessment said "Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake." The report described the intelligence on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal and several other intelligence reports on Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The assessment said that "DIA cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources." [page 48]

Isn't that fascinating? The August 2002 CIA assessment (drafted by NESA) did not actually mention the uranium from Africa claim at all (as I also discussed in Sec. 2.1.1); only the September 2002 DIA report did (how's that for irony, considering that the CIA was blamed for the uranium claim by the Bush administration).

The question, then, is: how did the uranium claim get into the NIE?

Here's the relevant Senate Report discussion on this (emphasis mine):

(U) At the NIE coordination meeting, the only analyst who voiced disagreement with the uranium section was an INR analyst. Several analysts from other agencies told Committee staff that they did not recall even discussing the uranium reporting at the meeting. All of the analysts said that the bulk of the time at the meeting was spent debating other issues such as the aluminum tubes, time lines for weapons designs, and procurement of magnets and other dual use items. CIA, DIA and DOE analysts all said that at the time the NIE was written, they agreed with the NIE assessment that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa. Some analysts said, in retrospect, the language should have been more qualified than it was, but they generally agreed with the text.

(U) The uranium text was included only in the body of the NIE, not in the key judgments section because the interagency consensus was that Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium were not key to the argument that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. According to the NIO, the key judgments were drawn from a CIA paper which only highlighted the acquisition of aluminum tubes as the reason Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. The NIO said that at the NIE coordination meeting, analysts added other reasons they believed Iraq was reconstituting, such as acquiring magnets, machine tools, and balancing machines, and reestablishing Iraq's nuclear scientists cadre. When someone, the NIO was not sure who [7 - eRiposte note: this may have been a DOE analyst per the footnote] suggested that the uranium information be included as another sign of reconstitution, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst spoke up and said that he did not agree with the uranium reporting and that INR would be including text indicating their disagreement in their footnote on nuclear reconstitution. The NIO said he did not recall anyone else at the coordination meeting who disagreed with the uranium text, but also did not recall anyone really supporting including the uranium issue as part of the judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, so he suggested that the uranium information did not need to part of the key judgments. He told Committee staff he suggested that "We'll leave it in the paper for completeness. Nobody can say we didn't connect the dots. But we don't have to put that dot in the key judgments."

(U) Because INR disagreed with much of the nuclear section of the NIE, it decided to convey its alternative views in text boxes, rather than object to every point throughout the NIE. INR prepared two separate boxes, one for the key judgments section and a two page box for the body of the nuclear section, which included a sentence which stated that "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious." [page 52-53]

Thus, the NIO's statement confirms that the uranium claim did not get into the NIE based on the August 2002 CIA report, but through a different mechanism. But the mystery here is why the CIA analyst (or analysts) who attended the NIE coordination meeting did not support INR considering that the CIA (NESA) paper in August 2002 had dropped the claim and that the CIA had communicated to the British on 9/11/02 (just 2 weeks earlier) that they did not consider the claim to be credible.

Here is what I conclude is the most likely explanation. The CIA analyst or analysts who attended the NIE coordination meeting were likely from WINPAC and not from NESA.

NESA not only withdrew the uranium claim in their August 2002 paper, but made multiple attempts in October 2002 to downplay or eliminate the uranium claim (as is evident from Sec 2.2). NESA's effort to get rid of the uranium claim after the publication of the NIE actually started on the day the NIE was released (Oct 1, 2002)! So, it is implausible that the NESA Iraq analyst responsible for the uranium issue was present in the NIE coordination meeting. The NIO said that "he did not recall anyone else [other than INR] at the coordination meeting who disagreed with the uranium text" - which implies that the CIA NESA uranium analyst must not have been present.

On the other hand, some WINPAC personnel, unlike NESA and unlike other senior CIA officials who raised serious questions about the credibility of uranium claim (on Sep 11, 2002 and Oct 2002), were repeatedly allowing the WH to use the uranium claim in their drafts (on Sep 11, 2002, Sep 24, 2002 and beyond). (This is discussed further in Sec. 3.4 of this post.)

Therefore, using the fragmentary statements in the SSCI Report, I conclude that the reason the uranium claim even made it into the NIE was because the uranium analysts who attended the NIE coordination meeting to represent the CIA were likely from WINPAC and they likely did not object to including the claim in the body of the NIE even though CIA NESA had dropped the uranium claim in their August 2002 report and others in the CIA had communicated their lack of trust in the uranium claim to the British on Sep 11, 2002.


3.2 The CIA did not stand by the NIE claim

One of the myths perpetuated by the Bush administration after they retracted the 2003 SOTU uranium claim is that the CIA actually stood by the uranium claim in the NIE at the time of the SOTU. I've covered this myth before and it is worth repeating here.

Let's start with a couple of quotes from then-NSA Condoleezza Rice, on this issue.

Condi Rice (7/11/03):

I'm saying that when we put it together, put together the Secretary's remarks, the Secretary decided that he would caveat the aluminum tubes, which he did -- he said there's some disagreement about what this might be -- and he decided that he would not use the uranium story. The Secretary also has an intelligence arm that happened to hold that view. But the NIE, which, by the way, the Agency was standing by at the time of the -- the time of the State of the Union, and was standing by at the time of the Secretary's speech, has the yellow cake story in it, had the aluminum tube story in it. Now, if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the President, to the Vice President, or to me.

Condi Rice (7/13/03):

And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of Central Intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.

The claim that the CIA was standing by the uranium claim in the NIE at the time of the State of the Union was at best deliberately misleading, and objectively speaking, just false. One of the reasons why is explained in brief by the Iraq on the Record report:

Ms. Rice was responding to questions regarding how the claim that Iraq sought uranium in Africa made it into the President's January 28, 2003, State of the Union address. The statement that the Director of Central Intelligence and the CIA did not object to the claim was false. In October 2002, the CIA expressed doubts about the claim in two memos to the White House, including one addressed to Ms. Rice. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet also warned against using the claim in a telephone call to Ms. Rice’s deputy in October 2002.

Actually, the evidence against Rice's claim is richer. So, let's take a closer look at what happened, using extracts from the Senate (SSCI) Report, to understand why Rice's claim was at best misleading, and based on a strict interpretation, just false.

3.2.1 NIE Timeline
3.2.2 Post-NIE backtracking and CIA White Paper
3.2.3 Cincinnati Speech
3.2.4 2003 State of the Union
3.2.5 Inferences


3.2.1 NIE Timeline

The work on the NIE got started on 12 September 2002 and the first draft was circulated on September 23, 2002 :

On September 12, 2002, the DCI officially directed the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Strategic and Nuclear Programs to begin to draft an NIE. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) staff drew the discussion of nuclear reconstitution for the draft NIE largely from an August 2002 CIA assessment and a September 2002 DIA assessment, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapons Programs. The NIO sent a draft of the entire NIE to IC analysts on September 23, 2002 for coordination and comments and held an interagency coordination meeting on September 25, 2002 to discuss the draft and work out any changes. [page 52]

The Senate Report points out that the IC deliberately left out the uranium from Africa reporting from the Key Judgements of the NIE, and only included a brief mention of it in the body of the NIE (see Sec. 3.1 for more). The NIE was released on October 1, 2002:

On October 1, 2002, the NIC published the NIE on Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction. The language on Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium from Africa appeared as it did in the draft version and INR's position that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious" was included in a text box, separated by about 60 pages from the discussion of the uranium issue. [page 54]


3.2.2 Post-NIE backtracking and CIA White Paper

However, immediately after the NIE was released, senior CIA officials started to dramatically backtrack from the uranium claim:

(U) On October 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI testified before the SSCI. Senator Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British white paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations. We've looked at those reports and we don't think they are very credible. It doesn't diminish our conviction that he's going for nuclear weapons, but I think they reached a little bit on that one point. Otherwise I think it's very solid."

(U) On October 4, 2002, the NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs testified before the SSCI. When asked by Senator Fred Thompson if there was disagreement with the British white paper, the NIO said that "they put more emphasis on the uranium acquisition in Africa than we would." He added, "there is some information on attempts and, as we said, maybe not to this committee, but in the last couple of weeks, there's a question about some of those attempts because of the control of the material in those countries. In one case the mine is completely flooded and how would they get the material. For us it's more the concern that they have uranium in-country now. It's under inspection. It's under control of the IAEA - the International Atomic Energy Agency - but they only inspect it once a year." The NIO told Committee staff that he was speaking as an IC representative and was representing INR's known view on the issue. He said at the time of his remarks, he did not believe that the CIA had any problem with the credibility of the reporting, but said the CIA may have believed that the uranium information should not be included in an unclassified white paper.

(U) Also, on October 4, 2002, CIA published an unclassified White Paper, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. The NIO for NESA started work on the white paper in the spring of 2002, well before efforts began on the classified NIE. A CIA NESA analyst drafted the body of the White Paper and did not include text on Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa. [page 54-55]

So, immediately after the NIE was released, the CIA started to seriously backtrack and dismiss the uranium claim as not credible. The CIA's unclassified White Paper (which was actually a truncated version of the Key Judgements section of the classified NIE) that was released *after* the NIE was released, did not mention the uranium from Africa claim. This is important to note because even if the CIA did not want to reveal "sources and methods" (as was incredulously claimed by the WINPAC Director as the reason why he wanted the claim removed from the Bush 2003 SOTU - see Sec. 3.2.5 below) they could easily have introduced a simple, general statement that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa, in the NIE Key Judgements and the White Paper (just like the British did in their own declassified White Paper released prior to the NIE). That would not have revealed sources or methods. Yet they chose not to do so - because the claim was not based on credible or reliable intelligence.


3.2.3 Cincinnati Speech

What's more, the CIA's seniormost officials (including George Tenet himself) made deliberate attempts to dissuade the White House from using the uranium claim in a speech in October 2002 (after the NIE's release) - a claim that the White House/NSC had included in the speech draft:

(U) On October 4, 2002, the NSC sent a draft of a speech they were preparing for the President to deliver in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was draft six of the speech and contained the line, "and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa - an essential ingredient in the enrichment process."

(U) The CIA's former Associate Deputy Director for Intelligence (ADDI) for Strategic Programs, told Committee staff he was tasked by the Deputy Director for Intelligence (DDI) to handle coordination of the speech within the CIA. On October 5, 2002, the ADDI brought together representatives for each of the areas of Iraq that the speech covered and asked the analysts to bring forward any issues that they thought should be addressed with the NSC. The ADDI said an Iraq nuclear analyst - he could not remember who - raised concerns about the sourcing and some of the facts of the Niger reporting, specifically that the control of the mines in Niger would have made it very difficult to get yellowcake to Iraq.

[DELETED] Both WINPAC Iraq nuclear analysts who had followed the Iraq-Niger uranium issue told Committee staff they were not involved in coordinating the Cincinnati speech and did not participate in the speech coordination session on October 5, 2002. The WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis also told Committee staff he did not recall being involved in the Cincinnati speech, but later clarified his remarks to the Committee in writing saying that he remembered participating in the speech, but did not recall commenting on the section of the speech dealing with the Niger information. Committee staff asked the CIA to identify who might have attended the Cincinnati speech coordination meeting and raised concerns with the ADDI about the sourcing and facts of the Niger reporting. The CIA told Committee staff that the NESA Iraq analyst, [DELETED] believes he may have been the one who attended the meeting and raised concerns about the Niger reporting with the ADDI.

(U) Based on the analyst's comments, the ADDI drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy National Security Advisor and the speech writers. Referring to the sentence on uranium from Africa the CIA said, "remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory."

[DELETED] Later that day, the NSC staff prepared draft seven of the Cincinnati speech which contained the line, "and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa." Draft seven was sent to CIA for coordination.

[DELETED] The ADDI told Committee staff he received the new draft on October 6, 2002 and noticed that the uranium information had "not been addressed," so he alerted the DCI. The DCI called the Deputy National Security Advisor directly to outline the CIA's concerns. On July 16, 2003, the DCI testified before the SSCI that he told the Deputy National Security Advisor that the "President should not be a fact witness on this issue," because his analysts had told him the "reporting was weak." The NSC then removed the uranium reference from the draft of the speech.

[DELETED] 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."

(U) On October 7, 2002, President Bush delivered the speech in Cincinnati without the uranium reference. [page 55-56]

Now, the Senate Report also points out that despite these attempts by the CIA, other individuals in the CIA were, on other occasions, approving White House papers or other documents that included the uranium from Africa claim. This is where the WINPAC stovepipe was in operation, as discussed in Sec. 3.3 and Sec. 3.4 of this post. However, the fact remains that the White House knew that the seniormost leadership of the CIA, including the DCI, were most definitely not "standing by" the NIE claim on uranium from Africa. On more than one occasion after the NIE had been published (and before the State of the Union speech was drafted) the CIA tried to dissuade the White House from using even a generalized uranium from Africa claim because they did not trust the credibility of those reports, or the claim of the British Government in this regard.


3.2.4 2003 State of the Union

The CIA's reticence was also apparent at the time of the SOTU. To understand that, let's compare how the draft of the SOTU started off and how it ended up, and why.

The Senate Report notes that the White House was the one that included the uranium claim in the SOTU draft they sent to the CIA (barely a day before the actual SOTU speech):

On January 27, 2003, the DCI was provided with a hardcopy draft of the State of the Union address at an NSC meeting. [page 64]
...
The White House also told the Committee that the text they sent to the CIA in January said, "we also know that he has recently sought to buy uranium in Africa." [page 65]

According to the Senate Report, the WINPAC Director expressed discomfort at the mention of the uranium claim, although it is claimed incredulously as having to do with revealing "classified information" or "sources and methods" rather than the "credibility" of the reporting. The latter was an obviously false cover story simply because the actual statement in the draft did not reveal either sources or methods and did not reveal classified information since a uranium from Africa claim had already been mentioned in declassified documents and speeches by both the British Government and the American Government by then.

The Senate Report notes that the WINPAC Director subsequently agreed to a change in language whereby the speech would refer to the British White Paper ("the British government has learned") rather than to the claim that "we also know..." (More on this below).


3.2.5 Inferences

(a) Technically speaking, Rice's claim that "had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of Central Intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone" was deliberately misleading since it clearly did not apply to the original uranium from Africa claim inserted by the White House into the SOTU speech. There was *more* than a "peep" - there was active opposition to the wording originally proposed by the White House on the uranium allegation.

(b) Rice's claim that "But the NIE, which, by the way, the Agency was standing by at the time of the -- the time of the State of the Union" was flat out false. After all, the CIA WINPAC Director was doing the *opposite* of "standing by" the NIE claim. Let's recall that the NIE said the following (and provided names of countries in Africa, associated with this claim):

Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake... [page 52]

Yet, the WINPAC Director balked at the following text in the White House draft:

...we also know that he has recently sought to buy uranium in Africa... [page 65]

There is no fundamental difference between the two statements. Yet, the WINPAC Director opposed the statement because the CIA had already declared, after the NIE had been published, that they did not find the uranium from Africa claim credible.

To put it in another way, the CIA WINPAC Director (Alan Foley) was taking the position that the claim, at least in so far as it referred to U.S. intelligence knowledge on the uranium claim, was not something the CIA was willing to stand by, regardless of what the NIE may have stated. The claim that he was opposed to the claim not because it was not credible but because he was concerned about revealing "sources and methods" (or "classified information") was clearly a false cover story because the actual statement in the SOTU draft did not reveal either sources or methods and did not reveal classified information since a uranium from Africa (or Niger) claim had already been mentioned in declassified documents and speeches by both the British Government and the American Government by then. Yet, the WINPAC Director agreed to leave the uranium claim in the speech if it referred to British intelligence, even though the CIA thought the British claim was not trustworthy and even though the WINPAC Director also claimed that he told the NSC Special Assistant that the CIA had asked the British to remove the uranium claim from their White Paper (something the NSC Special Assistant denied).

There is only one explanation for this game that was played: the White House wanted to keep the claim in the speech despite CIA opposition and the WINPAC Director obliged by telling the WH they could refer to the British claim if they wanted, but not to the CIA itself (this is fakery at its worst as I've explained before). After having done so he concocted a fake cover story that his concern related only to "sources and methods" (rather than the issue of credibility of the uranium claim), so that the White House could claim, falsely, that the credibility of the claim was not challenged by the CIA at the time of the SOTU. Thus, even the most generous interpretation of Rice's "had there been even a peep" comment indicates that it was deliberately misleading.

(c) There is a more basic point. The White House introduced the uranium claim in the SOTU draft in January 2003 despite George Tenet having told the White House in October 2002 that the "President should not be a fact witness on this issue" (to stop the White House from using the claim in the Cincinnati speech at that time, despite CIA objections). The White House insisted on keeping the claim in the SOTU speech despite the WINPAC Director's initial opposition and discomfort with the claim at the time of the SOTU, and decided to refer to British intelligence (which the CIA did not consider reliable on this matter) rather than their own NIE. Moreover, the White House's chief speechwriter had also been informed of the dubiousness of the uranium from Africa claim in October 2002 (see below). So, it is at the minimum grossly misleading to assert, as Rice did, that there was not a peep from the CIA or George Tenet expressing reservations about the uranium claim.

It is no surprise, then, that Rice later conveniently attributed her statement as having been based on a faulty memory.

NOTE: Let's also keep in mind that the CIA memos expressing concern over the use of the uranium from Africa claim in the Cincinnati speech were also sent to the the White House's Chief Speechwriter:

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say that no one in our circles, and it was maybe down in the bowels of the Intelligence Agency, a month after that appearance, you said this, “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety.”

And then your top deputy, Stephen Hadley, on July 23, said this.

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that he received two memos from the CIA in October that cast doubt on intelligence reports that Iraq had sough[t] to buy uranium from Niger to use in developing nuclear weapons. Both memos were also sent to chief speechwriter Michael Gerson and one was sent to national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Hadley said.”

All in all, Rice's claim was false. The CIA did not "stand by" the NIE uranium claim.


3.3 WINPAC knew that uranium claim was bogus/not credible

There are at least three incidents recounted in the SSCI Report (and possibly a fourth) which indicate that during the time that some individuals in WINPAC were peddling the uranium claim, WINPAC knew that the uranium claim was bogus/not credible.

3.3.1 WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis and October 2002 Cincinnati speech coordination

3.3.2 NESA/WINPAC comments for Oct 2002 CIA testimony to SSCI

3.3.3 WINPAC Director's comments to NSC Special Assistant prior to 2003 SOTU

3.3.4 Possible fourth incident: Did WINPAC attended the NIE coordination meeting?


3.3.1 WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis and October 2002 Cincinnati speech coordination

The SSCI Report says the following (emphasis mine):

Both WINPAC Iraq nuclear analysts who had followed the Iraq-Niger uranium issue told Committee staff they were not involved in coordinating the Cincinnati speech and did not participate in the speech coordination session on October 5, 2002. The WINPAC Deputy Director for Analysis also told Committee staff he did not recall being involved in the Cincinnati speech, but later clarified his remarks to the Committee in writing saying that he remembered participating in the speech, but did not recall commenting on the section of the speech dealing with the Niger information. Committee staff asked the CIA to identify who might have attended the Cincinnati speech coordination meeting and raised concerns with the ADDI about the sourcing and facts of the Niger reporting. The CIA told Committee staff that the NESA Iraq analyst, [DELETED] believes he may have been the one who attended the meeting and raised concerns about the Niger reporting with the ADDI.

(U) Based on the analyst's comments, the ADDI drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy National Security Advisor and the speech writers. Referring to the sentence on uranium from Africa the CIA said, "remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory."

[DELETED] Later that day, the NSC staff prepared draft seven of the Cincinnati speech which contained the line, "and the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa." Draft seven was sent to CIA for coordination.

[DELETED] The ADDI told Committee staff he received the new draft on October 6, 2002 and noticed that the uranium information had "not been addressed," so he alerted the DCI. The DCI called the Deputy National Security Advisor directly to outline the CIA's concerns. On July 16, 200

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