Uranium from Africa and the Niger Forgeries: When did the CIA (in the U.S.) first receive copies of the Niger uranium forgeries? - Part 1: The Curious Incident of the CIA in the Daytime
[This is part of my ongoing coverage on this topic; click here to read a consolidated synopsis of my findings to-date]
This is the first part of a series (introduced here) focused on obtaining an answer to the question of when the CIA (in the U.S.) first received copies of (some or all of) the Niger uranium forgeries. Let's start by examining one of the most bizarre incidents narrated in the Senate (SSCI) Report (which has long been a dead giveaway). The section in question is the one focusing on what happened in the U.S. after a copy of the Niger forgeries was received from Rome (emphasis mine through this post):
Also on October 11, 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Rome reported to State Department headquarters that it had acquired photocopies of documents on a purported uranium deal between Iraq and Niger from an Italian journalist. The cable said that the embassy had passed the documents to the CIA's [SENTENCE DELETED]. The embassy faxed the documents to the State Department's Bureau of Nonproliferation (NP) on October 15, 2002, which passed a copy of the documents to INR. [page 58]
So what did the INR analyst do?
(U) Immediately after receiving the documents, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst e-mailed IC colleagues offering to provide the documents at a previously planned meeting of the Nuclear Interdiction Action Group (NIAG) the following day. The analyst, apparently already suspicious of the validity of the documents noted in his e-mail, "you'll note that it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess)."
(U) The INR Iraq nuclear analyst told Committee staff that the thing that stood out immediately about the documents was that a companion document - a document included with the Niger documents that did not relate to uranium - mentioned some type of military campaign against major world powers. The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran, and was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome, which all struck the analyst as "completely implausible." Because the stamp on this document matched the stamp on the uranium document, the analyst thought that all of the documents were likely suspect. The analyst was unaware at the time of any formatting problems with the documents or inconsistencies with the names or dates. [page 58]
(U) On October 16, 2002, INR made copies of the documents available at the NIAG meeting for attendees, including representatives from the CIA, DIA, DOE and NSA. Because the analyst who offered to provide the documents was on leave, the office's senior analyst provided the documents.
I'm going to set aside for now, the rather strange issues of why the analyst who said he would provide the documents the following day was suddenly on "leave" that very day, and why there is no mention in the SSCI Report of what was said about the forged documents during the NIAG meeting.
What is clear is that representatives from the CIA, DIA, DOE and NSA were given copies of the forgeries.
The natural question to ask then is what the CIA decided to do with the documents since they were one of the three IC agencies (other than DIA, INR) that had been analyzing the Niger uranium claims:
...Because the analyst who offered to provide the documents was on leave, the office's senior analyst provided the documents. She cannot recall how she made the documents available, but analysts from several agencies, including the DIA, NSA and DOE, did pick up copies at that meeting. None of the four CIA representatives recall picking up the documents, however, during the CIA Inspector General's investigation of this issue, copies of the documents were found in the DO's CPD vault. It appears that a CPD representative did pick up the documents at the NIAG meeting, but after returning to the office, filed them without any further distribution.
...The CIA told the Committee its analysts did not seek to obtain copies of the documents because they believed that the foreign government service reporting was verbatim text and did not think it would advance the story on the alleged uranium deal. One analyst noted that, at the time, the CIA was preparing its case [DELETED] on reconstitution and since the uranium reporting was not significant to their argument, getting the documents was not a priority.
This story not only has so many holes but it is by far the most bizarre narrative in the Niger section of the Senate (SSCI) report simply because it makes no sense whatsoever. If we set aside aside the deleted paragraph, here are the reasons why I say that.
1. First of all, the CIA claimed that, at that time, they had no idea that these documents were forgeries. If this claim is true, it would have meant that the CIA must have assumed that the documents were likely authentic. So, according to this narrative, when the CIA ostensibly received what was possibly the first "authentic" and first-hand validation for claims almost identical to what they had been hearing for almost a year from a foreign intelligence service (SISMI), they did not even think these were worth looking into or reviewing. In other words, we are led to believe that when faced with the ostensible first-hand proof for a deal that matched in most particulars the information received from SISMI over the previous 12 months, the CIA's response was that the documents weren't really important and not worth examining at all. If this was indeed their response, then this definitely classifies as a Curious Incident of the CIA in the Daytime. (NOTE added: That's another way of saying that the CIA must have been familiar with the documents and known beforehand that they were bogus. After all, as Mary points out in the comments, the INR analyst strongly suggested in his email that the documents were of dubious authenticity. Unfortunately, a critical piece of information that is left out in the Senate Report is the individual divisions that the four CIA representatives at the NIAG meeting belonged to.)
2. The CIA's explanation that - "its analysts did not seek to obtain copies of the documents because they believed that the foreign government service reporting was verbatim text and did not think it would advance the story on the alleged uranium deal" - is complete nonsense. Why?
Well, for one thing, the CIA only reported receiving the "verbatim text" of the alleged (fake) Niger-Iraq uranium "accord", not of all the documents in the dossier. As the Senate (SSCI) Report says (page 37):
Reporting on the uranium transaction did not surface again until February 5, 2002 when the CIA's DO issued a second intelligence report [DELETED] which again cited the source as a "[foreign] government service." Although not identified in the report, this source was also from the foreign service. The second report provided more details about the previously reported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement and provided what was said to be "verbatim text" of the accord.
Obviously, additional documents than the accord would have "advanced[d] the story on the alleged uranium deal". (This is also noteworthy because the CIA made it a point to deny to the SSCI that they had any "documents" with them on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal at the time they briefed Joseph Wilson in Feb 2002, which was after they had received the "verbatim text" of the accord from SISMI. If the "documents" were so unimportant, why go out of the way to deny possession of "documents" if the "verbatim text" report, among other things, could have been considered the equivalent of any documents?)
Secondly, despite having "verbatim text" of the accord in early Feb 2002, the CIA was not quite convinced of the Niger reporting - so they sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate it in late Feb 2002. So, clearly, just having the "verbatim text" of the accord said nothing about the importance or usefulness of the Niger documents they had received.
Third, Panorama magazine's Elisabetta Burba never gave the CIA a copy of the uranium accord. So, it would have made no sense for the CIA to dismiss the documents they received from Burba without even looking at it to see if the accord was part of the bunch they received. If the accord was there, that would indicate that the CIA magically had in their possession a document that Burba never gave them - which would prove they had one or more of the Niger documents in their possession through other means. If the accord was missing in the bunch, then the CIA should have immediately investigated why that was the case since they received the "verbatim text" of the accord several months earlier from SISMI.
3. The CIA's second explanation that - "since the uranium reporting was not significant to their argument, getting the documents was not a priority" - doesn't make any sense either. In fact, if the uranium claim was unimportant, then the documents could have made the case more important if they were authentic (epecially considering how the CIA was being relentlessly pressured to come up with as much junk as possible to feed George Bush and Dick Cheney's intelligence fixing to support the predetermined plans to go to war with Iraq). Indeed, it would have been simply impossible for the CIA to know whether the documents were important or unimportant without reviewing/analyzing them.
To sum it up, there is only one obvious explanation, that is both reasonable and plausible, which explains the CIA's reported behavior. That explanation is that the CIA was already aware of the Niger forgeries and already had them in their possession prior to receiving copies from Elisabetta Burba. In this scenario, they would have already been aware that the papers were bogus and would have had no reason to re-analyze materials that they had previously determined to be bogus. This explanation is also particularly relevant considering what had happened in the days prior to the receipt of the forgeries from Burba. After all, in a mysterious twist to the CIA's earlier position on the "uranium from Africa" claim, between October 2, 2002 and October 6, 2002 - prior to the CIA's receiving the forgeries from Elisabetta Burba - top players in the CIA (including the Deputy DCI and the DCI) personally made efforts to try and dissuade the White House, and strongly so, from including the "uranium from Africa" claim in speeches, because they considered the claim to not be credible at all. The aggressive manner in which the CIA was walking away from the claim even before they received Burba's documents indicated that they had strong evidence in their possession (which likely included the forgeries) questioning the validity of the claim.
Finally, there are additional important questions raised by the Senate Report's narrative:
...however, during the CIA Inspector General's investigation of this issue, copies of the documents were found in the DO's CPD vault. It appears that a CPD representative did pick up the documents at the NIAG meeting, but after returning to the office, filed them without any further distribution.
Note the wording "it appears that". This is just a way of saying "we think that". The wording is important here because it is entirely possible that the copied of the forgeries got in the DO's CPD vault through some other mechanism. For instance, DO may have received the forgeries well before Burba sent the U.S. copies of the forgeries and may have locked them up in their vault after determining they were bogus. This aspect is not examined at all in the SSCI Report and the Report does not say what the "filing" date was for the documents found in the vault.
There is another major oddity in the storyline in the Senate report. After the October 15, 2002 email from the INR analyst and the October 16, 2002 NIAG meeting where the forgeries were distributed, there is *zero* mention of the forgeries for almost 3 months - until January 13, 2003 - when suddenly a passage appears almost out of the blue where the INR analyst again sends an email to IC colleagues saying almost exactly the same thing he did on October 15, 2002. Clearly, a lot must have happened in between which we don't know about yet.
In the intermediate time period, the SSCI Report also does not address what DIA, DOE or INR did with the documents they received in October 2002. Did any of them even look at it in the interim? Are we to believe that DIA, which was relentlessly peddling the fake uranium claim (even as late as June 12, 2003), also miraculously felt that the documents were not "important" and not even worth looking at? This makes no sense.
A side note is that the INR analyst was the only one who seemed interested and somewhat surprised by the bogus contents. That seemed to be a rare case of the dog that did bark.