Uranium from Africa and the Niger Forgeries: When did the CIA first receive copies of the Niger uranium forgeries? - Part 2: The Dog That Did Not Bark, Again
[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 next part of a series (Introduction, Part 1) 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. As much as Part 1 revealed to us one of the oddest incidents narrated in the Senate (SSCI) Report, this part discusses what was an equally bizarre incident. The section in question is the one focusing on what happened after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in Marseilles, France, issued a report alleging the storage of Iraq-bound Niger uranium in Cotonou, Benin (bold text is my emphasis, throughout this post):
On November 25, 2002, The Naval [DELETED] issued a very brief report (Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [DELETED] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President. The report provided the name and telephone numbers for the individual, a West African businessman, who was responsible for coordinating the alleged uranium transaction and indicated that he was willing to provide information about the transaction. CIA's DO told Committee staff that the businessman has never been contacted and the DO has not made an effort to determine whether this individual had any useful information. The DO told Committee staff that they saw no reason to contact him and noted that "no one even thought to do that." The Defense Humint Service (DHS) and the Navy also told Committee staff that they did not try to contact the businessman. The Navy told the Committee that because they were not further tasked regarding their report, they did not pursue the matter further. The DHS told Committee staff that because the DHS examined the warehouse on December 17, 2002 and saw only what appeared to be bales of cotton in the warehouse, they did not see a reason to contact the businessman. The report on the DHS's findings was not published until February 10, 2003.
This report was the second time in roughly six weeks that the CIA received direct, first-hand evidence directly implicating Iraq in a uranium purchase from Niger. Like in the earlier case (the Panorama/Burba Niger dossier), this was evidence that tantalizingly suggested that the final and unambiguous proof of Iraq seeking or buying uranium from Africa existed - which could completely cement together a nuclear case against Saddam Hussein. What did the CIA's DO do in response? Mostly yawn and move on without bothering to even contact the so-called "West African businessman". As I show in this post, this seemingly bizarre event represented the second Curious Incident of the CIA in the Daytime.
Bob Drogin and Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times recently provided some additional detail on this NCIS report:
This time, a special agent from the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, working counterintelligence operations in the French port of Marseilles, had received a phone call from a West African businessman. The caller said 20 barrels of Niger yellowcake were in a warehouse in Cotonou awaiting shipment to Iraq.
The Navy report ultimately reached the CIA, which contacted a French internal security agency, the DST, as well as French intelligence. They sent another team to Africa to check the warehouse and other sites.
"They both gave assurances from the French government that the material sitting in the port was under French control and wasn't going anywhere else," the former CIA officer said.
The U.S. defense attache based in Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast, visited the warehouse in December and saw it "appeared to contain only bales of cotton," Senate investigators found.
I covered this incident in some detail previously in my series on the Senate (SSCI) Report's treatment of the uranium from Africa matter. So let me reproduce some of my previous comments first to provide broader context for this incident, and then, at the bottom of the post, I provide my conclusions.
Enter the West African Businessman. (I’m going to call him the WABman for short – it sounds espionage-y.)...
So, let me get this straight. This WABman, shows up out of the freaking blue, tells the US Navy three specific things about the fake Niger deal he could only have known from the forged Niger docs or the three FIS reports.
- There is a deal for a “large quantity” of uranium between Iraq and Niger. (Docs 3, 4, 5 and 6)
- The uranium was sold to Iraq by Niger’s president. (Doc 3)
- The uranium is being stored in Cotonou, Benin, ready for shipment. (Doc 7)
Is this dude psychic? Niger isn’t alleged as the target of Iraq’s attempted uranium procurement until December 19 when the State Department accidentally posts it on the Internet. (Senate p. 61). The forged Niger docs don’t become public until March, 2003, after they were sent to the IAEA. (Senate, p. 69). Yet, somehow, months earlier, the WABman has specific information about a uranium deal that didn’t exist. He’s either psychic or he’s Cabal. And, I’ll tell ya, I don’t believe in psychics.
But, wait. It gets better. The WABman leaves his name and number with the Navy. Somebody’s got in touch with him, right? Right? Wrong! Neither the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the Pentagon’s Defense Humint Service, or the US Navy has ever bother[ed] to pick up a phone and give this guy a call. (Senate p. 60). Doesn’t that tick you off? I wanna know where this guy got his information.
Not surprisingly, the uranium story was discovered later to be fake. Here is the Senate Report on that:
On February 10, 2003, the U.S. Defense Attache in Abidjan (the capital of the African country, Ivory Coast) reported that its reports officer examined two warehouses in Benin suspected of storing uranium on route to Iraq on December 17, 2002. The visit was conducted almost a month after [the] Navy report...The report indicated that the warehouses appeared to contain only bales of cotton. A CIA operations cable on the inspection noted, however, it was not possible to determine if the cotton bales concealed the uranium shipment and that no radiation detection equipment had been used during the inspection. The DIA told Committee staff that this report was not published sooner because of a coup in Ivory Coast and a civil war and unrest in Liberia, a country for which the Defense Attache in Abidjan had temporary responsibility, occupied the office with other responsibilities. [page 68]
The CIA then received another intel report in Jan 2003:
On January 27, 2003, a CIA intelligence report [redacted] indicated that foreign government service reported that the uranium sodium compound in storage at the warehouse in Cotonou, Benin was destined for France, not Iraq. [page 64]
[One new thing we learn here is that this "foreign government service" that checked on the Cotonou claim was French intelligence, as becomes apparent from the Drogin/Hamburger article.]
On April 5, 2003, the NIC issued a Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM)...The SOCM said, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years. The IC agrees with the IAEA assessment that key documents purported showing a recent Iraq-Niger sales accord are a fabrication. We judge that other reports from 2002 - one alleging warehousing of yellowcake for shipment to Iraq, a second alleging a 1999 visit by an Iraqi delegation to Niamey - do not constitute credible evidence of a recent or impending sale." The SOCM added, "the current government of Niger [redacted] probably would report such an approach by the Iraqis, especially because a sale would violate UN resolution 687." [page 71]
[Of course, despite the clear statements that the Benin story was not credible, [Crying] Wolfowitz's DIA unsurprisingly continued to peddle the fake Cotonou, Benin story even as late as June 12, 2003.]
Here's the crux of what happened in late November 2002. Combined with the evidence presented in Part 1 of this series, the tepid indifference from the CIA's DO to the NCIS report about an allegation regarding Iraq-bound Niger uranium in Cotonou, Benin, was consistent with only one meaningful and likely explanation - that the CIA was well aware of the contents of the Niger forgeries, that the uranium from Niger allegations were bogus, and that the claims from the "West African businessman" matched some of the specific information contained in the forgeries. This would have convinced them quickly that this claim was not something to be taken seriously. [I would be curious to know if the CIA DO communicated this in any form to DHS or NCIS].
There is a second equally important aspect to this story which the media has unfortunately not paid any attention to. The "West African businessman" whose name and phone number was provided by NCIS was claiming knowledge and direct participation in a transaction/sale that was fake and never existed. At least three high-level investigations (SSCI, Robb-Silberman, ISG) made it crystal clear that Iraq did not purchase any uranium from Niger since the 1980s. So, if there is any individual on earth who needs to be traced down and questioned immediately, and his links to the Niger forgery cabal examined, it is this "West African businessman". Any takers in the media? How about the FBI?