Uranium from Africa and the Aluminum Tubes - Some Observations on the Recent Articles by Murray Waas (Part 1)
Murray Waas has been publishing a series of important articles in National Journal on the uranium/Nigergate/Plamegate matter and the aluminum tubes issue (note that others in the blogosphere have discussed his latest article). I am going to use this opportunity to discuss his most recent articles that focused on the uranium from Africa and aluminum tubes issues in light of what I published here at The Left Coaster over the last year. Much of my aluminum tubes coverage is contained in the series "WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy". A significant part of my coverage of the uranium from Africa scandal is in the summary post that compiles together important information from the various series' I have published - "Uranium from Africa and the Valerie Plame expose (Treasongate): A Synopsis".
In this part, I'm going to highlight the key pieces of information in Waas' three recent articles that I had previously reported here. I am glad to see that someone finally reported these facts in a mainstream publication and I hope that Waas and others continue to expand their coverage on these matters. In subsequent parts (that I hope to publish later this week), I'm going to mention the new findings that Waas has reported, comment on some aspects that Waas did not cover and try to provide some suggestions for further investigation in these areas. This post is grouped into sections for convenience and all emphasis in quoted portions is mine. [UPDATE: I forgot # 1.4 in my original post - and added it subsequently].
1. The Aluminum Tubes: March 30, 2006 and March 2, 2006 Waas articles
Waas' two articles examined in this section are the ones from 3/30/06 and 3/2/06. As Waas notes in his 3/30/06 article, he first mentioned and discussed the President's NIE summary in his article on 3/2/06. Since that article has a lot of the information also contained in the 3/30/06 article, my comments in this section apply to both articles.
1.1 The President's NIE summary
...a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."
Three months after receiving that assessment, the president stated without qualification in his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."
The Left Coaster, 11/23/05 ["WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2B-1"]:
How about President Bush himself?
Well, here's the Robb-Silberman report (emphasis mine):
DOE reaffirmed its previous assessments that, while the tubes could be modified for use in a gas centrifuge, they were poorly suited for such a function and were most likely designed for use in conventional rockets. 
Reference 64 is the following (emphasis mine):
 Id. at pp. 81-83; see also DCI Statement for the Record at Tab 1, p. 28. INR agreed with DOE's assessment of the tubes. NIE at pp. 84-85. The President's Summary of the NIE reflected the NIE's conclusions, noting that "[m]ost agencies judge that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." The Summary explained that "[m]ost agencies judge" that Iraq's pursuit of aluminum tubes was "related to a uranium enrichment effort." Finally, the Summary also explained that "INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses." NIC, President's Summary, NIE, Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction (PS/NIE 2002-16HC) (Oct. 2002).
So, let's stop for a moment and highlight this.
The President of the United States was told in October 2002, explicitly, that "INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses". So, it would be incredulous of the White House to suggest that Bush was unaware of the strong views against the tubes-for-centrifuges hoax or that he was unaware that these views came not from some random IC groups but two of the important agencies (INR and DOE), one of which was considered to be the IC expert on nuclear matters (DOE). Which meant that purposefully excluding the views of the DOE (and INR) - as he did, for example, in the 2003 State of the Union - cannot be explained away conveniently. Purposeful exclusion has only one explanation - an intent to deliberately mislead or lie to the people of the United States.
1.2 Bush being informed on numerous occasions about the alternative views on the end use of the aluminum tubes
...Hadley's review concluded that Bush had been directly and repeatedly apprised of the deep rift within the intelligence community over whether Iraq wanted the high-strength aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or for conventional weapons.
The President's Summary was only one of several high-level warnings given to Bush and other senior administration officials that serious doubts existed about the intended use of the tubes, according to government records and interviews with former and current officials.
The Left Coaster, 11/23/05 ["WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2B-1"]:
In Part 2A-1 through Part 2A-5 [of this series], I demonstrated that prior to early September 2002:
- There was no certainty within the U.S. IC (including the CIA and DIA) regarding the intended end use of the tubes and that CIA/DIA reports acknowledged possible alternative uses for the tubes (in conventional weapons)
- The U.S. IC's nuclear experts (DOE) had reported that the tubes were most likely intended for rockets and not centrifuges (a view backed up by INR)
- Foreign intelligence agencies that were consulted by the U.S. IC were very clear that the tubes could be used for rockets and were unconvinced that they were for centrifuges
That's not all. As the Robb-Silberman report also points out (emphasis mine):
Post-NIE. The publication of the NIE did not settle the dispute about the aluminum tubes and so, in the period between the NIE and the invasion of Iraq, debate within the Intelligence Community over their significance continued. INR, for its part, continued to see "no compelling reason to judge that Iraq ha[d] entered" the timeframe of at least five to seven years that the Intelligence Community agreed Baghdad would need to produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon.  DOE, meanwhile, continued to believe that reconstitution was underway but that the "tubes probably were not part of the program,"  assessing instead that the tubes were intended for use in conventional rockets.  On the other side of the dispute, NGIC and CIA continued to assess that the tubes were destined for use in gas centrifuges.  Outside the Intelligence Community, the IAEA, after inspections resumed in fall 2002, also weighed in on the dispute, concluding with DOE and INR that the tubes were likely intended for use in Iraq's 81 millimeter rocket program. 
During this time the CIA continued to explain to senior policymakers that the Intelligence Community was not of one view on the most likely use for the tubes,  but CIA offered its own view that the "alternative explanation" for the tubes' intended use--that they would be used for rockets--was likely an Iraqi "cover story." 
The Left Coaster, 11/17/05 ["WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2A-1"]:
Despite the ridiculously sparse coverage of the detailed contents of the CIA intel reports on the aluminum tubes in both the SSCI Report and the Robb-Silberman report, the available information in these "bipartisan" reports makes it clear that:
(a) Multiple CIA intel reports prior to early September 2002 clearly indicated that the aluminum tubes could possibly be used in applications other than nuclear centrifuges. As I have highlighted above, at least five CIA reports made this clear - and these were the reports on:
- June 14, 2001
- June 20, 2001
- June 30, 2001
- Nov 24, 2001
- Dec 15, 2001
(b) At least one of the CIA intel reports prior to early September 2002 clearly indicated that the aluminum tubes could be used in rocket bodies in rocket launchers. This was the report dated:
- June 14, 2001
(c) At least one of the CIA intel reports prior to early September 2002 even suggested that "using aluminum tubes in a centrifuge effort would be inefficient and a step backward from the specialty steel machines Iraq was poised to mass produce at the onset of the Gulf War". This was the report dated:
- April 10, 2001
(d) Since the SSCI Report and Silberman-Robb Report do not provide complete details on the CIA reports on aluminum tubes issued between April 2001 and September 2002, there is no reason to believe that the number of CIA reports mentioning alternative uses of the tubes is limited to the ones discussed above. It is entirely possible, and in fact likely, that other CIA reports in this time period did mention that alternative uses of the aluminum tubes were possible. This is supported by the text in the NYT article (see Section 1) which says that the CIA reports "did describe at least in general terms the intelligence debate".
Therefore, the fact that most (if not all) of these highly classified CIA reports were specifically generated for the White House (as highlighted in Section 2), makes it clear that the claim that:
Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney or George Bush never acknowledged possible alternative uses for the aluminum tubes on or before September 12, 2002 because they were never told about the possibility of alternative uses by the CIA prior to that...
...is clearly a lie.
Indeed, the acknowledgement in the New York Times article (Section 1) that "Ms. Rice knew about the debate before her Sept. 2002 CNN appearance" meant that she knew that alternative uses were possible (even if she did not know who in the IC was pushing the alternative view, which itself is impossible to believe).
Rice said she was vaguely aware of a debate about the tubes but believed that the intelligence community "as a whole" agreed they were meant for nuclear weapons work.
"If you're a policymaker, you do not want to end up on the short side," she said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Rice said that when she said the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," she "knew there was some debate out there but ... I didn't know the nature of the debate."
The debate was over whether the tubes might have been intended for use not in nuclear weapons but rather in small artillery launchers.
The only debate was whether the tubes could be used in other applications than nuclear weapons. That was the debate. So to claim that she didn't know about the "nature" of the debate makes no sense if she knew there "was some debate"! (I will discuss the comment about not wanting to "end up on the short side" in a future post because that is extremely suggestive of what really happened).
[Note: As reader KM points out in the comments:
Assume for a moment that account is true. If indeed she knew there was a debate about the tubes but didn't know what its "nature" was (a typically shifty/ambiguous statement, but no matter -- every possible interpretation is equally damning), then the conclusion is unassailable: she had no basis whatsoever for, and was in absolutely no position to make, her statement about the tubes only really being suited for centrifuge programmes. Moreover, by making her public statement while well aware (as her spin logically entails) that she was unqualified to do so, she would have been acting, by her own admission, in a patently dishonest and unethical fashion.]
Likewise, George Tenet's statement to the SSCI (emphasis mine):
Although the IC had been debating this issue for almost a year and a half, the DCI testified at a Committee hearing that he was unaware of the debate until mid-September of 2002.
...was quite simply a lie. His job as the head of the CIA involved reading intelligence reports put out by the CIA (and other agencies). To claim that he was not aware of the debate required him to have not read the CIA's own intel reports which were meant for the White House (that he answered to). This is impossible. After all, even Condoleezza Rice ostensibly admitted being aware of "some debate" prior to her September 8, 2002 claim!
The fact that reporting from multiple U.S. and foreign agencies mentioned the alternative views both prior to September 2002 and in and after September 2002 were covered in multiple parts of my series published late last year - see this link for the former period and this link for the latter period.
1.3 The mid-September 2002 briefing of Bush
In mid-September 2002, two weeks before Bush received the October 2002 President's Summary, Tenet informed him that both State and Energy had doubts about the aluminum tubes and that even some within the CIA weren't certain that the tubes were meant for nuclear weapons, according to government records and interviews with two former senior officials.
On 12/22/2005, I published an essay by an informed reader FMJ, titled "Red Team: How Aluminum Tubes were Fixed Around Policy". This is a topic that I had planned to return to early this year but have not been able to due to lack of time. Among other things, FMJ, who also followed the Robb-Silberman (RS) Commission report closely, mentioned this:
On September 8, 2002, the product launch to build support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq began. As the first anniversary of September 11 approached, the Iraqi tubes in particular their dimensions and specifications were touted as evidence of Iraqs active uranium enrichment program and the grave and gathering threat Iraq posed to the United States.
The DOEs response to the presidents remarks was swift. On September 13, DOE published Iraq: Recent Aluminum Tube Procurements. The DOE restated its judgment on the tubes: they could not be used in a gas centrifuge program without extensive modification. The tubes were too thick for the design Iraq would most likely be pursuing (RS, p. 208) and other conventional military uses [we]re more plausible (RS, p. 57)....
The DOEs dissent on the tubes most likely end-use was leaked to the New York Times on the same day...
The DOEs September 13 paper was potentially devastating for the administrations product launch. One day earlier, the IC had begun work on a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqs WMD programs. The NIE had not been requested by the White House. Instead, members of the Senate intelligence committee had had to invoke a rarely used senatorial authority to order its production. An NIE is the product of the entire Intelligence Community and is supposed to be its most comprehensive and authoritative assessment on a particular issue. Now, days into the administrations product launch, the ICs nuclear experts had come out against the key piece of evidence in the case for Iraqs gas centrifuge reconstitution. There were no assessments that concluded the tubes could be used as centrifuge rotors without considerable modification, other than the personnel assessment and Military Intelligence Digest supplement. Both of these were now over a year old and had also been extensively criticised. NESAs limited one-page outline did not address the tubes dimensions. It was not going to cut it for the majority position in an NIE.
The CIA informed the administration of the dilemma on September 14 in a Senior Executive Memorandum, Key Milestones in Our Assessments of Iraqs Nuclear Program. The paper noted the debate over the tubes intended use and also that Iraqs denial and deception programs and the lack of human intelligence have resulted in intelligence gaps. (RS, p. 203). In President Bushs weekly radio address the same day, he did not mention the Iraqi tubes per se. Instead, he referred only to the uranium enrichment equipment Iraq had sought.
1.4 January 2003 memo
In addition, Rice, Cheney, and dozens of other high-level Bush administration policy makers received a highly classified intelligence assessment, known as a Senior Executive Memorandum, on the aluminum tubes issue. Circulated on January 10, 2003, the memo was titled "Questions on Why Iraq Is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date."
The paper included discussion regarding the fact that the INR, Energy, and the United Nations atomic energy watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, all believed that Iraq was using the aluminum tubes for conventional weapons programs.
The Left Coaster, 11/29/05 ["WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2B-2"]:
The Robb-Silberman report also notes the IAEA reporting prior to the Bush SOTU and the Iraq invasion:
Outside the Intelligence Community, the IAEA, after inspections resumed in fall 2002, also weighed in on the dispute, concluding with DOE and INR that the tubes were likely intended for use in Iraq's 81 millimeter rocket program.  During this time the CIA continued to explain to senior policymakers that the Intelligence Community was not of one view on the most likely use for the tubes,  but CIA offered its own view that the "alternative explanation" for the tubes' intended use--that they would be used for rockets--was likely an Iraqi "cover story." 
Here's reference 71 and 72:
 Department of State, UNVIE Vienna 001134 (July 25, 2002); UNVIE Vienna 000240 (March 4, 2003) (Iraq explanation that tubes are for 81 mm rocket program is "credible").
 Senior Executive Memorandum, Questions on Why Iraq is Procuring Aluminum Tubes and What the IAEA Has Found to Date (Jan. 10, 2003) (noting that CIA, DIA, NGA, and NSA all assess that the tubes are most likely for centrifuges, while DOE intelligence and INR believe that the tubes are for the rocket program).
Much more on the IAEA reporting in my earlier post.
2. Uranium from Africa: February 2, 2006 Waas article
Waas' article on 2/2/06 focused on the uranium from Africa matter. I previously discussed that article in some depth in a post at TLC on the same day. Let me highlight the key observations in that Waas article that I had reported previously at The Left Coaster.
2.1 June 2003 CIA report retracting uranium claim
CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."
The memo's findings were considered so significant that they were not only quickly shared with Cheney and Libby but also with Congress, albeit on a classified basis, according to government records and interviews.
This particular memo was first discussed in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report released in 2004 - although the information in the SSCI Report regarding this report was incorrect. I have discussed this on more than one occasion last year (although I did not know for a fact at that time that Cheney and Libby were directly briefed on it).
The Left Coaster, 10/27/05 ["Treasongate: Uranium from Africa and the Robb-Silberman report"]:
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."  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. 
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.
2.2 Uranium reports associated with countries other than Niger
The memo also related that there had been other, earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin; these claims predated the Niger allegations. It was that past intelligence that had led CIA analysts, in part, to consider the Niger claims as plausible.
But the memo said that after a thorough review of those earlier reports, the CIA had concluded that they were no longer credible. Indeed, the previous intelligence reports citing those claims had long since been "recalled" -- meaning that the CIA had formally repudiated them.
The Left Coaster, 10/27/05 ["Treasongate: Uranium from Africa and the Robb-Silberman report"]:
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 .
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 . The statement about Niger was based primarily on three reports provided by a liaison intelligence service to CIA in late 2001 and early 2002 .
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, separate 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.
Benin almost certainly refers to the bogus and infamous Nigerien uranium "stored in Cotonou, Benin" claim.
Posted by eriposte at February 7, 2006 04:56 PM
Actually, now that I re-read Waas' phrasing I wonder if he was mistaken here. The Cotonou, Benin, BS surfaces in the SSCI report well after the original Niger allegations, not before. Plus only Somalia and DRC are mentioned in the NIE. Perhaps he misprinted Benin instead of DRC.
Posted by eriposte at February 7, 2006 04:59 PM
I think you're right and Waas probably made a mistake. Maybe the memo indicated the Somalia, DR Congo and Benin intelligence had all been recalled, but Waas conflated Benin and Congo even though Benin was post-NIE.
I emailed him yesterday. I'll let you know if I hear anything back.
Posted by FMJ at February 8, 2006 12:40 AM
More in my next post.