Tuesday :: Apr 18, 2006

Uranium from Africa: INR Memos, MI6, IAEA and More


by eriposte

Lots of news yesterday (and last weekend) on the ongoing Plame investigation and the uranium from Africa scandal. Josh Gerstein at the New York Sun has perhaps one of the most bizarre articles I've seen in a long time that seems to have come right out of the White House memo pad. It basically asserts that despite the fact that the INR memos released in June and July 2003 were filled with designations of "Secret" and "NOFORN", among other things, there were no clues there on what was classified and what wasn't! Jason Leopold has a nice one sentence description of Gerstein's article:

The Sun reported that the memo contained no direct reference to Plame Wilson's CIA status being marked as "secret" despite the fact that the word "secret" is clearly marked on every page of the INR memo.

[...not to mention at the start of the paragraph mentioning Valerie Wilson].

I can see that the entire White House team may have needed reading glasses and a class on the meaning of "classified information", but let's just say that if I saw a document with all those "secret" qualifiers plastered all over it, I would first talk to the CIA to check what is OK to leak. Of course, I understand that in Bush-land things work exactly the opposite: leak first and don't ask any questions later (see TPM Muckraker for more). In any case, we should thank Gerstein and the NY Sun for filing the FOIA requests that allowed us to see the INR memos from June 10, 2003 and July 7, 2003. Separately, Jason Leopold continues his reporting at Truthout with two articles - one from April 14 and another from Apr 17. I suggest readers read both of his articles. Some of the developments mentioned in the Gerstein and Leopold articles has been covered by Emptywheel at The Next Hurrah and Jeralyn at Talk Left. I'm going to focus here on three pieces of information that relate directly to my ongoing investigations.

1. INR memos and the Niger forgeries

2. The "separate foreign government service" and the IAEA

2.1 British intelligence and the Feb 2003 Powell speech

2.2 IAEA and the Feb 2003 Powell speech

3. BONUS: Marc Grossman and the 1x2x6


1. INR memos and the Niger forgeries

Earlier this year I had mentioned a strange redaction in the SSCI report as well as in the declassified portions of a March 2002 INR memo discussing the Niger uranium claim. Here are a couple of examples of the redaction/deletion (emphasis mine in all quotes in this post):

Page 37 of the SSCI Report:

The report indicated that 500 tons of uranium per year [SENTENCE DELETED].

Page 47 of the SSCI Report:

On March 25, 2002, the DO issued a third and final intelligence report from the same "[foreign] government service." The report said that the 2000 agreement by Niger to provide uranium to Iraq specified that 500 tons of uranium per year would be delivered in [DELETED].

As I pointed out a while back (something that the British magazine Private Eye noticed and cited), the deleted portion clearly referred to a piece of information in one of the Niger forgeries:

...the forged Niger Doc 3 says (emphasis mine):

...500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases.

So, the redacted portion in the above paragraph in the [March 2002] INR memo is clearly referring to the "two phases" because 25 10-ton trucks refers to a 250-ton shipment. I do wonder why this information has been redacted - and not just in the INR memo but also in the discussion of the Niger uranium claims in the SSCI Report.

In any case, the latest declassifications of the two INR memos included the declassification of a third INR memo attached to one of the two (from Feb 19, 2002) - which confirms that my interpretation was correct. For example, here is the wording from the February 19, 2002 INR memo regarding the Wilson/CIA meeting (last page):

The alleged contract between Niger and Iraq says that Niger will sell Iraq 500 tons of Uranium in two tranches per year.

You can see the meaning of "tranches" here.

P.S. There's something odd about the terse manner in which the declassified June/July 2003 INR memos discuss the issue of INR quickly noticing that the Niger dossier was bogus. Emptywheel has a discussion on that. (Also see Leopold's article - mentioned by Steve yesterday - for some additional details from State Department sources. Note that the fact that INR had warned about the forgeries is not new - that had occurred back in October 2002. What is new is what some of the State Department sources are saying about Powell, Tenet, etc. being briefed. Unfortunately, no dates are provided on the latter in Leopold's article).


2. The "separate foreign government service" and the IAEA

2.1 British intelligence and the Feb 2003 Powell speech

One of the many mysteries in the SSCI Report that I've been trying to unravel is this cryptic sentence on page 67, in the section discussing Colin Powell's speech:

(DELETED) On February 3, 2003, the CIA sent a cable to [DELETED] requesting information from the foreign government service, on its January 27, 2003 report which [DELETED] had information on a Iraq-Niger uranium deal from 1999. The cable said, "the issue of Iraqi uranium procurement continues to resonate with senior policymakers and may be part of SecState's speech to the UN Security Council on 5 Feb 2003 if [a foreign government service] is able to provide a contract for the 1999 uranium deal, confirm that the information was not from another foreign government service, [SENTENCE DELETED]." The same day, CIA [DELETED] responded that the foreign government service does not have a copy of the contract, the information was of "national origin," [DELETED].       

The passage above clearly referred to another passage from page 64 of the SSCI Report.

(DELETED) On January 27, 2003, a CIA intelligence report [DELETED] 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. The same report said that separate foreign government service had information on Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Niger, dating from 1999, but had no further information. The foreign government service also indicated that Niger had been looking to sell an old stock of uranium for years to the highest bidder. According to the foreign government service, other countries had expressed interest.

As I've discussed before, the "foreign government service" that cleared up the Benin allegation was French intelligence (this was pointed out by an LA Times article). What has not been clear to date is the identity of the "separate foreign government service". Keep that in mind as you read this extract from the June 10, 2003, INR memo:

On January 12, 2003, INR "expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries." The conclusion, may, however, have been reached and communicated for the first time, somewhat earlier: the record is not clear on this point. After considerable back and forth between the CIA, the Department, the IAEA, and the British, Secretary Powell's briefing to the UN Security Council did not mention attempted Iraqi procurement of uranium "due to CIA concerns raised during the coordination regarding the veracity of the information on the alleged Iraq-Niger agreement."

What is very significant about the portion in bold is that the unclassified portions of the SSCI Report do not include any mention of any discussions with the British or the IAEA prior to Powell's speech. Here are the relevant passages:

(U) Beginning in late January the CIA, State Department, White House and NSC officials began to work together to draft, coordinate and clear language to be used in an upcoming U.S. policy speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the early stages of the process, it was unclear exactly who would be delivering the speech.

(U) At the White House's request, the initial input for the speech came from the CIA. The CIA sent the input to the White House which reworked it and added additional material. In the final days of January and during the weekend of February 2, 2003, the Secretary of State and officials from the State Department, White House and the CIA, met at CIA headquarters to work through the issues the Secretary would address and to provide substantive clearance for the text. Several CIA analysts told Committee staff, and Secretary Powell has said publicly, that the Secretary did not want to use any information in the speech which was not supported by IC analysts.

(U) According to the CIA's former ADDI for Intelligence for Strategic Programs, who was the point person for coordinating the speech, 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. All of the individuals interviewed by Committee staff who were involved in drafting and coordinating the speech, said that they never saw any drafts that referenced Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa. The ADDI told Committee staff that a White House staffer and the Secretary asked about the uranium information, but after discussing the issue with a WINPAC analyst, did not want to include the information in the speech. Committee staff spoke to the WINPAC analyst, but he remembered discussing the issue with a State Department staffer, not a White House staffer. Committee staff interviewed the State Department staffer who said that he did ask about the uranium reporting. He said he asked the analysts if they had any new information on the reporting and, when they said they did not, he dropped the issue.

(DELETED) On February 3, 2003, the CIA sent a cable to [DELETED] requesting information from the foreign government service, on its January 27, 2003 report which [DELETED] had information on a Iraq-Niger uranium deal from 1999. The cable said, "the issue of Iraqi uranium procurement continues to resonate with senior policymakers and may be part of SecState's speech to the UN Security Council on 5 Feb 2003 if [a foreign government service] is able to provide a contract for the 1999 uranium deal, confirm that the information was not from another foreign government service, [SENTENCE DELETED]." The same day, CIA [DELETED] responded that the foreign government service does not have a copy of the contract, the information was of "national origin," [DELETED].                                                                  

(DELETED) On February 4, 2003, the U.S. Government passed electronic copies of the Iraq-Niger documents to [DELETED] the IAEA. Because the Director of the IAEA's INVO was in New York at the time, the U.S. Government also provided the documents to him in New York. Included with the documents were the U.S. Government talking points which stated, [DELETED] of reporting suggest Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program." The [DELETED] of reporting mentioned refer to the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger. [SENTENCE DELETED]. [SENTENCE DELETED].

(U) On February 5, 2003, Secretary Powell briefed the UN. His speech did not mention Iraqi uranium procurement efforts.

Based on the new evidence, it becomes clear that the CIA contacted the British (presumably MI6) and asked them about the 1999 "evidence" about Iraq allegedly seeking uranium from Niger. However, the wording in the SSCI report is deliberately ambiguous on this. For example, it is technically possible that the wording refers to one foreign government service having reported a claim to the CIA emanating from a second foreign government service. So, for example, CIA could have been asking MI6 whether another foreign government service (say, the French DGSE) is able to provide the evidence by means of a contract (sound familiar?). It's hard to say, but what we can say with reasonable confidence is that the cryptic passage in the SSCI Report referred to the CIA establishing contact with British intelligence just prior to Powell's speech. This, in itself, is a new development - especially given that the only (fake) defense that the Bushies were left with after they retracted the uranium claim in July 2003 subsequent to the Joseph Wilson op-ed was that Bush was "technically accurate" when he referred to the British in the 2003 SOTU (he was not, of course). This makes me rather curious as to what exactly was discussed with the British shortly before the Powell speech considering that whatever it was, it obviously did not provide credible evidence for Powell (or the CIA) to retain the uranium claim - and this so-called evidence related to an attempt to seek uranium from Niger in 1999 (which is what the British Government dishonestly claimed was behind their own uranium allegation). This is clearly an area for further investigation.

There is one related point, though, that is odd - the interesting wording in the SSCI Report's description of the CIA's and the "separate" foreign government service's reporting and communications. This:

...separate foreign government service had information on Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Niger, dating from 1999...

And:

The [CIA] cable said, "the issue of Iraqi uranium procurement continues to resonate with senior policymakers and may be part of SecState's speech to the UN Security Council on 5 Feb 2003 if [a foreign government service] is able to provide a contract for the 1999 uranium deal..."

In other words, the Jan 27, 2003 report was talking about an attempt to purchase uranium in 1999 and the CIA cable on Feb 3, 2003 talks about a contract for a 1999 uranium purchase. The whole game of "bought" v. "sought" surfaces again. There's a lot more to this that I don't have time to get into here, but will hopefully address in a follow-up post - but the point is that in the entire Niger uranium scandal, one of the big travesties is the word games the Bushies (and the Blairites) played with "bought" and "sought" in order to throw scraps to Bush's propagandists and other clueless commentators who (sought and) bought the entire scam hook, line and sinker.

2.2 IAEA and the Feb 2003 Powell speech

The other piece of significant, new information in the declassified INR memos is that the U.S. Government discussed the uranium claim with the IAEA prior to Powell's speech. This is again not mentioned in the SSCI Report. In this context, it is useful to remember some key dates.

This one:

On January 26, 2003, Secretary of State Powell addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said, "why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?"

And this:

On February 4, 2003, the U.S. Government passed electronic copies of the Iraq-Niger documents to [DELETED] the IAEA....

On February 5, 2003, Secretary Powell briefed the UN. His speech did not mention Iraqi uranium procurement efforts.

I find it somewhat unlikely that serious discussions occurred with the IAEA on the uranium claim between February 4 and February 5, 2003 - it seems rather unlikely that Powell was going to wait for the IAEA to respond after February 4, 2003 to finalize his speech for the next day. In any case, here are some obvious questions:

  • When exactly did the discussions with the IAEA occur?
  • What was the content of these discussions? Why were there discussions going on with the IAEA anyway, prior to Powell's speech? What did the IAEA know about the Niger uranium claim that made their inputs pertinent to Powell's speech? Was it their ongoing interviews with Iraqi officials? Or something else?
  • Did the discussions with the IAEA prompt the U.S. Government to hide the one document in the Niger dossier from them that the Government knew was screamingly bogus? (as Private Eye reporter Solomon Hughes discovered)

These are just some preliminary thoughts.


3. BONUS: Marc Grossman and the 1x2x6

Jason Leopold had this silent scoop over the weekend. This is a significant story in itself:

Grossman has turned out to be an important witness for the prosecution, people close to the probe said.

The former Under Secretary of State derided the campaign to discredit Wilson and was outraged that the White House retaliated against Wilson by leaking his wife's identity to reporters, people close to Grossman said.

Grossman has provided FBI investigators and Fitzgerald with detailed information about the behind-the-scenes effort by Libby and other White House officials to undercut Ambassador Wilson's credibility. Grossman testified before a grand jury that the leak of Plame Wilson's name and CIA status to reporters was an "act of revenge" against her husband's criticism of the administration's use of the uranium claims in President Bush's January 28, 2003, State of the Union address.

Grossman, now vice chairman at The Cohen Group, an international lobbying firm in Washington, DC, was traveling Thursday. His assistant said he could not be reached for comment.

Attorneys as well as current and former administration officials close to the case said Grossman was the lone dissenting unnamed official quoted in a September 28, 2003, Washington Post story who told two Post reporters that "two top White House officials" called "at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the Washington Post quoted the senior administration official, whom sources have identified as Grossman, as saying. According to sources, Grossman told the Post that the Plame Wilson leak was "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."

Additionally, Grossman provided a dissenting opinion for a July 20, 2005, Associated Press story. Identified as a "retired state department official," Grossman told the AP that a classified State Department memo disputed the legitimacy of administration claims that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger. The memo also contained a few lines about Plame Wilson's CIA employment, which were marked as secret.

Interesting indeed.

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