Wednesday :: Apr 19, 2006

Uranium from Africa and the Niger forgeries: More on the Alleged French Connection, Part 3

by eriposte

I previously published two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) responding to London Times reporter Michael Smith's latest article (h/t Raw Story), which discussed both the Niger forgeries, as well as an update on the alleged role of the French being the source of the mysterious evidence cited (and allegedly hidden) by the British Government to justify their uranium claim [see my coverage of the Butler Report for more]. Smith also has two blog posts on the recent findings. In Part 1, I discussed the alleged new evidence (a "letter") that Smith reported was the basis of the British uranium claim and showed how many of the claims made regarding that "evidence" were incorrect and that the "letter" was clearly considered a forgery by the IAEA. In Part 2, I discussed Smith's reporting and comments on the Niger forgeries and conspiracy theories on French involvement and showed that he missed significant published material that provides an open and shut case for SISMI involvement - in the creation of the forgeries and in the dissemination of information traceable to the forgeries in a manner that masked the most obviously fake information in those documents. This part is effectively a continuation of Part 1, but it is important enough to deserve its own post. I show here that even if you ignore the fact that the alleged "letter" offered as evidence for the British uranium claim was fake and that there are too many holes associated with that narrative, there is another fundamental flaw in the entire "letter" story that scuttles its validity. I have to thank our always well-informed and sharp reader KM who noticed the flaw, something that I had planned to look into and had not gotten around to doing until I saw KM's comment yesterday. (Note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine).

Let's first recap the basic narrative from Smith's article and blog posts about this previously hidden "evidence" for the British uranium claim.

Smith says:

Some time in 2002, however, [the French] obtained another apparently incriminating document, the source said. This was a letter purporting to be from al-Zahawie relating to a visit to Niger in 1999 to discuss the possible supply of uranium. This did not constitute evidence that Niger had agreed to supply yellowcake but it did indicate Saddam was trying to obtain it.

The letter, deemed “credible” by the Butler inquiry into Iraq intelligence, appears to be the evidence that led to Bush’s claim in January 2003 that the British had “learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”.

According to Smith this occurred sometime between March and September 2002:

But by the time the president made his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, there was a much more substantial link in the chain. We know from the Butler Inquiry that the French told MI6 about the Zahawi letter sometime in 2002 but we can actually pin that down a bit more. It was clearly not available for a report from the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee published in March 2002 but had arrived in time to feature in the now infamous British dossier Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction published in September 2002.

In his blog, Smith mentioned some additional detail on the document:

The intelligence [the DGSE] continue to defend, and which was described by the Butler report as “credible”, was a letter from Wissam Zahawi, the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, dated July 6, 2000, specifically talking about obtaining uranium.

As I discussed in Part 1, Smith defended this alleged "letter" as being genuine/authentic and as something separate from the Niger forgeries - in the face of significant contrary evidence. I won't rehash all that discussion here. What's interesting is an aspect that I had not covered in Part 1, which reader KM noticed.

Here's the story. The British uranium claim was examined by multiple British committees (Hutton, Taylor, Butler). Obviously, for the British story to be "credible", the so-called "evidence" needs to be consistent with what was reported by these different committees. For example, when Smith wrote an article late last year about the alleged British/French evidence, one of the grounds under which I showed that that "evidence" was bunk was that it was allegedly obtained in 1999, contradicting the narrative in the Taylor and Butler Reports that the evidence was obtained in 2002. Not surprisingly, Smith's latest article provides a new version of the story with a claim that the previously hidden evidence was actually obtained in 2002. However, the "evidence" here is a document. Why is that important to call out?

Here's what the Taylor Report had to say on the British uranium allegation/statements (emphasis mine):

89. The Committee questioned the Chief of the SIS about the reporting behind these statements. We were told that it came from two independent sources, one of which was based on documentary evidence. One had reported in June 2002 and the other in September that the Iraqis had expressed interest in purchasing, as it had done before, uranium from Niger. GCHQ also had some sigint concerning a visit by an Iraqi official to Niger.

90. The SIS’s two sources reported that Iraq had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger, but the sources were uncertain whether contracts had been signed or if uranium had actually been shipped to Iraq. In order to protect the intelligence sources and to be factually correct, the phrase “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was used. At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports.

91. In February 2003 the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) received from a third party (not the UK) documents that the party had acquired in the autumn of 2002 and which purported to be evidence of Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. In March 2003 the IAEA identified some of the documents it had received as forgeries and called into question the authenticity of the others.

92. The third party then released its documents to the SIS. The SIS then contacted its source to check the authenticity of its documentary evidence. The SIS told us that its source was still conducting further investigations into this matter.

93. The SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source and consequently the SIS continues to believe that the Iraqis were attempting to negotiate the purchase of uranium from Niger. We have questioned the SIS about the basis of its judgement and conclude that it is reasonable. [pages 27-28]

Let's translate this (Josh Marshall pointed this out a long time back).

The "third party" referred to in the above passages is none other than the U.S. Government. The phrase "documents that the party had acquired in the autumn of 2002" refers to the copies of the Niger forgeries that the U.S. received from Panorama reporter Elisabetta Burba. The phrase "SIS then contacted its source to check the authenticity of its documentary evidence" indicates that the British intelligence service (SIS) contacted its source to verify whether SIS' documentary evidence for the uranium allegation, obtained from its source, was compromised by the Niger forgeries that they had received from the US. The response of the SIS captured as follows - "SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgement of its second source" - made it obvious that the forged Niger documents DID affect its judgement of SIS' first source. In non-gobbledygook, the so-called "documentary evidence" that the British had on the uranium claim was linked to the Niger forgeries.

What that meant is that there was only one other source that the British claimed they got "evidence" from in 2002 and that source did not have documentary evidence for the uranium claim. You can see how this throws another big wrench into the latest claim from the British captured in Smith's article. They claim now that this remaining "credible" source was a documentary source - an actual document (the "Zahawi letter" forgery). Never mind that the letter is a fake. The fact that this is "documentary evidence" makes it inconsistent with the Taylor Report and shows that the story is completely bunk - yet again.

In a nutshell, Round N of the British Government's attempt to bamboozle people with their "evidence" ended up with a KO even before the debate over the "evidence" could begin. And the debate was not helpful to the British either.

eriposte :: 7:48 AM :: Comments (1) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!