Tuesday :: May 2, 2006

Uranium from Africa: How "Bought" Became "Sought" - Part 1: The British Uranium Claim


by eriposte

Last updated 10/16/06

This is the first part of a series (see Introduction) examining the origins of the "bought" v. "sought" aspects of the uranium from Africa allegation. Although this series is primarily about U.S. intelligence reporting, I want to begin this series with a post on the wording of the British uranium claim. The reason is that what happened in the U.K. was not any different (in effect) from what happened in the United States, and since Bush's propagandists keep pointing to the British claim, this is a helpful starting point. The manipulation of the wording in the British claim was perhaps one of the most dramatic illustrations of the deception of the British Government (and of the parliamentary reports that falsely exonerated the Government on its uranium allegation). [NOTE: I have previously dissected the substance of the British claim and demonstrated why the claim had no merit. I have also published detailed responses to articles by Michael Smith of the London Times, showing that the alleged evidence put forward for the British claim was bogus. I will not rehash those details in this post, which focuses largely on the semantics of the British claim].

Dennis Hans at Scoop (also see here) was perhaps the first (or one of the first) to catch on to the significance of what the British Hutton Inquiry had found and British Labor MP Lynne Jones was another person who wrote about the semantics of the British uranium claim. I have also previously discussed this matter, in brief, in previous posts. What I want to do here is take a much closer look at what happened in the drafts of the September 2002 British white paper and point out how much more fatal the British machinations were to the credibility of their uranium claim.

The discussion is separated into the following sections (all emphasis in quoted portions is mine, with the exception of section headers).

1. "Brokered with some difficulty"

2. What They Did

3. It's Even Worse Than You Think

3.1 The 10/11 September 2002 Draft

3.2 The 16 September 2002 Draft

3.3 The Undated Document (16 Sep 2002 Conclusions)

4. Conclusions


1. "Brokered with some difficulty"

Let's start with the following observations of Lynne Jones (I've reproduced the text but removed the original formatting so that I can add my own emphasis - please go to Jones' website to see the original formatting):

1.11. The Hutton Report referred to the claim that Iraq sought to procure uranium from Africa in Paragraph Chapter 6 which details in Paragraph 212 that on 17 September Alastair Campbell sent the following minute to John Scarlett:

3. Can we say he has secured uranium from Africa.

1.12. The response from Mr Scarlett was:

3. on the uranium from Africa, the agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting allows us only to say that he has 'sought' uranium from Africa.

1.13. The phrase “brokered with some difficulty with the originators” and the fact that the statements in the draft were changed from ‘procured [purchased - Eriposte] to ‘sought’ uranium, raises concerns that the Government was not objective in its approach to evidence-gathering and verification and was determined to include intelligence in the Dossier which would give teeth to the idea that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons programme.

1.14. We recommend that the Butler Committee seek an explanation from John Scarlett for his comment that the evidence upon which the UK relied was “brokered with some difficulty with the originators” and investigate whether the uranium claim was something the intelligence services were looking for to help fit the case the Government wished to make, leading to an approach to evidence-gathering and verification that lacked objectivity or whether it was information that presented itself as part of the intelligence services’ normal investigations.

What is it that Jones is referring to? Let's continue on to the next section to find out.


2. What They Did

Jones is referring to the fact that the wording of the uranium claim was changed in successive drafts of the September 2002 British White Paper. As she points out in a footnote, here is how the intel was "reinterpreted" within a period of a few days (emphasis mine):

5. 10/11 September – draft version of the 24 September 2002 Dossier - Hutton Report (Appendix 9)

The Hutton Report reproduces the 10/11 September [1] draft version of the dossier which twice states that Iraq had purchased uranium (specifying from Africa only once) and once states that Iraq had sought the supply of uranium from Africa. [1]

16 September – draft version of the 24 September 2002 Dossier - Hutton Report (Appendix 10)

The Hutton Report also reproduces the draft dossier of 16 September [1] which removes all statements that Iraq had purchased uranium (specifying from Africa only once) but three times states that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa.

The change in the wording of the uranium claim from "purchased" to "sought" is more than just a technicality because the change was not based on any new intelligence - it was based on a reinterpretation of the same intelligence ("brokered with some difficulty with the originators") over a period of a few days. This should have set off a warning flag to the Butler Committee, but they deliberately whitewashed it by not focusing on this fundamental problem. Obviously, it defies common sense that intel which supposedly confirmed a purchase, suddenly (over the course of a few days) got reinterpreted to mean that uranium had only been sought, not purchased. If intel that indicated a purchase ("bought uranium") was not considered credible, it is inconceivable that the same intel (or even other intel from the same source on the same matter) could be considered credible in the context of uranium having just been "sought".

As Dennis Hans said:

How can you “know” something on September 10/11 and no longer know it on September 16? I thought the gaining of knowledge was a cumulative process. If you knew a week ago uranium had been purchased, maybe this week you also know the sale price or time and method of delivery.

Apparently, it works in reverse at the JIC: Intelligence bosses start out “knowing” uranium was purchased, then later “know” that it was sought but not necessarily bought. Perhaps soon the JIC will announce that they now “know” that what Saddam sought was not uranium but something easily mistaken for uranium: political support from African governments for the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq.
...
Let me tell you something I “know.” I know that on August 26, I sought AND bought a box of microwave popcorn. Ask me about it next week, and I guarantee you I won’t backtrack. I know what I know. Nothing you can do or say, short of torture or bribery, can get me to say next week, “I sought popcorn on August 26, but I can’t say for certain that I bought popcorn.”


3. It's Even Worse Than You Think

When I previously wrote about this travesty, I had not gone into the details of the drafts of the white paper. This time I did just that. After all, this is not just a story of some words in some parts of a document where intel in one part referenced the purchase and intel in another part referenced an attempt to purchase -- and of a decision having been made to get rid of the portion that referred to the purchase. This was far more serious.


3.1 The 10/11 September 2002 Draft [PDF]

Here are the sections and phrases used to discuss the uranium allegation in the 10/11 September 2002 draft of the British white paper.

Pages 4-6:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY [page 4]

[...]

6. Recent intelligence adds to this picture. It indicates that Iraq:

[...]

  • has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear programme that could require it. [page 6]

Pages 29-37:

SECTION 6: IRAQI CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, NUCLEAR, AND BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAMMES: THE CURRENT POSITION

[...]

2. This section sets out what we now know of Saddam's chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, drawing on all the available evidence. The main conclusions are that:

[...]

  • ...Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa...[page 29]

[...]

NUCLEAR WEAPONS [page 36]

[...]

17. Following the expulsion of weapons inspectors in 1998 there has been an accumulation of intelligence indicating that Iraq is making concerted covert efforts to acquire technology and materials with nuclear applications. Iraq's existing holdings of processed uranium are under IAEA supervision. But there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no known civil nuclear programme or nuclear power plants, therefore it has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium. It also has sufficient indigenous uranium deposits for any small needs it has. [page 37]

Let's be very clear here on the significance of the claims in 10/11 September 2002 draft of the British white paper.

The Executive Summary of this white paper draft and the Main Conclusions of Section 6 that discussed the "Current Position" on Iraq's Nuclear Programs (among others) stated that Iraq had purchased uranium from Africa. What this means is that the evidence the British Government had at the time they drafted their September 2002 white paper specifically indicated that Iraq had allegedly purchased uranium from Niger (Africa) - not just that Iraq had sought uranium. In fact, the only appearance of the word "sought" in the paper is in the detailed discussion in the Nuclear Weapons sub-section of Section 6, which proves without any doubt that the use of the phrase "sought the supply" in that section was simply a proxy for the word "purchased". After all, the main conclusions of Section 6 stated clearly that the evidence showed a "purchase" - and so did the Executive Summary of the white paper.

Let's pause for a moment to reflect on that fact. The British uranium claim about Saddam Hussein having "sought" uranium was merely a softened form or a proxy for the more accurate description of the (fake) intel - i.e., that Iraq had "purchased" uranium. Of course, this is not surprising at all because it has long been clear that the origin of the British ("sought uranium") claim was a blatant misuse of the Wissam Al-Zahawie trip - an after-the-fact manoeuver to selectively pick out the Al-Zahawie mention in the forged documents (in the context of a uranium sale) and attach it to a fictitious, unproven claim that his 1999 visit to Africa was about seeking uranium, while pretending that there was some independent "evidence" for this false claim separate from the allegation in the Niger forgeries. The fact that the so-called intel used by the British - to allege a Zahawie-fronted uranium seeking attempt - was fake has become clear time and again, especially in the last two rounds of spin from the British using complete garbage that was easy to shoot down.

Let's now take a look at how the wording was changed in the 16 September 2002 draft of the white paper.
3.2 The 16 September 2002 Draft [PDF]

What happened in the days after the September 10/11 draft was created? The British altered the description of the uranium claim after getting some "feedback" from the "originators". Was it feedback from the U.S.? Possibly - since the US did express concerns to the British on September 11, 2002 - but it could have been from someone else as well (like, say, the Italians).

The net result was that - as John Scarlett wrote:

...[the] agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting allows us only to say that he has 'sought' uranium from Africa.

This brings us to the white paper draft of 16 September 2002.

In the copy of this draft posted at the Hutton Inquiry web site, pages 3 through 5 of the draft - which contain the Executive Summary - are not included. So, I am unable to compare the wording in the Executive Summary of the 16 September 2002 draft to that in the 10/11 September 2002 draft. The "Current Position" section and the "Nuclear Weapons" sub-section are however present and do contain the uranium claim.

Page 15 (which is page 13 in the PDF file):

CHAPTER 3: THE CURRENT POSITION: 1998-2002

1. This chapter sets out what we now know of Saddam's chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, drawing on all the available evidence. While it takes account of the results from UN inspections and other publicly available information, it also draws heavily on intelligence about Iraqi efforts to develop their programmes and capabilities since 1998. The main conclusions are that:

[...]

  • ...Uranium has been sought from Africa that has no known civil nuclear application in Iraq;

As it turns out, the "NUCLEAR WEAPONS" sub-section starts at the bottom of page 23 of the document (which is page 21 in the PDF file). However, pages 25, 26 and 27 of the document are, for some reason attached at the very end of the document (pages 47 through 49 of the PDF file). As a result, whoever numbered the pages by hand using the terminology DOS/2/00** (e.g., page 24 is numbered DOS/2/0079 and page 28 is numbered DOS/2/0080) probably discovered that pages 25-27 were misplaced and originally numbered page 25 as DOS/2/0077, page 26 as DOS/2/0078 and page 27 as DOS/2/0079. Then, after realizing the error in numbering (e.g., both page 24 and 27 have the same DOS numbering), the person struck out those numbers and renumbered pages 25, 26 and 27 as DOS/2/0104, DOS/2/0105 and DOS/2/0106, respectively, picking up from the number DOS/2/0103 assiged to page 51 - which appears just prior to page 25.

So, here is the mention of the uranium claim in the "Nuclear Weapons" sub-section:

NUCLEAR WEAPONS [page 23]

[...]

21. Following the expulsion of weapons inspectors in 1998 there has been an accumulation of intelligence indicating that Iraq is making concerted covert efforts to acquire technology and materials with nuclear applications. Iraq's existing holdings of processed uranium are under IAEA supervision. But there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no known civil nuclear programme or nuclear power plants, therefore it has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium. [page 25]

If the British want to argue that the wording change in their white paper draft was just a matter of semantics (i.e., downplay the evidence for a purchase as somehow representing an evidence of an attemped purchase), it was fundamentally dishonest of them to keep claiming that the evidence did not actually say Iraq had purchased uranium and that it only said that there had been an attempt to seek uranium. That is the basic dishonesty which they continued to perpetuate (probably to support the Bush administration which was flailing) after Joseph Wilson's op-ed in July 2003.

UPDATE 10/16/06: Thanks to reader FMJ, I just realized I missed an important letter published on the Hutton Inquiry website. The letter is written to Martin Smith of the Hutton Inquiry by Paula Diggle from the U.K. Cabinet Office on 26 August 2003. The letter states:

ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE

Earlier today you drew my attention to two missing pages of the 16 September draft of the dossier- namely pages 52-3 which have the conclusion to the document [eRiposte emphasis]

For some reason my own copy of that draft did not include these pages
However I have now obtained them. A copy is enclosed.

My apologies that these were earlier missed As you will appreciate, it was a genuine oversight

What are the two missing pages? None other than the "undated document" discussed below in Sec. 3.3! The document which states unequivocally (emphasis mine) that:

Nuclear weapons: .....Large quantities of uranium obtained, despite absence of civil nuclear programme...

As I discussed earlier in Sec. 3.3, I suspected that this document was likely the conclusion portion of the 16th September 2002 British White Paper draft. The Paula Diggle letter now confirms that unambiguously. The bottom line is this:

(a) Even the 16th September 2002 British White Paper draft concluded that Iraq had actually purchased/bought uranium from Africa - not just that Iraq sought uranium.

(b) The 16th September 2002 draft makes it clear that the term "sought" was used entirely as a proxy for "purchased" or "bought", i.e., there was no evidence that Iraq had merely "sought uranium from Africa".


3.3 The Undated Document (16 Sep 2002 Conclusions)

There are a couple of peculiarities with the 16 September 2002 draft that I'm not sure has been noticed previously. For some reason, pages 52 and 53 are missing from the version posted on the Hutton Inquiry website. Additionally, unlike the draft of 10/11 September where page numbers use the notation "AB" (where A and B are single-digit numbers), the draft of 16th September uses the pagination style "Page AB of NN" (where NN = 53, the maximum page count). So, in the 16 September 2002 draft, "Page 52 of 53" and "Page 53 of 53" are missing in the version of the draft posted on the Hutton Inquiry website.

You can therefore imagine my curiosity at finding another odd document on the Hutton Inquiry website, titled "CONCLUSION" but with NO DATE attached to it and containing 2 pages "Page 52 of 53" and "Page 53 of 53". Here is what this 2-page document says:

CONCLUSION [page 52]

[...]

2. ...We judge that the current position is as follows:

[TABLE with entries]

Nuclear weapons: .....Large quantities of uranium obtained, despite absence of civil nuclear programme;...

The obvious question this "CONCLUSION" document raises is whether it constituted the last two pages of the 16th September 2002 draft. If it did, that would make the British look even worse. However, I don't know if the "CONCLUSION" document was part of the 16th September 2002 draft. Perhaps some enterprising British reporter could look into this?

As a final note, let me mention that the released British Government white paper of September 24, 2002 is closer to the 16th of September 2002 draft in its description of the uranium claim, in that it uses the "sought" uranium wording.

UPDATE 10/16/06: Please see Sec. 3.2 for an update. My suspicion above has been confirmed.


4. Conclusions

Despite claims to the contrary by Bush and Blair supporters, the term "sought" uranium in the British uranium allegation did not arise because the evidence the British had pointed solely to an attempt by Iraq to seek uranium from Niger. Rather, the term was a proxy - a softened version - of the claim that Iraq had purchased uranium and was based on evidence which alleged that Iraq had purchased uranium. A review of the evolving drafts of the British Government's September 2002 white paper on Iraq's WMDs makes this obvious. Specifically, the Executive Summary of the 10/11 September 2002 white paper draft and the Main Conclusions of Section 6 that discussed the "Current Position" on Iraq's Nuclear Programs (among others) stated that Iraq had purchased uranium from Africa. Thus, the evidence the British Government had at the time they drafted their September 2002 white paper specifically indicated that Iraq had allegedly purchased uranium from Niger (Africa) - not just that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. In fact, the only appearance of the word "sought" in the 10/11 September 2002 paper is in the detailed discussion in the Nuclear Weapons sub-section of Section 6, which proves without any doubt that the use of the phrase "sought the supply" in that section was simply a proxy for the word "purchased". After all, the main conclusions of Section 6 stated clearly that the evidence showed a "purchase" - and so did the Executive Summary of the white paper. Subsequent to September 11, 2002, the British Government changed the wording on the uranium claim in their white paper and replaced the word "purchased" with wording to indicate that uranium had (only) been "sought". This change was made despite the fact that the intel used was exactly the same and likely because, in the words of a senior British official, "the agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting allows us only to say that he has 'sought' uranium from Africa." Nevertheless, even in the White Paper draft of 16 September 2002 which contains the word "sought" in the body of the draft, the conclusion section states unambiguously that Iraq had "obtained" large quantities of uranium, further proving that the term "sought" was simply a proxy for "purchased" or "bought".

Of course, none of this is really surprising because it has long been clear that the origin of the British ("sought uranium") claim was a blatant misuse of the Wissam Al-Zahawie trip - an after-the-fact manoeuver to selectively pick out the Al-Zahawie mention in the forged documents (in the context of a uranium sale) and attach it to a fictitious, unproven claim that his 1999 visit to Africa was about seeking uranium, while pretending that there was some independent "evidence" for this false claim separate from the allegation in the Niger forgeries. The fact that the so-called intel used by the British to allege a Zahawie-fronted uranium seeking attempt was fake has become clear time and again - especially in the last two rounds of spin from the British using complete garbage that was easy to shoot down. But the important point in the context of this post is that even if the British want to argue that the wording change in their white paper draft was just a matter of semantics (i.e., downplaying the evidence for a purchase as somehow representing an evidence of an attemped purchase), it was fundamentally dishonest of them to keep claiming that the evidence did not actually say that Iraq had purchased uranium and that it only said that there had been an attempt to seek uranium. That is the basic dishonesty which they continued to perpetuate (probably to support the Bush administration which was flailing) after Joseph Wilson's op-ed in July 2003.

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