Tuesday :: May 9, 2006

Uranium from Africa: How "Bought" Became "Sought" - Part 2-2: U.S. uranium reporting in February 2002


by eriposte

This is the next part of a series (see Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 2-1) examining the origins of the "bought" v. "sought" semantics of the uranium from Africa allegation. There are two key questions that I try to answer in Part 2 and its sub-parts:

(a) Was the US IC describing "intel" alleging a uranium purchase as "intel" pointing to an attempt to purchase (seek) uranium?

(b) Did the intelligence cited by the U.S. IC on uranium and Niger, prior to the IC's receipt of the Niger forgeries, support the claim that Iraq had only sought uranium from Niger?

This part focuses on known U.S. IC reporting from February 2002 described in the SSCI Report. The February 2002 reporting represents the first known evidence of how the "purchased"/"bought" uranium claim started to transform into something softer like "sought" (Note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine).


1. February 5, 2002

Let's start with the CIA's 2/5/02 Niger uranium report (pages 37-38):

Reporting on the uranium transaction did not surface again until February 5, 2002 when the CIA's DO issued a second intelligence report [DELETED] which again cited the source as a "[foreign] government service." Although not identified in the report, this source was also from the foreign service. The second report provided more details about the previously reported Iraq-Niger uranium agreement and provided what was said to be "verbatim text" of the accord.

[SENTENCE DELETED] Subsequently, the governments of Niger and Iraq signed an agreement regarding the sale of uranium during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. The report indicated that 500 tons of uranium per year [SENTENCE DELETED].
...
Several analysts interviewed by Committee staff also pointed out that information in the second intelligence report matched [DELETED] reporting from 1999 which showed that an Algerian businessman, Baraka, was arranging a trip for the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawi, to visit Niger and other African countries in early February 1999. [SENTENCE DELETED].

This CIA report dealt explicitly with a uranium purchase/sale - not merely an attempt to seek uranium.

I should emphasize that the wording in the SSCI Report regarding Wissam Al-Zahawi's 1999 trip to Niger and 3 other non-uranium-producing countries in Africa is highly misleading. If you read the sentence (above) carefully, you will notice that it only says that "information in the second intelligence report matched ... reporting from 1999" that Zahawi visited four countries in Africa in 1999. There is no mention that the earlier reporting claimed Zahawi's trip had to do with uranium. I have pointed this out before, more than once, and this was something that Seymour Hersh also noted in his New Yorker piece from Oct 2003 pointing out that U.S. intelligence agencies were well aware of Zahawi's 1999 trip, back in 1999:

In the fall of 2001, soon after the September 11th attacks, the C.I.A. received an intelligence report from Italy’s Military Intelligence and Securit Service, or SISMI, about a public visit that Wissam al-Zahawie, then the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, had made to Niger and three other African nations two and a half years earlier, in February, 1999. The visit had been covered at the time by the local press in Niger and by a French press agency. The American Ambassador, Charles O. Cecil, filed a routine report to Washington on the visit, as did British intelligence. There was nothing untoward about the Zahawie visit. “We reported it because his picture appeared in the paper with the President,” Cecil, who is now retired, told me. There was no article accompanying the photograph, only the caption, and nothing significant to report. At the time, Niger, which had sent hundreds of troops in support of the American-led Gulf War in 1991, was actively seeking economic assistance from the United States.

None of the contemporaneous reports, as far as is known, made any mention of uranium. But now, apparently as part of a larger search for any pertinent information about terrorism, SISMI dug the Zahawie-trip report out of its files and passed it along, with a suggestion that Zahawie’s real mission was to arrange the purchase of a form of uranium ore known as “yellowcake.”

Returning back to the narrative in the SSCI Report, SISMI's (and the CIA's) mention of Wissam Al-Zahawi's 1999 trip occurred directly in the context of the uranium sale, not merely in the context of Saddam only seeking uranium. Also, the term "Subsequently" is obviously in reference to the redacted sentence prior to it that talks about an event prior to the alleged 2000 accord signing. Clearly, Zahawi's trip occurred prior to the alleged signing of the (fake) accord. The SSCI Report's discussion of the second CIA DO Niger uranium report clearly implied that the 2000 uranium deal was based on negotiations on the deal that started in early 1999 (this was confirmed by the March 2002 INR report), i.e., the "intel", if true, claimed that Iraq had sought and bought uranium from Niger. So this intel, could NOT have been used as evidence for a claim that Iraq had only sought uranium, but not bought uranium. In other words, either the intel should be cited in support of a claim that Iraq sought and bought uranium from Niger, or it should not be cited at all since if one (big) part of the claim was considered bunk, there is no grounds to believe the other (remaining) part of the claim, without separate and independent evidence for the other part of the claim.

Thus, the February 5, 2002 CIA intel report, in itself, cannot be used to support a claim that Iraq had only sought uranium from Niger.


2. February 12, 2002

February 12, 2002 is perhaps one of the most important dates in the uranium from Africa scandal. This was, after all, the date of the DIA report that caught Dick Cheney's attention (SSCI Report, page 38):

Based on information from the CIA report from the foreign service, on February 12, 2002, the DIA wrote a finished intelligence product titled Niamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad (NMJIC [National Military Joint Intelligence Center] Executive Highlight, Vol 028-02, February l2, 2002). The product outlined the details in the DO intelligence report, namely, that Niger had agreed to deliver 500 tons of yellowcake uranium to Iraq [DELETED]. The piece concluded that "Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program." The product did not include any judgments about the credibility of the reporting.

(DELETED) After reading the DIA report, the Vice President asked his morning briefer for the CIA's analysis of the issue. In response, the Director of Central Intelligence's (DCI) Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) published a Senior Publish When Ready (SPWR021402-05), an intelligence assessment with limited distribution, which said, "information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated." The piece discussed the details of the DO intelligence report and indicated that "some of the information in the report contradicts reporting from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey. U.S. diplomats say the French Government-led consortium that operates Niger's two uranium mines maintains complete control over uranium mining and yellowcake production." The CIA sent a separate version of the assessment to the Vice President which differed only in that it named the foreign government service [DELETED].

The DIA report is also key to understanding the fundamental, semantic underpinnings of the uranium from Africa hoax.

Per the SSCI Report, the DIA report "outlined the details in the [CIA] DO intelligence report, namely, that Niger had agreed to deliver 500 tons of yellowcake uranium to Iraq". In other words, the DIA report was discussing the previous CIA reports regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged purchase of uranium from Iraq. Yet, look at how the DIA report's conclusion was worded:

Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.

The DIA report was using cautious language in which intel referring to a definitive purchase of uranium from Niger was being described as Iraq's probable search for uranium abroad. The word "search" is of course semantically a very good substitute for the word "seeking". This will become even more obvious in subsequent posts, but what I'm trying to highlight here is that the U.S. IC started using a less definitive term "search" (equivalent to "seeking") to describe intel about a uranium purchase. To put it bluntly, the DIA was describing "intel" alleging a uranium purchase as "intel" pointing to an attempt to purchase (seek) uranium.

Let me add that I don't suspect there was any devious intent in the U.S. IC at the time when this word choice was made. As I will show in subsequent parts of this series, this word choice was probably motivated by a desire to downplay a claim of doubtful credibility; the IC could not have known that the Bush White House would later misuse and misrepresent the semantics after their unacceptable use of the uranium allegation became public in spring/summer 2003.

The bottom line is that the February 12, 2002 DIA report cannot be used to support a claim that Iraq had only sought uranium from Niger. The wording in the DIA report made it clear that the origin of the word "sought" or "seeking" uranium is actually traceable to the use of less definitive language to describe the alleged uranium purchase, and not to intel that specifically related only to Iraq's alleged seeking of uranium.


3. February 14, 2002*

Shortly after the DIA report was published, WINPAC published a report in response to Dick Cheney's queries (SSCI Report, page 38):

(DELETED) After reading the DIA report, the Vice President asked his morning briefer for the CIA's analysis of the issue. In response, the Director of Central Intelligence's (DCI) Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) published a Senior Publish When Ready (SPWR021402-05), an intelligence assessment with limited distribution, which said, "information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated." The piece discussed the details of the DO intelligence report and indicated that "some of the information in the report contradicts reporting from the U.S. Embassy in Niamey. U.S. diplomats say the French Government-led consortium that operates Niger's two uranium mines maintains complete control over uranium mining and yellowcake production." The CIA sent a separate version of the assessment to the Vice President which differed only in that it named the foreign government service [DELETED].

WINPAC's response to Dick Cheney specifically spoke about a uranium purchase - a "contract". This also makes it obvious that any mention of Wissam Al-Zahawi in the DO intelligence report(s) was clearly interpreted to be in the context of a uranium sale, not just in the context of Iraq merely seeking uranium.

The bottom line is that this WINPAC SPWR released in February 2002 cannot be used to support a claim that Iraq had only sought uranium from Niger.

*P.S. The date of this report is based on a guess that SPWR021402 refers to an SPWR released on 021402.

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