Thursday :: May 18, 2006

Uranium from Africa: How "Bought" Became "Sought" - Part 2-5: The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)

by eriposte

This is the next part of a series (see Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 2-1, Part 2-2, Part 2-3, Part 2-4) 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 the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published in October 2002, a document of particular significance considering the Bush administration's leaking of cherry-picked, classified information from the NIE to the press in summer 2003 in order to mislead the press and the public about the uranium allegation. I've discussed the NIE and its origins in some detail previously; the focus of this post is largely on the semantics of the uranium claims in the NIE (which are essentially moot from the standpoint of the CIA which strongly pushed back against the White House's use of the uranium claim, right after the NIE was published). What I highlight in this post is that the Niger uranium allegations discussed in the NIE were specifically about Iraq's alleged purchase of uranium from Niger, and not about Iraq's seeking uranium from Niger. (Note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine).

Let's recall the relevant section of the NIE (SSCI Report, page 52):

Iraq has about 550 metric tons of yellowcake and low enriched uranium at Tuwaitha, which is inspected annually by the IAEA. Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake; acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons.

  • A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement.
  • Reports indicate Iraq has also sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources.

Let's first eliminate the Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from our discussion because multiple Government reports have confirmed that the US and UK uranium allegations were based solely on Niger and not on other countries in Africa. For example, the Robb-Silberman report observed that the reports of Iraq having sought uranium from countries other than Niger were never considered reliable by most analysts; the SSCI Report is also clear that Niger was the sole basis of the Bush administration's late 2002/early 2003 uranium allegations (in fact, careful readers would have noticed that the SSCI section on uranium from Africa is titled "II. Niger").

The NIE's description of the Niger uranium allegation has close similarities to the CIA's description of the original Niger allegations from Italian intelligence (SISMI) in late 2001 and early 2002 - allegations that focused on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal, and not just uranium being "sought" from Niger. The sentence "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of "pure uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq" was a slightly modified and shortened version of the sentence in the CIA's 10/18/01 Senior Executive Intelligence Brief. The original SEIB statement had an important qualifier, shown in bold below - which establishes even more clearly that the NIE statement referred to "intel" about an alleged uranium sale.

According to a foreign government service, Niger as of early this year planned to send several tons of uranium to Iraq under an agreement concluded late last year. [page 36 of SSCI Report]

The second statement in the NIE "As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake" also specifically refers to a purchase.

So, in the context of Niger, the NIE's statement that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" was based entirely on the fake Iraq-Niger uranium purchase deal, and not based on some other mythical evidence for Iraq having only sought uranium from Niger. In other words, the claim about Iraq having vigorously sought uranium (from Niger) was based on evidence that actually alleged that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger. In this respect, the NIE showed a striking similarity to the British claim in the latter's White Paper (except the British dishonestly hid the so-called "evidence" behind their allegation). The bottom line is that the October 2002 NIE cannot be used to support a claim that Iraq had just sought uranium from Niger.

The conclusion emphasized here is particularly significant because when Scooter Libby (and possibly others in the Bush administration) was (were) selectively leaking portions of the NIE to reporters like Judith Miller in summer 2003, he (they) were doing so allegedly in support of Bush's SOTU claim that the British had "learned" that Saddam Hussein had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Of course, neither the British allegation nor the U.S. NIE allegation was about Iraq merely seeking uranium from Africa (more in the Post-Script below) - in both cases the actual evidence alleged a uranium purchase. As I've explained in previous parts of this series, the "trying to procure" nomenclature (and other similar terminology) in U.S. IC reporting is likely traceable to the IC's desire to use cautionary wording about the alleged uranium purchase, and not to any specific intel that alleged Iraq had only sought uranium from Niger.


Emptywheel (EW) made an interesting observation recently about a Wall Street Journal editorial from July 17, 2003, which was based in part on information from the NIE being transmitted to the WSJ by Scooter Libby via another Bush administration official. She noted this bizarre claim in the editorial:

Regarding the supposedly discredited Niger story, the NIE says that "a foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."

That foreign government service is of course the British, who still stand by their intelligence...

As I mentioned in the comment thread at TNH:

The reference to the Brits (as the source of the NIE "evidence") in the WSJ opinion piece, as EW rightly points out, is false.

I also mentioned that:

There's another serious deception in this whole operation that was set in place post-Wilson. The CIA had considered the British claim to be bunk and had told the WH as such. Bush mentioned the British because the CIA would not stand by the credibility of the US reporting on uranium. The WH was simultaneously arguing that it didn't matter what Wilson or the CIA said because Bush only referred to the Brits. Yet, the (bogus) "supporting evidence" they were reeling out was the U.S. IC intel which they claimed was NOT the basis of Bush's statement. In other words, this was an elaborate fraud.

Not too many people have realized this game they were playing at that time. On top of that, as Patrick Fitzgerald noted, the transmission of information from the NIE to the WSJ occurred at the behest of Libby:

This editorial resulted from the defendant’s transmittal, through another government official, of a copy of portions of the NIE to the Wall Street Journal shortly before the editorial was published.

And here's what the WSJ editorial itself says:

This information, by the way, does not come from the White House, which to our mind has handled this story in ham-handed fashion.

So, who was the other government official? Hopefully, we'll find out.

eriposte :: 6:30 AM :: Comments (1) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!