Wednesday :: Jan 3, 2007

WMDgate - "Hubris" and Uranium from Africa: The 9/9/02 Pollari-Hadley meeting


by eriposte

This is my second post on the book Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (the first post, talking about an incident on 9/11/02, is here).

This post analyzes the significance of an important event that occurred on 9/9/02 - a then-secret meeting between then-Deputy-NSA (and current NSA) Stephen Hadley and Italy's Nicolo Pollari, the then-head of SISMI, Italy's counterpart to the CIA (Pollari has since been fired on an unrelated but equally serious matter). I discuss here what I believe is compelling evidence linking the 9/9/02 and 9/11/02 events, even though the authors of Hubris don't seem to think the events were related. (Note that all of the emphasis in this post is my own).

1. Hubris and the Pollari-Hadley meeting of 9/9/02

2. Background on the meeting

2.1 When the meeting was first reported
2.2 Why the meeting was unusual
2.3 Why the timing of the meeting is interesting

3. Was the Niger uranium allegation discussed during the meeting?

3.1 What we can infer from the Phase I SSCI report's statements on the 9/11/02 NSC/WH/CIA incident
3.2 What we can infer from the US IC reports in the Mar-Sep 2002 timeframe
3.3 What we can infer from the French DGSE feedback in summer 2002
3.4 What we can infer from the 9/11/02 British White Paper
3.5 What we can infer from the NSC/Hadley statements about the Pollari meeting
3.6 What we can infer from the Phase I SSCI report's non-coverage of the Pollari meeting

4. Conclusion


1. Hubris and the Pollari-Hadley meeting of 9/9/02

Isikoff and Corn mention the meeting in a footnote:

Another fact that fueled speculation about SISMI's role was a visit by Nicolo Pollari, the SISMI director, to Washington on September 9, 2002, during which he met with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. This was two days before the NSC asked the CIA to approve proposed speech language for Bush using the Niger charge. An NSC spokesperson said that this had been a courtesy meeting and the issue of Niger had not come up. [page 90]

The speech language being referred to in the above passage is the one I discussed in my first post on Hubris.


2. Background on the meeting

Before we ascertain whether Hubris is right about whether or not Niger had come up during the meeting, let's refresh our memories on some background pertinent to this meeting.


2.1 When the meeting was first reported

It is interesting that the Phase I Senate (SSCI) report did not mention this meeting at all - which I believe is a significant omission (more on this in Sec. 3.6). The fact that the meeting occurred did not come to light until three years later, in October 2005 (more on this in Sec. 2.3).


2.2 Why the meeting was unusual

As Craig Unger's 2006 Vanity Fair article noted:

It was significant enough for Pollari to have met with Hadley, a White House official allied with Cheney's hard-liners, rather than with Pollari's American counterpart, George Tenet. "It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the C.I.A.," says former C.I.A. officer Philip Giraldi. "It is uniquely unusual..."

Laura Rozen said this on her blog War and Piece:

Berlusconi's office says the September 9, 2002 meeting that Sismi director Nicolo Pollari attended at the White House was actually principally with then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, and that Stephen Hadley just attended as her deputy. Which is pretty close to what the Berlusconi-friendly Il Foglio reported yesterday, saying that a delegation of other Sismi officials was also in attendance. Separately, have been told that the Sismi delegation did not visit Langley on the trip as would happen under normal protocol, but Il Foglio reported that a senior CIA official attended the meeting at the White House. The story gets stranger and stranger. Any other foreign country intelligence chiefs dropping in on the White House we should know about? Esp. when the White House is assembling discredited claims from those governments in making its case for war to the Congress and the American public?

2.3 Why the timing of the meeting is interesting

This Oct 2005 article by Laura Rozen in the American Prospect provides part of the background:

In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.

Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday.

Pollari told the newspaper that since 2001, when he became Sismi's director, the only member of the U.S. administration he has met officially is his former CIA counterpart George Tenet. But the Italian newspaper quotes a high-ranking Italian Sismi source asserting a meeting with Hadley. La Repubblica also quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."

The paper goes on to note the significance of that date, highlighting the appearance of a little-noticed story in Panorama a weekly magazine owned by Italian Prime Minister and Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi, that was published three days after Pollari's meeting with Hadley. The magazine's September 12, 2002, issue claimed that Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, had acquired 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria through a Jordanian intermediary. (While this September 2002 Panorama report mentioned Nigeria, the forgeries another Panorama reporter would be proferred less than a month later purportedly concerned Niger.) [Eriposte note: As Laura explained, this Panorama article was separate from the October 2002 incident involving Panorama reporter Elisabetta Burba, Rocco Martino and the Niger forgeries. The Sep 2002 story referenced Nigeria, not Niger. The Nigeria story was perhaps even more fantastically fake than the Niger story because it involved the alleged shipment of uranium stolen from a former Soviet republic to Nigeria, followed by a shipment to Baghdad through Amman via a Jordanian intermediary!]
...
What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper's allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House. That direct White House channel amplifies questions about a now-infamous 16-word reference to the Niger uranium in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address -- which remained in the speech despite warnings from the CIA and the State Department that the allegation was not substantiated.

Was the White House convinced that the Niger yellowcake report was nevertheless true because the National Security Council was getting its information directly from the Italian source?

There's a more important aspect to the timing of this meeting - it occurred shortly before Bush's UN speech in September 2002 and the NSC/WH attempt to get the Niger uranium allegation approved for that speech on 9/11/02. I discussed the latter in my previous post on Hubris, but let's revisit some of that discussion here. The Phase I SSCI report said:

In a written response to questions from Committee staff, the White House said that on September 11, 2002, National Security Council (NSC) staff contacted the CIA to clear language for possible use in a statement for use by the President. The language cleared by the CIA said, "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And we also know this: within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to obtain large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake, which is an essential ingredient of this process. The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon." The text was identical to the text proposed by the White House except that the CIA had suggested adding "up to" before 500 metric tons. The President never used the approved language publicly. [page 49]

As I discussed in my previous post, the reason that "The President never used the approved language publicly" was not mentioned in the SSCI report but Hubris makes it clear that the WH did not use it because the CIA actually contacted the WH/NSC on the same day to dissuade them from using it. (If that sounds puzzling, read my previous post).

The question then is - did Pollari discuss or push the Niger uranium claims with Hadley during his meeting on 9/9/02 and was that the reason why the NSC urgently asked the WH speechwriters to add the allegation to Bush's speech draft and then asked the "CIA" (WINPAC) to approve it?

That's the question I seek to answer in the rest of this post.


3. Was the Niger uranium allegation discussed during the Pollari-Hadley meeting?

Let's try to answer this question by reviewing some of the important events that occured prior to and around the time of the meeting.


3.1 What we can infer from the Phase I SSCI report's statements on the 9/11/02 NSC/WH/CIA incident

At the start of the fifth chapter of Hubris, Isikoff and Corn begin the discussion of this incident:

John Gibson, a young White House speechwriter, was at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York on September 11, 2002, putting the final touches on the president's UN speech, when he received an urgent phone call on his cell phone. It was his boss, Michael Gerson, who had just been talking to White House communications aide Dan Bartlett. There was a new piece of intelligence that Gibson might be able to thrown in the speech. They weren't sure yet. If they didn't use it in the speech, "it's something we might leak to The New York Times," Gerson said, according to Gibson. The speechwriter sensed that there was excitement at the White House about the latest nugget. What was it? he asked.

Gerson told Gibson to go to a secure line that had been set up at the Waldorf for White House staff and call a National Security aide, Robert Joseph.... [page 85]
...
When Gibson reached Joseph that day, the NSC aide had what seemed to be important new evidence of Iraqi darkness. Saddam, Joseph said, had been attempting to obtain a massive amount of yellowcake uranium in Africa. Gibson immediately realized what that meant... [page 86]

According to Isikoff and Corn:

The account of the drafting of Bush's September 12, 2002, speech is based on interviews with John Gibson and the SSCI Report, p. 49. (Michael Gerson did not respond to requests for an interview). [page 428]

Since John Gibson himself narrated some of this to Isikoff/Corn, there is a good chance that it is reasonably close to what actually occurred. What did the Phase I SSCI report say about this same incident? It said (emphasis mine):

In a written response to questions from Committee staff, the White House said that on September 11, 2002, National Security Council (NSC) staff contacted the CIA to clear language for possible use in a statement for use by the President. The language cleared by the CIA said, "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high strength aluminum tubes used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. And we also know this: within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to obtain large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake, which is an essential ingredient of this process. The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon." The text was identical to the text proposed by the White House except that the CIA had suggested adding "up to" before 500 metric tons. The President never used the approved language publicly. [page 49]

[Eriposte aside: I found it interesting that this incident was revealed in a "written response to questions" from the SSCI, and not in an interview or a spontaneous disclosure. The SSCI report also did not mention the "new"ness or urgency of the NSC request (perhaps it was "new" to Gerson/Gibson, but it appears the WH was certainly "excited" about it). The report also did not explain why it was that the White House was the originator of the urgent request. The latter is important because we need to understand what drove the NSC/WH to ask for very specific wording to be added to the draft of Bush's upcoming UN speech.]

The most important information contained in the SSCI report is the wording of the claim. It includes "500 tons". This is significant because this is a dead giveaway that the allegation related solely to Niger (and not any other countries in Africa) and was originally based on Italian intelligence reporting. This makes the possibility of a connection to the Pollari meeting stronger.

After all, the NSC/White House knew as early as February 2002 that the "500 tons" intel came from SISMI. As the SSCI Report noted:

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 [REDACTED]. 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.

...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. [pages 38-39]

[Eriposte aside: Note that although the Senate report does not explicitly call out the date of WINPAC's SPWR, it was obviously Feb 14, 2002 - "021402".]

Let's repeat the most important segments in the above passage, for effect:

..."information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report..."

...The CIA sent a separate version of the assessment to the Vice President which differed only in that it named the foreign government service.

Isn't that interesting! What Cheney and the WH/NSC got to hear in February 2002 was:

  • The "500 tons" allegation
  • That it hadn't been corroborated
  • That it came from the Italian intelligence service

What would they have done in this situation? Perhaps relentlessly try to get "corroboration" (as Cheney tried to do) - maybe even talk to the Italians directly to get a firm assurance about its "credibility"?


3.2 What we can infer from the U.S. IC reports in the Mar-Sep 2002 timeframe

Theoretically, it could be argued that perhaps the NSC/WH got "corroboration" on the 500 ton Niger uranium purchase allegation sometime between February 2002 and September 2002. To ascertain if this was really the case, let's look at the known reports that were released by the U.S. intelligence community (IC) during that timeframe and what these reports said about the Niger allegation. (The page numbers referred to below are from the Phase I SSCI report).

Table 1: Brief Summary of Known U.S. IC Assessments Regarding Credibility and Corroboration of "500 tons" Niger uranium sale claim (March 1, 2002 through September 11, 2002)
Date
Agency
Summary of Assessment
Attempt to purchase Niger uranium independently confirmed?
3/1/02
INR
Niger uranium sale (and planned sale) to Iraq "unlikely" [p. 42]
NO
3/25/02
CIA DO
Reported claim from "foreign government service" (SISMI) that the "500 tons" allegedly purchased by Iraq was to be delivered in two phases [p. 47]
NO
5/10/02
CIA NESA

A"foreign government service" (SISMI) has claimed that Iraq was "trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium from Niger" [p.48]
(note: intel alleging a completed sale doubted and portrayed with phrase "trying to acquire")

NO
7/22/02
DOE
Mentioned the claim but said that there was "no information indicating that any of the uranium shipments arrived in Iraq", and added that the "amount of uranium specified far exceeds what Iraq would need even for a robust nuclear weapons program." [p. 48]
(i.e., this report still left doubts about the claim and did not offer any independent corroboration)
NO
8/1/02
CIA NESA
Did not include the Niger uranium claim [p. 48]
NO
9/02 - but see Appendix 1
DIA
Repeated the various allegations - included Niger, Somalia and DRC - but specifically stated that a uranium sale has not been confirmed
NO

For emphasis, let's expand a bit more on the Senate report's comment on the Sep 2002 DIA report:

...In September 2002, the DIA published an intelligence assessment (Defense Intelligence Assessment, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Program) which outlined Iraq's recent efforts to rebuild its nuclear program. The report focused on a variety of issues related to Iraq's nuclear efforts, including procurement efforts, nuclear facilities, consolidation of scientists and uranium acquisition. On the latter issue, the assessment said "Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake." The report described the intelligence on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal and several other intelligence reports on Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The assessment said that "DIA cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources." [page 48]

Salient points to note:

  • The DIA report - whose wording was subsequently pulled in to the Oct 2002 NIE - does not say that Iraq was "caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons" (which was the phrase the White House was trying to get the CIA to approve for Bush's Sep 2002 UN speech on 9/11/02). It actually discussed the uranium purchase deal and said that: "DIA cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources" (check out the NIE wording). The "caught trying to purchase" wording implies that someone actually confirmed the intelligence and caught Iraq red-handed - the DIA report did not actually provide any such independent confirmation or corroboration of the intelligence.
  • The DIA report talks about Niger, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and does not discuss just Niger ("500 tons").
  • It is not clear if the DIA report was released prior to 9/11/02 or later

In other words, NEITHER the August 2002 CIA report NOR the September 2002 DIA report could have been the real triggers for the NSC's urgent push on 9/11/02 to include the "500 tons" uranium claim in the president's Sep 2002 UN speech. There must have been some other trigger.


3.3 What we can infer from the French DGSE feedback in summer 2002

On this matter, it is worthwhile recalling what I said in my Oct 2005 post. The August 1, 2002 date is significant because this is the first known date when a CIA intelligence paper explicitly dropped the mention of the uranium claim. In fact, what is most interesting about the August 1, 2002 CIA report is that it was from CIA NESA and it dropped a claim that was present in NESA's May 10, 2002 report. As the SSCI report notes (emphasis mine):

On May 10, 2002, the CIA's Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis (NESA) in the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) prepared a Principals Committee briefing book updating the status of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. The document noted that a "foreign government service says Iraq was trying to acquire 500 tons of uranium from Niger."
...
On August 1, 2002 CIA NESA published a paper on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities which did not include the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium information.

The timing of NESA's backtracking on the uranium claim is more than interesting. After all, as La Repubblica and (subsequently) the Los Angeles Times reported:

More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief [Alain Chouet] of the French counterintelligence service [DGSE] and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.
...
Chouet recalled that his agency was contacted by the CIA in the summer of 2001 — shortly before the attacks of Sept. 11 — as intelligence services in Europe and North America became more concerned about chatter from known terrorist sympathizers. CIA officials asked their French counterparts to check that uranium in Niger and elsewhere was secure. The former CIA official confirmed Chouet's account of this exchange.

Then twice in 2002, Chouet said, the CIA contacted the French again for similar help. By mid-2002, Chouet recalled, the request was more urgent and more specific. The CIA was asking questions about a particular agreement purportedly signed by Nigerian officials to sell 500 metric tons of uranium to Iraq.

Chouet dispatched a five- or six-man team to Niger to double-check any reports of a sale or an attempt to purchase uranium. The team found none.

Chouet and his staff noticed that the details of the allegation matched those in fraudulent documents that an Italian informant earlier had offered to sell to the French.

"We told the Americans, 'Bull - - - -. It doesn't make any sense,' " Chouet said.

Chouet said the information was contained in formal cables delivered to CIA offices in Paris and Langley, Va. Those communications did not use such coarse language, he said, but they delivered the point in consistent and blunt terms.

"We had the feeling that we had been heard," Chouet said. "There was nothing more to say other than that."

The former CIA official could not confirm the specifics of this 2002 communication, but said the general conclusions matched what many in the CIA were learning at the time.
...
Before speaking with The Times last week, Chouet had told part of his story to La Repubblica, a Rome newspaper, prompting Italian investigators to resume their inquiry and seek Chouet's testimony.
...
Still, Chouet said in the interview that the question from CIA officials in the summer of 2002 seemed to follow almost word for word from the documents in question. He said that an Italian intelligence source, Rocco Martino, had tried to sell the documents to the French, but that in a matter of days French analysts determined the documents had been forged.

"We thought they [the Americans] were in possession of the documents," Chouet said. "The words were very similar." The former CIA official said that in fact the U.S. had been offered the same documents in 2001 but had quickly rejected them as forgeries.

The LA Times report makes it clear that the French communicated to the CIA no later than mid-2002 ("summer 2002") that the Niger uranium claims were essentially "bull----".

This meant that not only was there no corroboration of the Niger uranium claim prior to 9/11/02 by French intelligence, DGSE was actively telling the CIA that the claims were completely bunk. So, any communications from French intelligence could not have been a trigger for the NSC's attempts on 9/11/02 to introduce the uranium claim into Bush's UN speech.

[NOTE: It is again interesting that there is NO mention of DGSE's summer 2002 communication in the Phase I SSCI report. Was this hidden from the SSCI? If so, why - and what is the SSCI going to do about it?]

So, here's where we are.

Imagine you were in the White House and you were desperate to peddle a false or dubious claim. However, you were faced with the fact that the claim from the Italians regarding "500 tons" of uranium allegedly purchased by Iraq - which had been communicated to you by the CIA in early 2002 - had subsequently been dropped entirely by the CIA in their most recent assessment and the U.S. IC hadn't been able to independently corroborate it. The French were actively saying it was all bunk. What would you have done, if you were hell-bent on getting the claim into your fraudulent speeches?

Well, most likely, you would have gone to someone else who might give you a personal assurance that the claim was "credible". That would have left two additional potential sources for you in the time period around 9/11/02. The British and the Italians. So, let's turn our attention to the British.


3.4 What we can infer from the 9/11/02 British White Paper

The very first draft of the British White Paper that mentioned the uranium allegation came out only on 9/11/02. What is significant about the paper though is that it DID NOT call out the amount of uranium involved.

Here are the relevant statements from 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]

So, to repeat, the British White Paper explicitly avoided mentioning any amount (no mention of "500 tons"). In fact, if they had mentioned "500 tons" it would have been a dead giveaway to other intelligence agencies (that received the Niger intel from SISMI) that the British were using the same "500 tons" garbage that SISMI had also fed them. This is in fact the main reason why the British continued to pretend, falsely, that they had "other" intel. Although the authors of Hubris don't connect the dots in the same page/section, they mention the junk peddled by the British much much later in page 248:

When the CIA formally asked to review the British evidence, it was rebuffed, according to Tyler Drumheller, the CIA's European Division chief. That was pretty much a tip-off, Drumheller said, that all the Brits had was the same "circular reporting" stemming from the same phony Italian documents. [page 248]

[Eriposte aside: It is also worth recalling that the CIA responded to the British on the same day - 9/11/02 - expressing concerns about the credibility of the uranium claim.]

Additionally, as Hubris points out, on 9/11/02 the CIA dissuaded the WH from using the claim because it "had not been confirmed" and it "had come from a single foreign source" (page 86). This is very significant two reasons:

  • This was a clear acknowledgement that the White House/NSC did not have a "second source" (e.g., the British) for the "500 tons" claim.
  • The mention of "single source" implies that the White House's desired wording/allegation was coming from the same source that provided the original allegation (i.e., the Italians)

The bottom line: The trigger for the NSC's attempt on 9/11/02 to include the "500 tons" in Bush's UN speech was not the British. That leaves only one other likely source - the Italians themselves.


3.5 What we can infer from the NSC/Hadley statements about the Pollari meeting

Isikoff and Corn claim in a footnote in Hubris that the NSC denied that the Niger topic came up in the Hadley-Pollari meeting:

This was two days before the NSC asked the CIA to approve proposed speech language for Bush using the Niger charge. An NSC spokesperson said that this had been a courtesy meeting and the issue of Niger had not come up. [page 90]

It is not clear if Isikoff/Corn specifically spoke to someone at the NSC but this is not what the NSC and Hadley actually said at the time.

The NSC declined to say much about the meeting's topic(s) of discussion as Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel reported:

Sept. 9 - With the White House's public campaign against Iraq in full swing, Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, met with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley at the White House. Hadley later took the blame for including the false Niger allegation in Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech.

National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said Thursday that the meeting was a 15-minute courtesy call and that no one could recollect talk about yellowcake.

Hadley himself said something very similar on 11/2/2005 (WH):

Q On September 9th, 2002, you met in Washington with Nicolo Pollari, the head of the Italian Intelligence Agency, SISMI. According to the Italian daily, La Republica, Mr. Pollari came to the meeting to discuss an alleged attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger. Is that claim false?

MR. HADLEY: We'd looked at this issue. We had both looked at our documentary record -- I have -- we have talked -- I've searched my own recollection; we have also talked to other people on the NSC staff at the time who might have a recollection of that meeting. I can tell you what that canvassing has unearthed. There was a meeting in Washington on that date. I did attend a meeting with him. It was, so far as we can tell from our records, about less than 15 minutes. It was a courtesy call. Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed. And that's also my recollection. I have very little recollection of the meeting, but I have no recollection there was any of that discussion, or that there was any passing of documents. Nor does anybody else who may have participated in that meeting. That's where we are.

Q Can you say what you did discuss with Mr. Pollari?

MR. HADLEY: I told you I have very little recollection of the meeting, and it was in the order of a courtesy call, getting to know a person who is going to be a colleague going forward. And you can tell that from the relative briefness of the meeting. And I think what the Italian authorities have said is very consistent with what I just said.

"No one could recollect talk about yellowcake"..."Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium"...

Which is another way of saying "it is entirely possible yellowcake was discussed."


3.6 What we can infer from the Phase I SSCI report's non-coverage of the Pollari-Hadley meeting

As we are discovering since 2004, omissions from the unclassified portions of the Senate report have been numerous and have almost always had major implications. Here are just a few examples:

So, it is fair to infer that the omission of the Hadley-Pollari meeting from the Phase I SSCI report likewise has significant implications.


4. Conclusion

The information and analysis offered in this post provides compelling evidence that, at the September 9, 2002 meeting between Nicolo Pollari and Stephen Hadley, it is more than likely that the topic of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal must have come up and that Pollari must have vouched for the credibility of SISMI's reporting on that deal in some form or the other. This was the most likely trigger for the NSC's attempts to introduce a claim about the "500 tons" of uranium into Bush's September 2002 UN speech.

This is consistent with the reporting of La Repubblica:

In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002.
...
Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

So, it wasn't enough that SISMI was peddling information that they knew to be a fabrication. They were likely peddling it directly to the White House because the CIA thought that it was a pile of crap.


APPENDIX 1:

Emptywheel alerted me to a puzzling discrepancy regarding the date of the DIA report as stated in the Robb-Silberman report. Here are the relevant footnotes from the report (emphasis mine):

125 DIA, Military Intelligence Digest Supplement, Iraq: Procuring Possible Nuclear-Related Gas Centrifuge Equipment (MID-227-01-SCI) (Nov. 30, 2001); DIA, Defense Intelligence Assessment, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapon Program (DI-1610-93-02-SCI) (Sept. 2002); CIA, Iraq's Hunt for Aluminum Tubes (WINPAC IA 2002-051HCX) (Sept. 30, 2002).

126 DIA, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapon Program (DI-1610-93-02-SCI) (Sept. 2002); CIA, Iraq's Hunt for Aluminum Tubes (WINPAC IA 2002-051HCX) (Sept. 30, 2002).

...

158 DIA, Iraq's Reemerging Nuclear Weapon Program (DI-1610-93-02-SCI) (Aug. 7, 2002) at p. 9.

I'm not sure what to make of this discrepancy just yet but in most sections of the reports it is the Sep date that is mentioned.

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