Sunday :: Feb 11, 2007

The "Scooter" Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 6: Atrios a Martian, Iraq-bound Niger uranium in Benin, and other fabulous stories


by eriposte

[Preface: This post is the sixth of a series (see Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) focused on offering some observations and analysis on some of the documents released during the Libby trial. Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

In this post I'm going to talk about what I believe are commonly misunderstood smoking guns in the Phase I SSCI report that provide hints on when the CIA really knew about the bogus nature of the uranium claims and the forgeries. I include some extracts from recently released documents that further solidify my prior assessment on these smoking guns. For clarity, the post is divided into the following 5 sections (NOTE: All emphasis in this post in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated).

1. Is Atrios a Martian?
2. CIA and the Niger forgeries from Burba
3. CIA knowledge of the significance of the Burba documents
4. Why the SSCI narrative on the Burba episode makes no sense
5. The dog did not bark, twice - so, are we going to do anything about it?


1. Is Atrios a Martian?

Suppose I made the following claim:

I saw Atrios being raised in Mars and I was there when he was about to be shipped off to Earth.

Those who believe in Martians might decide to get in touch with me to verify if I was just spreading a tall tale. If they are even mildly thorough, they would easily discover it is a tall tale. For instance, a few questions to me about Mars, a planet they are likely to know well, would be sufficient to expose the nonsensical nature of my claim. On the other hand, those who don't believe in the existence of Martians would immediately discount my claim as being bunk. Not worth the paper, er, internets, it is published on and not worth a nanosecond of their time.

Which brings us to this not-so-famous paragraph in the Phase I SSCI report:

On November 25, 2002, The Naval [DELETED] issued a very brief report (Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [DELETED] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President. The report provided the name and telephone numbers for the individual, a West African businessman, who was responsible for coordinating the alleged uranium transaction and indicated that he was willing to provide information about the transaction. CIA's DO told Committee staff that the businessman has never been contacted and the DO has not made an effort to determine whether this individual had any useful information. The DO told Committee staff that they saw no reason to contact him and noted that "no one even thought to do that." [pages 59-60]

Here's the essence of the above paragraph using the Mars analogy:

[A West African businessman] saw [Niger uranium] being [stored] in [Cotonou, Benin] and [he] was there when [the Niger uranium] was about to be shipped off to [Iraq].

However, that is NOT the most interesting thing about this episode!

At least three high-level investigations (SSCI, Robb-Silberman, Iraq Survey Group) have made it crystal clear that Iraq did not purchase any uranium from Niger since the 1980s. Yet, the "West African Businessman" (aka WABman) whose name and phone number were provided by NCIS was claiming knowledge and direct participation in a Nigerien uranium sale to Iraq that was fake and never existed. He also associated a Niger uranium deal with Iraq at a time when no general, public knowledge existed about any Iraq-uranium allegations specifically linked to Niger (as opposed to the word "Africa" in the public Sep 2002 British White Paper). The WABman is presumably still out there - yet no one has evidently contacted him! Does he know something about the Niger forgeries or those who were involved in the caper? Was he affiliated with [FILL IN THE BLANKS]? Don't you think this episode should invite some phone calls by the Democrats in the Senate or House Intelligence Committees to the FBI or the CIA? (And shouldn't money grow on the trees in your backyard?)

Another mildly curious point. For whatever reason, the SSCI report redacted the portion that revealed that the report was from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) office in Marseille, France (as the Los Angeles Times later revealed). Strangely, when TLC reader FMJ discovered and posted the URL to a DOD document containing contact information to NCIS offices, the document mysteriously disappeared the next day behind the DOD firewall. Now, some of you may be wondering why there was a report from NCIS Marseille on something pertaining to Benin in Africa. Here's a partial extract from the (old) Google cache of the now-disappeared report with the explanation highlighted in bold (I've redacted some of the information):

COUNTRY: FRANCE
STATE: Marseille
OFFICE: NCISRU MARSEILLE
DCIO: NCIS
ADDRESS: [REDACTED]
[REDACTED]
MISSION: GEN CRIM/ FCI
COMPLEMENT: 1 AGENT
PHONE (Com): 33-[REDACTED]
DSN: NA
FAX (Com): 33-[REDACTED]
DSN: NA
EMAIL:
LOCATION: [REDACTED] MARSEILLE [REDACTED]

Area of Responsibility:

AFRICA: ANGOLA ALGERIA, BENIN, BURKINA-FASO, CAMEROON, CAPE VERDE, CHAD, CONGO, CENTRAL AFRICA,
EUROPE: CORSICA, FRANCE, MONACO, SWITZERLAND

As FMJ observed:

The WABman is supposed to have contacted the NCIS office in Marseille. An enterpr[i]sing journalist interested in chasing down this story might like to start there.

The phone number is listed here, in this Defense Dept. office directory. (.pdf)

C'mon, MSM. Do we have to do everything?

Anyway, the purpose of my re-introducing the above incident is to set the stage for a preliminary discussion about what the CIA may have known about the fraudulent Niger claims and when they knew it. There's probably a couple of chapters I can write on this point alone, but I'll focus on a small part of the story in this post.


2. CIA and the Niger forgeries from Burba

Those who are familiar with the Phase I SSCI report may recall that the report was intentionally secretive and ambiguous about the role and the actions of the CIA around the time that copies of the forgeries were provided to the U.S. in October 2002:

On October 9, 2002, an Italian journalist from the magazine Panorama provided U.S. Embassy Rome with copies of documents [ref. 8] pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. The journalist had acquired the documents from a source who had requested 15,000 Euros in return for their publication, and wanted the embassy to authenticate the documents. Embassy officers provided copies of the documents to the CIA's [DELETED] because the embassy, which did collect the information, was sending copies of the documents back to the State Department headquaters.

[PARAGRAPH DELETED]

[PARAGRAPH DELETED]

...Also on October 11, 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Rome reported to State Department headquarters that it had acquired photocopies of documents on a purported uranium deal between Iraq and Niger from an Italian journalist. The cable said that the embassy had passed the documents to the CIA's [SENTENCE DELETED]. The embassy faxed the documents to the State Department's Bureau of Nonproliferation (NP) on October 15, 2002, which passed a copy of the documents to INR. [pages 57-58]

That's a lot of deletions, wouldn't you say? Lots of stuff to hide, it seems.

As it turns out, the hidden role of the CIA got partially exposed with the release of some documents in the past weeks. Emptywheel briefly commented on this earlier and I want to expand on that a bit. For instance, the 10 June 2003 memo from former INR chief Carl Ford to Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman mentions the following:

These documents, which were sent to Washington via both CIA and [State] Department channels, were not adequately analyzed until much later and were judged to be fraudulent. [page 2]

I respectfully disagree with the notion that the documents "were not adequately analyzed until much later", but the point I want to highlight is the portion shown in bold. The SSCI report gave the impression that the copies of the forgeries were really passed on to the US only through State Department channels. Yet, Ford's memo indicates that they were passed on through State Department and CIA channels.

That's not all.


3. CIA knowledge of the significance of the Burba documents

There's another document - the April 3, 2003 IC memo (labeled DX64, titled "Purported Iraqi attempt to get Uranium from Niger") that was forwarded to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in early June 2003 (likely a WINPAC memo) - which has a relevant passage (page 6):

11. [DELETED] On 10 October 2002, Embassy Rome reported on a meeting from the previous day with a journalist from the Italian magazine Panorama. The journalist provided the Embassy with a copy of documents alleging Iraq and Niger had reached an agreement in July 2000 for the purchase of uranium. [...] Embassy Rome indicated that it had learned from CIA that the documents provided by the journalist were the subject of the CIA report issued on 5 February 2002, as described in paragraph three. [...] The Directorate of Intelligence did not request or place a high-priority on obtaining the actual documents, at this time, [DELETED].

Obviously, if the documents "were not adequately analyzed until much later", then how could CIA have known (and informed Embassy Rome) "that the documents provided by the journalist were the subject of the CIA report issued on 5 February 2002"?

In fact, the latter observation is also present in a memo written by the Vice President's then-Acting Principal Deputy Assistant John Hannah to the Vice President on 9 June 2003 (see page 4 of this Libby grand jury exhibit):

On October 10th, 2002, U.S. Embassy Rome received from a journalist documents purporting to be copies of the Iraq-Niger [DELETED] for uranium. CIA concluded that these were the documents that formed the basis for the Feb 2002 report [DELETED] on the issue.

[An aside: Note the peculiar redaction where "agreement" or something similar likely appears after Iraq-Niger. See this post for more on that.]

So, it's clear that at the time the copies of the Niger forgeries were received from Elisabetta Burba, some individuals in the CIA were aware of the significance of those documents.

Let's go back to a related point in the April 2003 memo:

12. [DELETED] On 15 October 2002, an Intelligence Community E-mail (ICE-mail) from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State (State/INR) to CIA acknowledges receiving the documents acquired by Embassy Rome and noted doubt about the alleged uranium deal. State/INR also offered to provide copies of the documents to CIA at a meeting of the interagency group assigned to review nuclear export matters, occurring the next day. The delivery did not occur nor did CIA press State/INR for the documents, for the same reasons articulated in paragraph eleven.

The claim that the "delivery did not occur" is clearly incorrect. The SSCI report said that some of the IC attendees at the interagency meeting did pick up the documents (including one from CIA DO CPD) and that the documents were later discovered in a CIA Department of Operations' (DO) Counter-Proliferation Division (CPD) vault (see SSCI report, p. 58). I don't want to get into the details of this here - but suffice it to say that a lot of behind the scenes intrigue was left out of the SSCI report.

The principal point I want to emphasize using the above extracts is the following. The CIA (not clear which division(s)) actually had analyzed copies of the Niger forgeries on or before early-to-mid October 2002. This is however not really a surprise - in fact, I have presented a collection of evidence previously that the CIA likely even had an independent source for the Niger forgeries other than Elisabetta Burba.


4. Why the SSCI narrative on the Burba episode makes no sense

Indeed, those who are familiar with my earlier reporting may be aware that the story that the CIA was somehow ignorant about the forgeries prior to or shortly after the Burba episode doesn't pass the smell test. To give you just one example, in discussing the CIA's alleged non-reaction to the Burba documents, I wrote the following in Feb 2006:

This story not only has so many holes but it is by far the most bizarre narrative in the Niger section of the Senate (SSCI) report simply because it makes no sense whatsoever. If we set aside aside the deleted paragraph, here are the reasons why I say that.

1. First of all, the CIA claimed that, at that time, they had no idea that these documents were forgeries. If this claim is true, it would have meant that the CIA must have assumed that the documents were likely [or possibly - ed.] authentic. So, according to this narrative, when the CIA ostensibly received what was possibly the first "authentic" and first-hand validation for claims almost identical to what they had been hearing for almost a year from a foreign intelligence service (SISMI), they did not even think these were worth looking into or reviewing. In other words, we are led to believe that when faced with the ostensible first-hand proof for a deal that matched in most particulars the information received from SISMI over the previous 12 months, the CIA's response was that the documents weren't really important and not worth examining at all. If this was indeed their response, then this definitely classifies as a Curious Incident of the CIA in the Daytime. (NOTE added: That's another way of saying that the CIA must have been familiar with the documents and known beforehand that they were bogus. After all, as Mary points out in the comments, the INR analyst strongly suggested in his email that the documents were of dubious authenticity. Unfortunately, a critical piece of information that is left out in the Senate Report is the individual divisions that the four CIA representatives at the NIAG meeting belonged to.)

2. The CIA's explanation that - "its analysts did not seek to obtain copies of the documents because they believed that the foreign government service reporting was verbatim text and did not think it would advance the story on the alleged uranium deal" - is complete nonsense. Why?

Well, for one thing, the CIA only reported receiving the "verbatim text" of the alleged (fake) Niger-Iraq uranium "accord", not of all the documents in the dossier. As the Senate (SSCI) Report says (page 37):

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.

Obviously, additional documents than the accord would have "advanced[d] the story on the alleged uranium deal".
...
Secondly, despite having "verbatim text" of the accord in early Feb 2002, the CIA was not quite convinced of the Niger reporting - so they sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate it in late Feb 2002. So, clearly, just having the "verbatim text" of the accord said nothing about the importance or usefulness of the Niger documents they had received.

Third, Panorama magazine's Elisabetta Burba never gave the CIA a copy of the uranium accord [See Part 3 of this series for more on that story - ed.]. So, it would have made no sense for the CIA to dismiss the documents they received from Burba without even looking at [them] to see if the accord was part of the bunch they received.
...
3. The CIA's second explanation that - "since the uranium reporting was not significant to their argument, getting the documents was not a priority" - doesn't make any sense either. In fact, if the uranium claim was unimportant, then the documents could have made the case more important if they were authentic (e[s]pecially considering how the CIA was being relentlessly pressured to come up with as much junk as possible to feed George Bush and Dick Cheney's intelligence fixing to support the predetermined plans to go to war with Iraq). Indeed, it would have been simply impossible for the CIA to know whether the documents were important or unimportant without reviewing/analyzing them.

To sum it up, there is only one obvious explanation, that is both reasonable and plausible, which explains the CIA's reported behavior. That explanation is that the CIA was already aware of the Niger forgeries and already had them in their possession prior to receiving copies from Elisabetta Burba. In this scenario, they would have already been aware that the papers were bogus and would have had no reason to re-analyze materials that they had previously determined to be bogus. This explanation is also particularly relevant considering what had happened in the days prior to the receipt of the forgeries from Burba. After all, in a mysterious twist to the CIA's earlier position on the "uranium from Africa" claim, between October 2, 2002 and October 6, 2002 - prior to the CIA's receiving the forgeries from Elisabetta Burba - top players in the CIA (including the Deputy DCI and the DCI) personally made efforts to try and dissuade the White House, and strongly so, from including the "uranium from Africa" claim in speeches, because they considered the claim to not be credible at all. The aggressive manner in which the CIA was walking away from the claim even before they received Burba's documents indicated that they had strong evidence in their possession (which likely included the forgeries) questioning the validity of the claim.

Those who want to read more about the basis for my inferences should read this series from 2006 (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5), ending with this post cataloguing reports that Rocco Martino tried to peddle the Niger forgeries to the CIA station chief in Rome in 2001 and got thrown out.


5. The dog did not bark, twice - so, are we going to do anything about it?

There's another interesting development now that relates to the NCIS report. As I said before:

This report was the second time in roughly six weeks that the CIA received direct, first-hand evidence directly implicating Iraq in a uranium purchase from Niger. Like in the earlier case (the Panorama/Burba Niger dossier), this was evidence that tantalizingly suggested that the final and unambiguous proof of Iraq seeking or buying uranium from Africa existed - which could completely cement together a nuclear case against Saddam Hussein. What did the CIA's DO do in response? Mostly yawn and move on without bothering to even contact the so-called "West African businessman". As I show in this post, this seemingly bizarre event represented the second Curious Incident of the CIA in the Daytime.
...
Here's the crux of what happened in late November 2002. Combined with the evidence presented in Part 1 of this series, the tepid indifference from the CIA's DO to the NCIS report about an allegation regarding Iraq-bound Niger uranium in Cotonou, Benin, was consistent with only one meaningful and likely explanation - that the CIA was well aware of the contents of the Niger forgeries, that the uranium from Niger allegations were bogus, and that the claims from the "West African businessman" matched some of the specific information contained in the forgeries. This would have convinced them quickly that this claim was not something to be taken seriously. [I would be curious to know if the CIA DO communicated this in any form to DHS or NCIS].

...So, if there is any individual on earth who needs to be traced down and questioned immediately, and his links to the Niger forgery cabal examined, it is this "West African businessman".

The Phase I SSCI report gave the impression that there was a single source (the WABman) for the fraudulent Cotonou uranium claim. However, we find something different in the DX64 memo. Page 7 of this document has the following passage:

15. [REDACTED] On 25 November 2002, the US Naval Criminal Investigation Service in Marseille, France reported information from two of its sources who claimed that a large quantity of uranium was currently stored in barrels at the Port of Cotonou, Benin and that Niger's president had sold this material to Iraq.

Two sources told NCIS something that was a complete fabrication and no one has bothered (ostensibly) to locate and interrogate these sources and understand how they might be connected to the forgers, the forgeries or to other parties interested in using false claims to drive a PR campaign for war.

So, let me close with this thought: are the Democrats in Congress going to do anything about this? The answer, dear reader, is probably in your hands.

eriposte :: 8:29 AM :: Comments (7) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!