The “Scooter” Libby Trial and Uranium from Africa, Part 2: Streams of Deception
[Preface: In the past week, in the midst of her incredible live-blogging effort at FDL, Emptywheel also took some time to send me links to some of the documents from the trial proceedings that have been made public by Libby's legal firm. Since then, I became aware that the AP has helpfully posted all the defense and prosecution exhibits here. This post is the second one (see Part 1) focused on offering some observations and analysis on some of these documents. Cross-posted at The Left Coaster.]
In this post I'm going to talk about a couple of interesting pieces of information relating to what the U.S. Government shared with the UN/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shortly after the Bush State of the Union in 2003. You will also see some sunlight on another significant redaction in the Phase I SSCI report that is rather revealing. For simplicity, I'm going to divide the post into three sections (note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated).
1. "Two streams of reporting"
2. "Global support"
APPENDIX: "Two phases"
1. "Two streams of reporting"
One of the documents released last week was an undated (or April 3, 2003?) intelligence community memo (labeled DX64) that was forwarded to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in early June 2003 (it appears this might be a WINPAC memo). Page 9 of this document has the following paragraph:
25. [DELETED] On 4-5 February 2003, the U.S. briefed INVO in response to Baute's request from 6 January for information on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium agreement. Members of the US Mission to the IAEA in Vienna presented the information and analyses as(?) compiled by CIA. This Intelligence Community-cleared briefing indicated, "Two streams of reporting suggest Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program." The two streams of reporting referred to in this briefing came from the sensitive source described in paragraph six of this notification [SENTENCES DELETED].
A reading of paragraph six makes it obvious that the "sensitive source" being referred to here is former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (and the CIA report of his findings from his 2002 trip to Niger). However, the significant redaction in the end is clearly masking one of the two streams of reporting. Yet, Paragraph 24 of the same DX64 memo makes it clear that the U.S. Government also handed over the forged Niger documents to the IAEA:
24. [….] The [4 February 2003] note [from WINPAC to the US Mission to the IAEA and UNMOVIC] contained copies of the original language documents obtained by Embassy Rome [from Panorama reporter Elisabetta Burba].
We also know this to be the case from the Phase I SSCI report that was published in the following year (2004), which explicitly identified the two streams of reporting as being:
… the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger… [page 68]
But the SSCI report has a puzzling redaction as well. While the DX64 memo has some information pertaining to the second stream of reporting redacted, the SSCI report redacted the mention of "two streams"!
On February 4, 2003, the U.S. Government passed electronic copies of the Iraq-Niger documents to [DELETED] the IAEA. […] Included with the documents were the U.S. Government talking points which stated, [DELETED] of reporting suggest Iraq has attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims. Nonetheless, we are concerned that these reports may indicate Baghdad has attempted to secure an unreported source of uranium yellowcake for a nuclear weapons program." The [DELETED] of reporting mentioned refer to the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger. [SENTENCE DELETED]. [SENTENCE DELETED]. [pages 67-68]
In other words, "two streams of reporting" was changed to "[DELETED] of reporting" in the SSCI report.
Why did the SSCI report redact the phrase "two streams"? Past experience indicates that this type of redaction is very strategic in nature and is highly significant. For example, in the Appendix, I provide an example of another eerily similar redaction in the SSCI report whose significance I figured out and was subsequently confirmed by a declassified INR memo.
I think there's a simple explanation for the redaction of "two streams". After all, if you read the SSCI report carefully, it is hard not to notice that there were actually three individual items mentioned in the SSCI report's discussion of the U.S. Government's communication to the IAEA:
- The CIA report on Ambassador Wilson's trip from March 2002
- The original CIA Niger intel reports based on the foreign government service (SISMI) reports to the CIA in late 2001/early 2002
- Copies of forged Niger documents received from Elisabetta Burba in October 2002
Hence, if the SSCI report had called these out as being part of "two streams" of reporting, it would have made it very clear to readers that the U.S. Government knew that the original CIA Niger intel reports (echoing SISMI's allegations) were based on the forged Niger documents – i.e., that these constituted one and the same "stream" of reporting and that the Niger documents were merely the "evidence" that the original SISMI/CIA reports were based on. This is a fact that the Phase I SSCI report did its best to mask in its narrative and the impression that a casual reader would get reading the report is that the U.S. Government never really connected the original Niger reporting from SISMI directly and exclusively to the forged Niger documents. This misimpression is what misled some people to think, for the longest time, that the Niger forgeries were somehow independent of the intel from SISMI on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal.
I'm just scratching the surface of this story here and I'll have to reserve additional analysis for a later post, but let me tentatively close the loop by pointing out that the DX64 memo indicates that the CIA knew no later than October 2002 that the forged documents were basically the source of the original Niger reporting:
11. [REDACTED] 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, [REDACTED SENTENCE].
Let me move on.
Although the DX64 memo declassified the words "two streams", DX64 and the SSCI report share one thing in common – a significant redaction at the end of the corresponding paragraphs in both documents.
The two streams of reporting referred to in this briefing came from the sensitive source described in paragraph six of this notification [MULTIPLE LINES DELETED]. [page 9]
Phase I SSCI report:
The [DELETED] of reporting mentioned refer to the original CIA intelligence reports from the foreign government service and the CIA intelligence report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger. [SENTENCE DELETED]. [SENTENCE DELETED]. [pages 67-68]
What's interesting here is that neither the DX64 memo nor the SSCI report are shy about actually mentioning that the U.S. Government handed over copies of the Niger forgeries to the IAEA. So, why the redactions at the end? The most compelling reason I can think of is that the sentences that are redacted may have been discussing the Niger forgeries in the context of SISMI's reports to the CIA. In other words, perhaps these redactions mask some information that connects SISMI's reports and the Niger forgeries. I can't say for sure, but it is plausible.
2. "Global Support"
As we continue reading the DX64 memo, it says:
29. [DELETED] On 3 March 2003, IAEA/INVO [DELETED] an analysis of the 17-page document that the U.S. provided on this issue.
There are two observations I'd like to make here.
First, the U.S. Government did not hand over all the forgeries in their possession to the IAEA. For instance, as British reporter Solomon Hughes reported in late 2005 in the British magazine Private Eye:
When the US State Department finally gave international weapons inspectors its “evidence” that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from the African State of Niger in 2003, they held back the one document even their own analysts knew was “funky” and “clearly a forgery” [i.e., the "Global Support" forgery – eRiposte]
In other words, the DX64 memo does not reveal the fact that the most obviously bogus document was withheld from the IAEA. Talk about not wanting to reveal that you knew what you claimed you didn't know.
Second, when Hughes clarified his reporting to me in response to my questions he said:
Just to reiterate, the IAEA say they received ten to twelve pages of documents […] and these did not include the “Global Support” paper.
10-12 vs. 17. Hmm.
Eighteen pages from the Niger dossier have been made public to-date (one of those pages pertains to China). The "Global Support" forgery was withheld by the US Government. Did they withhold any other forgeries? Also, as I read and re-read the wording in the SSCI report and the DX64 memo, it is unclear whether the U.S. Government sent any additional documents to the IAEA (e.g., information on the original CIA Niger intel reports?). It would be somewhat useful to find out exactly what documents were shared with the IAEA.
APPENDIX : "Two Phases"
The report indicated that 500 tons of uranium per year [SENTENCE DELETED].
On March 25, 2002, the DO issued a third and final intelligence report from the same "[foreign] government service." The report said that the 2000 agreement by Niger to provide uranium to Iraq specified that 500 tons of uranium per year would be delivered in [DELETED].
36. THE DIFFICULTY OF MOVING SECRETLY 500 TONS OF URANIUM. THOUGH THE ALLEGED AGREEMENT WITH IRAQ IS NOT SPECIFIC, IT APPARENTLY CALLS FOR THE 500 TONS TO BE DELIVERED [DELETED] IN ONE YEAR. THIS WOULD MEAN THAT [DELETED] 25 HARD-TO-CONCEAL 10-TON TRACTOR-TRAILERS WOULD BE USED TO TRANSPORT THE OFF-THE-BOOKS URANIUM. BECAUSE NIGER IS LANDLOCKED THE CONVOY WOULD HAVE TO CROSS AT LEAST ONE INTERNATIONAL BORDER AND TRAVEL AT LEAST 1,000 MILES TO REACH THE SEA. MOVING SUCH A QUANTITY SECRETLY OVER SUCH A DISTANCE WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT, PARTICULARLY BECAUSE THE FRENCH WOULD BE INDISPOSED TO APPROVE OR CLOAK THIS ARRANGEMENT.
As I had pointed out previously, the forged Niger Doc 3 says (emphasis mine):
…500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases.
The redacted portion in the above paragraph in the INR memo was clearly referring to the "two phases" because 25 10-ton trucks refers to a 250-ton shipment. The SSCI report likewise was referring to the two phases but redacted that information. (My analysis on this was subsequently picked up by British reporter Solomon Hughes in an article in Private Eye magazine). Subsequent declassifications showed that I was correct:
In any case, the latest declassifications of the two INR memos included the declassification of a third INR memo attached to one of the two (from Feb 19, 2002) – which confirms that my interpretation was correct. For example, here is the wording from the February 19, 2002 INR memo regarding the Wilson/CIA meeting (last page):
The alleged contract between Niger and Iraq says that Niger will sell Iraq 500 tons of Uranium in two tranches per year.
You can see the meaning of "tranches" here.
Bottom line: The "two phases" or "two tranches" was originally redacted in the SSCI report and in an original release of one of the INR memos because it was a telltale sign that the information being discussed directly matched information contained in one of the Niger forgeries