Uranium from Africa – What You Might NOT Have Known If You Just Read The 2004 SSCI Report
Over the past two years I have published a number of original reports and analytical pieces on the uranium from Africa scandal – ranging from the intelligence issues behind the White House's uranium from Africa allegation to the aftermath of the illegal expose of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA status. I do not anticipate being able to compile the findings into a simple storyline anytime soon; however, in light of Rep. Henry Waxman's renewed interest in the Valerie Plame outing, I thought I would at least provide a summary that illustrates some of the key aspects of the uranium saga that were either left out of the declassified portions of the July 2004 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on pre-war intelligence or were presented by the SSCI report in such a misleading fashion that made it very difficult for the average reader to figure out what really happened. The information here is intended not to be comprehensive, but merely illustrative of the deliberate deception embedded in the SSCI report, thanks to the then-Republican, Bush-rubber-stamping majority that directed the creation of this report. [NOTE: I'd like to thank Marcy Wheeler for her suggestions which helped me improve this summary. However, any mistakes or ambiguity in the summary are mine entirely.]
The summary is divided into the following sections:
1. The Niger uranium "intelligence"
2. The Niger forgeries
3. The role of WINPAC
4. The revisionist history on Joseph Wilson's trip
5. The broader war on Joseph Wilson
6. Important loose ends
1. The Niger uranium "intelligence"
1.1 Bought v. Sought
Two important facts regarding the British and U.S. Governments' uranium allegations have not been adequately brought to light by any U.S. Congressional investigations or media reports to date.
(a) The British Government's uranium from Africa (Niger) claim was always based on intelligence which alleged that uranium had been bought. However, the British Government changed the wording of the claim to "sought" in September 2002 – likely to avoid direct linkage with the forged Niger documents that claimed that Iraq had bought uranium from Niger. After the alteration of the wording, the Blair administration conducted a years-long fraudulent masquerade in which they continued to insist that their claim was based on intel that only alleged uranium had been "sought", that the intel was not about a uranium purchase and that it was not linked to the Niger forgeries.
(b) The U.S. Government's uranium from Africa (Niger) claim was also based on intelligence which alleged that uranium had been bought. However, the U.S. Government changed the wording of the claim to "sought" over a period of several months in early-to-mid 2002 to downplay the intel owing to its obvious dubiousness (its origins from the nonsense in the Niger forgeries). Despite this, the Bush administration pushed a fraudulent revisionist story in 2003 and beyond, namely, that the original intel only alleged that uranium had been "sought". This was done partly to paint former Ambassador Joseph Wilson in negative light (by claiming that Wilson's trip supported the Bush administration's claim) and partly to distance themselves from the claims in the Niger forgeries.
Why This Matters: The wording of the uranium claim is very important because it was used as a semantic weapon by the Bush and Blair administrations to repeatedly deceive the public – in order to prevent wider recognition of the one-to-one link between their uranium allegations and the forged Niger documents. The "sought" wording was also a strategic weapon for the White House because it allowed the Bush administration to insert Joseph Wilson's trip into the mix and falsely assert that Wilson's trip provided proof for their claim that Iraq sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa (more on this in Sec. 4 below).
1.2 British intelligence on Niger uranium
Important facts regarding the British uranium intel and the CIA's and Colin Powell's (State's) assessment of that intel were not adequately brought to light by the SSCI report. Specifically:
(a) The SSCI report did not expose the totally contradictory assertions of British Government officials regarding their uranium claim – assertions (among other things) that completely undermined the credibility and validity of their claims
(b) The SSCI report deliberately redacted or suppressed information that would have more clearly shown the credibility of the British Government's uranium claim to be poor
Why This Matters: The available evidence indicates a systematic campaign to suppress inconvenient facts pertaining to the British uranium claim, so that the Bush and Blair administrations could continue to deceive the public by portraying the British claim as credible. This allowed the Bush administration to recover some ground in the aftermath of the Joseph Wilson op-ed.
Additionally, the Bush administration was playing an intel-of-the-day game wherein they used the US NIE, or Wilson's trip or the British intel on any given day to prop up their case even though they had admitted that Bush's 2003 SOTU claim was not based on the NIE claim or Joseph Wilson's trip (see the Postscript of this other post). As readers may recall, the CIA had considered the British claim to be bunk and had told the WH as such no later than October 2002. The White House admitted that Bush's 2003 SOTU speech referred to the British because the CIA did not want the WH to use the uranium claim from the NIE. Hence, the WH made the argument that it didn't matter what former Ambassador Wilson or the NIE said because Bush had only referred to the British uranium claim. Yet, in the aftermath of Wilson's op-ed, the WH was secretly and deceptively reeling out "supporting" evidence from the NIE (and Wilson's trip) to the Wall Street Journal editorial page and other outlets (including the NYT's Judith Miller) – "evidence" that the WH separately admitted in public was NOT the basis of Bush's SOTU statement. This was, in other words, an elaborate fraud.
1.3 French intelligence on Niger uranium
One of the most important incidents involving the French intelligence agency, DGSE, and their strong pushback (to the CIA) on the uranium allegation, particularly in summer 2002, was not included in the SSCI report.
Why This Matters: The DGSE pushback may explain why the CIA dropped the uranium claim in an important Iraq WMD report prepared in August 2002 prior to the creation of the NIE. This, in turn, meant that the uranium claim in the NIE was lifted from a Sep 2002 DIA report, rather than the Aug 2002 CIA report – a rather significant, yet highly under-reported, fact that runs counter to the Bush administration's narrative that the NIE reflected the CIA's position.
1.4 Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The SSCI report did not make it clear that the supposed intel on Iraq seeking uranium from Somalia and the DRC was not considered credible by the CIA right from the very beginning.
Why This Matters: This egregious omission enabled the WH and its propagandists to falsely blather on ad infinitum about how Bush was not just referring to Niger but also to "other countries in Africa". This allowed additional false attacks on former Ambassador Wilson's credibility (more in Sec. 5 below).
2. The Niger forgeries
2.1 "Laundering" of the forgeries
One of the most important stories left unaddressed by the SSCI report is the "laundering" of the claims in the Niger forgeries by one or more individuals within SISMI. To understand what I mean by this, it is helpful to ask the following question:
Since the Niger forgeries were the basis of the original CIA Niger uranium reports (as admitted by the CIA), why is it that the obviously faked names and dates in the Niger forgeries are not mentioned in any of those reports? Why is it that the original CIA reports appear to mention only information that couldn't be summarily dismissed as fake?
In an investigative series in 2005, I demonstrated that the forgeries were "mainstreamed" ("laundered") by SISMI by cherry-picking statements from the forged documents and transmitting them to Western intelligence agencies while withholding some of the information that would have made it obvious that the transmitted allegations were completely bogus. For example, SISMI's 10/15/01 report to the CIA was based on forged Niger Doc 4. Per the SSCI report, there is no indication that the CIA was sent the "received date" marked on the forgery – 9/28/00, which was ~2 weeks prior to the sent date (10/10/2000). If this information had been transmitted to the CIA along with the allegations in that document, it would have immediately revealed that the "intel" was fake (more details on this here). That's not all. As I also demonstrated, a name appearing on the same forgery was altered before the SISMI transmission to the CIA because the name on the forgery was so obviously wrong that it would have made it immediately clear to the recipient of the transmission – the CIA – that the allegations were fabricated. Specifically, forged Niger Doc 4 was a fake letter allegedly signed by Nigerien Foreign Minister Allele Elhadj Habibou. However, per the SSCI report, the 10/15/01 CIA report actually claimed that it was signed by Nassirou Sabo. As it turns out Nassirou Sabo would have been the correct signatory if the letter had been real (based on its October 2000 date) since Habibou was not Foreign Minister of Niger at that time. [Note: My finding was subsequently picked up and confirmed by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica].
The analysis indicates that there were individuals within SISMI who knew that the source of their "intel" (the forged dossier) was completely bogus. Despite that knowledge, they not only decided to use the disinformation, they actively cherry-picked or altered the information before transmitting the allegations to the U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies, in order to make the information seem plausible. This "laundering" of the forgeries was not addressed in the SSCI report.
2.2 Fabrication of the uranium accord
Even more shocking than the "laundering" of the forgeries is the evidence – partly based on a cryptic footnote in the Robb-Silberman report – which indicates that the "verbatim text" of the fake Iraq-Niger uranium accord was deliberately fabricated by someone at SISMI. This was not at all addressed in the SSCI report – so let me provide some additional background on it.
One not-so-widely known aspect of the Niger uranium hoax is that the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" itself was NOT part of the forged dossier peddled by Rocco Martino. When Rocco Martino shared the forged Niger dossier with Elisabetta Burba of Panorama magazine in October 2002, there was no uranium sale "accord" among the numerous fake letters, memos and documents that he gave Burba. There was only an alleged "cover page" for the "accord". Hence, Burba herself never gave the U.S. Government "copies of a Niger-Iraq agreement of July 2000 for the purchase of uranium" (as former INR chief Carl Ford mistakenly believed). Likewise, the IAEA themselves never received anything from the U.S. Government purporting to be the actual "accord". In other words, there exists an entire forged dossier with fake allegations about a uranium sale accord, but no actual accord in the dossier. Given that the CIA received the "verbatim text" of the accord from the Italian intelligence agency SISMI on 2/5/02 (which prompted Dick Cheney's inquiry that led to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's Niger trip) and given that the accord was not in the Martino dossier, how did the "verbatim text" of the accord come into existence?
In fact, the accord or its "verbatim text" has not surfaced to-date despite being a key ingredient in this whole fraud. The forged Niger documents are all over the internet – but the fake uranium sale "accord" is not. Why is that exactly? The explanation is simple enough. Making the bogus uranium sale "accord" public will raise highly unpleasant questions about who forged the uranium sale "accord" and the Niger dossier and why (some answers here).
I discovered the importance of the "missing" accord through an investigation at The Left Coaster last year. In March 2006, I showed that a careful analysis of a terse footnote in the Robb-Silberman report leads us to conclude that the "verbatim text" of the accord was likely fabricated by the Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, in order to bolster the fake claims they had sent the CIA in October 2001. I suggested to reporters that one of the ways in which they could advance this story was by checking with the IAEA to see if the IAEA ever received anything purporting to be the "accord". Thanks to a huge favor from British journalist Solomon Hughes (who writes for the British magazine Private Eye and who contacted the IAEA), I confirmed my inference in a subsequent post in June 2006 based on the information received from the IAEA. I got a second source email confirmation of this recently from Newsweek's Michael Isikoff when I asked him about a similar mistaken claim in his book Hubris co-written with David Corn.
Let me step back and explain the significance of this. What I'm saying is that the CIA actually had two documentary sources of fabricated Niger uranium information, as the CIA's Department of Operations (DO) revealed in a terse footnote in the Robb-Silberman report:
- The well-known Niger dossier peddled by Rocco Martino
- A separate documentary source that closely matched what was in the Niger dossier
The evidence I published in March/June 2006 indicates that the fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" (i.e., the "verbatim text") was the separate documentary source and that it was not part of the Martino dossier. Put simply, what this means is that one or more individuals within SISMI must have fabricated the "accord" (i.e., the "verbatim text" of the accord).
Why This Matters: The Niger forgeries – and the fabricated uranium "accord" – were used as an integral part of a deliberate disinformation campaign to promote a pro-war policy. This disinformation campaign involved both fabrications and the transmission (by SISMI) of cherry-picked or altered false claims from forgeries to create plausible "intel" with the full knowledge that the ultimate source for the claims (a forged dossier) was transparently false. This was fundamentally no different and in fact worse than what was done by individuals tied to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) who fabricated claims about Iraq's non-existent biological weapons. While fabrications – on matters less serious than nuclear allegations – by the INC-linked individuals have received deservedly persistent attention in the media and in Congress (e.g., the Phase II SSCI report on the CIA's INC sources), the media's and Congress' lack of seriousness or interest in investigating the Italian intelligence agency's substantial role in the pre-war intelligence fraud is certainly both puzzling and disappointing. This is even more noteworthy considering that even top officials in INR and CIA DO seem to have been kept in the dark on the role of SISMI and the details of the disinformation campaign.
2.3 Strategic Ambiguity and Redactions
(a) The SSCI report had ambiguous wording and misleading statements that would have led the casual reader go away with the mistaken impression that there was more to the Niger uranium claim in the NIE than what was in the forged Niger documents. The report never made it crystal clear that there was only one set of Niger uranium documents, that the set in question was the forged dossier (and the fabricated "accord") and that the Niger uranium claims that made it into the NIE and to various Bush administration claims emanated directly from the forgeries.
(b) The SSCI report went further by deliberately redacting phrases from US intelligence reports ("two streams", "two phases", etc. – the British magazine Private Eye noted my finding on the latter) that would have revealed a direct connection between the Niger uranium claims and the Niger forgeries.
Why This Matters: The ambiguity in the SSCI report made it difficult for critics of the Bush administration's to easily establish prior to Election 2004 that the Bush administration's uranium claim was traceable entirely to the forged Niger documents. This ambiguity also allowed for baseless speculation that there may have been "authentic" reports of Iraq seeking uranium from Niger that were separate from the claims in the Niger forgeries and that the forgeries were merely a bad and flawed version of something that was real (i.e., 'fake but accurate').
3. The role of WINPAC
The systematic role played by some officials and analysts within CIA's WINPAC division in deliberately stovepiping the known, false uranium claim to the White House despite broader CIA disagreement was not revealed in the SSCI report. The stovepiping by the WINPAC officials in question becomes evident based on a careful analysis – see here, here and here. To illustrate the point, let me highlight two incidents discussed in the previous links:
- 9/11/02: CIA tells the British that they don’t trust the (British) uranium claim
- 9/11/02: Simultaneously, WINPAC* tells the NSC/WH they can use the uranium claim for Bush's UN speech and suggests revised wording
- 9/11/02: CIA tells the White House they should not use the WINPAC-approved uranium claim because it is not credible
- 9/11/02: WH/NSC removes uranium claim from Bush's UN speech
- 10/4/02: NSC sends draft of Bush's Cincinnati speech to CIA ADDI with the uranium claim still included – and closely matching the 9/11/02 WINPAC-suggested wording
- 10/5/02 and 10/6/02: ADDI, DCI, etc. start a major pushback and tell NSC/WH to get rid of the uranium claim since it is not credible
- 10/7/02: NSC takes out the uranium claim from Bush’s Cincinnati speech
- 10/7/02: NSC, in parallel, gets WINPAC approval for uranium claim for a paper “Grave and Gathering Danger”!
[*Inferred, justifiably, as explained here]
You can see that there was a repetitious cycle of fraud perpetrated by the White House and its friendly WINPAC contacts who kept "approving" claims for the WH that the broader CIA and intelligence community kept shooting down repeatedly – even after White House/NSC and WINPAC officials knew that the claim was not credible. In fact, the White House's "approvers" within WINPAC were so blatant in misrepresenting the intelligence that it was even discussed in an email exchange between a DOE analyst and an INR analyst. At the same time, the driving force for WINPAC's behavior was the White House. As Craig Unger noted in his July 2006 Vanity Fair article on the Niger hoax:
…Vanity Fair has found at least 14 instances prior to the 2003 State of the Union in which analysts at the C.I.A., the State Department, or other government agencies who had examined the Niger documents or reports about them raised serious doubts about their legitimacy—only to be rebuffed by Bush-administration officials who wanted to use the material. "They were just relentless," says Wilkerson, who later prepared Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations General Assembly. "You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique—ruthless relentlessness."
Why This Matters: This WINPAC stovepiping operation was essential for the White House to shirk responsibility for their use of fraudulent intel and blame the CIA instead, even though a parallel communication channel that even included then-DCI George Tenet was trying hard (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the WH to drop the uranium claim. However, the body of the SSCI Report is written with what appears to be deliberate vagueness and obfuscation to provide the false impression that the CIA was one confused mess on the uranium matter. This suggests that one or more Republican members of the SSCI may have influenced the narrative in the SSCI Report in order to keep the focus away from the WINPAC stovepiping operation and simultaneously use this rogue operation involving select WH-cooperative personnel in a WH-created group within the CIA (WINPAC) to conveniently paint the "CIA" as a monolithic entity that got the intel "wrong".
4. The revisionist history on Joseph Wilson's trip
A key aspect of the SSCI report that has received little attention is how the report provided incomplete and flawed information about Joseph Wilson's trip and the CIA DO report on his trip – thereby allowing the Bush White House to falsely peddle revisionist history about the significance of Wilson's trip. Principally:
(a) Even though the CIA and DIA told the SSCI (presumably under oath) that Wilson's findings were not considered supportive of the uranium allegation, WINPAC/DIA had egregiously introduced Wilson's claim in support of the uranium allegation in Feb/Mar 2003 once the Niger forgeries got exposed by the IAEA. Subsequently, the White House continued to peddle the fraudulent and revisionist claim that Wilson's trip was supportive of their uranium from Africa allegation.
(b) Wilson's narrative regarding an Iraqi delegation's meeting with a Nigerien official was completely distorted (and sometimes conflated with the trip of a separate Iraqi delegation) to falsely imply that Wilson uncovered evidence for a secret Iraqi attempt to seek uranium from Africa. Wilson had never claimed that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger in 1999 – he spoke about an Iraqi official meeting former Nigerien PM Ibrahim Mayaki in Algiers at a well-known international meeting; yet, Wilson's claim was altered to allege that Wilson was speaking about an Iraqi delegation that had secretly visited Niger.
Why This Matters: The significance of the Algiers-Niger switch – which constituted another piece of deceptive, revisionist history about Joseph Wilson's findings – is twofold. First, there are possible implications surrounding any "secret" Iraqi trip to Niger that was otherwise unknown. The Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers in mid-1999 – narrated by Wilson – was never considered suspicious, as the Butler report pointed out. The Wissam Al-Zahawie trip to Niger in Feb 1999 had always been known to Western intelligence agencies (since 1999) and was never really considered suspicious until Al-Zahawie's name got inserted in the context of uranium into the forged Niger documents. Hence, the (false) notion that there was a separate and secret mid-1999 trip by Iraq to Niger could be easily misused to claim that Iraq was secretly seeking uranium. Second, those indulging in this distortion of Wilson's claim could confuse people by swapping Wilson's claim about a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Algiers with a 1999 Iraq-Niger meeting in Niger. By taking "mid" out of "mid 1999", it became possible to make Wilson's claim sound a lot like the claim from SISMI (originating from the forged Niger documents) that altered the objective of Wissam Al-Zahawie's visit to Niger in (early) 1999. The net result is that the distorted narrative about Wilson's trip could be misused by the Bush White House to further cement their allegation about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger while simultaneously attacking Joseph Wilson. This is exactly what happened – and continued to happen even during Libby's grand jury testimony and subsequent trial.
5. The broader war on Joseph Wilson
In addition to the revisionist history about Wilson's findings, Wilson's statements about his trip were intentionally painted in poor light by the SSCI report – without providing explanations that showed Wilson to have been truthful. The links below provide examples of the SSCI report's egregious misleading on some of Wilson's claims:
- Wilson's statement that he had never claimed to have debunked "the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa"
- Wilson's alleged claim regarding the dates and names in the Niger intel reports
- The assertion that Valerie Plame suggested or "offered up" his name for the Niger trip
- The assertion that his trip only addressed the "bought uranium" claim and not the "sought uranium" claim – also see here and here for some more background
- Wilson's claims about what happened in his meetings with the CIA prior to his trip and upon his return
Why This Matters: As some of the Democratic members of the SSCI must have realized, the narrative about Wilson in the SSCI report was clearly set up to enable a fraudulent character assassination of Joseph Wilson by the Bush White House and their propagandistic shills in the media. Hence, the misleading and egregious SSCI report was a key weapon in the White House's arsenal, not just against the CIA (as discussed in Section 3 above) but also against former Ambassador Wilson and Valerie Plame (sections 4 and 5).
6. Important loose ends
6.1 Key discrepancy in CIA reports
The SSCI evidently never asked the CIA to explain the update made to a key date in one of the CIA's reports (10/15/01 report v. 10/18/01 report). The erroneous date was detected by the CIA in one of the Niger intel reports and it appeared in one of the key Niger forgeries – "Wednesday July 7, 2000" (7/7/2000 was a Friday). Worse, the main section of the SSCI report incorrectly stated that there were no obvious errors in names and dates in the information that the CIA received from the Italian intelligence agency, SISMI.
Why This Matters: The date in question refers to the date when the alleged uranium accord was approved and the date discrepancy in the CIA reports may reveal much earlier CIA knowledge of the bogus nature of the uranium allegations than has been admitted to date.
6.2 Prior CIA knowledge of forgeries
Critical information that revealed earlier CIA knowledge of the Niger forgeries than admitted in the SSCI report, was not publicized in the SSCI report. Some examples include:
(a) The lack of coverage of Rocco Martino's 2001 walk-in into the U.S. Embassy Rome with a copy of the forged Niger dossier
(b) The lack of coverage of the CIA's interactions with DGSE and the DGSE feedback in Spring/Summer 2002 to CIA that uranium claims were bogus (and linked to the forgeries)
(c) The lack of coverage of the CIA's awareness of the forgeries and their (in)significance at the time copies of the forged dossier were received from Italian reporter Elisabetta Burba in Oct 2002
Why This Matters: The preponderance of evidence suggests that the CIA knew about the forgeries and the dubious nature of SISMI's uranium allegations well before the relevant date (early 2003) in the SSCI report's narrative. This may explain why the CIA on the whole strongly backed away from the uranium claim by late summer 2002. By excluding information of earlier CIA knowledge, the SSCI report presented somewhat revisionist history on this whole matter.
6.3 Fraudulent sources
Two sources (possibly outside of the Rocco Martino cabal) who fabricated a claim in Nov 2002 that Iraq had purchased Niger uranium were never followed up with despite the US intelligence community having their contact information. Yet, the SSCI evidently did not bother to press Defense HUMINT Service (DHS) and CIA on these sources.
Why This Matters: The fact that specific individuals who might shed light on the origins of fabrications regarding Iraq's alleged uranium quest have not been followed up with is nothing short of a travesty and mirrors the FBI's original whitewash of the Niger forgery investigation, wherein Rocco Martino himself was never interviewed by the FBI.