niger_yellowcake.jpg

[Preface: In the midst of her incredible live-blogging effort at FDL, Emptywheel 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 third one (see Parts 1 and 2) 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 one of the most important aspects of the uranium from Africa fraud – the mysterious Iraq-Niger uranium purchase "accord" (NOTE: All emphasis in this post in quoted portions is mine, unless otherwise stated).

One of the memos released last week is a 10 June 2003 memo from Carl Ford, former chief of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to former Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman. In this memo, Mr. Ford says:

In October 2002, an Italian journalist passed purported copies of a Niger-Iraq agreement of July 2000 for the purchase of uranium to Embassy Rome. [page 2]

With due respect to Mr. Ford, he was completely mistaken, probably because he wasn't told the whole story. I would find it utterly fascinating and deeply troubling if the chief of INR had not been told the real story, but since it appears that even the former chief of CIA's Europe operations (Tyler Drumheller) may have been kept in the dark on this, nothing's a surprise any more.

I'm not trying to pick on Mr. Ford here. This is a common mistake – to conflate the Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" (or "agreement") with the forged Niger dossier that Rocco Martino was peddling (in this case to Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba). As unbelievable as it sounds, from what we know to-date, these were two separate things. So, let me summarize what we know and the implications of what we know.

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". 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 contrary to what you may have heard, 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).

Now, some people may think it is incredulous that an allegedly sophisticated intelligence agency could have participated in the creation of such bogus materials. However, as I remarked recently in a detailed post discussing the forgeries and the question of motive:

the Niger forgeries hoax was not just about the creation of the forgeries. It was primarily about how the forgeries were intended to be used. Put another way, the quality of the original forgeries would be largely irrelevant to bad actors who intended to "mainstream" the contents in a manner that preserved "plausibility", while being able to cover their a** by attributing the "intel" to a documentary source that they would never have to reveal (see Appendix 2 for a discussion on this point).

[...]

The picture that emerges is a campaign by some individuals within the Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, to systematically provide known-fraudulent information to the Bush administration to help them in their aggressive PR campaign against Iraq. This campaign (see Sec. 4) rivals those of fraudsters linked to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and is arguably more serious in nature considering how it helped the Bush White House build a nuclear case for war. It is therefore naturally puzzling and disappointing that the U.S. mainstream media and the U.S. Congress have shown far less seriousness and interest in investigating and revealing the role played by SISMI in this matter, in comparison to the focus on the INC.

Let me illustrate how I think this campaign played out based on what is known and what I’ve uncovered to date (borrowed from this earlier post). In a previous post, I laid out the real motives that drove the forgeries, fabrications and transmission of information originating from the forgeries. I also summarized SISMI’s critical role in the whole operation during the late 2001-early 2002 time period. What I’d like to do below, is to present a chronological summary of key events (based in large part on the Phase I SSCI report and information uncovered since then) so that readers have a better perspective on the significance of SISMI’s actions in relation to the uranium from Africa hoax. (Note that page numbers in the table below are references to page numbers in the SSCI Phase I report. The color-coding in the last column of the table is intended to show how, at critical moments in this egregious affair, SISMI effectively attested to the credibility of their false reporting (red) – repeatedly trying to convince the unconvinced/skeptical (green) or interested CIA (yellow) that the allegations passed muster. This is another way in which one can arrive at an answer to the question of motive behind the forgeries and the associated cherry-picking and fabrication).

Table 1: SISMI and the Uranium from Africa scandal – Key Events and What We Know To-date
Date
CIA
SISMI
Context
Summer 2001

CIA contacts France’s DGSE about uranium rumors re: Iraq; DGSE responds that the rumors are not credible

-
CIA satisfied that rumors of Iraq seeking uranium in Africa are not credible
Fall 2001 [possibly Oct 2001]
Rocco Martino tries to peddle Niger forgeries to CIA in Rome
-
CIA chief allegedly throws Martino out judging his documents to be fake
9/21/01
-
SISMI tells CIA that Iraq may have discussed uranium with Niger
10/15/01
-
Sends CIA first known report transmitting cherry-picked information (from forgeries) with key alteration to make it appear that the "intel" was plausible
SISMI tells CIA that there is credible information that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger
10/18/01
Considers 10/15/01 SISMI report as "possible" but "very limited" and "lacking needed detail"; INR regards report as "highly suspect" [p. 36] – asks SISMI for further "clarification"
-
CIA not convinced by SISMI’s first report
10/18/01
-
SISMI chief Nicolo Pollari responds to CIA vouching for the report and for the "credibility of a source named La Signora" (who was part of the Niger forgery cabal)
SISMI vouches for their report and for the "credibility" of their source (La Signora)
10/18/01-2/5/02
U.S. intelligence community still unconvinced and cannot corroborate SISMI’s claims
(Pollari and Italy’s defense minister Antonio Martino secretly meet in Dec 2001 with US neocons – Michael Ledeen and others. Not clear if Iraq was discussed.)
CIA still not convinced by SISMI’s claims. Did they ask SISMI to provide information on the "accord" itself?
2/5/02
-
SISMI transmits "verbatim text" of fake Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" to bolster their allegations; also adds Wissam al-Zahawie into the mix
2/5/02
CIA-WINPAC and DIA "more impressed" with detail and substance of second SISMI report; "report provided much more information than they had seen previously in similar reporting about alleged uranium transactions to other countries"; INR continues to doubt reporting [p. 38]
-
Having seen the "verbatim text" of the "accord", CIA-WINPAC/DIA start to wonder if SISMI claims may be correct; INR still unconvinced
2/12/02
DIA writes up report based on SISMI’s "verbatim text" of the "accord" – attracts Dick Cheney’s attention and he asks WINPAC for more information. This leads to Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger.
-
SISMI’s "verbatim text" of "accord" attracts Dick Cheney’s attention and leads to the CIA sending Joseph Wilson to Niger to try and corroborate the allegations from SISMI
2/3/02-3/1/02*
Wilson’s trip fails to corroborate claims in SISMI’s reports. INR still unconvinced.
-
CIA-WINPAC still has no corroboration that SISMI’s reports are credible
3/1/02
INR’s 3/1/02 report deems the whole thing "not likely"
-
Questions persist in U.S. intelligence community on the reliability of SISMI’s allegations
3/25/02*
-
SISMI sends third report providing additional information on the alleged Niger uranium deal
SISMI continues to send information backing up their original allegations
Summer 2002
CIA contacts France’s DGSE for corroboration – DGSE unequivocally declares the uranium allegations to be nonsense; key Aug 2002 CIA NESA Iraq WMD paper drops uranium claim altogether
-
CIA on the whole convinced that uranium claim is not credible
9/9/02
-
SISMI chief Nicolo Pollari has fairly unprecedented secret meeting with Deputy NSA Stephen Haldley (and NSA Condi Rice) – all indications are SISMI likely vouched for their Niger reporting in this meeting and WH pushes CIA to approve uranium claim again and again for Bush speeches starting on Sep 11, 2002
SISMI likely vouches for Niger claims again and WH begins aggressive push to introduce Niger uranium claim in Bush administration speeches using WINPAC stovepipe

Let me add a couple of qualifications to the table:

  • None of what I have described in this post should be read to mean that SISMI never changed their mind on the uranium matter. It is possible that sometime later in 2002 or 2003 SISMI may have tried to correct the false claims, but we know too little about that to be sure that something like that really happened.
  • SISMI’s role in this affair does not in any way excuse what was done by WINPAC or the Bush administration. The scope of this post relates to the forgeries and the "accord" and to those who first transmitted information traceable to these documents. What was done in the US using the information sent by SISMI is an entirely different matter that I have discussed in other posts.

P.S. Given the seemingly unserious FBI investigation of the forgeries, probably made impotent by the Bush administration’s unwillingness to rock the boat in Italy and reveal more of the systematic fraud that occurred under the leadership of ultra-corrupt Bush pal Silvio Berlusconi, I don’t have a whole lot of hope that the truth will come out regarding the uranium "accord".

*P.P.S. Fixed a date typo in the table thanks to commenter along at FDL.