Dossier Blows Up in Faces of Blair and Bush
Brits had African-uranium intelligence from only two sources and about only one nation — Niger. Worse, only one of the sources directly supported the uranium statement in Blair’s dossier cited by Bush in the State of the Union address: the source that gave the Brits believeable summaries of laughable forgeries.
Recent Dossier-Related Revelations Blow Up in Faces of Blair and BushBy Dennis Hans
A close reading of the latest report by the British government’s Intelligence and Security Committee and two classified memos made public by the Hutton Inquiry, coupled with material that’s been in the public domain for several months, leads to the following damning conclusions:
• The controversial statement in the British government’s September 24, 2002 dossier “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” — “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — was in reference to only one country: Niger.
• The wording of that sentence was not the work of the Brits alone. Rather, it was the result of difficult negotiations between British intelligence and their Italian counterparts who, as the “originators and owners of the reporting” of that particular intelligence, had final say on how the Brits could use it or publicly describe it.
• That “intelligence” consisted of summaries written by the Italians of documents later shown to be crude, laughable forgeries of purported correspondence between Iraqi and Nigerien officials and a “memorandum of agreement” for the sale of as much as 500 tons of yellowcake uranium.
• That bogus intelligence supplied by the Italians was the Brits’ only source that supported the specific wording of the dossier assertion. Thus, by extension, it was the only source to support George W. Bush’s 16-word assertion in the 2003 State of the Union address (SOTU) based on the dossier.
• Bush officials who continue to defend those “16 words” on the basis that Bush and the Brits had used the expansive term “Africa” — implying the Brits had uranium intelligence on a nation or nations other than Niger — are now left without that leg to stand on.
• Although the Brits had a second, non-documentary source on Iraq’s alleged pursuit of Niger’s uranium, from what is known of that source it could not be the basis for the actual dossier words. (See the section below on “’Just-In-Time’ Intelligence.”) A statement based on the Brits’ second source would likely sound something like this: “Some Nigerien officials, all of whom acknowledge that no Iraqi in the past five years has ever mentioned uranium or yellowcake in their presence, nevertheless hold unrealized suspicions that certain Iraqis may have wanted to talk with them in 1999 about purchasing an unknown quantity — significant or not we cannot say — of low-grade uranium, which the Iraqis would not be able to enrich into weapons-grade uranium because they don’t have centrifuges.”
• At the very time the CIA recommended that the Brits remove from an early draft of the dossier the statement that Iraq had recently “purchased” uranium from Africa, the agency was preparing a deceptive National Intelligence Estimate that would lead members of Congress to conclude that Iraq was aggressively seeking uranium in Africa and may even have found a willing supplier. The wording in the Brits’ published dossier — “has sought the supply of significant quantities” — was WEAKER than the CIA’s presentation in the NIE, as declassified excerpts show ( http://fas.org/irp/cia/product/iraq-wmd.html ). The CIA should be viewed not as the “good guy” in a “good vs. evil” intelligence war against Pentagon neocons, but as a devious outfit that did its part to trick congressional fence-sitters into voting in October 2002 to authorize war.
“Africa” Meant “Niger”
The British government’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is chaired by Labour parliamentarian Ann Taylor, a supporter of Tony Blair; its members are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leaders of the two main opposition parties. The ISC’s September 2003 report, “Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction — Intelligence and Assessments” (available in PDF format via this link: http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/reports/isc/), is a conscientious effort by a rather deferential committee. It leaves no doubt that the “intelligence” on uranium concerned Niger alone.
Taking a cue from the lingo in the dossier, the section is titled “Uranium from Africa.” It covers Paragraphs 87 to 93, which I quote in their entirety. A note on acronyms: JIC is the Joint Intelligence Committee, which was in charge of compiling and writing the dossier; SIS is the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.
87. The claim that Iraq had expressed an intention to obtain uranium from Africa was not included in the JIC Assessments prior to September 2002. The SIS told the Committee that this was because the initial intelligence was not acquired until June 2002 and the JIC did not produce an assessment on the Iraqi nuclear programme between June and September. However, the intelligence was included in the Iraqi WMD paper that was circulated for comment in August and in the first draft of the dossier on 10 September.
88. In the foreword of the dossier the Prime Minister said:
“What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam . . . continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.”
The executive summary states that:
“As a result of the intelligence, we judge that Iraq has . . . sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear programme that could require it.”
while the main body of the text stated that:
“. . . there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
89. The Committee questioned the Chief of the SIS about the reporting behind these statements. We were told that it came from two independent sources, one of which was based on documentary evidence. One had reported in June 2002 and the other in September that the Iraqis had expressed interest in purchasing, as it had done before, uranium from Niger. GCHQ also had some sigint concerning a visit by an Iraqi official to Niger.
90. The SIS’s two sources reported that Iraq had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger, but the sources were uncertain whether contracts had been signed or if uranium had actually been shipped to Iraq. In order to protect the intelligence sources and to be factually correct, the phrase, “Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was used. At the time of producing the dossier, nothing had challenged the accuracy of the SIS reports.
91. In February 2003 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) received from a third party (not the UK) documents that the party had acquired in the autumn of 2002 and which purported to be evidence of Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium from Niger. In March 2003 the IAEA identified some of the documents it has received as forgeries and called into question the authenticity of the others. [Note from Dennis Hans: the “third party” that provided documents to the IAEA is the U.S.]
92. The third party then released its documents to the SIS. The SIS then contacted its source to check the authenticity of its documentary evidence. The SIS told us that its source was still conducting further investigations into this matter.
93. The SIS stated that the documents did not affect its judgment of its second source and consequently the SIS continues to believe that the Iraqis were attempting to negotiate the purchase of uranium from Niger. We have questioned the SIS about the basis of its judgement and conclude that it is reasonable. [end of ISC excerpt]
Note that both of the SIS’s sources refer to Niger. No other African nation is mentioned. The claim in the dossier concerns Niger and Niger alone.
Clarifying the ISC Statements on “Sources”
The ISC needs to recall SIS chief Sir Richard Dearlove to clear up the statement in Paragraph 89, about support for the dossier statements coming from “two independent sources.” The way I would put it is that while the second source may have bolstered Brit confidence at a critical moment that Iraq did indeed have designs on Niger’s uranium, it does not support the specific dossier statements quoted in Paragraph 88. Only the first intelligence source, from June 2002, backed up the specific claims — and it did so with intelligence now known to be worthless.
Among the possible explanations for the confusion are (1) the ISC engaged in some imprecise paraphrasing, (2) Dearlove exaggerated the assertions of the second source, (3) Dearlove is confused about that source’s direct relevance to the dossier statements quoted in Paragraph 88, or (4) I’m wrong.
For more on the Brits’ second intelligence source, see “’Just-In-Time’ Intelligence” below.
Why Summaries of Laughable Forgeries Can Appear Persuasive
A close reading of the ISC grafs makes it clear that it is the June intelligence, not the September intelligence, that is “based on documentary evidence.” As we’ll see in the next section, this is a critical point.
It has been reported by the Washington Post, Reuters and other news outlets just what that “documentary evidence” consisted of. The Post ( http://commondreams.org/headlines03/0322-04.htm ), paraphrasing a U.N. source, put it this way on March 22, 15 days after the International Atomic Energy Agency exposed the forged correspondence: “a Niger diplomat turned the letters over to Italian intelligence, which provided summaries of the information to Washington and London.” The key word is “summaries.”
Here’s Reuters description in a July 9 report ( http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/24by7panews/page.cfm?objectid=13157652&method=full&siteid=50143): “Italy's intelligence service circulated reports about the Niger documents — not the documents themselves — to other Western intelligence services in early 2002, and that was apparently how the British and U.S. intelligence services learned of them, U.S. government sources said.”
That report and similar ones in the Italian media elicited this non-denial denial from the Italian government on July 13:
“The news reported by various information organizations, national and foreign, concerning Italy's claimed transmission to other intelligence organizations of documents of Niger or Iraqi origin, conveying evidence relative to uranium transactions between Niger and Iraq are without any foundation.” ( http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/07/13/sprj.irq..italy.uranium.ap/index.html )
The key phrase is “documents of Niger or Iraqi origin.” What the Italians provided was of Italian origin: Italian summaries of the information contained in the purported Nigerien and Iraqi documents. Italian officials soon abandoned their slippery non-denial denial.
The fact that the Brits received derivative evidence — summaries of the documents rather than the documents themselves — greatly increased the likelihood that the credulous Brits would find the claims credible. Once the IAEA received those documents in February 2003, it didn’t take long to brand them forgeries. They contained glaring errors, which leads one to wonder if Italian intelligence truly believed they were geniune (assuming the Italians weren’t in on the forging).
Summaries of forgeries don’t include signatures that appear to have been written by a child, dates that don’t match, and obsolete letterheads. None of those clues would be visible in clean summaries prepared by competent intelligence agents whose objective may have been to make the ludicrous seem plausible.
The Scarlett Memo and the Unknowing Knower
Two memos made public this summer by the Hutton Inquiry, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of British WMD expert Dr. David Kelly, make it clear that the language in the September 24 dossier stemmed from the June 2002 “documentary evidence” — i.e., the summaries of forgeries provided by Italian intelligence — rather than the non-documentary evidence the Brits acquired at some point in September 2002.
The compilation and drafting of the dossier was assigned to the Joint Intelligence Committee, under the direction of John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC. The September 10 dossier draft stated the following as a “what we know” fact:
“Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa.” (p. 29)
Over the next six days the dossier underwent significant revisions, and in a section laying out “what we now know” about Saddam’s WMD programmes, the JIC wrote this:
“Uranium has been sought from Africa. . . .” (p. 15)
In less than a week the all-knowing JIC went from knowing uranium had been “purchased” to knowing only that it had been “sought.” It was as if they first “knew” that 2 + 2 = 7, but six days later were willing to say only that 2 + 2 = a number between 1 and 10.
The explanation, of course, is that the JIC didn’t “know” on September 10 what it said it knew, nor did it “know” on September 16. The JIC has a bad habit of saying it “knows” when it bloody well doesn’t. Of course, from Mr. Blair’s perspective, that might be seen as a good JIC habit.
Why the change from “purchased” to “sought”? That’s what Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications and strategy, wondered in a September 17 memo to Scarlett, where he raised a number of points about the wording and presentation of the September 16 draft. “Can we say he has secured uranium from Africa,” asked Campbell, underlining the word “secured” for emphasis and leaving off the question mark in his question.
The next day, September 18, Scarlett wrote back with bad news: “on the uranium from Africa, the agreed interpretation of the intelligence, brokered with some difficulty with the originators and owners of the reporting) allows us only to say that he has ‘sought’ uranium from Africa.” (Single parenthesis in the original.)
(To read the exchange, first click here: http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/content/evidence_260803.htm . The actual memos, in PDF format, are numbered CAB/11/0067 and CAB/11/0071.)
The Unintentional Whistle-Blower
From Scarlett’s stunning disclosure we can infer a number of very important things:
• The dossier wording of what the Brits “know” about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of uranium was not based on what the Brits themselves genuinely knew — which was nothing — but on negotiations between the hapless Brits and “the originators and owners of the reporting.”
• The expression “originators and owners of the reporting” refers to those who provided the Brits with intelligence “based on documentary evidence” in June rather than the source of the non-documentary intelligence acquired sometime in September. Recall the ISC statement in Paragraph 87: “the intelligence was included in the Iraqi WMD paper that was circulated for comment in August and in the first draft of the dossier on 10 September.” Intelligence that arrived sometime in September could not have been included in a WMD paper that circulated in August.
• The “originators and owners” of the June intelligence are the people responsible for the Brits initially believing that uranium had been “purchased.” They are also responsible for enforcing a change from “purchased” to “sought” as the dossier was revised and polished. They are Italian intelligence.
• The wording in the published dossier is essentially the same as in the September 16 draft, which reflected the changes insisted upon by the Italian “originators and owners”: The published dossier states variously that “Uranium has been sought. . . . ,” Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. . . .” and Iraq has “sought the supply of significant quantities. . . .” The key words are “sought” and “significant quantities.” This is further evidence that the dossier assertions are based on the tangible-but-forged June intelligence provided by the Italians, rather than the vague September intelligence where “significant quantities” or even “uranium” seems never to have been mentioned by an Iraqi to a Nigerien or vice versa.
It’s rather curious that the Brits would acquire a second source for the uranium claim in September 2002. This was old intelligence, concerning inferences that date from 1999, yet it arrived “just in time” to bolster the Brits’ belief in Iraqi guilt when the Brits might have begun to doubt their June 2002 intelligence. You see, ’round about September 11 or 12 the CIA recommended that the Brits delete from the September 10 dossier draft the assertion that uranium “has been purchased from Africa.” The CIA didn’t provide an explanation, so the Brits, professing confidence in their sources, kept it in — albeit in softened form. We don’t yet know if the CIA warning led the Brits to doublecheck with the Italians, but this was about the time that the Brits and the Italian “originators and owners” “brokered with some difficulty” a revised wording that uranium had merely been “sought” rather than “purchased.”
The proper British investigative bodies should make it their business to find out if the CIA warning prompted a confab with the Italians. Those bodies should also find out precisely when in September and from whom the new intelligence was received.
Anyone inclined to think of the CIA as the “good guys” of the story, given their attempt (albeit weak and fruitless) to get the Brits to drop the uranium claim, should be aware that the agency greatly “hardened up” the uranium story in an Oct. 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) designed to bolster Bush’s chances of winning congressional backing for a resolution authorizing a war on Iraq. CIA director George Tenet didn’t want heads of state Bush and Blair STATING AS FACT what Tenet knew or suspected was false: that Iraq had recently “purchased” uranium in Africa.
Tenet had absolutely no problem with officials at a lower level, including himself, lending undue credibility to dubious claims that Iraq was aggressively PURSUING uranium in Africa. But he didn’t want his boss or Blair risking a serious scandal by personally presenting as the undisputed truth an explosive charge that Tenet suspected or knew was false. (Read the relevant, declassified NIE excerpts here: http://fas.org/irp/cia/product/iraq-wmd.html )
The provider of the Brits’ September 2002 intelligence has not been identified. We don’t know the names of the Nigerien officials who make the claims or the name of the intelligence agency that passed the claims on to the Brits (assuming that the Nigeriens didn’t speak directly to Brit intelligence). But the nature of the intelligence is clear from comments this summer by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who cited whistleblower Joseph Wilson as lending support to the claim in the dossier, given that Wilson acknowledged that a Nigerien official told Wilson he believed that an Iraqi trade delegation at a 1999 international conference MAY have wanted to talk about Niger’s uranium. Weeks after Straw’s surprising statement, Wilson fully explained his take on the matter, which he had first reported to the U.S. government in March 2002 .
Wilson told journalist and blogger Josh Marshall ( http://talkingpointsmemo.com/sept0304.html#092203920pm ) about one Nigerien official he spoke to in the course of his eight-day investigation in Feb.-March 2002:
“One of my interlocutors said that on the fringes of an international conference he was attending, he was approached by a Niger businessman who asked him to meet with an Iraqi delegation. He said that because of alarm bells going off in his mind about UN sanctions and everything else, he declined to take the meeting, and then, rather pensively, he looked up--and sort of plumbing the depths of his mind. . . . He said, ‘Gee, maybe he would have wanted to talk about uranium.’ Now, I reported all of that because it seemed to me that I'd been asked to report on everything I'd found out, and that this was just sort of one of these other little tidbits. It never constituted in my mind--it was even thinner gruel than what I had found out about how the process could work. The fact that there was a meeting or a visit in which uranium was not discussed does not translate into purchased a significant quantities of uranium. The fact that there was a meeting that was not taken, that was not held, but had it been held, one of the participants opines that perhaps uranium might have been one of the things that this guy might have wanted to discuss, does not suggest uranium sales or significant quantities of uranium from Niger to Iraq.”
Wilson also addressed a similar claim relating to a visit to Niger by the Iraqi ambassador to Rome. Again, no Nigerien alleges that the ambassador ever said anything about uranium, let alone “significant quantities” of the stuff. The Ambassador, Wissam al-Zahawie, informed the British newspaper The Independent (August 10, 2003; unfortunately, the link has expired) that “In February 1999, I was instructed to visit four West African countries to extend an invitation on behalf of the Iraqi President to their heads of state to visit Baghdad.”
The Independent further reports that al-Zahawie “says he assumed the invitations were aimed at breaking the embargo on high-level contacts with Iraq, which was being squeezed hard by UN sanctions. A Middle East analyst pointed out that Baghdad organised a trade fair in 1999 in an attempt to break sanctions, and was keen to get as many foreign leaders as possible to attend. ‘The thinking was that some of these countries were bound to get on the Security Council at some stage, and might cast their votes against sanctions,’ said the analyst.”
If the Brits have any credible evidence that the suspicions of Nigerien officials have ever been realized, resulting in an official Iraqi request to purchase uranium, now would be a good time to produce it. Not as good a time as September 2002, but good enough. If the Brits don’t have such evidence, they should acknowledge that the nebulous September 2002 intelligence simply does not support the assertion in the published dossier about “significant quantities” definitely being “sought,” which means the dossier’s uranium assertion was based solely on summaries of forgeries.
Speaking of those forgeries, it has now been seven months since the Brits asked Italian intelligence to “check the authenticity of its documentary evidence” (ISC Report, Paragraph 92). Could it be that both the British and Italian administrations and intelligence services hope their respective media and parliaments will forget all about this and won’t demand a prompt, PUBLIC answer? If their media and parliaments are as lame as their U.S. counterparts, that hope will not be in vain.
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq war he published “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html ) and “The Disinformation Age” ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm ). He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu