Skip to comments.Evidence of Niger uranium trade 'years before war'
Posted on 06/27/2004 3:51:32 PM PDT by Pikamax
Evidence of Niger uranium trade 'years before war' By Mark Huband Published: June 27 2004 21:56 | Last Updated: June 27 2004 21:56
When thieves stole a steel watch and two bottles of perfume from Niger's embassy on Via Antonio Baiamonti in Rome at the end of December 2000, they left behind many questions about their intentions.
The identity of the thieves has not been established. But one theory is that they planned to steal headed notepaper and official stamps that would allow the forging of documents for the illicit sale of uranium from Niger's vast mines.
The break-in is one of the murkier elements surrounding the claim - made by the US and UK governments in the lead-up to the Iraq war - that Iraq sought to buy uranium illicitly from Niger.
The British government has said repeatedly it stands by intelligence it gathered and used in its controversial September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes. It still claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.
But the US intelligence community, officials and politicians, are publicly sceptical, and the public differences between the two allies on the issue have obscured the evidence that lies behind the UK claim.
Until now, the only evidence of Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium from Niger had turned out to be a forgery. In October 2002, documents were handed to the US embassy in Rome that appeared to be correspondence between Niger and Iraqi officials.
When the US State Department later passed the documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, they were found to be fake. US officials have subsequently distanced themselves from the entire notion that Iraq was seeking buy uranium from Niger.
However, European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.
These intelligence officials now say the forged documents appear to have been part of a "scam", and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored.
The fake documents were handed to an Italian journalist working for the Italian magazine Panorama by a businessman in October 2002. According to a senior official with detailed knowledge of the case, this businessman had been dismissed from the Italian armed forces for dishonourable conduct 25 years earlier.
The journalist - Elisabetta Burba - reported in a Panorama article that she suspected the documents were forgeries and handed them to officials at the US embassy in Rome.
The businessman, referred to by a pseudonym in the Panorama article, had previously tried to sell the documents to several intelligence services, according to a western intelligence officer.
It was later established that he had a record of extortion and deception and had been convicted by a Rome court in 1985 and later arrested at least twice. The suspected forger's real name is known to the FT, but cannot be used because of legal constraints. He did not return telephone calls yesterday, and is understood to be planning to reveal selected aspects of his story to a US television channel.
The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.
This intelligence provided clues about plans by Libya and Iran to develop their undeclared nuclear programmes. Niger officials were also discussing sales to North Korea and China of uranium ore or the "yellow cake" refined from it: the raw materials that can be progressively enriched to make nuclear bombs.
The raw intelligence on the negotiations included indications that Libya was investing in Niger's uranium industry to prop it up at a time when demand had fallen, and that sales to Iraq were just a part of the clandestine export plan. These secret exports would allow countries with undeclared nuclear programmes to build up uranium stockpiles.
One nuclear counter-proliferation expert told the FT: "If I am going to make a bomb, I am not going to use the uranium that I have declared. I am going to use what I acquire clandestinely, if I am going to keep the programme hidden."
This may have been the method being used by Libya before it agreed last December to abandon its secret nuclear programme. According to the IAEA, there are 2,600 tonnes of refined uranium ore - "yellow cake" - in Libya. However, less than 1,500 tonnes of it is accounted for in Niger records, even though Niger was Libya's main supplier.
Information gathered in 1999-2001 suggested that the uranium sold illicitly would be extracted from mines in Niger that had been abandoned as uneconomic by the two French-owned mining companies - Cominak and Somair, both of which are owned by the mining giant Cogema - operating in Niger.
"Mines can be abandoned by Cogema when they become unproductive. This doesn't mean that people near the mines can't keep on extracting," a senior European counter-proliferation official said.
He added that there was no evidence the companies were aware of the plans for illicit mining.
When the intelligence gathered in 1999-2001 was thrown into the diplomatic maelstrom that preceded the US-led invasion of Iraq, it took on new significance. Several services contributed to the picture.
The Italians, looking for corroboration but lacking the global reach of the CIA or the UK intelligence service MI6, passed information to the US in 2001 and to the UK in 2002.
The UK eavesdropping centre GCHQ had intercepted communications suggesting Iraq was seeking clandestine uranium supplies, as had the French intelligence service.
The Italian intelligence was not incorporated in detail into the assessments of the CIA, which seeks to use such information only when it is gathered from its own sources rather than as a result of liaison with foreign intelligence services. But five months after receiving it, the US sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to assess the credibility of separate US intelligence information that suggested Iraq had approached Niger.
Mr Wilson was critical of the Bush administration's use of secret intelligence, and has since charged that the White House sought to intimidate him by leaking the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.
But Mr Wilson also stated in his account of the visit that Mohamed Sayeed al-Sahaf, Iraq's former information minister, was identified to him by a Niger official as having sought to discuss trade with Niger.
As Niger's other main export is goats, some intelligence officials have surmised uranium was what Mr Sahaf was referring to.
I have always suspected that the whole British intelligence document was a setup... it wouldn't surprise me if Wilson himself took part in it... The rest of this article, while disturbing, is rather good news... I sure hope we hear more about this...
Well, Wilson is a puke. And, Baghdad Bob was the potential buyer.
exactly, it was a poison pill designed to discredit the entire story - the story itself was and is true, but this falsified evidence plant serves to discredit the entire story.
"As Niger's other main export is goats, some intelligence officials have surmised uranium was what Mr Sahaf was referring to
Mot folks who have encountered the Niger documents assume they were deemed "forgeries" because everything was handwritten, even the LOGO.
Some reporters even said that the "forgeries" were "crude" because no one would ever believe the documents to be authentic which contained hand drawn letterheads!
Actually, the documents in question are not the originals ~ rather they are holographic copies ~ which is to say someone with access to the originals sat down and copied them by hand, including the logo.
The "forgery" part of the story would entail WHAT was written, not HOW it was transcribed. After all these folks, as with most folks in this world, live without photocopy machines at the ready.
Now, how do we educate our modern reporters to the realities of life in the rest of the world ~ how about this one ~ we strip them down buck naked except for a dhotti and drop them into a Lagos slum. They are to come back fully clothed, well fed, with new shoes and a great story about street crime.
Does that seem like a fair test for these guys? Bet they'd get over that nonsense about imagining Africa as being a modern electronic wonderland.
Indeed, as some of us have suspected, the forged documents were created to cast a question over the earlier intelligence that is most likely true.
Note the forgeries appear on the scene in October 2002. That is months after Joe Wilson's February 2002 trip.
Also the infamous British Dossier was written up in September 2002. Again, before the forgeries were introduced to taint the story.
Remember that almost exactly at the same time the Wilson story started being disseminated in the press anonymously in June 2003, the British ball started rolling on a very similar story: The "Sexed-Up" Document story that turned out to be false.
I have often stated I think these were twin planned attacks on both Bush and Blair--both with a similar accusation: "Bush Lied" and "Blair Lied". And yes, I think Wilson was involved with that plot to bring down these two men.
I found this amusing:
When thieves stole a steel watch and two bottles of perfume from Niger's embassy on Via Antonio Baiamonti in Rome at the end of December 2000, they left behind many questions about their intentions. The identity of the thieves has not been established.
One question that comes to mind, which should have been explained by the journalist, is how he came to the conclusion that there was more than one thief? And from whom did this info on the theft originate?
The rest of the article seems to hang on this mere guess, a theory which is simply not justified given the available info :
But one theory is that they planned to steal headed notepaper and official stamps that would allow the forging of documents for the illicit sale of uranium from Niger's vast mines.
Well, isn't that special? Here's my theory, using the KISS method:
There is a report that two bottles of perfume were stolen, along with a watch, but no evidence has been mentioned of anything else tampered with or removed from the premises. In the absence of such evidence, there isn't much reason to be baffled about the thief's intention... the most obvious explanation is just that he or she intended to steal some perfume and a watch.
The alleged robbery - and so the alleged forgery if the claim is that it is derived from paper obtained in it- occured AFTER the Iraqi met with the Nigerien official mentioned by Wilson, and also AFTER the even earlier confirmed and well-known visit to Niger of the Iraqi trade mission which invited the president of Niger to visit Baghdad.
The folks making the claim about "forgery" were not commenting on the nature of the copies, which were always described as "copies". The originals were left behind in the hands of the targets of the espionage that resulted in the holographic "copies" falling into the hands of various intelligence services.
My comment refers to the initial story that starts this thread ~ it's not the documents themselves that are forgeries, but the contents of the "copies" ~ because the intelligence agencies do not have the originals!
My note: Also in October there were rumblings about a North Korean attempt to procure uranium from Congo.
The Guardian via TheAge.com.au, of http://www.theage.com.au/cgi-bin/common/popupPrintArticle.pl?path=/articles/2003/07/17/1058035132835.html
-- "Iraq uranium forgeries crudely done, newspaper reveals," By Sophie Arie, Rome, July 18 2003
Forged documents on which the US, Britain and Australia allegedly based their case that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger were so crudely drafted that it is unlikely they would have survived more than a few hours' - or minutes' - scrutiny by any specialist, it has emerged.
The letters and paperwork, which surfaced in Italy's left-of-centre daily La Repubblica on Wednesday, reveal how amateurish the forgeries were.
Although they run to only eight pages, they contain more than a dozen easily checkable errors. A logo, supposedly the national symbol of Niger, is badly drawn and missing much of the detail normally used in government documents.
US President George Bush used the forged documents to build the case for war with Iraq. The US has since accepted they were bogus and blamed British intelligence for supplying the information.
At prime minister's questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Blair insisted the British claim was based not on the forged documents but on independent intelligence.
He said the link between Niger and Iraq was not an invention of the the CIA or Britain.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body responsible for non-proliferation, reminded Britain on Wednesday that it had a duty to hand over any new intelligence for verification.
The forged documents were passed in February this year by the US to the IAEA, which a month later declared them to be forgeries. The IAEA has not released the documents. But it is understood the documents are the same as those leaked to La Repubblica.
The paper claimed the forged documents were passed to British intelligence in Rome and their contents given to the CIA.
The documents, apparently from senior Niger authorities in Niamey to the country's ambassador in Rome, and a telex, from Niger's embassy in Rome, all relate to alleged negotiations for Iraq to buy 500 tonnes of uranium from Niger. The letters, in French and stamped with the Niger Government seal, are scattered with spelling mistakes and contain several glaring inconsistencies.
One letter is dated July 30, 1999, although it talks of negotiations between Niger and Iraq after that date, on June 29, 2000.
Italy has repeatedly denied formally handing the documents to other countries, but the head of a parliamentary commission on intelligence and security, Enzo Bianco, said on Wednesday he could not deny that Italy may have passed on the documents in an informal way.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/07/17/1058035132835.html
Don't want you to miss this.
Also, see link at #13 for link to another thread on article by same reporter.
And just who would spawn such a plot? I can think of three candidates:
1. The Democrats?
2. The Saudis?
Joe Wilson is known to work for two of the above. I would not put it past him to work for the third...
And remember, the BBC figured prominently in "reporting" the "Sexed-up Document" charge against Blair (using David Kelly as a source--Kelly later killed himself when it was discovered he was speaking, unauthorized, with Gilligan).
Before Wilson penned his editorial proclaiming himself to be the until-then anonymous diplomat who had ventured to Niger, stories given to reporters telling Wilson's tale appeared in---the BBC (citing a "CIA official).
Thanks! Last night we were getting a T storm and so I quickly freepmailed this to myself to deal with it in the morning...saving to file.
JULY 2001 : (ITALY : IRAQI INTELLIGENCE AGENT AL-MAMOURI DISAPPEARS FROM HIS JOB, SHORTLY AFTER HE MET 9/11 HIJACKER MOHAMMAD ATTA; BOTH HAD BEEN SEEN TOGETHER IN HAMBURG GERMANY & PRAGUE, CZECHOSLAVAKIA BEFORE) One of Saddams intelligence agents, Habib Faris Abdullah al-Mamouri, was sent to be the new headmaster of a school for Iraqi diplomats in Italy. The bogus headmaster has not been seen in Rome since July, shortly after he also met Atta. The pair are also said to have been together in Hamburg and Prague. There is no proof the men were in direct contact, but as one intelligence source in Madrid said [later in the year] : They chose a strange time and place to take a holiday. The Rome daily Il Messaggero, quoting Western intelligence sources, said of Mr al-Mamouri that he spent more time pursuing contacts helpful to the Iraqi regime among fundamentalist Islamic groups than he had on his supposed teaching duties. Italian officials say that Mr al-Mamouri held the rank of general in the Iraqi secret service, and from 1982 to 1990 worked in the Special Operations Branch forging Baghdads links with Islamic fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf and Sudan. He was transferred to his teaching duties in 1998, although all the Iraqi Embassy will say of his sudden departure is that he had money problems. - "Hijacker 'given anthrax flask by Iraqi agent'," by DANIEL MCGRORY, The London Times, SATURDAY OCTOBER 27 2001