Friday, July 16, 2004

Niger: intelligence reports on Iraq "yellowcake" story

I know I'm late posting this story ... but I wanted to read the intelligence reports for myself.  Well ... the parts relating to Niger anyway.
  • Lord Butler's "Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction"
  • US Senate Intelligence Committee's "Report on the US Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq"    
    Regarding the claim made by Blair (and later Bush) that Iraq had sought to acquire uranium ("yellowcake" ) from Niger ...

    Lord Butler and his committee found that the intelligence, upon which Blair based his statements, "was credible". Here is how they justified that conclusion ...
    In early 1999, Iraqi officials visited a number of African countries, including Niger. The visit was detected by intelligence, and some details were subsequently confrmed by Iraq. The purpose of the visit was not immediately known. But uranium ore accounts for almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports. Putting this together with past Iraqi purchases of uranium ore from Niger, the limitations faced by the Iraq regime on access to indigenous uranium ore and other evidence of Iraq seeking to restart its nuclear programme, the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] judged that Iraqi purchase of uranium ore could have been the subject of discussions and noted in an assessment in December 2000 that: ". . . unconfirmed intelligence indicates Iraqi interest in acquiring uranium." (JIC, 1 December 2000) (source)
    The US Senate committee's report mentions a meeting in 1999 as well ... can't tell if they're talking about the same meeting though.  The meeting was mentioned in an intelligence report produced following  Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger.
    The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997 – 1999) or Foreign Minister (1996 – 1997).   Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it.  Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq.  The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.  The intelligence report also said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.”  (source)
    Here is the thing ... in an interview with the BBC conducted a couple of days ago, Mayaki said he has no recollection of such a meeting.

  • As the following excerpt from the Senate committee's report shows, the CIA was initially skeptical about the Iraq-Niger intelligence.

    Although the NSC [National Security Council] had already removed the uranium reference from the [Cincinnati] speech, later on October 6, 2002 the CIA sent a second fax to the White House which said, "more on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British." (source)
    But at some point between this fax and the State of the Union address in January 2003, something happened.  And I guess that something was the arrival of documents which proported to show that Iraq and Niger had indeed struck a deal, documents which were ultimately proven to be forgeries. 

    On June 17, 2003, nearly five months after the President delivered the State of the Union address, the CIA produced a memorandum for the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] which said, "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false document earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." (source)

    Also mentioned but not substantiated ... both the US and UK reports say there was intelligence that Iraq was also seeking uranium in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The US report also mentions that Iraq might have gone looking for the stuff in Somalia as well. 

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  • Niger: Iraq-Niger yelowcake story ... revived?