U.S. Had Uranium Papers Months Before Speech * CIA's Foley Attributes 16 Words to NSC's Joseph
U.S. Had Uranium Papers Earlier
Officials Say Forgeries on Iraqi Efforts Reached State Dept. Before Speech
By Walter Pincus and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 18, 2003; Page A01
The State Department received copies of what would turn out to be forged
documents suggesting that Iraq tried to purchase uranium oxide from Niger
three months before the president's State of the Union address,
administration officials said.
The documents, which officials said appeared to be of "dubious
authenticity," were distributed to the CIA and other agencies within days,
but the U.S. government waited four months to turn them over to United
Nations weapons inspectors who had been demanding to see evidence of U.S.
and British claims that Iraq's attempted purchase of uranium oxide violated
U.N. resolutions and was among the reasons to go to war. State Department
officials could not say yesterday why they did not turn over the documents
when the inspectors asked for them in December.
The administration, facing increased criticism over the claims it made about
Iraq's attempts to buy uranium, had said until now that it did not have the
documents before the State of the Union speech.
Even before these documents arrived, both the State Department and the CIA
had questions about the reliability of intelligence reports that Iraq was
seeking uranium from Niger and other African countries.
Beginning in October, the CIA warned the administration not to use the Niger
claim in public. CIA Director George J. Tenet personally persuaded deputy
national security adviser Stephen Hadley to omit it from President Bush's
Oct. 7 foreign policy speech in Cincinnati.
But on the eve of Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address, Robert Joseph,
an assistant to the president in charge of nonproliferation at the National
Security Council (NSC), proposed that the presidential address include the
allegation that Iraq sought to purchase 500 pounds of uranium from Niger.
Alan Foley, a senior CIA official, disclosed this detail when he accompanied
Tenet in a closed-door hearing before the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence on Wednesday.
Foley, director of the intelligence, nonproliferation and arms control
center, told committee members that the controversial 16-word sentence was
suggested by Joseph in a telephone conversation just a day or two before the
speech., according to congressional and administration sources who were
present at the five-hour session.
Both the Senate committee and the White House have begun internal
discussions over how to handle the potentially delicate task of questioning
presidential aides as part of a congressional investigation. Claims of
executive privilege have in the past increased public interest and
complicated the process of calling on White House aides to testify.
At the hearing, Foley said he called Joseph to object to uranium language
that would single out Niger and mention that a specific amount of uranium
was being sought. Joseph agreed to eliminate those two elements but then
proposed that the speech use more general language, citing British
intelligence that said Iraq had recently been seeking uranium in Africa.
Foley said he told Joseph that the CIA had objected months earlier to the
British including that in their published September dossier because of the
weakness of the U.S. information. But Foley said the British had gone ahead
based on their own information.
When Foley first began answering questions on who from the White House staff
sought to put the uranium charge in the State of the Union address, he did
not mention Joseph's name, referring only to "a person" at the NSC. It was
only after Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and several other senators
demanded the name that he identified him.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said Wednesday night:
"We will take this where it leads us. We'll let the chips fall where they
may." A senior congressional aide said Roberts is prepared to seek a way to
question Joseph and any other White House aides.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, said
yesterday: "The intelligence committee has crossed that line . . . and we
are looking at people in the executive branch, including the White House."
He said that both Republicans and Democrats are concerned "about the further
implication beyond Tenet."
The FBI is also considering opening a counterintelligence case if it
suspects a foreign government created the forgeries about the alleged Iraqi
uranium purchase to influence U.S. foreign policy.
Next week, the Senate intelligence committee will hold a closed-door hearing
to question the CIA's inspector general, who has been investigating the
agency's handling of nuclear-related intelligence on Iraq.
The documents first came into the U.S. government's hands when a journalist
turned them over to U.S. Embassy officials in Rome. Other officials said
previously that the Italian intelligence services had given the documents to
the British, which first mentioned the Niger-Iraq claim in its published
case against Iraq in September.
"We acquired the documents in October of 2002, and they were shared widely
within the U.S. government, with all the appropriate agencies in various
ways," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.
The embassy promptly informed the CIA station chief in Rome that it had the
documents and, on Oct. 19, gave copies to intelligence officials.
A senior intelligence official said the agency did not consider the
documents revelatory because they contained the same information, from other
sources, already in intelligence reports. But in hindsight, the official
said, "we failed to see the signals" that would have indicated they were
Another intelligence official said "the documents were such a minor point of
analysis for any one" because the information was not deemed reliable.
On Feb. 4, the U.N. inspectors' Iraq team was called to the U.S. mission in
Vienna and verbally briefed on the contents of the documents. A day later,
they received copies, according to officials familiar with the inspectors'
Using the Google Internet search engine, books on Niger and interviews with
Iraqi and Nigerian officials, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
experts determined that the documents were fake.
On March 7, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei announced they were
forged. It is not yet known who created the forgeries.