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U.S. Had Uranium Papers Months Before Speech * CIA's Foley Attributes 16 Words to NSC's Joseph

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  • Josh Pollack
    washingtonpost.com U.S. Had Uranium Papers Earlier Officials Say Forgeries on Iraqi Efforts Reached State Dept. Before Speech By Walter Pincus and Dana Priest
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 17, 2003
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      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.
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