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The 'sought uranium from Africa' claim


Project: History of US Interventions

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This issue really belongs to the second Gulf War section but was separated because it is worth looking into in more depth - not only for the fact that the war was launched partly on the basis of this false claim, but also that the Bush Administration appears to have known it was false, yet denies this, spinning an intricate web of deceit in the process which needs a bit of work to untangle.

Late 2001

       The Italian government receives evidence suggesting that Iraq is trying to purchase uranium from Niger. The evidence is shared with Britain and the US, where it catches the eye of Dick Cheney. [Time article]

February 2002

       A US diplomat travels to Africa under order's from Cheney's office to determine the truth of the claims, and reports back to the Bush Administration, concluding that the government had not contracted to sell uranium to Iraq, and that the documents later presented as evidence of Iraq's nuclear program are forgeries. [CNN article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article]

March 2002

       A memo is sent from the State Department's intelligence arm directly to Colin Powell disputing the uranium story. [Time article]

September 2002

       The CIA tries unsuccessfully to persuade the British government to drop from an official intelligence paper a reference to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Africa. Bush's State of the Union address would later reference this very paper! [Washington Post article; Article; Article; Article; Article]

October 2002

       The CIA has a reference to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger removed from a presidential speech due to doubts about its accuracy. [Washington Post article; Article]

October 2002

       The National Intelligence Estimate is produced. It mentions the uranium allegations, but calls them 'highly dubious'. [ABC News article]

January 2003

       According to one official, the claim is not included in drafts of Bush's State of the Union address due to similar doubts about its accuracy. [Washington Post article; Article; Article] Other sources say that the claim was included in early drafts, and attributed to American intelligence, but when intelligence officials urged the removal of the information due to doubts about it, the speechwriters, attributing it to the British report instead. [CNN article; Article; Article] Still other sources say that the claim was originally included, then removed after intervention from George Tenet, only to be later reappear in the speech. This story would appear to reconcile the above two stories. [Guardian article] In any case, despite being considered 'hardly believable' by the intelligence community at the time, the claim appears to have been only included due to pressure from Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Robert G. Joseph. [Knight Ridder article; Article; Article; Article; Article]

Jan 28, 2003

       In Bush's State of the Union address he makes the claim 'The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.'. [US Govt transcript; Article]

Mar 7, 2003

       The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shoots down allegations Iraq tried to revive its nuclear arms program and says fake documents backed US claims Baghdad had tried to buy uranium to make bombs. He also reiterates that 'After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.' [Toronto Star article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article] The IAEA also reports the fake documents are so badly forged that, in the words of one official, his 'jaw dropped'. This makes it hard to believe that the US government was the honest victim of the forgery in making their claims regarding Iraq's nuclear program. The IAEA also ask the US and Britain if they had any other evidence backing their claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium. The answer given is no. [Yahoo article; Article; Article]

March 16, 2003

       Dick Cheney responds (to the IAEA saying Saddam has no nuclear program) on NBC's Meet the Press, saying '... we believe he [Saddam] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong.' [Article; Article; Article]

June 8, 2003

       Colondeeza Rice concedes that the documents were fraudulent but argues that the White House hadn't known this before Bush's State of the Union speech. [Article]

July 7, 2003

       A British parliamentary commission reports it was unclear why the British government asserted as a 'bald claim' (in a dossier published four months prior to Bush's speech) that there was intelligence that Iraq had sought to buy significant amounts of uranium in Africa. It notes that the CIA had already debunked this intelligence at the time. [Washington Post article; Article]

July 7, 2003

       The Bush Administration acknowledges for the first time that President Bush should not have claimed that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in his State of the Union address in January. [Washington Post article; Article]

July 10, 2003

       At the same time, Rumsfeld also changes the official reason for the war - not fresh evidence of banned weapons, rather a changed perspective following Sept 11. This of course flies in the face of all of their claims of fresh evidence (such as the uranium claim under discussion) which were used to prove the urgency of attacking Iraq when they did, as well as Rumsfeld's own reaction to September 11th. [Globe and Mail article; Article]

July 10, 2003

       Rumsfeld testifies that he only found out 'within recent days' that the information was discredited. [Globe and Mail article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article; Article] Rumsfeld has to later correct his claim, first revising it to 'weeks', then finally to 'months'. [Article; Article]

July 11, 2003

       CIA director George Tenet becomes the scapegoat, taking all of the blame for the inclusion of the claim in Bush's speech despite doubts about the quality of the intelligence behind it.

Despite admitting that the CIA should have had the claim removed, he holds to the argument that it was 'factually correct' in that it referenced a British report (despite the CIA having told the British Government before the speech that this report was inaccurate!). [Washington Post article; Article; Article]


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