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CIA got report after Bush address

by produced by SF Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 8:17 AM

The CIA did not receive the now-discredited documents that were a key source of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq sought uranium in Africa until after President Bush's State of the Union address, U.S. officials say.


Even without the documents, the agency had its doubts, but Bush administration officials repeatedly sought to include the assertion in public statements aimed at vilifying Iraq.

CIA Director George Tenet said last week the line should not have been included at all in Bush's Jan. 28 speech. Tenet addressed the Senate Intelligence Committee on the matter Wednesday.

The White House acknowledged last week that the president's statement in the State of the Union should not have been in the speech because it could not be substantiated independently by U.S. intelligence sources and was based in part on forged documents from the African nation of Niger.

The CIA didn't receive the documents until February 2003, nearly a year after the agency first began investigating the alleged Iraq-Africa connection and a short time after it was read in Bush's address that alleged the connection, U.S. intelligence officials told The Associated Press, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. government turned them over to the United Nations , where officials quickly determined they were fakes. The U.N. Security Council was informed of that March 7, two weeks before American and British forces invaded Iraq.

The discredited documents are a series of letters purportedly between officials in Iraq and Niger. The letters indicated Niger would supply uranium to the government of Saddam Hussein in a form that could be refined for nuclear weapons.

Not having the documents for a year, the CIA could investigate only the intellegence of the Niger claim, which it had learned from a foreign government around the beginning of 2002.

The controversy over Bush's claim in his State of the Union address has undermined the administration's efforts to quiet rising doubts about Bush's justifications for going to war with Iraq. The United States said military action was justified, in part, because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but no such weapons have been found.

"Big questions remain about who forged the documents and the paper trail that followed," Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said this week.

The CIA declined to say how the agency eventually obtained the documents. Officials at several other U.S. agencies, including the State Department, declined to say whether another U.S. government agency possessed or viewed them before Bush's speech in January.

When the Niger claim first arose, the CIA sent a retired diplomat to Africa to investigate in February 2002. The diplomat, Joseph Wilson, reported finding no credible evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

Tenet said the CIA was unaware of any documents purporting to show such transactions at the time, and it is unclear when the U.S. government learned that the documents existed and were a main source of the Niger claim.

The CIA's doubts about the uranium claim were reported through intelligence traffic throughout the government, one U.S. intelligence official said. Those doubts were also reported to the British.

The Niger report, along with a notation that it was unconfirmed, was also included in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the classified summary of intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. Tenet said the report was not a key part of the CIA's judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.

 The CIA had the Niger claim removed from at least two speeches before they were given: Bush's October address on the Iraqi threat, and a speech by U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte, officials said.

In his State of the Union address, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

As the speech was being written, CIA officials protested the way the alleged uranium connection was being portrayed, so the administration changed it to attribute it to the British, who had made the assertion in a Sept. 24 dossier. Tenet said last week it should have been removed entirely from the speech.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has offered a number of defenses for using the statement:

_The CIA should have had it removed.

_It was based on more intelligence information than the Niger letter.

_It was technically true because it was attributed to British intelligence.

_It wasn't the reason the United States invaded Iraq.

The British dossier said Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The Blair administration says it did not view the now-discredited documents until October 2002, after the publication of the dossier.

Still standing by the report, Blair told the House of Commons on Wednesday that "the intelligence on which we based this was not the so-called forged documents." The Blair administration has not detailed its other intelligence.

Bush administration officials have also said other information pointed to possible Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But Tenet has called these reports "fragmentary" — a term in intelligence circles for unconfirmed information of suspect accuracy.

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DIrect proof DIRECT PROOF OF BUSH LIES Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 8:25 AM
Our Creed Republican Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 10:00 AM
self-reliant republican doubter Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 2:57 PM
doubter reply Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 3:13 PM
reply to "republican creed" <-> Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 5:20 PM
Yawn. Republican Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 6:35 PM
One problem with the assertion... Diogenes Friday, Jul. 18, 2003 at 7:29 PM

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