Niger Uranium, Take Two — Two Takes

Bizarre: Two Financial Times articles with the same byline, on the same subject, and with the same timestamps are rather different.

Mark Huband — Intelligence backs claim Iraq tried to buy uranium

Illicit sales of uranium from Niger were being negotiated with five states including Iraq at least three years before the US-led invasion, senior European intelligence officials have told the Financial Times.

Intelligence officers learned between 1999 and 2001 that uranium smugglers planned to sell illicitly mined Nigerien uranium ore, or refined ore called yellow cake, to Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq.

These claims support the assertion made in the British government dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme in September 2002 that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from an African country, confirmed later as Niger. George W. Bush, US president, referred to the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.

The claim that the illicit export of uranium was under discussion was widely dismissed when letters referring to the sales – apparently sent by a Nigerien official to a senior official in Saddam Hussein’s regime – were proved by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be forgeries. This embarrassed the US and led the administration to reverse its earlier claim.

But European intelligence officials have for the first time confirmed that information provided by human intelligence sources during an operation mounted in Europe and Africa produced sufficient evidence for them to believe that Niger was the centre of a clandestine international trade in uranium.

Mark Huband — Evidence of Niger uranium trade ‘years before war’

When thieves stole a steel watch and two bottles of perfume from Niger’s embassy on Via Antonio Baiamonti in Rome at the end of December 2000, they left behind many questions about their intentions.

The identity of the thieves has not been established. But one theory is that they planned to steal headed notepaper and official stamps that would allow the forging of documents for the illicit sale of uranium from Niger’s vast mines.

The break-in is one of the murkier elements surrounding the claim – made by the US and UK governments in the lead-up to the Iraq war – that Iraq sought to buy uranium illicitly from Niger.

The British government has said repeatedly it stands by intelligence it gathered and used in its controversial September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programmes. It still claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger.

But the US intelligence community, officials and politicians, are publicly sceptical, and the public differences between the two allies on the issue have obscured the evidence that lies behind the UK claim.

Until now, the only evidence of Iraq’s alleged attempts to buy uranium from Niger had turned out to be a forgery. In October 2002, documents were handed to the US embassy in Rome that appeared to be correspondence between Niger and Iraqi officials.

When the US State Department later passed the documents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, they were found to be fake. US officials have subsequently distanced themselves from the entire notion that Iraq was seeking buy uranium from Niger.

However, European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.

These intelligence officials now say the forged documents appear to have been part of a “scam”, and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored.

Take your pick.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Boyd says:

    While they originate from different points, at least they eventually arrive at the same destination.

    But still bizarre.

  2. Jonathan Dear says:

    But the “intelligence” that the Niger-Iraq link was in fact true and not the result of “fake” documents as previously reported, is not picked up anywhere else in the general media. Does anyone have any information on why this has not been followed up? Is the FT report itself untrue, or is it because of a general disillusionment with “intelligence” agencies now?