Niger Uranium and British Intelligence?

The Democrats' decision to support America's assault on Iraq in May 2003 was based largely on intelligence documents which purported to show that Niger had sold Iraq five hundred tons of high-strength aluminum tubes (intercepted on their way to Iraq) intended for the construction of centrifuges which could be used to produce enriched uranium. President George W. Bush cited the documents in his State of the Union Address, on January 28th, crediting Britain as the source: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." He declared, "Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide."

The story soon fell apart. On March 7th, Mohamed El Baradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, told the U.N. Security Council that the documents (including communications written on official Niger government letterhead) were fakes. Jacques Baute, director of the agency's Iraq Nuclear Verification Office, also examined the documents. Within hours his team had also pronounced the documents bogus.

Among the problems? One letter, dated October 10, 2000, was signed with the name of Allele Habibou, a Niger Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Habibou had indeed been a minister in Niger -- as recently as 1989.

[Another letter, allegedly from Niger's President Tandja Mamadou, had a signature which had obviously been faked and a text with inaccuracies so absurd, said Baute, that "they could be spotted by someone using Google on the Internet." According to a CIA informant interviewed by Pulizer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, the bogus documents were in fact fabricated by CIA operatives in a bid to embarrass Douglas Feith and other senior Pentagon officials after they insisted on examining raw intelligence themselves rather than trust expert CIA analysts to filter out such garbage. To their astonishment, the documents were taken at face value and George W. Bush later mentioned the uranium issue in his State of the Union address (to justify the War in Iraq).]

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