The Truth About the Iraq-Niger Link
By Congressman Joe Pitts
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
These sixteen words from President Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech created a huge uproar when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson said six months later in the New York Times that President Bush "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Ambassador Wilson was presumably qualified to make this judgment. At the request of his wife who worked at the CIA, Mr. Wilson was chosen by the Administration in 2001, despite his lack of qualifications, to investigate the claim that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from the North African country of Niger in the '90s.
However, Mr. Wilson was wrong. The words were not twisted or exaggerated. The President's statement accurately reflected what we knew at the time. How do I know? Two reports - one from the United States Senate Intelligence Committee released last Friday; the other from the Butler Commission, led by British Member of Parliament Lord Butler, presented to the British House of Commons this week.
One of the "facts" used by critics of the President's claim, including Mr. Wilson, was that the CIA relied on forged documents provided by a member of the media to backup its judgment that Saddam Hussein had in fact attempted the acquisition. Both reports discredit this idea.
The judgment had been made by the British Intelligence community long before it knew the CIA had acquired these documents and before anyone knew they were fake.
The Butler Report states:
"From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:
It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.
The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible.
The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.
The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it."
The Senate Intelligence Committee's report arrives at similar conclusions. However, it also reveals something else interesting: the CIA's response to Ambassador Wilson's report.
The Senate Intelligence Committee - a bipartisan panel co-chaired by a Republican and a Democrat - found that, far from disproving the Iraq-Niger story, Ambassador Wilson's report was interpreted as providing "some confirmation of foreign government service reporting" that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. This report is available for all to read online at <