18th August 23:29
Ministers Knew War Papers Were Forged, Says Diplomat
Ministers Knew War Papers Were Forged, Says Diplomat
By Andrew Buncombe and Raymond Whitaker
Sunday 29 June 2003
US official who identified do***ents incriminating Iraq as fakes says
Britain must have been aware of findings
A high-ranking American official who investigated claims for the CIA
that Iraq was seeking uranium to restart its nuclear programme last
night accused Britain and the US of deliberately ignoring his findings
to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein.
The retired US ambassador said it was all but impossible that
British intelligence had not received his report - drawn up by the CIA
- which revealed that do***ents, purporting to show a deal between
Iraq and the west African state of Niger, were forgeries. When he saw
similar claims in Britain's dossier on Iraq last September, he even
went as far as telling CIA officials that they needed to alert their
British counterparts to his investigation.
The allegation will add to the suspicions of opponents to the war
that last week's row between the BBC and Tony Blair's director of
communications Alastair Campbell was a sideshow to draw attention away
from more serious questions about the justification for the war.
The comments of the former US diplomat appear to be at odds with
those of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Appearing before a
parliamentary committee last week, Mr Straw said the British
intelligence community had not known of the forged do***ents'
existence "at the time when [the September dossier] was put together".
But in his first interview on the issue, the former US diplomat told
The Independent on Sunday: "It is hard for me to fathom, that as close
as we are and [while] preparing for a war based on [claims about]
weapons of mass destruction, that we did not share intelligence of
Asked if he felt his findings had been ignored for political
reasons, he added: "It's an easy conclusion to draw." Though the
official's identity is well-known in Washington - he was on the
National Security Council under President Clinton - he asked that his
name be withheld at this stage.
During last week's hearings by the Foreign Affairs Committee, MPs
cited repeated reports that the forged do***ents - a letter on which
the signature of Niger's president had been faked, and another
carrying the signature of a man who had not held office in the country
since the 1980s - had originally reached the CIA via British
Mr Straw not only denied that the forged do***ents came from British
sources, but said Britain's allegations about Iraq's quest for uranium
in Africa came from "quite separate sources". He said he would give
further details of these sources for the uranium allegation in a
closed session on Friday, during which he was fiercely
cross-questioned by Sir John Stanley, the committee's chief sceptic.
After hearing what the Foreign Secretary had to say, the Tory MP is
reported to have told Mr Straw he did not believe him.
The testimony of the former US diplomat further undermines the
claims of both the British and US governments that Saddam had
developed, or was developing, weapons of mass destruction.
The Niger connection became one of the most important and most
controversial elements in the build-up to war, and both Britain and
the US used it to claim that Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear
programme. It later emerged that the report was based on forged
letters obtained by Italian intelligence from an African diplomat. The
Italians were said to have passed the letters to their British
counterparts, from where they reached the CIA.
When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally had the
opportunity to inspect the do***ents, nearly a year later, they were
dismissed as fakes in less than a day. Neither the US nor Britain ever
gave the IAEA any other information to back up their allegations on
Iraq's uranium-buying activities, despite the "separate sources" cited
by Mr Straw.
In February 2002, the former diplomat - who had served as an
ambassador in Africa - was approached by the CIA to carry out a
"discreet" task: to investigate if it was possible that Iraq was
buying uranium from Niger. He said the CIA had been asked to find out
in a direct request from the office of the Vice-President, ****
During eight days in Niger he discovered it was impossible for Iraq
to have been buying the quantities of uranium alleged. "My report was
very unequivocal," he said. He also learnt that the signatures of
officials vital to any transaction were missing from the do***ents.
On his return he was debriefed by the CIA. One senior CIA official
has told reporters the agency's findings were distributed to the
Defence Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice
Department, the FBI and the office of the Vice President on the same
day in early March.
Six months later the former diplomat read in a newspaper that
Britain had issued a dossier claiming Iraq was seeking to buy uranium
in Africa. He contacted officials at CIA headquarters and said they
needed to clarify whether the British were referring to Niger. If so,
the record needed to be corrected. He heard nothing, and in January
President Bush said in his State of the Union speech that the "British
Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium in Africa".
The ex-diplomat says he is outraged by the way evidence gathered by
the intelligence community was selectively used in Washington to
support pre-determined policies and bolster a case for war.
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