Several points about the SSCI report on the Niger matter that may not get a lot of attention but are nonetheless important for understanding the larger story …
You’ll note that the footnote at the bottom of page 57 says that in March 2003 Sen. Rockefeller asked the FBI to investigate the source of the forged uranium documents and the motivation of those responsible for them. Because of that investigation, the Committee chose not to examine any questions about the documents themselves, who forged them, where they came from, etc. In fact, the Committee walled its investigation off so that it looked only at what happened with the documents after they appeared in the US Embassy in Rome in October 2002.
Second, in many accounts of this story we hear that multiple intelligence agencies had reports of Iraq’s attempts to procure uranium from Niger. But many of those reports or judgments were the fruit of the same poison tree.
On page 69, for instance, the report states that on “March 4, 2003, the U.S. Government learned that the French had based their initial assessment that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger on the same documents that the U.S. had provided to the INVO” (i.e., the IAEA).
Now, it’s a premise of much reporting and in fact a subtext of the committee report that there were these various reports about Niger and that only much later did these documents surface.
That’s true with respect to the US, but also misleading.
The French were basing their judgments on documents in question or perhaps a report based on them, as we’ve seen.
The US, in turn, was basing most, though not all, of its suspicions on these reports it got from this unnamed foreign intelligence agency that provided an initial report to the US shortly after 9/11 and then another with more detail in February 2002, as the SSCI report states. That foreign government was Italy. And the information they provided also stemmed from the same documents.
So France, Italy and the United States each had reports about the alleged Iraq-Niger sales. And each stemmed from the same source — the forged documents, the origins of which the SSCI chose not to investigate.
The documents weren’t peripheral. They were central, though precisely how and why only emerged over time.
Britain is a more complicated case that we’ll address later.