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Context of 'January 2002: Senator Secretly Warns Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria that Bush Is Planning to Attack Iraq'

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The US fires 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles at intelligence sites in Baghdad, in response to allegations of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush during his visit to Kuwait in April. [Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121]

Entity Tags: Iraq, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

NSA servers used to collect and sift data.NSA servers used to collect and sift data. [Source: FrancesFarmersRevenge.com]The National Security Agency (see 1952) begins building a massive data-mining system, code-named “Trailblazer,” that is intended to sift through reams of digital communications intercepts and find nuggets of information relevant to national security. The program’s task is huge—to sort through the 2 million bits of data the NSA collects every hour—and one made even more complex by the relatively new types of wireless, Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging communications now becoming ever more commonplace. Trailblazer is strongly embraced by General Michael Hayden, who became the NSA’s director in March 1999. Hayden recognizes from the outset that the NSA is years behind the technological curve, and casts Trailblazer as the future of the agency’s intelligence gathering and sorting. In November 1999, Hayden makes Trailblazer the centerpiece of his “100 Days of Change,” his plan to transform the agency into a leaner, more efficient organization, fast-tracking the program to vault it ahead of other initiatives. “It was going to structure us to handle the digital revolution,” a former intelligence official will recall. But from the outset the program has problems: a meeting between NSA and other government officials in December 1999 is unpromising, and, according to one government oversight official, the program “kicked off with not a real great definition of what it was trying to achieve.” Program managers fail to define standard data formats to allow for the proper sorting of information. After six years, $1.2 billion in expenditures, and endless man-hours of work, the utterly failed program will be recognized as the “biggest boondoggle… in the intelligence community” (see January 2006). [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]

Entity Tags: Trailblazer, National Security Agency, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mike Frost.Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich Ramírez Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88] Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005] But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari, Laura Montini, La Repubblica, Zakaria Yaou Maiga, Antonio Nucera, Craig Unger, SISMI, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The National Security Agency (NSA) engages in apparently illegal surveillance of US citizens beginning shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president. This will not be revealed to the public until media reports in January 2006, a month after the press revealed that the NSA had engaged in similar illegal wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens after the 9/11 attacks, using those attacks as justification for the surveillance (see December 15, 2005). The former NSA and counterterrorism officials who reveal the pre-9/11 spying will claim that the wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and Internet surveillance were all “inadvertent,” as NSA computers “unintentionally” intercepted US citizens’ international phone calls and e-mails when the computers flagged keywords. NSA protocol demands that such “inadvertent” surveillance end as soon as NSA analysts realize they are spying on those citizens, and the names of the monitored citizens are supposed to be deleted from the NSA databases. Instead, the NSA is instructed to continue monitoring some citizens that are characterized as “of interest” to White House officials. Those officials include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say the former NSA and counterterrorism officials. In December 2000, the NSA told the incoming Bush administration that some US citizens are being inadvertently targeted for surveillance, but the names of the citizens are deleted because the law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents (see December 2000). However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, National Security Agency, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In July 2001, NSA director Michael Hayden tells a reporter that the NSA does not monitor any US citizens without court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). “We don’t do anything willy-nilly,” Hayden says. “We’re a foreign intelligence agency. We try to collect information that is of value to American decision-makers, to protect American values, America—and American lives. To suggest that we’re out there, on our own, renegade, pulling in random communications, is—is simply wrong. So everything we do is for a targeted foreign intelligence purpose. With regard to the—the question of industrial espionage, no. Period. Dot. We don’t do that.” When asked how Americans could verify that, Hayden says that they should simply trust the NSA to police and monitor itself, along with oversight from the White House and from Congress. However, it will later come to light that the NSA began illegally monitoring US citizens from the start of the Bush administration (see Spring 2001). A former NSA official will later dispute Hayden’s account. “What do you expect him to say?” the official says. “He’s got to deny it. I agree. We weren’t targeting specific people, which is what the President’s executive order does. However, we did keep tabs on some Americans we caught if there was an interest [by the White House.] That’s not legal. And I am very upset that I played a part in it.” [Truthout (.org), 1/17/2006] Hayden also denies persistent allegations from European government officials that the agency has engaged in economic espionage to help American companies against European competitors (see April 4, 2001). In March 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Barry Steinhardt says that “since there is no real check on [the NSA], there is no way to know” if they are following the law. Steinhardt says that Congress is the only real check on possible NSA abuses, but it has consistently failed to exercise any sort of aggressive oversight on the agency. [CNN, 3/31/2001]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Barry Steinhardt, Michael Hayden, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

James Bamford.James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Foreign Ministry, SISMI, Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org [ERiposte, 10/31/2005] , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003]
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; US Department of State, 9/2005]
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003] This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. [ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004, pp. 227] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mamadou Tandja, SISMI, Elisabetta Burba, Nassirou Sabo, Wissam al-Zahawie, Saddam Hussein, Jeff Castelli, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007] The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. [Washington Post, 12/18/2005]
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, John D. Rockefeller, House Intelligence Committee, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Colin Powell, Greg Thielmann, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In 2005, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) will claim in an interview, “I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that [President] George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.” Rockefeller is Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of his trip. [Fox News, 11/14/2005] Interestingly, CIA Director George Tenet gives the same warning to the president of Egypt in the same month (see January 16, 2002).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, John D. Rockefeller, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

CIA Director George Tenet informs Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh that the Bush administration has already decided to attack Iraq and asks Mubarak not to publicly express Egypt’s opposition to the planned invasion. The Egyptian president warns that an attack on Iraq could destabilize the entire Middle East. [Ha'aretz, 2/17/2002 Sources: Unnamed source interviewed by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal] A Democratic senator gives the same warning to the heads of state in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria in the same month (see January 2002).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Hosni Mubarak

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA Directorate of Operations issues a second intelligence report from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, on Iraq’s alleged agreement with Niger to purchase 500 tons of uranium annually. This report provides details that were not included in Italy’s October 15 report (see October 15, 2001), including a “verbatim text” of the accord. (It is not clear what the source is for the “verbatim text”. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] ) According to the report, the purported agreement was signed by Iraqi and Niger officials during meetings held July 5-6, 2000. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005] The SISMI report also draws attention to a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican, and alleges that its mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium. This is the first report from SISMI that names al-Zahawie and refers directly to his 1999 trip. (SISMI’s previous report had only stated that negotiations had begun by at least 1999.) This report, as well as the previous report, is based on the forged Niger documents. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004; ERiposte, 11/3/2005] Analysts at the CIA and the DIA are more impressed with the detail and substance of this second report, but analysts at the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) remain skeptical of the report’s allegations noting that it was unlikely that Niger would sell uranium to Iraq because the Nigeriens would have considered the risk of being caught too great. An INR analyst asks the CIA if the source of the report would submit to a polygraph. A CIA analyst who also asks about the source is told by the DO that the source is “very credible.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239] Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” [AfterDowningStreet (.org), 7/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing


This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that
even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed.
This partial image from a Total Information Awareness slide presentation shows types of data that will be collected. Note that even “gait” - the way one walks, will be analyzed. [Source: DARPA]The US military internally announces the creation of a new global data collection system called Total Information Awareness. The existence of this program is not reported until August 2002 [Wired News, 8/7/2002] , and not widely known until November 2002 (see November 9, 2002). Interestingly, the early accounts of this program suggest its budget is a “significant amount” of $96 million [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002] , and not the $10 million later reported. [Guardian, 11/23/2002] It is also reported that “parts” of the program “are already operational” whereas later it is said to be only in the conceptual stages of development. [Federal Computer Week, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Total Information Awareness, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Ian Kelly, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Panorama, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The US embassy in Rome faxes the Niger documents to the State Department’s Bureau of Nonproliferation, which then passes a copy of the documents to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the State Department’s intelligence bureau. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58] Simon Dodge, an INR nuclear analyst, receives a copy, and after a brief review of the documents immediately suspects that they are bogus. One particularly strange document that is included in the Niger papers describes a secret meeting that allegedly took place on June 14, 2002 at the home of the Iraqi ambassador in Rome. According to the document, the meeting was attended by military officials from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Pakistan. The purpose of the meeting was to form a coalition of Islamic nations against the West. They would seek “Global Support,” which would include backing from the “Islamic patriots accused of belonging to criminal organizations.” Dodge finds the scenario depicted in the document “completely implausible.” He notices that the document bears the same official seal that is stamped on the Niger documents. He concludes that the documents are probably all fakes, and he sends an email to other analysts in the intelligence community explaining this conclusion. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 58; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 162; CBS News, 4/23/2006] According to one unnamed CIA official, “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false—until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Copies also go to nuclear experts at the DIA, the Department of Energy, and the NSA. Wayne White, the deputy director of the INR and the INR’s principal Iraq analyst, reviews the documents himself. Within 15 minutes he too begins doubting their authenticity (see Mid-October 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Simon Dodge, National Security Agency, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Energy, Defense Intelligence Agency, Wayne White

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert G. Houdek, national intelligence officer for Africa, concludes in a memo that allegations about Iraq attempting to obtain uranium from Niger are baseless. [Washington Post, 4/9/2006] The National Intelligence Council, the entity that oversees the US’s 15 intelligence agencies, issues Houdek’s report, which states in part, “The Niger story [of Iraq attempting to purchase Nigerien uranium—see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001] was baseless and should be laid to rest.” The memo immediately goes to President Bush and his top officials. [Unger, 2007, pp. 269]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Houdek, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), National Intelligence Council, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says that he is not sure that Congress’s public termination of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see January 23, 2003) was as real and outrage-driven as it seemed at the time. “The whole congressional action looks like a shell game,” Aftergood says. “There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing.” While Congress terminated TIA with visible indignation, it also quietly funded the “National Foreign Intelligence Program,” and never identified which intelligence agency would do the work—which was also kept from the public eye. Congress did say that none of the research would be used against US citizens. No one in Congress will discuss how many of Poindexter’s programs survived, but knowledgeable sources will confirm that some 18 data-mining programs known as Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery in Poindexter’s research were preserved after TIA’s termination. These programs may well include the sprawling data mining program known as Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) (see After September 11, 2001), though this cannot be confirmed. Former TIA chief John Poindexter’s vision of the technology behind NIMD envisioned software that can quickly analyze “multiple petabytes” of data. A single petabyte would fill the Library of Congress space for 18 million books more than 50 times, or could hold 40 pages of text for each of the more than 6.2 billion humans on Earth. Poindexter and his colleagues envisioned the program as handling a petabyte or more of data a month. [Associated Press, 2/23/2004] Concerns about the privacy rights of US citizens being damaged by the program are rife. “If they were to stick to strictly military-related research and development, there is less of an issue, but these technologies have much broader social implications,” says Barbara Simons, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an organization that has expressed concerns about TIA. [New York Times, 5/21/2003] At least one Senator is uncomfortable with the apparent resurgence of TIA. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will write Vice President Dick Cheney in June 2003 after receiving a briefing on the various secret surveillance programs (see July 17, 2003). Rockefeller will write, “As I reflected on the meeting today, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.” [National Journal, 1/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Steven Aftergood, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Total Information Awareness, Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, John D. Rockefeller, John Poindexter, Barbara Simons, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Association of Computing Machinery

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, returns to Vienna after having interviewed several current and former Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The Iraqis denied that their government had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, as has been alleged by the Bush administration. Baute does not believe the Iraqis were telling the truth and intends to confront them with the Niger documents after he has researched the details of the purported uranium purchase deal that is described in the documents. He is concerned to see that the documents contain a note from US intelligence officials that reads, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” Baute conducts an initial Google search for a few keywords and phrases from the documents and quickly finds an inaccurate reference to Niger’s constitution. “At that point,” Baute later recalls, “I completely changed the focus of my search to ‘Are these documents real?’ rather than ‘How can I catch the Iraqis?’” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 202-203; Unger, 2007, pp. 289] Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters how easy it was for Baute to determine that the documents were fakes. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly,” she says. [Independent, 6/5/2003] In another interview, Fleming adds: “It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries. We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005] When Baute asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later recall in an interview with Seymour Hersh. [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Erroneous Postmark - A letter dated October 10, 2000 bears a September 28 postmark, indicating it was received over two weeks before its supposed writing. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Names and Titles Incorrect - Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou. Experts say the signature is an obvious forgery. An IAEA official will tell Reuters: “It doesn’t even look close to the signature of the president. I’m not a [handwriting] expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” [Unknown, n.d.; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The incorrectly postmarked letter is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou”—Niger’s foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; New Yorker, 3/31/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237] Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican. When al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. [Unknown, n.d.; Independent, 8/10/2003]
Letterhead Erroneous - In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. [Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003] The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger’s ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003]
Incorrect Citation of Constitution - Another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution instead of the one enacted in 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Misspellings, Incorrect Dates - Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not correspond to the correct days of the week. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003] One of the letters is dated July 30, 1999, but refers to agreements not enacted until 2000. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Unrealistic Uranium Requests - The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger’s ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing‘… [an] IAEA official told me.” [New Yorker, 3/31/2003] Furthermore, the purported agreement calls for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters, a tremendously difficult undertaking. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 212; Unger, 2007, pp. 236-237]
Denial of Signature - Al-Zawahie is asked whether he had signed a letter on July 6, 2000 that concerned Nigerien uranium (see February 1999). Al-Zawahie will later recall telling the inspectors, “I said absolutely not; if they had seen such a letter it must be a forgery.” Al-Zawahie provides his signature to IAEA inspectors; he will later say, “[T]hose letters must have convinced the IAEA team that the document they had was a forgery.” [Independent, 8/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Mamadou Tandja, Melissa Fleming, Mohamed ElBaradei, Jacques Baute, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Wissam al-Zahawie, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq.Some of the documents turned over to the UN by Iraq. [Source: CIA]United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission chief arms inspector Hans Blix provides a quarterly report to the UN Security Council on the progress of inspections in Iraq, as required by UN Security Resolution 1284 (1999). It is the twelfth such report since UNMOVIC’s inception. Blix’s report to the Council does not contain any evidence to support US and British claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or the programs to develop such weapons. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also reports to the Council and says there are no signs that Iraq has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
UNMOVIC Report by Hans Blix -
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq has mobile biological weapons factories, as was recently alleged by Colin Powell in his February 5 presentation (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. “Several inspections have taken place… in relation to mobile production facilities,” Blix says. “No evidence of proscribed activities has so far been found.” He further explains that his inspectors had examined numerous mobile facilities and large containers with seed processing equipment. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003]
bullet The Iraqi government has increased its cooperation with inspectors since the end of January. It is attempting to quantify the biological and chemical weapons that it says were destroyed in 1991. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraq’s destruction of several Al Samoud II missiles represents a real step towards disarmament. “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament,” he says. “We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003] Blix adds, “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament—indeed, the first since the middle of the 1990s.” Major Corrine Heraud, the chief weapons inspector for UNMOVIC in this operation, calls the level of cooperation from the Iraqis “unprecedented,” something that she never would have expected and did not encounter during the 1996-98 inspections. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
bullet Blix says that the UN inspectors needed a few more months to finish their work. “Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions,” he says, concluding, “It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.” [CNN, 3/7/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003]
bullet Iraqi scientists have recently accepted inspectors’ requests to be interviewed without “minders.” “Since we started requesting interviews, 38 individuals were asked for private interviews, of which 10 accepted under our terms, seven during the past week,” Blix explains. [CNN, 3/7/2003]
bullet Some Iraqi scientists have agreed to interviews without “minders”—but more cooperation is needed. Blix says, “While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] Iraq needs to turn over more documents. “Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons. Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began.” [CNN, 3/7/2003] There is no evidence of underground weapons facilities. Blix says: “There have been reports, denied by Iraq, that proscribed activities are conducted underground. Iraq should provide information on underground structures suitable for the production or storage of weapons of mass destruction. During inspections of declared or undeclared facilities, inspectors examined building structures for any possible underground facilities. In addition, ground-penetrating radar was used in several locations. No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found.” [CNN, 3/7/2003]
IAEA report by Mohamed ElBaradei -
bullet There is no evidence that the aluminum tubes imported by Iraq in July 2001 were meant for a nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei says: “Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets.… Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminum tubes in question.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet There is no evidence that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. Documents provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the US were determined to be forgeries. The documents were a collection of letters between an Iraqi diplomat and senior Niger officials discussing Iraq’s interest in procuring a large amount of uranium oxide (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic,” ElBaradei explains. “We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded” (see June 12, 2003). [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Guardian, 3/8/2003]
bullet The IAEA has yet to come across evidence of a nuclear weapons program. “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq,” ElBaradei states. “[T]here is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2003; Associated Press, 3/7/2003; Globe and Mail, 3/8/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003]
bullet In a direct response to allegations made by Colin Powell on February 5 (see February 5, 2003) related to the attempted procurement of magnets that could be used in a gas centrifuge, ElBaradei, says: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters, and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings, and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet Iraq’s industrial capacity “has deteriorated” at the inspected sites because of lack of maintenance and funds. [United Nations, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
bullet ElBaradei concludes: “After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.… I should note that, in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that contributes to the resolution of matters of IAEA concern.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Inspections 'Fruitful,' Say French, Russians - Both sides claim that the reports give further support to each of their respective stances on the issue of Iraqi disarmament. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin tells the Council that the reports “testify to the progress” of the inspections. He states that France will not support another resolution because “we cannot accept any ultimatum, any automatic use of force.” Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says that the reports demonstrate that inspections have been “fruitful.”
Inspections Not Working, US Claims - The Bush administration does not alter its position, despite statements by the two inspectors that Iraq is cooperating with inspections and complying with demands to disarm. Colin Powell, responding to the inspectors’ reports, reiterates the administration’s position that the inspections are not working and that Saddam is not cooperating. “We must not walk away,” Powell says. “We must not find ourselves here this coming November with the pressure removed and with Iraq once again marching down the merry path to weapons of mass destruction, threatening the region, threatening the world.” He claims that Iraq’s behavior is a “a catalog still of noncooperation” and repeats the administration’s allegation that the “Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Back at the White House, Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “As the president has said, if the United Nations will not disarm Saddam Hussein, it will be another international organization, a coalition of the willing that will be made up of numerous nations that will disarm Saddam Hussein.” [CNN, 3/6/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003; Independent, 3/7/2003; US Department of State, 3/7/2003 pdf file]
Bush: Missile Destruction 'Meaningless' - Bush himself will call the destruction of Iraqi missiles “meaningless” and nothing more than an Iraqi “campaign of destruction,” shocking UNMOVIC inspectors: “We didn’t know what to make of [his words],” one inspector says afterwards. Former State Department official Patrick Lang will write: “In the final weeks of the countdown to war, the administration’s actions resembled nothing so much as some of the madder scenes from Alice in Wonderland. The fact that the documents the administration had used to ‘prove’ that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons were forged only led to greater insistence that Iraq was a danger. The absence of discovery of WMD by the UN inspectors was only further evidence that the Iraqis were the greatest deceivers in history and that they had succeeded in concealing their location. The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles was just more evidence of a ‘grand deception.’” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Uranium Allegations 'Outrageous,' Says Former Ambassador - The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times do give the story front-page coverage, and on CNN, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) calls the uranium allegation “outrageous,” adding that the claim “taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.” The US government is “simply stupid” for not finding out the truth sooner: “a couple of phone calls” could have proven that such a deal between Iraq and Niger could not have happened: “All this stuff is open,” Wilson says. “It’s a restricted market of buyers and sellers.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]
IAEA Report 'Widely Ignored' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, “With America’s March 17 deadline for war (see March 17, 2003 and March 17, 2003) dominating the news, ElBaradei’s pronoucements were widely ignored. The news of the forged uranium documents did not make any of the three network evening newscasts and did not appear in the following day’s New York Times. (It would turn up a day later, in a four-hundred word story on page A13.)” [Rich, 2006, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Corrine Heraud, Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, Dominique de Villepin, Patrick Lang, Frank Rich, Mohamed ElBaradei, International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Igor Ivanov, Hans Blix

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 2-3]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, US Department of State, David Albright, International Atomic Energy Agency, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Joseph C. Wilson, Carlton W. Fulford, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. Rockefeller asks for an FBI investigation of the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” An FBI inquiry, Rockefeller writes, “should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns” that the Bush administration itself created the documents to build support for the war. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) refuses to sign the letter [Washington Post, 3/22/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 292] , saying he believes it would be inappropriate for the FBI to launch such an inquiry. Secretary of State Colin Powell denies any role by the US government in creating the documents. [Associated Press, 3/14/2003] The FBI will not respond to Rockefeller’s request. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 9/2003]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, John D. Rockefeller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colin Powell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), respectively the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, send a joint letter asking the CIA and State Department inspectors general to review issues related to the Iraq-Niger forgeries. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), John D. Rockefeller, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, Office of the Inspector General (State Department)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, issues a press release saying he intends to push for an investigation into the Iraq-Niger forgeries. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the committee, issues his own press release saying calls for an investigation are premature. Both Rockefeller and Roberts have asked the CIA and State Department to investigate the forgeries (see May 23, 2003). [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, answers calls to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). In March, Roberts refused to sign off on a request from his committee to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see March 14, 2003). In June, his committee released a report defending the White House’s use of the uranium claims (see June 11, 2003); on that same day, Roberts and fellow Republicans denounced calls to investigate pre-war intelligence (see June 11, 2003). In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Roberts’s call for an investigation plays into the administration’s attempts to pin the blame for the uranium claims directly onto the CIA, and in a larger sense to blame the CIA for all the intelligence failures preceding the invasion of Iraq. According to McLellan: “On a broader front, the White House sought to dispel the nation that the intelligence had been ‘cooked’ by showing that it had been provided and cleared by the CIA. Most observers—war critics and supporters, Democrats and Republicans—had shared the assumption that Saddam had WMD programs and likely possessed at least some chemical and biological weapons. Only now, after the fact, were some prominent critics disavowing or downplaying their earlier belief, and the partisan tone of their attacks provided us with the gist of our counterattack.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Scott McClellan, Pat Roberts

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator John D. Rockefeller.Senator John D. Rockefeller. [Source: ViewImages.com]John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” [Democratic Party, 12/19/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 115] Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116] It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: New York Times, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John D. Rockefeller, John Poindexter, Total Information Awareness, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 pdf file] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]

Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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