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[casi] FBI Probes Fake Evidence of Iraqi Nuclear Plans
FBI Probes Fake Evidence of Iraqi Nuclear Plans

By Dana Priest and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2003; Page A17

The FBI is looking into the forgery of a key piece of evidence linking Iraq
to a nuclear weapons program, including the possibility that a foreign
government is using a deception campaign to foster support for military
action against Iraq.

"It's something we're just beginning to look at," a senior law enforcement
official said yesterday. Officials are trying to determine whether the
documents were forged to try to influence U.S. policy, or whether they may
have been created as part of a disinformation campaign directed by a foreign
intelligence service.

"We're looking at it from a preliminary stage as to what it's all about," he

The FBI has not yet opened a formal investigation because it is unclear
whether the bureau has jurisdiction over the matter.

The phony documents -- a series of letters between Iraqi and Niger officials
showing Iraq's interest in equipment that could be used to make nuclear
weapons -- came to British and U.S. intelligence officials from a third
country. The identity of the third country could not be learned yesterday.

The forgery came to light last week during a highly publicized and
contentious United Nations meeting. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Security Council on
March 7 that U.N. and independent experts had decided that the documents
were "not authentic."

ElBaradei's disclosure, and his rejection of three other key claims that
U.S. intelligence officials have cited to support allegations about Iraq's
nuclear ambitions, struck a powerful blow to the Bush administration's
argument on the matter.

To the contrary, ElBaradei told the council, "we have to date found no
evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear program in

The CIA, which had also obtained the documents, had questions about "whether
they were accurate," said one intelligence official, and it decided not to
include them in its file on Iraq's program to procure weapons of mass

The FBI has jurisdiction over counterintelligence operations by foreign
governments against the United States. Because the documents were delivered
to the United States, the bureau would most likely try to determine whether
the foreign government knew the documents were forged or whether it, too,
was deceived.

Iraq pursued an aggressive nuclear weapons program during the 1970s and
1980s. It launched a crash program to build a nuclear bomb in 1990 after it
invaded Kuwait. Allied bombing during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 damaged
Iraq's nuclear infrastructure. The country's known stocks of nuclear fuel
and equipment were removed or destroyed during the U.N. inspections after
the war.

But Iraq never surrendered the blueprints for its nuclear program, and it
kept teams of scientists employed after U.N. inspectors were forced to leave
in 1998.

 2003 The Washington Post Company
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