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[casi] Independent: Ministers knew war papers were forged, says diplomat




http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=419982

Ministers knew war papers were forged, says diplomat

US official who identified documents incriminating
Iraq as fakes says Britain must have been aware of
findings

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington and Raymond Whitaker
in London
29 June 2003


A high-ranking American official who investigated
claims for the CIA that Iraq was seeking uranium to
restart its nuclear programme last night accused
Britain and the US of deliberately ignoring his
findings to make the case for war against Saddam
Hussein.

The retired US ambassador said it was all but
impossible that British intelligence had not received
his report - drawn up by the CIA - which revealed that
documents, purporting to show a deal between Iraq and
the west African state of Niger, were forgeries. When
he saw similar claims in Britain's dossier on Iraq
last September, he even went as far as telling CIA
officials that they needed to alert their British
counterparts to his investigation.

The allegation will add to the suspicions of opponents
to the war that last week's row between the BBC and
Tony Blair's director of communications Alastair
Campbell was a sideshow to draw attention away from
more serious questions about the justification for the
war.

The comments of the former US diplomat appear to be at
odds with those of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee last week,
Mr Straw said the British intelligence community had
not known of the forged documents' existence "at the
time when [the September dossier] was put together".

But in his first interview on the issue, the former US
diplomat told The Independent on Sunday: "It is hard
for me to fathom, that as close as we are and [while]
preparing for a war based on [claims about] weapons of
mass destruction, that we did not share intelligence
of this nature."

Asked if he felt his findings had been ignored for
political reasons, he added: "It's an easy conclusion
to draw." Though the official's identity is well-known
in Washington - he was on the National Security
Council under President Clinton - he asked that his
name be withheld at this stage.

During last week's hearings by the Foreign Affairs
Committee, MPs cited repeated reports that the forged
documents - a letter on which the signature of Niger's
president had been faked, and another carrying the
signature of a man who had not held office in the
country since the 1980s - had originally reached the
CIA via British intelligence.

Mr Straw not only denied that the forged documents
came from British sources, but said Britain's
allegations about Iraq's quest for uranium in Africa
came from "quite separate sources". He said he would
give further details of these sources for the uranium
allegation in a closed session on Friday, during which
he was fiercely cross-questioned by Sir John Stanley,
the committee's chief sceptic. After hearing what the
Foreign Secretary had to say, the Tory MP is reported
to have told Mr Straw he did not believe him.

The testimony of the former US diplomat further
undermines the claims of both the British and US
governments that Saddam had developed, or was
developing, weapons of mass destruction.

The Niger connection became one of the most important
and most controversial elements in the build-up to
war, and both Britain and the US used it to claim that
Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear programme. It
later emerged that the report was based on forged
letters obtained by Italian intelligence from an
African diplomat. The Italians were said to have
passed the letters to their British counterparts, from
where they reached the CIA.

When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
finally had the opportunity to inspect the documents,
nearly a year later, they were dismissed as fakes in
less than a day. Neither the US nor Britain ever gave
the IAEA any other information to back up their
allegations on Iraq's uranium-buying activities,
despite the "separate sources" cited by Mr Straw.

In February 2002, the former diplomat - who had served
as an ambassador in Africa - was approached by the CIA
to carry out a "discreet" task: to investigate if it
was possible that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger.
He said the CIA had been asked to find out in a direct
request from the office of the Vice-President, Dick
Cheney.

During eight days in Niger he discovered it was
impossible for Iraq to have been buying the quantities
of uranium alleged. "My report was very unequivocal,"
he said. He also learnt that the signatures of
officials vital to any transaction were missing from
the documents.

On his return he was debriefed by the CIA. One senior
CIA official has told reporters the agency's findings
were distributed to the Defence Intelligence Agency,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Justice Department, the
FBI and the office of the Vice President on the same
day in early March.

Six months later the former diplomat read in a
newspaper that Britain had issued a dossier claiming
Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa. He
contacted officials at CIA headquarters and said they
needed to clarify whether the British were referring
to Niger. If so, the record needed to be corrected. He
heard nothing, and in January President Bush said in
his State of the Union speech that the "British
Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently
sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa".

The ex-diplomat says he is outraged by the way
evidence gathered by the intelligence community was
selectively used in Washington to support
pre-determined policies and bolster a case for war.

 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


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