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[casi] Niger investigation: domestic?

Reader alert:

The following column appeared today in the Moon-owned Washington Times,
written by a very Bush partisan  RW reporter, Bill Gertz.

Nevertheless, its importance lies in the reference to the <FBI>, (not CIA!)
now said to be investigating the forged Niger documents allegedly passed to
an Italian journalist identified as Elisabetta Burba .  The investigation
seems to be coming close to home... very strange.

FBI probing forged papers on Niger uranium
By Bill Gertz
Published July 19, 2003

The FBI is investigating the origin of forged documents indicating that Iraq
was seeking uranium from Niger, and one candidate for the forgeries is an
Iraqi opposition group, U.S. officials said.

The documents, obtained first by Italy's intelligence service, ended up
fooling the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies into believing Baghdad
was trying to buy uranium ore from the African nation, U.S. officials say.

 The documents ended up "tainting" other reliable intelligence on Iraq's
weapons programs and undermining the credibility of U.S. intelligence
reports, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

One official said that the documents were provided first to the Italians and
then to journalists before they ended up in the hands of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which dismissed them as fakes.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said in an interview that a preliminary inquiry
into the documents was undertaken after recent meetings between senior FBI
officials and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and vice
chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mr. Carter declined to comment further, citing a policy of not discussing
FBI investigative matters.

Other officials said the FBI has sent agents to Italy and other nations to
find out the origin of the documents, and the bureau's counterintelligence
agents also are questioning officials at the CIA and State Department. The
probe was first reported by Newsweek magazine.

Other intelligence obtained by Britain is considered reliable and indicates
Niger had tried to sell uranium ore to Saddam Hussein's government, said
officials familiar with U.S. intelligence reports.

President Bush chastised senior advisers, including National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice and outgoing press spokesman Ari Fleischer, about
the uranium intelligence flap and the White House's handling of it several
times during the recent trip to Africa.

Spokesmen at the time initially said the White House was provided with bad
intelligence from the CIA, only to reverse course a day later and claim the
intelligence may still be valid although it should not have been included in
a presidential speech.

"The president wanted the matter settled," one official said of Mr. Bush's
harsh words for his advisers.

Although it received intelligence from the documents earlier, the CIA did
not obtain copies of the forged documents until February 2003  months after
the Italians first obtained them and after the president's State of the
Union address.

A U.S. official said the Italians initially only described the documents to
the CIA. Then the State Department obtained a set from a journalist and that
led to an investigative trip to Niger by former U.S. Ambassador Joseph

Mr. Wilson said Niger's government told him that the country would not sell
uranium to Iraq, but also informed him that Iraqis were in the country
discussing unspecified commercial transactions, which could have included
uranium-ore purchases, the U.S. official said.

CIA Director George J. Tenet testified before a closed hearing of the Senate
Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to explain how the tainted intelligence
ended up in a major U.S. intelligence-community report and the president's
State of the Union speech.

An official said the documents included a letter about the purchase of some
500 tons of uranium ore, supposedly signed by Niger's president, Mamadou
Tandja. The signature was found to have been faked.

Another document was described as an October 2000 Niger military document
signed by a former foreign minister of Niger.

Besides Iraqi opposition, investigators also say the documents could have
been produced by criminals, con men, or a foreign intelligence service.

The six main anti-Saddam groups before the war were the Iraqi National
Congress, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the
Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi
National Accord and the Constitutional Monarchy Movement.

In London on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended British
intelligence on the Niger-Iraq uranium deal before the Parliament.

"The intelligence on which we based this was not the so-called 'forged
documents' that have been put to the IAEA, and the IAEA have accepted that
they got no such forged documents from British intelligence," Mr. Blair

"We had independent intelligence to the effect," the prime minister added.

U.S. intelligence officials suspect the bogus documents were created to
exaggerate Iraq's nuclear-arms program as part of an effort to garner
international opposition to Baghdad.

The forged documents undermined one element of a National Intelligence
Estimate, a major interagency report, that became the basis for part of the
president's January speech to Congress.

Officials familiar with the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction said it included one passage about efforts by Baghdad to buy
yellowcake uranium ore from Niger.

However, the passage in the highly classified report did not have a
"footnote" or objection attached to it, indicating it represented a
consensus view of all intelligence agencies, including the State
Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Only later in another section of the 90-page classified report did the State
Department intelligence office indicate that it doubted the attempted Niger
uranium purchases.  "There was no opposition to the main reference to
Niger," said one official who has seen the estimate.

According to U.S. officials, the State Department's opposition to the
intelligence on Niger uranium in the report was related to the department's
doubts about Iraq's purchase of special alloy tubes that were believed to be
for building gas centrifuges.

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