WASHINGTON – The International Atomic Energy Agency
was able to figure out in just 10 days something that
had escaped U.S. intelligence for months – that
documents alleging Iraq recently sought uranium from
Africa were forgeries, an IAEA letter to Congress
With the help of the Internet, IAEA officials quickly
spotted crude errors in letters claiming to be signed
by officials of Niger in 2000. One is allegedly from a
foreign minister who had been out of office for 11
years. Another, allegedly from the president of Niger,
bears an obsolete presidential seal on the letterhead.
The Vienna, Austria-based group, which has conducted
regular nuclear inspections in Iraq, received the
documents from the Bush administration in early
February, after first requesting them in December. The
State Department, for one, had them since October.
The president delivered his State of the Union speech,
which included the uranium charge, on Jan. 28.
The documents included an alleged agreement by Niger
for the delivery to Iraq of “two lots of 500 tons each
of uranium over two years,” said IAEA spokesman Piet
de Klerk in a June 20 letter to the House Government
Shortly after receiving the documents, alarmed
officials at the agency’s Iraq Nuclear Verification
Office asked Baghdad to provide all information
regarding contacts with Niger.
But “after approximately 10 days, it became clear that
the alleged contract in all likelihood could not have
been honored, as the export of uranium from Niger is
fully controlled by international companies,” de Klerk
At that point, the documents were “scrutinized more
closely” to confirm their authenticity, he said.
A little research using “open-source information”
available on the Internet quickly revealed crude
errors in the letters, de Klerk says.
- In an alleged letter dated July, 27, 2000, the
president of Niger refers to the central African
nation’s constitution of May 12, 1965, but the
constitution in place in 2000 was dated Aug. 9, 1999.
- A letter allegedly signed by the foreign minister of
Niger on Oct. 10, 2000, bears the signature of Allele
Elhadj Habibou, who was actually foreign minister in
- The official letterhead used is obsolete and includes
the wrong symbol for the presidency, as well as
references to temporary state bodies – such as the
Supreme Military Council and the Council for National
Reconciliation – which are “incompatible with the
dates of the alleged correspondence.”
- The date of a Niger “ordonnance” cited in the alleged
agreement is off by 26 years.
IAEA concluded the documents were counterfeit, and
officially reported the findings to the U.N. Security
Council on March 7.
The CIA agreed the letters were fakes, and alerted the
British government, which also had accused Iraq of
actively seeking uranium from Africa to possibly make
The White House, however, did not correct the
president’s State of the Union statement until July 8
– and only after a British parliamentary committee
the previous day had released a report revealing that
the CIA had warned the British government about the
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