U.N. Official: Fake Iraq Nuke Papers Were Crude
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA (Reuters) -
A few hours and a simple internet search
was all it took for U.N. inspectors to realize documents
backing U.S. and British claims that Iraq (news - web sites) had revived its
nuclear program were crude fakes, a U.N. official said.
Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, a senior
official from the U.N. nuclear agency who saw the documents
offered as evidence that Iraq tried to buy 500 tons of uranium
from Niger, described one as so badly forged his "jaw dropped."
"When (U.N. experts) started to look at them, after a few
hours of going at it with a critical eye things started to pop
out," the official said, adding a more thorough investigation
used up "resources, time and energy we could have devoted
The United States first made the allegation that Iraq had
revived its nuclear program last fall when the CIA (news - web sites) warned that
Baghdad "could make a nuclear weapon within a year" if it
acquired uranium. President Bush (news - web sites) found the proof credible
enough to add it to his State of the Union speech in January.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official said
the charge Iraq sought the uranium was to be the "stake in the
heart" of Baghdad and "would have been as close to a smoking
gun as you could get" because Iraq could only want it for
Once the IAEA got the documents -- which took months --
French nuclear scientist Jacques Bautes, head of the U.N. Iraq
Nuclear Verification office, quickly saw they were fakes.
Two documents were particularly bad. The first was a letter
from the president of Niger which referred to his authority
under the 1965 constitution. That constitution has been defunct
for nearly four years, the official said.
There were other problems with the letter, including an
unsuccessful forgery of the president's signature.
"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," the official said.
Another letter about uranium dated October 2000 purportedly
came from Niger's foreign minister and was signed by a Mr. Alle
Elhadj Habibou, who has not been foreign minister since 1989.
To make matters worse, the letterhead was out of date and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
After determining the documents were fakes, the IAEA had a
group of international forensics experts -- including people
from the U.S and Britain -- verify their findings. The panel
unanimously agreed with the IAEA.
"We don't know who did it," the official said, adding that
it would be easy to come up with a long list of groups and
states which would like to malign the present Iraqi regime.
The IAEA asked the U.S. and Britain if they had any other
evidence backing the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium. The
answer was no.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei informed the U.N. Security
Council in early March that the Niger proof was fake and that
three months with 218 inspections at 141 sites had produced "no
evidence or plausible indication" Iraq had a nuclear program.
But last week Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) repeated the U.S.
position and said that ElBaradei was wrong about Iraq.
"We know (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)) has been
absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we
believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons," he said.
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