CIA Asked Britain To Drop Iraq Claim
Advice on Alleged Uranium Buy Was Refused
By Walter Pincus
"There was no effort or attempt . . . to mislead or to deceive the
American people," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said.
(Charles Dharapak -- AP)
Transcript: The Post's Walter Pincus was online to discuss the administration's use of intelligence on Iraq before the war.
__ Weapons of Mass Destruction __
Bush, Rice Blame CIA for Iraq Error
(Post, July 12, 2003 )|
CIA Asked Britain To Drop Iraq Claim
(Post, July 11, 2003 )|
White House Backs Off Claim on Iraqi Buy
(Post, July 8, 2003 )|
Secretary Expects Arms to Be Found
(Post, June 25, 2003 )|
Lawmakers Begin Iraq Intelligence Hearings
(Post, June 19, 2003 )|
• Full Coverage of the Hunt for WMD
___ The Debate ___ • Commentary & Opinion
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 11, 2003; Page A01
The CIA tried
unsuccessfully in early September 2002 to persuade the British
government to drop from an official intelligence paper a reference to
Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Africa that President Bush included in
his State of the Union address four months later, senior Bush
administration officials said yesterday.
about the paper and recommended against using that material," a senior
administration official familiar with the intelligence program said.
The British government rejected the U.S. suggestion, saying it had
separate intelligence unavailable to the United States.
that time, the CIA was completing its own classified national
intelligence estimate on Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons programs. Although the CIA paper mentioned alleged Iraqi
attempts to buy uranium from three African countries, it warned that
State Department analysts were questioning its accuracy when it came to
Niger and that CIA personnel considered reports on other African
countries to be "sketchy," the official said. The CIA paper's summary
conclusions about whether Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapons
program did not include references to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in
The latest disclosures further illustrate the lack
of confidence expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in the
months leading up to Bush's speech about allegations of Iraqi efforts
to buy uranium in Africa. Even so, Bush used the charge -- citing
British intelligence -- in the Jan. 28 address as part of his effort to
convince Congress and the American people that Iraq had a program to
build weapons of mass destruction and posed a serious threat.
White House on Monday acknowledged that Bush's uranium claim was based
on faulty intelligence and should not have been included in the speech,
further stoking a controversy over the administration's handling of
prewar intelligence. Democratic lawmakers yesterday called for public
hearings, while the Democratic National Committee opened an advertising
campaign to encourage people to sign petitions calling for an
At a news conference in Botswana,
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell defended the president's use of the
intelligence. "There was no effort or attempt on the part of the
president or anyone else in the administration to mislead or to deceive
the American people," Powell said. "There was sufficient evidence
floating around at that time that such a statement was not totally
outrageous or not to be believed or not to be appropriately used."
eight days after the State of the Union speech, however, Powell himself
did not repeat the uranium allegation when he presented the
administration's case against Iraq to the U.N. Security Council. "After
further analysis, looking at other estimates we had and other
information that was coming in, it turned out that the basis upon which
that statement was made didn't hold up, and we said so, and we've
acknowledged it, and we've moved on," Powell told reporters in
explaining his decision. Under the British formulation of events,
Powell would not necessarily know all of the basis underlying their
The U.S. and British governments, whose
intelligence agencies have a long history of close relations, have
sought to maintain a united front despite suggestions in Congress and
Parliament this week that both governments may have exaggerated the
evidence against Iraq to support the case for war. But as the
controversy escalates, the interests of the two allies have begun to
The Bush administration effectively has discarded
the uranium allegation. The government of British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, however, has stood behind its September conclusion that Iraq
"sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" for a possible
nuclear weapons program despite the release of a report by a British
parliamentary commission this week that challenged the allegation and,
in effect, Bush's decision to include it in his address.
British officials have insisted that the Bush administration has never
been provided with the intelligence that was the basis for the charge
included in London's September intelligence dossier.
Security Council guidance distributed within the U.S. government
yesterday acknowledged that "no intelligence has been provided to the
United States [by Britain] on this subject," sources said. The British
intelligence was provided by an unidentified "third country," a
diplomatic source said.
Meanwhile, administration officials
shed some new light yesterday on the process that led to the inclusion
of the uranium-purchase allegation in the president's State of the
Union speech in which Bush said that "the British government has
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of
uranium from Africa."
The early drafts of the speech did
not include Britain as the source of the information, according to
administration officials. A senior official denied that Britain was
inserted in the final draft because the CIA and others in the U.S.
intelligence community were concerned that the charge could not be
supported. The British addition was made only "because they were the
first to say it publicly in their September paper," the official said.
Powell noted yesterday that the British government continues to believe
in the information it produced. "I would not dispute them or disagree
with them or say they're wrong and we're right, because intelligence is
of that nature," Powell said. "Some people have more sources . . . on a
particular issue. Some people have greater confidence in their
Administration officials preparing drafts of the
speech also wanted to name Niger as the focus of Iraqi attempts to buy
uranium, according to a senior administration official who has looked
into the process. But when CIA officials said there were problems with
the Niger information, the more vague reference to Africa was
substituted for Niger. The State Department, in its talking points on
Iraq, had made a similar change the month before the speech.
International Atomic Energy Agency told the U.N. Security Council in
March that the Niger claim had been based on forged documents, a
conclusion the Bush administration did not dispute at the time.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
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