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Iraq War 2003: Background, Lessons and Follow-On

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September 8, 2004

Reports of French Involvement in Niger-Iraq Uranium Case Not Reliable

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. Reports in The Sunday Telegraph of London on September 6, 2004, cited Italian sources as having alleged that French Government officials were behind the creation of a dossier of largely forged documents which had highlighted the purchase of uranium by Iran from Niger. The documents were subsequently shown to have included forged material, thus discrediting the US policy decision to attack Iraq, which was to some extent based on the dossier.

However, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, which first traced the documents, stands by its original reporting of July 29, 2003, that the documents were the product of the Libyan External Services Organization (ESO), and not the French Government.

The Sunday Telegraph report, by journalists Bruce Johnston in Brussels and Kim Willsher in Paris, noted:

Italian diplomats say that France was behind forged documents which at first appeared to prove that Iraq was seeking "yellow-cake" uranium in Niger — evidence used by Britain and America to promote the case for last year's Gulf war.

They say that France’s intelligence services used an Italian-born middle-man to circulate a mixture of genuine and bogus documents to "trap" the two leading proponents of war with Saddam into making unsupportable claims.

They have passed to The Sunday Telegraph a photograph which they claim shows the Italian go-between, sometimes known as "Giacomo" — who cannot be identified for legal reasons — meeting a senior French intelligence officer based in Brussels. "The French hoped that the bulk of the documents would be exposed as false, since many of them obviously were," an Italian official said.

"Their aim was to make the allies look ridiculous in order to undermine their case for war."

According to an account given to The Sunday Telegraph, France was driven by "a cold desire to protect their privileged, dominant trading relationship with Saddam, which in the case of war would have been at risk".

The allegation, which has infuriated French officials, follows reports last month [August 2004] that "Giacomo" claimed to have been unwittingly used by SISMI, Italy's foreign intelligence service, to circulate the false documents.

GIS confirms that the source of the dossier going in to SISMI was “Giacomo” — GIS was unwilling, for reasons of source sensitivity, to name “Giacomo” at the time of the original reporting — but is now able to say that “Giacomo” is not, in fact, an individual, but a group of people, sometimes using the cover-name or codename “Giacomo”. Moreover, the group is a criminal entity which provides excellent professional services to those who can afford their prices. The French intelligence services have used the group over the years, but so, too, has the Libyan Government (and the governments of other so-called “rogue states”), relying on "Giacomo" for a host of end-user certificates and export licenses and technology transfer permits, and the like, in order to expedite the Libyan (and allied) acquisition of forbidden technologies, matériel and specialty production goods.

It is possible that the sources which told The Sunday Telegraph of the alleged link were only aware of “Giacomo’s” French connections, and not of its other, widespread links to governments, including Libya. However, the SISMI sources at the time told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily that the “Giacomo” link which provided the Niger uranium dossier was, in fact, one which routinely provided material from Libya’s ESO, and that it was understood by SISMI at the time that the source of the documents was Libya.

As well, there is a concerted rivalry now underway between the UK, Italy, France and the US for access to key Libyan energy resources and contracts, and it is possible that attempts to divert attention from Libya as the source of the uranium documents could well have also served the purpose of alienating France.

The original Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, July 29, 2003, Niger-Iraq Uranium Reports Involve Ongoing Libyan Deception Ops, is reprinted in full, below:

Exclusive Special Report

Niger-Iraq Uranium Reports Involve Ongoing Libyan Deception Ops 

1. Highly-reliable sources within the Italian intelligence community have confirmed to this Service that the documents — subsequently demonstrated to have been forgeries — introduced by the US and UK governments showing a contact between the Nigerien and the Iraqi governments for the export of uranium were, in fact, produced by the Libyan Government. The documents were used in the State of the Union Address by US Pres. George W. Bush on January 28, 2003, and were widely interpreted as part of the casus belli underwhich the US-led Coalition attacked Iraq in March-April 2003. 

2. The Libyan External Security Organization (ESO) passed on, in a single transaction and through a Libyan intermediary, a file of forged documents to Italy’s SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare). According to Italian sources, the documents appeared to be part of a larger, ongoing Libyan double-deception operation designed to discredit US decisionmaking and the US leadership. The documents were designed to take issues which were in fact verifiable — or approximately verifiable — by US intelligence agencies and then provide seemingly valid collateral documentation. By then exposing the “valid collateral documentation” as fake, the premise of the intelligence — and the subsequent US policy — would then be undermined and discredited. 

3. US officials in December 2002 publicly claimed that Niger had signed an agreement in 2000 to sell Iraq 500 metric tons of a concentrated form of uranium known as yellowcake. The British Government also presented the IAEA with “Nigerien state documents” that were to prove Nigerien-Iraqi attempts to trade in uranium after the UN embargo on Iraq strictly forbade this. This “documentation” was seen as a key element in the US-UK quest to prove that Iraq was still trying to develop nuclear arms. Niger had supplied Iraq with yellowcake for its nuclear program in the 1980s, which at that time was legal. The British and US governments had tried to prove that Niger recently agreed to resume those shipments, illegal since 1991. US officials claim that Iraq imported uranium from Niger even after 1998 and that more shipments were planned in 2000.1 

4. On March 8, 2003, Mohamed El-Baradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN agency, declared that the documentation used by Pres. Bush in his January 28, 2003, speech was forged. The statement by Mr El-Baradei seemed to exonerate the Niger Government in the matter of alleged uranium sales to Iraq, and the Prime Minister of Niger, Hama Hamadou, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, of London, and published on July 27, 2003, explicitly denied the allegations. 

5. Libyan and other sources have told this Service that, in fact, yellowcake was being procured (or at least had been the subject of agreements) from Niger for Iraq during the embargo period, but by the Libyan Government. The yellowcake was being used for weapons development programs by Iraq and Libya (and possibly Egypt, one of the partners in the strategic weapons program) being conducted by joint teams in the Libyan facilities at Sabha and Kufra.2 When asked whether the ESO documentation was designed to cover up and distract from Libyan involvement in the Iraqi nuclear program, one key Libyan source told this Service that this was only part of the objective. This Service was told that it was part of a broader plan, involving other documents and deception operations, designed to more comprehensively discredit US decisionmaking. This Service, on November 8, 2000, discussed how Iraq and Egypt had agreed with Libya in 1999 that Libya should act on behalf of all three countries to procure NoDong-1 strategic weapons-capable ballistic missiles from North Korea. The pattern for Libya-Iraq strategic weapons cooperation — which had been evident even before that time — was thus clearly established in the current context. 

6. It seems clear that the Iraqi Government did not need to negotiate directly with the Government of Niger for the procurement of yellowcake. Had it done so, this fact would almost certainly have come to the attention of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), given the closeness of Niger-Nigeria relations, and it apparently did not. However, Libyan procurement of fissile material on behalf of Iraq was less noticeable. 

7. Italian sources confirmed to this Service that significant sections of the Italian Intelligence Community (IC) had been, at one time or another (including in this latest episode), working in cooperation with the Libyan Government and ESO, usually on the basis of payments made by the Libyans “for services rendered”. 

8. The question, at this stage, remains whether the Government of Niger was aware of the onward destination of some of the yellowcake provided to Libyan buyers, and whether or not the Libyan buyers significantly obfuscated their own identities in the procurement process. This would significantly impact how the US would deal with the Government of Niger. It should be expected that the US Government would also request assistance from the Nigerian Government in resolving the matter. The UK Government said that it had confirmation of the supply of yellowcake from Niger to Iraq from “other African intelligence services”, independent of the Italian-routed false documentation. 


1. In the early 1980s, Con Coughlin’s book, Saddam: King of Terror, noted, on p.188: “Before the war [Iran-Iraq] started, Saddam had been promised that the reactor would be ready to produce weapons grade material by July 1981. Although the French, responding to international pressure, were still dragging their feet on supplying Saddam with the enriched uranium necessary to power the Tammuz reactor cores … Iraq was also engaged in a worldwide search for uranium. 120 tons were acquired from Portugal in 1980, and a further 200 tons from Niger.”

2. Sabha, and the region around it, is home to the Libyan Strategic Industries complex and a variety of storage facilities for nuclear, chemical and biological material, laboratories and facilities. Global Information System (GIS) reported on January 7, 2002, that al-Kufra (aka al-Kafra) was the location of a warehouse on the road to Al-Sara military camp which included 1,800 barrels of chemical material and other biological materials which was transferred from Rabta and Tarhunah.

See Also:

Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, November 8, 2000: Libyan NoDong SSMs Reported Targeting Southern NATO Sites and Israel.
Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily
, July 28, 2003: Niger-Iraq Fissile Material Issue Escalates; More Expected.

As well, Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily carried the following report on July 15, 2004:

Special Report

New Attempt to Distract Niger Uranium Export Issue Away From Libyan Rôle

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. New attempts are being made by officials from Niger to obfuscate the political picture with regard to the supply of Niger-originating uranium to Iraq. However, there is now a growing possibility that the reality that Niger supplied uranium to Libya, and that Libya hosted the Iraqi strategic weapons programs from about 1998 onwards, will be openly acknowledged by US and UK governments in the near future. The exclusive reporting on this matter by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs — reporting which was either denied or ignored in the build-up to the Iraq War — is increasingly being vindicated by other sources.

The BBC — which has taken a consistently hostile position to the US and UK governments on the question of the Iraq war — on July 14, 2004, quoted Niger's former Prime Minister, Ibrahim Mayaki as saying that Iraq did not try to buy uranium, contradicting US claims made in the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Mayaki said that no Iraqi delegation went to Niger while he was Foreign Minister or Prime Minister.

The story, timed to come out alongside the release of the 196-page report based on the enquiry into British intelligence on the build-up to the Iraq war by Lord Butler, was designed to denigrate all the intelligence which led to the US and UK governments’ decision to attack Iraq over the question of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and systems. The UK Government has consistently stood by its story that Niger uranium was acquired by Iraq.

The US Government admitted that documents on which the assessment of Niger-Iraq uranium dealings were based were, in fact, forgeries which they had been given.

However, the Butler report, as well as the Mayaki quote failed to ask the basic questions:

1. Who provided the forged documents to the US, and why? and

2. Was the uranium sent to Iraqi WMD laboratories and facilities in Libya, rather than Iraq?

It is now known absolutely that Libya’s External Security Organization (ESO), under the control of Moussa Koussa, who was the primary link to the US and British intelligence services in “normalizing” Libya’s relations with the US and Britain, produced and delivered the forged documents to the Italian military intelligence organization, SISMI, for onward passage to the US. At an appropriate time, the Libyans ensured that the fact that the documents was forged was leaked to the Director-General of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El-Baradei, who then attacked the US assumptions on the Iraqi nuclear program by stating that the documents on which the US based its assessments were forged.

The reporting on this was produced by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on July 29, 2003.


Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, October 1, 2002: Weapons Grade Uranium Moving in Middle East; Iraqi WMD and Delivery Development Being Undertaken in Libya.

Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, July 29, 2003: Niger-Iraq Uranium Reports Involve Ongoing Libyan Deception Ops.

Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, December 22, 2003: Libyan WMD Programs, Long Cited by GIS, Admitted as Qadhafi Begins Rear-Guard Action to Stave Off US Attack.

The BBC noted on July 14, 2004: “An official report into UK intelligence supported the claims that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger. Although some documents backing up this claim were shown to be forgeries, the UK has not withdrawn the charge.”

Indeed, as the original intelligence from GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs HUMINT sources showed in 2002 and 2003, Iraq was buying uranium, but not (or not just) from the DPRK (North Korea), where the UK Special Intelligence Service (SIS) and some sources believed, based on intercept intelligence.

The July 2004 US Senate report on the intelligence leading up to the Iraq invasion said that the Saddam Hussein Government may have tried to buy uranium from Africa, but seemed to indicate that this intelligence may have been overturned because — with the discovery of the forged documents — the allegations were withdrawn. However, the fact that no-one in either the media, or, apparently, the US or UK governments, followed the trail of the Libyan deception operation, the question of the acquisition of uranium, paid for by Iraq but delivered to Libya, was not raised publicly.

There is now some suggestion that the US Bush Administration will, in fact, raise the matter in September 2004.

Former Niger Prime Minister Mayaki told the BBC that he denied allegations in the US Senate report that he admitted meeting a delegation from Iraq in 1999. The report said that Mayaki expected to discuss uranium with the Iraqi delegation but managed to steer the conversation in another direction. But Mr Mayaki told the BBC that he had no recollection of such a meeting while he was in government from 1999-2001, and noted: “I think this could be easily verified by the Western intelligence services and by the authorities in Niger”.

However, there is ample evidence of routine Libyan presence in Niger, and of Libyan acquisition of Nigerien uranium, as noted in earlier GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs reporting.

Former US Federal Prosecutor John Loftus in May 2004 confirmed on Fox News some of the earlier 2002, 2003 and 2004 reporting by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs that Libya had hosted the Iraqi nuclear program, and further detail was added to this in the June 2004 book by GIS Senior Editor Yossef Bodansky, The Secret History of the Iraq War. Loftus, however, failed to note the Niger connection which was literally verified by the deception operation mounted by the Libyan ESO. Loftus told Fox News interviewer Eric Shawn:

Loftus: “I was told about this amazing wiretap where British Intelligence overheard a call from North Korea to Libya saying, 'My god, if the Americans ever go into Iraq, they're going to find out about our nuclear program. And who's going to pay all the Iraqi nuclear scientists in Libya if Saddam falls?’”

Shawn: "You're saying before the war there were Iraqi nuclear scientists working on a potential bomb in Libya before we launched this [war in Iraq]?”

Loftus: "Yeah. This was a treaty signed by a man called Ali Sobree. He was the Foreign Minister of Iraq. And he went to [Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-] Qadhafi and they worked out a whole protocol. Qadhafi would donate a hollowed out mountain in Libya; Iraq would provide the nuclear scientists, and North Korea would provide the uranium. And they would literally make a factory for nuclear weapons. And once that factory was complete, we had lost the war on terrorism. People don't realize that even a small nuclear weapon can kill 300,000 people. That's one hundred 9-11's. So that's why we put [garbled] bin Laden on the back burner — we were really focusing on getting the Ali Sobree protocol — we had to smash that ring."

Shawn: "Now when you talk about Saddam and the war on terror ... your indication is that [US] President [George W.] Bush understood this after 9-11 and he was mostly concerned about a nuclear bomb from Libya or Iraq or Iran."

Loftus: "Eric, that's EXACTLY it. Within a month after 9-11, British wiretaps showed that we had a MAJOR risk. Nuclear weapons in terrorist's hands would be devastating. And that's why the President said: 'OK, we're gonna shift the emphasis from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. We're gonna go into Iraq - that's where the evidence is - we have to capture Ali Sobree."

Later in the interview Loftus noted:

"It was THE major strategy. Qadhafi has now confirmed he is going to hand the Ali Sobree protocols over to the United States. Sobree, himself, is now in US custody and he is already scheduled as one of the first three witnesses in the trial of Saddam Hussein.”