News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Friday, October 28, 2005

F.B.I. Is Still Seeking Source of Forged Uranium Reports - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 - A two-year inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has yet to uncover the origin of forged documents that formed a basis for sending an envoy on a fact-finding trip to Niger, a mission that eventually exploded into the C.I.A. leak inquiry, law enforcement and intelligence officials say.

A counterespionage official said Wednesday that the inquiry into the documents, which were intended to show that Iraq was seeking uranium for a nuclear weapons program, had yielded some intriguing but unproved theories. One is the possibility that associates of Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who was a leading champion of the American campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, had a hand in the forgery. A second hypothesis, described by some officials as more likely, is that the documents were forged at Niger's embassy in Rome, in a moneymaking scheme. The official said the matter was being investigated as a counterintelligence case, not a criminal one.

The United States government did not receive the papers until October 2002, eight months after the Central Intelligence Agency sent Joseph C. Wilson IV, a retired ambassador, to Niger on the fact-finding mission, according to a review completed last year by the Senate intelligence committee. The C.I.A. decided in March 2003 that the papers were forgeries.

But a little-noticed passage in another government report said the C.I.A. had determined that foreign intelligence passed to the agency in the months before Mr. Wilson's trip also contained information that was "based on the forged documents and was thus itself unreliable."

That early foreign reporting, never endorsed by American intelligence analysts, prompted questions from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, which in turn led to Mr. Wilson's trip, a chain of events spelled out in the reviews of prewar intelligence issued this year and last year.

The continuing inquiry into the source of the forged documents has been conducted separately from the investigation by the special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into the leak case, which has to do with whether Bush administration officials committed crimes related to disclosing the identity of Mr. Wilson's wife, an undercover C.I.A. officer.

Law enforcement officials say they do not believe that the two issues are related. The documents were among the sources of President Bush's claim in a 16-word passage of his State of the Union speech in 2003, later retracted, that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Africa.

The question of who forged the documents remains of intense interest on Capitol Hill, where Senators Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, have received classified briefings on the status of the F.B.I. inquiry. The two are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the intelligence committee.

That the initial reports prompting Mr. Wilson's trip were based on forged documents was reported in March by the Robb-Silberman commission on intelligence involving weapons of mass destruction. A footnote in the commission's report said, "It is still unclear who forged the documents and why." But it added that a classified version of the report had included discussion of "some further factual findings concerning the potential source of the forgeries."

Among American allies, Britain was the most vocal proponent of the argument that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium, but former senior intelligence officials said the reporting had actually come from Italy's military intelligence service.

An Italian journalist handed the documents over to the United States government in October 2002, months after the Wilson mission to Africa, according to the review by the intelligence committee.

A month earlier, the deputy national security adviser at the time, Stephen J. Hadley, met in Washington with the head of an Italian intelligence service, according to a report that was published this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The White House has confirmed that the meeting took place, but a spokesman for Mr. Hadley described it as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less.

"No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake being discussed or documents being provided," Frederick Jones, Mr. Hadley's spokesman, said Thursday, referring to a form of uranium.

The Italian government denied on Wednesday that its intelligence services had played any role in the "manufacture or spreading" of such a falsified dossier.

Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Mr. Rockefeller, would say only that he and Mr. Roberts had been briefed by the F.B.I. about the Niger inquiry. An aide to Mr. Roberts said only that "ongoing investigations of that type are the kinds of things they are briefed on."

According to the review by the committee, the C.I.A. produced intelligence documents in October 2001 and February 2002 describing reports by "a foreign government service" that Niger planned to send several tons of uranium to Iraq, but cautioned that the information was uncorroborated. The second report provided what the C.I.A. described as the "verbatim text" of what the foreign service had said was an Iraq-Niger agreement.

The Defense Intelligence Agency then issued a Feb. 12, 2002, report repeating the details in the C.I.A. report, but its assessment "did not include any judgments about the credibility of the reporting," the Senate report said. It said Mr. Cheney, after reading the report, asked for the C.I.A.'s analysis of events.

In response to those questions, the Senate report said, the C.I.A.'s counterproliferation division decided to contact Mr. Wilson, who was posted early in his career in Niger. His wife, Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame, was an undercover officer in that division. The Senate report says that when the division decided to send Mr. Wilson to Niger, she approached him on behalf of the agency and told him "there's this crazy report" on a possible deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

David Johnston and Ian Fisher contributed reporting for this article.


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