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Friday, July 18, 2003



Whose National Intelligence Estimate Is That, Again?


Did the Wall Street Journal get ahold of a phony NIE? We wonder. [Check the UPDATE to see how wrong I am]

Andrew Sullivan sends us off to the Wall Street Journal, which has gotten a source to tip it to the contents of the now famous NIE from last fall. YES, we are stuck on this uranium debacle, what else?

Let me clip the highlights from the WSJ, since not everyone is a subscriber:

We're reliably told that that now famous NIE, which is meant to be the best summary judgment of the intelligence community, isn't nearly as full of doubt about that yellowcake story as the critics assert or as even CIA director George Tenet has suggested. The section on Iraq's hunt for uranium, for example, asserts bluntly that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" and that "acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons."

Regarding the supposedly discredited Niger story, the NIE says that "a foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."

That foreign government service is of course the British, who still stand by their intelligence. In the next paragraph, the NIE goes on to say that "reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo." It then adds that "we cannot confirm whether Iraq has succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources."


I somehow suspect you are not laughing out loud. Yet. This is very cool, inside stuff - the straight dirt, as it were. Yet, you wonder why I am smiling.

I relent. Take a look at George Tenet's statement of July 11, when he took the fall for the 16 words. Every sentence in the WSJ piece appears in the Tenet statement, most of them word for word. A demo:

WSJ: The section on Iraq's hunt for uranium, for example, asserts bluntly that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake" and that "acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons."

Tenet: These paragraphs also cited reports that Iraq began "vigorously trying to procure" more uranium from Niger and two other African countries, which would shorten the time Baghdad needed to produce nuclear weapons.

WSJ: ...the NIE says that "a foreign government service reported that as of early 2001 Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."

Tenet: The NIE states: "A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of pure "uranium" (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out the arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake." The Estimate also states: "We do not know the status of this arrangement."

And so on. However, I stumble on this last bit from the Journal:

In the next paragraph, the NIE goes on to say that "reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo." It then adds that "we cannot confirm whether Iraq has succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources."

The best I can do from Tenet's statement is:

With regard to reports that Iraq had sought uranium from two other countries, the Estimate says: "We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources."

So, the Journal has evidently added something. Now, since the NIE is purported to mention Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo, perhaps this bit if trivia can be explained to me, as taken from the BBC:

Three countries in Africa are officially listed by the World Nuclear Association as uranium producing countries.

They are Niger, Namibia and South Africa.

But other sources say Algeria, DR Congo, Gabon, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe also produce uranium.


It's late at night, I am tired, I could be wrong. But it looks like the WSJ got ahold of a recycled version of Tenet's statement, with a few fun science non-facts thrown in. The gist of their editorial does not change if we correct "Somalia". But who is pretending that they have a special peek at the NIE? Source check, please, gents.

UPDATE: OK, put Somalia back in the mix, and don't trust the BBC.

As to what is happening, the White House released excerpts from the NIE. Quite possibly, WSJ reporters got a sneak preview.








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