Before the leak: 1988 - 2002

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1988

  • Joe Wilson begins assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Iraq.

1990

"The chief American diplomat, Joe Wilson, shepherds his flock of some 800 known Americans like a village priest. At 4:30 Sunday morning, he was helping 55 wives and children of U.S. diplomats from Kuwait load themselves and their few remaining possessions on transport for the long haul on the desert to Jordan. He shows the stuff of heroism."

1991

1992

1999

Unknown 1999

  • Joseph Wilson takes a trip at the behest of the CIA to investigate whether Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan had attempted to acquire uranium from Iraq. (Wilson, Politics of Truth, lv-lvi; SSCI, p. 39).

February 1999

  • Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, sets off on a trip to several African countries, including Niger, where he meets with the country's president. [1] [2] [3] Zahawie's visit is reported in the local newspaper as well as by a French news agency. The US and British governments are also aware of the trip but show no concern. At this time, Niger is “actively seeking economic assistance from the United States.” No one suggests that the trip's motives have anything to do with acquiring uranium. [4] Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Italian intelligence service, SISMI, will provide the US with information it has about the trip and will suggest that the motive behind the visit was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake”.[5]
  • Rocco Martino, an Italian security consultant, provides French officials with documents suggesting that Iraq intends to expand its “trade” with Niger. Martino was formerly a member of SISMI. The French assume the trade being discussed would be in uranium, Niger's main export. At French intelligence's request, Martino continues supplying them with documents. [6] [7]

April 1999

April 26

"[W]e need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors."[8]

2000

  • Early 2000 - Rocco Martino, is approached by a former colleague at SISMI, who tips him off to a former SISMI source working at the Nigerien Embassy in Rome who can provide Martino with information in exchange for a monthly retainer fee. Martino pursues the lead, and agrees to pay her 500 euros/month.
The source, however, remains on SISMI's payroll providing the agency with a way to distribute information to the public while concealing its role. Most of the documents he will receive from the lady will be related to immigration into Italy and Islamist activities in North and Central Africa.

2001

January 2001

January 2

  • The Italian police discover that the Niger Embassy in Rome has been ransacked. It appears that the people involved in the break-in searched through the embassy's documents and files. In 2003, Italian investigators will suspect that this incident is related to a collection of forged documents obtained by an Italian journalist in October 2002 which play a significant role in US allegations that Saddam Hussein attempted to obtain uranium oxide from Niger between 1999 and 2001.

June or July 2001

  • A team of CIA agents, including Valerie Plame Wilson, and Jordanian secret police intercept a shipment of aluminum tubes in Jordan destined for Iraq. (WaPo; Isikoff & Corn, Hubris)

Late 2001

  • The Italian government reportedly obtains half a dozen letters and other documents from a source in Rome alleged to be correspondence between Niger and Iraqi officials negotiating a sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide. The Italians share the intelligence with their counterparts in both Britain and the US.
Martino receives a telephone call sometime in late 2001 from a former colleague at SISMI, who informs him that his source at the Nigerien embassy is in possession of documents that might be of interest to him. “I met her and she gave me documents,” Martino later tells the Sunday Times. “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn't want anyone to know they had been involved.”
These documents consisting of a series of letters purported to have been exchanged between the Niger government and an Iraqi diplomat to Martino. According to these letters, Iraq had attempted to obtain 500 tons of uranium oxide, or “yellowcake,” from Niger.

October 2001

October 15

  • Reporting on a Niger/Iraq yellowcake agreement first come to the attention of U.S. Intelligence. The Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, provides the CIA with a report on a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican. The report suggests that the trip's mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide. According to sources later interviewed by New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the report is “dismissed as amateurish and unsubstantiated” by US intelligence.

October 18

  • CIA Directorate of Operations circulates a memo (Niger One) regarding the SISMI report. It details SISMI allegations further:
    • a sale was approved by the state court of Niger in late 2000.
    • Nigerien Foreign Affairs Minister Nassirou Sabo informed a European ambassador that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq.
    • CIA, DIA, DOE considered the report "possible". INR regarded it as "highly suspect" due to French control of the Nigerien uranium industry.
    • CIA notes no further evidence suggesting such a sale had taken place.

Late October

  • The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney on intelligence that was provided by the Italians suggesting that Iraq is attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. Cheney asks about the implications of the report and is reportedly dissatisfied with the initial response. He asks the agency to take another look.

2002

January 2002

  • Niger-Iraq yellowcake connection first investigated (Wilson, Politics of Truth, p. 452).
  • A meeting at CIA headquarters occurs sometime in January. Intelligence experts at this meeting are uncertain about what further steps they could take to try to track down confirmation or rejection of the yellowcake allegations. The CIA has no station chief in Niger, and the U.S. ambassador there already had made her own inquiries. They are skeptical of the Italian and British White Paper reports. State Department officials, in particular, feel that 500 tons of uranium was such a large amount that there was no way it could secretly be transferred to Iraq. (Wall Street Journal)

February 2002

February 5

  • The Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, shares a second report on Nigerien uranium. The CIA Directorate of Operations reports on this (intelligence memo; WaPo).

February 12

  • Based on information from the Feb. 5 CIA report, the DIA publishes a finished intelligence product on Niger uranium. (SSCI, p. 50)
  • Someone in the Office of the Vice President calls a junior CIA officer asking about the Iraq-Niger allegations. The officer talks to Valerie Wilson about the call. A third officer joins the conversation. Wilson and the third officer go to Wilson's branch supervisor. At the branch supervisor's urging, Wilson writes to the chief of the Counterproliferation Division that "my husband has good relations with both the PM and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." (V. Wilson memo, at p. 3; SSCI; V. Wilson hearing testimony, at Rep. Lynch questioning)

February 13

  • Vice President Dick Cheney has seen the Feb. 12 DIA report, that Iraq is purchasing uranium from Africa. He tasks CIA briefer David Terry to look into the issue. (CIA task sheet; SSCI, p. 50)
  • Valerie Wilson in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. "[B]oth State and DOD have requested additional clarification and indeed, the Vice President's office just asked for background information." (SSCI)

February 14

  • The CIA publishes a senior level report concluding "information on the alleged uranium contract between Iraq and Niger comes exclusively from a foreign government service report that lacks crucial details, and we are working to clarify the information and to determine whether it can be corroborated." (report, p. 4 of pdf; CIA memo, item 4). Vice President Dick Cheney receives the report (SSCI).
  • Cheney receives a memo in response to his February 13 request. Cheney is told "We have tasked our clandestine source with ties to the Nigerien Government and consortium officials to seek additional information on the contract." (CIA memo)

February 18

  • The U.S. embassy in Niger disseminates a cable reporting that the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal "provides sufficient detail to warrant another hard look at Niger's uranium sales." (SSCI)

February 19

  • The CIA Counterproliferation Division (CPD) holds a meeting at CIA headquarters with Joe Wilson. In attendance are intelligence analysts from both the CIA and the State Department's INR. At the beginning of the meeting Valerie Plame introduces Wilson, then leaves after three minutes. The purpose of the meeting it to discuss the merits of sending Wilson to Niger to verify or negate the reports that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Niger (SSCI). He is asked to attend because of his expertise on Africa and his knowledge of the African uranium trade, gained during his years at the Clinton White House.
This meeting in a windowless conference room opens with a mention of Mr. Cheney's inquiry about the African connection to Iraq. During the course of that meeting, officials raised the possibility of his traveling to Niger and told him they would contact him with a decision.

February 20

  • Wilson is asked and accepts the mission and is provided talking points for use in his inquiries in Niger. (SSCI)

February 24 (approx.)

  • The U.S. Ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, and Marine General Carlton Fulford meet with Niger's President, Mamadou Tandja and Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou. Ford uses talking points to raise the uranium issue in the meeting. (SSCI)

Wilson trip

February 26

  • Wilson arrives in Niger. During his trip, current and former Niger officials Wilson talks to say they were unaware of any contract being signed with Iraq. Wilson finds no evidence of uranium purchase. (Wilson 452, SSCI)

March 2002

March 1

  • The State Department's INR publishes an intelligence assessment, "Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely." (memo)

Early March

  • Wilson returns from Niger's capital Niamey in early March.

March 5

  • Dick Cheney receives a WINPAC report that says that Niger is cooperating and SISMI can provide no further information. Cheney is also told a source would be debriefed later that day. (SCSI)
  • Two CIA officers from the Directorate of Operations debrief Joseph Wilson about his trip. The debriefing takes place in Wilson’s home. Wilson says it was "highly doubtful" any transfer of uranium took place. Based on information provided verbally by Wilson, the DO case officer writes a draft intelligence report and sends it to the DO reports officer who adds additional relevant information from his notes. (Wilson, Politics of Truth, Cooperative Reseach)

March 8

March 24

March 25

  • The CIA Directorate of Operations releases its third and final report on the Iraq-Niger issue. (CIA memo, item 7)

Unknown March or after

September 2002

September 9

  • Stephen Hadley meets in Washington with Nicolo Pollari, the head of the Italian Intelligence Agency, SISMI. (White House)

September 24

  • The British government publishes a dossier with the source of the 16 words: "there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa" (p. 25). Before publication of the report, the CIA had expressed concerns to the British about the credibility of the information (CIA memo, item 8).

October 2002

October 1

October 5

  • The CIA sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush's deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. Stephen Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief Condoleezza Rice on the memo. (WaPo; White House; Truthout)

October 6

  • The CIA sends a second memo in two days, recommending that the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa be removed. 1) The evidence is weak. One of the two claimed mines is flooded, the other under control of the French. 2) The alleged purchase is not particularly significant, because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide. 3) Congress has been informed about points one and two, and been told the claims are overblown and that this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British. The memo's recipients include National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley. (WaPo)

October 7 or before

  • CIA Director George Tenet argues “personally to White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley,” that the Africa-uranium claim should not be included in the President's October 7 speech in Cincinatti because the allegation is based on only one source. The deleted line had said "And the regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa, and a central ingredient in the enrichment process." (WaPo, WaPo, White House; SSCI)

October 7

  • President Bush delivers the speech in Cincinnati without the uranium reference.
  • Rocco Martino meets with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba at a restaurant in Rome, and delivers to her a folder of Iraq-Niger documents. (WaPo)

October 9 or 10

  • Journalist Elisabetta Burba delivers the purported Iraq-Niger uranium documents to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. (WaPo)

October 11

December 2002

  • Mohamed ElBaradei sends a letter to the White House and the National Security Council, warning senior officials he thought the documents were forgeries and should not be cited by the administration as evidence that Iraq was actively trying to obtain WMDs. ElBaradei receives no written response to his letter, despite repeated follow-up calls he makes to the White House, the NSC and the State Department. (Counterbias)

December 19

  • A State Department fact sheet drafted in John Bolton's department lists attempts to purchase uranium, specifically from Niger, as an item omitted from Iraq's full disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction program. (SSCI, Waxman letter, p. 5 ff; WaPo)

December 24

  • The Prime Minister of Niger publicly declares that Niger has not sold uranium to Iraq and has not been approached since he took office in 2000. (SSCI)

2003

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