How the 'IoS' broke the story of the ambassador and the fake uranium claim

The Independent on Sunday had learned that a senior American figure had gone to the west African state of Niger to investigate a claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons there - and had found it untrue.

Britain had included the assertion in its September 2002 dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Even though it had been sceptically received, the claim was repeated in January 2003 by President George Bush in his annual State of the Union address. In that symbolic, televised speech, delivered before both houses of Congress, Mr Bush told the American public: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

With war in Iraq imminent, and so many other charges being flung against Saddam, this one did not attract much scrutiny. But six months later, with Baghdad in coalition hands and Mr Bush having declared major combat operations over, the questions about the failure to find WMD were proliferating.The IoS was told by a source that someone in the US knew the truth about the "Niger uranium" claim. The source felt honour-bound not to reveal his name, but said we could easily find out in Washington. He was right: to those familiar with the issue, Joe Wilson's mission was common knowledge.

The former diplomat, who once served in Niger, had travelled there in 2002 at the request of the CIA to investigate the claim. During his eight-day visit he satisfied himself unequivocally that it was untrue that Iraq had been seeking the uranium, and that documents purporting to show a deal must be fakes. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally had the opportunity to look at the documents itself, it concluded they were forgeries. Last week the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that they had been created by low-level agents of Sisme, the Italian intelligence service, which was trying to curry favour with the White House by supporting its WMD campaign.

In June 2003 Mr Wilson told the IoS it was all but impossible that British intelligence had not also been told of the findings of his mission. When the uranium story appeared in Britain's WMD dossier, he even told the CIA to alert their British counterparts to their error. He outlined his belief that the Bush administration had twisted the intelligence to make a case for war against Iraq and had chosen to ignore his report.

Mr Wilson asked that the IoS identify him only as a "retired ambassador to Africa who went to Niger". The reason for this became clear the following weekend, when, in a signed piece in The New York Times, he wrote a full account of his investigation entitled "What I didn't find in Africa". In it he wrote: "I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." The impact of this piece was huge, and it forced the White House on to the back foot. The then CIA director, George Tenet had to apologise over the claim in the State of the Union address, saying: "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President."

Britain continued to insist, however, that it had separate intelligence that validated the claim. The Foreign Office hinted that it was connected to the visit of an "Iraqi delegation" to Niger in 1999, but when the IoS interviewed Wissam al-Zahawie, the only Iraqi diplomat to go there that year, he said he had been investigated and cleared by both the UN and the US.

Mr Wilson's article, however, made him a target for the White House. Little more than a week after it appeared, the conservative columnist Bob Novak reported that the ambassador's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative, and that she had suggested sending her husband to Niger. He said he had been given the information by "two senior administration officials".

Mr Wilson long suspected the attempt to smear him went to the very heart of the administration. In a subsequent memoir, The Politics of Truth, subtitled "Inside the lies that led to war and betrayed my wife's CIA identity", he wrote: "I am told ... that the office of the Vice-President - either the Vice-President himself or more likely his chief of staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby - chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to do a work-up on me." And Mr Wilson told the IoS he believed it was very unlikely that Dick Cheney was not aware of what was happening. "If he did not know about it, he should be saying so."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn