One Week After the Bush-Cheney Cabal Learned About a Port That Shipped Uranium...A US Agency Found Uranium There!
What Were the Odds?
By Margie Burns on 2/28/2007, 3:30pm PT  

*** Special to The BRAD BLOG
*** by Libby/CIA Leak Trial Correspondent Margie Burns

With the jury still out, here in D.C., I had time to look through some court documents in the Libby case and came across an aspect of the "yellowcake" saga which has not yet been reported to my knowledge. I have emailed the Office of the Vice President (OVP) for a comment on this matter and will report back when, and if, I hear from them.

The documents filed in USA v. Libby reveal an arresting short chronology within that longer saga of the bogus Iraq-Niger uranium item, the Wilson trip to Niger and the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

An apparently related document may shed new light on the publicly-known points reported so far...

I reported on Sunday about details revealed during the course of the trial which show --- contrary to conventionally reported wisdom --- that the OVP was working to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson's covert CIA operative wife, Valerie, well prior to the publication of his NY Times op-ed concerning his mission to Niger, on behalf of the CIA, and his confirmation that the Iraq-Niger uranium "yellowcake" story was false.

The question then, and now, is: What were the reasons for the Administration's all-out efforts to discredit either a CIA operative working on WMD issues in the Middle-East, or her entire covert cover operation, Brewster-Jennings?

The document I came across, which had not been released previously with the other declassified documents related to the uranium boondoggle, may lead us towards connecting a dot or two in the matter.

An intel report in the case documents refers to a little-known point in Niger's uranium trade. That point may well have helped the ball to begin rolling for the international backstage machinations --- which seem to have begun a week later --- in the known chronology of the "yellowcake" saga subsequently used by Bush, Cheney and others to help make the public case for war.

Here is the quick known chronology-within-a-story to set the stage, including links to the docs, all from defense exhibits in the Libby trial:

November 25, 2002...

On 25 November 2002, the US Naval Criminal Investigation Service in Marseille, France reported information from two of its sources who claimed that a large quantity of uranium was currently stored in barrels at the Port of Cotonou, Benin and that Niger’s President had sold this material to Iraq.

A highly lurid item, given the context, one would think – that a “large quantity of uranium” was actually at the port, waiting to be shipped to Iraq – “in barrels,” no less.

(A footnote says: “CIA received this information from the US Navy through standard military/attaché channels, i.e. IIR-series reporting.” – IIR seems to mean ‘satellite.’)
[from DX64.7 (scroll down)]

Uranium being a notoriously heavy metal, there might be some queries arising from this story. Those must have been some barrels. And indeed, there was some follow-up:

January ?, 2003...: [a heavily ‘redacted’ exhibit]

[BLACKED OUT DATE] January 2003, [BLACKED OUT AGENCY/AGENCIES] issued a report [BLACKED OUT RECIPIENT/S] that noted that the presence of uranium is common in the port of Cotonou, Benin, as this is the terminus of the normal shipping route from Niger. [SOURCE BLACKED OUT] claimed [REFERENCE BLACKED OUT] information related to discussions between Iraq and Niger dating from 1999 on a proposal to ship uranium.

[DX64.8 --- same link, next page]

This demurral was not entirely conclusive; further follow-up seems to have been called for. Sure enough:

February 10, 2003...

On 10 February 2003, a US Defense Attache Officer reported that he had examined the warehouses, as described by the reporting in paragraph fifteen, and found they contained cotton rather than barrels of uranium bound for Iraq.

[DX64.9 --- next page]

Cotton instead of uranium – what were the odds? – I actually picked cotton a couple of times, in my childhood, and I remember everybody and his brother saying how much it looked like uranium. (More seriously, even when I was in single digits I could see that doing it for fun is different from doing it for a living. Every day of this trial has made me personally more grateful that my late father was a printer, a genuinely productive human being as well as smart. But I digress.)

The congressional committee delving into Iraq pre-war intelligence ‘failings’ tried to rehabilitate this report, in my opinion unsuccessfully. Geiger counter or no Geiger counter, if “a large quantity” of uranium had been stored in those cotton bales, it would have been found – if it was seriously looked for. And if they had really thought it was there, they would have looked seriously.

But we haven’t gotten to the nub yet. We know indisputably now that Bush-Cheney were desperately engaged in a PR stunt of global reach. We know that they were more than willing to grasp at WMD straws – canvas-sided trailers for "mobile chem labs"; propulsion tubes alleged to be future "guided missiles"; a four-ton deal for uranium from a country that produced only three tons; etc.

But why Cotonou, Benin? In other words, who taught these parochial high-flyers that there was such a place as Benin, let alone its port of Cotonou? How is that the US Naval Criminal Investigation Service in Marseille, France suddenly reports, on November 25, 2002, that "two of its sources [are claiming] a large quantity of uranium was currently stored in barrels at the Port of Cotonou, Benin," as referenced by the first intel memo quoted in the above chronology?

For that information, let’s back up a whole...week. Almost. To the document I found today which hadn't previously been a part of the known chronology.

A week prior to the first report above, on November 19, 2002, hitting the desk of someone in the Pentagon, the OVP and/or the WH, is an intel briefing which references "the port of Cotonou, Benin" as a point of shipment for uranium out of Niger:

November 19, 2002...

"CIA Account of Ambassador Wilson’s Trip Findings”
“WP/Nuclear Weapons: Nigerian [sic] Denial of Uranium Yellowcake Sales to Rogue States”

...
Mai Manga stated that uranium from Niger’s mines is very tightly controlled and accounted for from the time it is mined until the time is [sic] loaded onto ships at the port of Cotonou, Benin. According to Mai Manga, even a kilogram of uranium would be noticed missing at the mines. On-site storage is limited and he said that each shipment of uranium is under Nigerien armed military escort from the time it leaves one of the two Nigerien mines until it is loaded on to a ship in Cotonou.

[DX71.8,9]

(To clarify: Mai Manga was one of two sources Wilson told CIA he wanted to talk to in Niger. Manga was Niger’s former Minister of Energy and Mines. He talked with Wilson and told him in detail that there had been no sales of Niger uranium outside the International Atomic Energy Agency.)

Did the WH lean on a military office in Marseilles to come up with the report, just a week later, referencing uranium in that Benin port? The 'right kind' of intelligence report? In a mini-version of the way they put the elbow on the entire CIA to produce intel they could use to make their public case for war against Iraq?

I have emailed questions to the Vice President’s office, asking about these reports. While I await a response, some thoughts...

  1. This report, from November 19, 2002, was included in the intel memo sent to Marc Grossman from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), in the State Department, on June 10, 2003. The memo was titled “Niger/Iraq Uranium Story and Joe Wilson” and lays out what the INR calls “an extensive paper and electronic trail on the Niger/Iraq allegations,” including CIA notes from the February 2002 meeting which was the impetus for Wilson’s trip, identifying Wilson’s wife as a “CIA WMD managerial type and the wife of Amb. Joe Wilson.” Grossman, however, testified that he did not recall the section of the report containing the information about Mrs. Wilson.
  2. The other three reports were included in provisionally declassified material sent to the OVP by CIA on June 9, 2003.