The Butler Report, Revisited

Barcepundit reminds us that the Butler Report, which reviewed issues relating to pre-war intelligence on Iraq, has important information on the subject of Saddam’s efforts to purchase uranium in Africa, the subject of the famous “sixteen words” and of Joe Wilson’s mendacious campaign against the Bush administration.

You can download the Butler Report here; these are the relevant paragraphs on African uranium:

492. In the course of the first Gulf war, the facilities involved in this indigenous route were severely damaged. Subsequently, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervised the dismantlement of all the facilities that Iraq had built to process, enrich and fabricate uranium, and removed all potentially fissile material. Some unprocessed uranium ore was left in country, but under IAEA safeguards and subject to regular inspections. Iraq would therefore have had to seek imports of uranium or uranium ore if it wished to restart its nuclear programme covertly.

493. In early 1999, Iraqi officials visited a number of African countries, including Niger. The visit2 was detected by intelligence, and some details were subsequently confirmedby Iraq. The purpose of the visit was not immediately known. But uranium ore accounts for almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports. Putting this together with past Iraqi purchases of uraniumore fromNiger, the limitations faced by the Iraq regime on access to indigenous uranium ore and other evidence of Iraq seeking to restart its nuclear programme, the JIC judged that Iraqi purchase of uraniumore could have been the subject of discussions and noted in an assessment in December 2000 that: …unconfirmed intelligence indicates Iraqi interest in acquiring uranium.

494. There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.

495. During 2002, the UK received further intelligence fromadditional sources which identified the purpose of the visit to Niger as having been to negotiate the purchase of uranium ore, though there was disagreement as to whether a sale had been agreed and uranium shipped.

497. In preparing the dossier, the UK consulted the US. The CIA advised caution about any suggestion that Iraq had succeeded in acquiring uranium from Africa, but agreed that there was evidence that it had been sought.

499. We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government’s dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:

The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

was well-founded.

503. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.

d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it.

Until reminded by Barcepundit, I had forgotten that, in addition to trying to buy uranium from Niger, Iraq had also tried to obtain uranium from Congo, and may have succeeded in doing so. So the “sixteen words” were doubly true.

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