Letters on sale of uranium by Niger to Iraq were forged

Suspicion falls on staff in embassy in Rome

March 16, 2003|By Sam Roe | Sam Roe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHICAGO - Forged documents that the United States used to build its case against Iraq were likely written by someone in Niger's embassy in Rome who hoped to make quick money, a source close to the United Nations investigation said.

The documents, about a dozen letters on Niger's governmental letterhead, suggested that the African nation had agreed to supply Iraq with uranium, used in nuclear weapons production, the source said. Some of the letters were addressed to an Iraqi official.

But when International Atomic Energy Agency investigators analyzed the contents of the letters, they discovered discrepancies in names and titles that led them to conclude that the documents were fabricated.

An IAEA spokeswoman would not comment on the investigation, though she said the agency did not fault the United States or Britain.

"We believe it was given to us in good faith," the spokeswoman said. "It doesn't seem that it was fabricated by British or American intelligence agencies in order to make a case" for war.

The source said that the IAEA suspects the letters were intended to be sold to intelligence agencies.

On Friday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked the FBI to investigate who forged the letters and why U.S. intelligence officials did not recognize them as fakes.

"There is a possibility that the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq," he wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. An FBI inquiry, he wrote, "should, at a minimum, help to allay any concerns" that the U.S. government created the letters to build support for war.

Rockefeller spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said that "the rest of the world is not shining brightly on America right now," and the forged evidence "hurts our credibility, and it's embarrassing."

Niger Embassy officials were unavailable for comment.

Sam Roe is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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