Friday 14 March 2003
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI on Friday to investigate forged documents the Bush administration used as evidence against Saddam Hussein and his military ambitions in Iraq.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said he was uneasy about a possible campaign to deceive the public about the status of Iraq's nuclear program.
An investigation should "at a minimum help to allay any concerns" that the government was involved in the creation of the documents to build support for administration policies, Rockefeller wrote in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has denied the U.S. government had any hand in creating the false documents.
"It came from other sources," Powell told a House committee Thursday. "We were aware of this piece of evidence, and it was provided in good faith to the inspectors."
Rockefeller asked the FBI to determine the source of the documents, the sophistication of the forgeries, the motivation of those responsible, why intelligence agencies didn't recognize them as forgeries and whether they are part of a larger disinformation campaign.
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The documents indicated that Iraq tried to by uranium from Niger, the West African nation that is the third-largest producer of mined uranium, Niger's largest export. The documents had been provided to U.S. officials by a third country, which has not been identified.
A U.S. government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was unclear who first created the documents. The official said American suspicions remain about an Iraq-Niger uranium connection because of other, still-credible evidence that the official refused to specify.
In December, the State Department used the information to support its case that Iraq was lying about its weapons programs. But on March 7, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N. Security Council that the documents were forgeries.
Rockefeller said U.S. worries about Iraqi nuclear weapons were not based primarily on the documents, but "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."
At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Thursday, Powell said the State Department had not participated "any way in any falsification."
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the committee's top Democrat, noted a Washington Post report that said a foreign government might have been conducting a deception campaign to win support for military action against Iraq. When Obey asked Powell if he could say which country that was, Powell replied, "I can't with confidence."
The Niger documents marked the second time that ElBaradei has challenged evidence presented by the United States meant to illustrate Iraq's nuclear weapons program. He also rejected the U.S. position that aluminum tubes imported by Iraq were intended to make nuclear bombs.
ElBaradei has said his inspectors have found no evidence that Saddam has revived its nuclear weapons program.
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