Vol. 4 Num 53 Sat. July 19, 2003  
Front Page

Iraq uranium from Niger
'US embassy in Rome was given forged documents'

The US embassy in Rome was given forged documents detailing alleged Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Niger from a private source last October, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

"In October 2002, we acquired these documents in Rome from a private source, a non-governmental source, and they were immediately shared with all the appropriate agencies," the official said.

"The embassy shared them with all the relevant agencies at post and they were then shared again when they got back to Washington," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official would not confirm reports in the Italian press that the documents had been given to the embassy by a foreign journalist. Italy's leading newspaper Corriere della Serra said the journalist was "very probably Italian."

The FBI said Thursday it had opened an investigation into the origin of the false documents. "We do have an investigation. It's a pending matter," Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman Ed Cogswell said.

The documents, which the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has now published, were used by the State Department two months after they were obtained in a fact sheet pointing out omissions in Iraq's prewar declaration to the United Nations on its weapons programmes.

The Niger allegations then became part of the US campaign to convince the world community that Iraq was still pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, but were dropped after the CIA and other intelligence agencies in Washington cast doubt on their veracity.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency revealed publicly in March that the documents had been forged.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher admitted earlier this week that the inclusion of the Niger allegation in the December 19 fact sheet had been a mistake given the questions about the authenticity of the documents received by the Rome embassy.

On Thursday, Boucher declined to comment on the source of the documents or say where they had been turned over to the United States but confirmed that they had been obtained in October 2002.