For related reporting in today's Dallas Morning News, see
Some evidence on Iraq called fake
U.N. nuclear inspector says documents were forged
By Joby Warrick THE WASHINGTON POST
March 8 - A key piece of evidence linking Iraq to a nuclear weapons program
appears to have been fabricated, the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector
said yesterday in a report that called into question U.S. and British claims
about Iraq's secret nuclear ambitions.
DOCUMENTS THAT purportedly showed Iraqi officials shopping for uranium in
Africa two years ago were deemed "not authentic" after careful scrutiny by
U.N. and independent experts, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the U.N. Security Council.
ElBaradei also rejected a key Bush administration claim - made twice by the
president in major speeches and repeated by Secretary of State Colin L.
Powell yesterday - that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum
tubes to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Also, ElBaradei reported
finding no evidence of banned weapons or nuclear material in an extensive
sweep of Iraq using advanced radiation detectors.
"There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities," ElBaradei said.
Knowledgeable sources familiar with the forgery investigation described the
faked evidence as a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in
the central African nation of Niger. The documents had been given to the
U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence.
The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them
away - including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals
who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the
ANOTHER SETBACK FOR U.S.
"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.
A spokesman for the IAEA said the agency did not blame either Britain or the
United States for the forgery. The documents "were shared with us in good
faith," he said.
The discovery was a further setback to U.S. and British efforts to convince
reluctant U.N. Security Council members of the urgency of the threat posed
by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Powell, in his statement to the
Security Council Friday, acknowledged ElBaradei's findings but also cited
"new information" suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein pursued an ambitious nuclear agenda
throughout the 1970s and 1980s and launched a crash program to build a bomb
in 1990 following his invasion of neighboring Kuwait. But Iraq's nuclear
infrastructure was heavily damaged by allied bombing in 1991, and the
country's known stocks of nuclear fuel and equipment were removed or
destroyed during the U.N. inspections after the war.
However, Iraq never surrendered the blueprints for nuclear weapons, and kept
key teams of nuclear scientists intact after U.N. inspectors were forced to
leave in 1998. Despite international sanctions intended to block Iraq from
obtaining weapons components, Western intelligence agencies and former
weapons inspectors were convinced the Iraqi president had resumed his quest
for the bomb in the late 1990s, citing defectors' stories and satellite
images that showed new construction at facilities that were once part of
Iraq's nuclear machinery.
Last September, the United States and Britain issued reports accusing Iraq
of renewing its quest for nuclear weapons. In Britain's assessment, Iraq
reportedly had "sought significant amounts of uranium from Africa, despite
having no active civil nuclear program that could require it."
Separately, President Bush, in his speech to the U.N. Security Council on
Sept. 12, said Iraq had made "several attempts to buy-high-strength aluminum
tubes used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons."
Doubts about both claims began to emerge shortly after U.N. inspectors
returned to Iraq last November. In early December, the IAEA began an
intensive investigation of the aluminum tubes, which Iraq had tried for two
years to purchase by the tens of thousands from China and at least one other
country. Certain types of high-strength aluminum tubes can be used to build
centrifuges, which enrich uranium for nuclear weapons and commercial power
By early January, the IAEA had reached a preliminary conclusion: The 81mm
tubes sought by Iraq were "not directly suitable" for centrifuges, but
appeared intended for use as conventional artillery rockets, as Iraq had
claimed. The Bush administration, meanwhile, stuck to its original position
while acknowledging disagreement among U.S. officials who had reviewed the
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, Bush said Iraq had "attempted
to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons
Last month, Powell likewise dismissed the IAEA's conclusions, telling U.N.
leaders that Iraq would not have ordered tubes at such high prices and with
such exacting performance ratings if intended for use as ordinary rockets.
Powell specifically noted that Iraq had sought tubes that had been
"anodized," or coated with a thin outer film - a procedure that Powell said
was required if the tubes were to be used in centrifuges.
81 MM ROCKETS
ElBaradei's report yesterday all but ruled out the use of the tubes in a
nuclear program. The IAEA chief said investigators had unearthed extensive
records that backed up Iraq's explanation. The documents, which included
blueprints, invoices and notes from meetings, detailed a 14-year struggle by
Iraq to make 81mm conventional rockets that would perform well and resist
corrosion. Successive failures led Iraqi officials to revise their standards
and request increasingly higher and more expensive metals, ElBaradei said.
Moreover, further work by the IAEA's team of centrifuge experts - two
Americans, two Britons and a French citizen - has reinforced the IAEA's
conclusion that the tubes were ill suited for centrifuges. "It was highly
unlikely that Iraq could have achieved the considerable redesign needed to
use them in a revived centrifuge program," ElBaradei said.
A number of independent experts on uranium enrichment have sided with IAEA's
conclusion that the tubes were at best ill suited for centrifuges. Several
have said that the "anodized" features mentioned by Powell are actually a
strong argument for use in rockets, not centrifuges, contrary to the
The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based
research organization that specializes in nuclear issues, reported yesterday
that Powell's staff had been briefed about the implications of the anodized
coatings before Powell's address to the Security Council last month.
"Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the
administration persists in making misleading arguments about the
significance of the tubes," the institute's president, David Albright, wrote
in the report.
Powell's spokesman said the secretary of state had consulted numerous
experts and stood by his U.N. statement.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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