June 27, 2004


Evidence of Niger uranium trade 'years before war' (Mark Huband, June 27 2004, Financial Times)

The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.

This intelligence provided clues about plans by Libya and Iran to develop their undeclared nuclear programmes. Niger officials were also discussing sales to North Korea and China of uranium ore or the "yellow cake" refined from it: the raw materials that can be progressively enriched to make nuclear bombs.

The raw intelligence on the negotiations included indications that Libya was investing in Niger's uranium industry to prop it up at a time when demand had fallen, and that sales to Iraq were just a part of the clandestine export plan. These secret exports would allow countries with undeclared nuclear programmes to build up uranium stockpiles.

One nuclear counter-proliferation expert told the FT: "If I am going to make a bomb, I am not going to use the uranium that I have declared. I am going to use what I acquire clandestinely, if I am going to keep the programme hidden."

This may have been the method being used by Libya before it agreed last December to abandon its secret nuclear programme. According to the IAEA, there are 2,600 tonnes of refined uranium ore - "yellow cake" - in Libya. However, less than 1,500 tonnes of it is accounted for in Niger records, even though Niger was Libya's main supplier.

Information gathered in 1999-2001 suggested that the uranium sold illicitly would be extracted from mines in Niger that had been abandoned as uneconomic by the two French-owned mining companies - Cominak and Somair, both of which are owned by the mining giant Cogema - operating in Niger.

"Mines can be abandoned by Cogema when they become unproductive. This doesn't mean that people near the mines can't keep on extracting," a senior European counter-proliferation official said.

We know the bureaucrats at CIA opposed the war and that when they were asked to check out the yellowcake story they sent a CIA functionary's spouse to try and discredit it. He obliged by hanging around his hotel for a few days, manifestly trying to avoid finding anything. Maybe he could have visited the mines or something?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2004 11:49 PM

Y'know that whole deal with Wilson and his mission to Niger smelled like a pile of rotten fish when it hit the news. It's baffling to me why he was trusted with the task in the first place, and why the Bush administration allowed it in the second place.

Posted by: at June 28, 2004 12:29 AM


Is the misspelling of "Plame" as "Palme" a deliberate thing? (I've seen it more than once on this blog, but never said anything until now.)

Posted by: James Haney at June 28, 2004 12:51 AM

You mean she's not related to Olaf?

Posted by: oj at June 28, 2004 8:11 AM

"Put the blame on [Plame ] boys. Put the blame on [Plame]."

Give him some credit; he attended some parties while there to do some covert intelligence gathering. Very clever spy stuff.

Posted by: genecis at June 28, 2004 1:16 PM

This information, along with the Iraq-Al Queda links now being "discovered", may be the beginning of the rope-a-dope to discredit the Dems leading up to the election.

Posted by: AWW at June 28, 2004 2:20 PM