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FBI May Look into False Niger-Iraq Nuclear Documents - 2003-03-15

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may take up the case of forged documents cited by the Bush administration as evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says U.S. officials received in good faith from foreign sources the evidence purporting to show a recent attempt by Iraq to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger. He told Congress this past week that evidence was then passed on to the United Nations in good faith. "It was provided in good faith to the inspectors and our agency received it in good faith," said Mr. Powell.

But a State Department official tells VOA the U.N.'s eventual determination that the evidence was fabricated "did not come as a surprise." The official says there was "a fair bit of skepticism" about the authenticity of the charges when they first surfaced.

The official was authorized to speak to VOA by the State Department but on condition of anonymity. He did not explain why the State Department went ahead and cited the charge publicly, even naming Niger. He now acknowledges that the State Department "could have been more circumspect" in pinpointing a possible African source of uranium for Iraq.

However the official denies that political motives prompted the Bush administration to make the charge public anyway. For his part, Secretary Powell has denied any U.S. role in the falsification of the evidence.

A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, indicates the FBI may now look into the forgery of the documents.

But the spokesman suggests there will not be a formal investigation but rather just laboratory analysis of the phony evidence. He tells VOA the falsification, especially since it was apparently carried out abroad, was probably not a violation of any criminal statutes in this country.

Intelligence sources say the fake evidence purported to show the existence of a secret agreement three years ago under which Niger would sell Iraq 500 tons of yellowcake, a colorful form of concentrated uranium ore.

President Bush, in his State of the Union address, noted what he termed Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain significant quantities of uranium in Africa, an apparent reference to the charge.

Niger has strongly denied any illicit uranium deals with Iraq. U.S. intelligence officials have said there was never any proof of recent uranium shipments to Baghdad despite sales two decades ago.