WASHINGTON -- The CIA "from day one" was highly skeptical of reports that Iraq had been shopping for uranium ore in Africa, and the State Department was also highly suspicious, according to intelligence officials.
A key reason for the CIA's skepticism, according to a senior intelligence officer, was, "What do they need this (the ore) for? They've got tons of it already in Iraq."
Yet in an October National Intelligence Estimate the CIA understated its suspicions while the State Department, in a lengthy dissent in back of the 80-page report, concluded that the claims were probably bogus, the intelligence officials said. It was that document the White House says it relied on for a passage in President Bush's State of the Union address in January, and which the White House conceded this week was based on forgeries.
The NIE, a special report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which reflected a consensus of the intelligence community, repeated a claim published by the British government in the previous month that Niger had "planned to send" uranium ore to Iraq. The NIE also mentioned that there were other bits of intelligence suggesting that Iraq had been shopping for the ore in two other African countries.
But rather than reporting that it found these claims to be suspect, the NIE simply said that U.S. intelligence "cannot confirm" that Iraq had actually succeeded in buying the ore, also known as yellow cake, according to the intelligence officials.
So in his State of the Union address in January Bush declared that the British government "has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."