March 17, 2003
The White House
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing regarding a matter of grave concern. Upon
your order, our armed forces will soon initiate the
first preemptive war in our nation's history. The most
persuasive justification for this war is that we must
act to prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons.
In the last ten days, however, it has become
incontrovertibly clear that a key piece of evidence you
and other Administration officials have cited regarding
Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons is a hoax.
What's more, the Central Intelligence Agency questioned
the veracity of the evidence at the same time you and
other Administration officials were citing it in public
statements. This is a breach of the highest order, and
the American people are entitled to know how it
As you know, I voted for the congressional resolution
condemning Iraq and authorizing the use of force.
Despite serious misgivings, I supported the resolution
because I believed congressional approval would
significantly improve the likelihood of effective U.N.
action. Equally important, I believed that you had
access to reliable intelligence information that merited
Like many other members, I was particularly influenced
by your views about Iraq's nuclear intentions. Although
chemical and biological weapons can inflict casualties,
no argument for attacking Iraq is as compelling as the
possibility of Saddam Hussein brandishing nuclear bombs.
That, obviously, is why the evidence in this area is so
crucial, and why so many have looked to you for honest
and credible information on Iraq's nuclear capability.
The evidence in question is correspondence that
indicates that Iraq sought to obtain nuclear material
from an African country, Niger. For several months, this
evidence has been a central part of the U.S. case
against Iraq. On December 19, the State Department filed
a response to Iraq's disarmament declaration to the U.N.
Security Council. The State Department response stated:
"The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from
Niger." A month later, in your State of the Union
address, you stated: "The British government has learned
that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium from Africa." Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld subsequently cited the evidence in briefing
It has now been conceded that this evidence was a
forgery. On March 7, the Director General of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei,
reported that the evidence that Iraq sought nuclear
materials from Niger was "not authentic." As subsequent
media accounts indicated, the evidence contained "crude
errors," such as a "childlike signature" and the use of
stationary from a military government in Niger that has
been out of power for over a decade.
Even more troubling, however, the CIA, which has been
aware of this information since 2001, has never regarded
the evidence as reliable. The implications of this fact
are profound: it means that a key part of the case you
have been building against Iraq is evidence that your
own intelligence experts at the Central Intelligence
Agency do not believe is credible.
It is hard to imagine how this situation could have
developed. The two most obvious explanations - knowing
deception or unfathomable incompetence - both have
immediate and serious implications. It is thus
imperative that you address this matter without delay
and provide an alternative explanation, if there is one.
The rest of this letter will explain my concerns in
Use of the Evidence by U.S. Officials
The evidence that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from
an African country was first revealed by the British
government on September 24, 2002, when Prime Minister
Tony Blair released a 50-page report on Iraqi efforts to
acquire weapons of mass destruction. As the New York
Times reported in a front-page article, one of the two
"chief new elements" in the report was the claim that
Iraq had "sought to acquire uranium in Africa that could
be used to make nuclear weapons."
This evidence subsequently became a significant part of
the U.S. case against Iraq. On December 7, Iraq filed
its weapons declaration with the United Nations Security
Council. The U.S. response relied heavily on the
evidence that Iraq had sought to obtain uranium from
Africa. For example, this is how the New York Times
began its front-page article on December 13 describing
the U.S. response:
American intelligence agencies have reached a
preliminary conclusion that Iraq's 12,000 page
declaration of its weapons program fails to account for
chemical and biological agents missing when inspectors
left Iraq four years ago, American officials and United
Nations diplomats said today.
In addition, Iraq's declaration on its nuclear program,
they say, leaves open a host of questions. Among them is
why Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa in recent
The official U.S. response was provided on December 19,
when Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the
Security Council. As the Los Angeles Times reported, "A
one-page State Department fact sheet . . . lists what
Washington considers the key omissions and deceptions in
Baghdad's Dec. 7 weapons declaration." One of the
eight "key omissions and deceptions" was the failure to
explain Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from an
Specifically, the State Department fact sheet contains
the following points under the heading "Nuclear
Weapons": "The Declaration ignores efforts to procure
uranium from Niger. Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their
uranium procurement?" A copy of this fact sheet is
enclosed with this letter.
The Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Africa were
deemed significant enough to be included in your State
of the Union address to Congress. You stated: "The
British government has learned that Saddam Hussein
recently sought significant quantities of uranium from
Africa." As the Washington Post reported the next
day, "the president seemed quite specific as he ticked
off the allegations last night, including the news that
Iraq had secured uranium from Africa for the purpose of
making nuclear bombs."
A day later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told
reporters at a news briefing that Iraq "recently was
discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium
from Africa." Knowledge of the Unreliability of the
Evidence The world first learned that the evidence
linking Iraq to attempts to purchase uranium from Africa
was forged from the Director General of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed
ElBaradei. On March 7, Director ElBaradei reported to
the U.N. Security Council:
Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with
the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents
- which formed the basis for reports of recent uranium
transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not
authentic. We have therefore concluded that these
specific allegations are unfounded.
Recent accounts in the news media have provided
additional details. According to the Washington Post,
the faked evidence included "a series of letters between
Iraqi agents and officials in the central African nation
of Niger." The article stated that the forgers "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." CNN reported:
one of the documents purports to be a letter signed by
Tandjia Mamadou, the president of Niger, talking about
the uranium deal with Iraq. On it [is] a childlike
signature that is clearly not his. Another, written on
paper from a 1980s military government in Niger, bears
the date of October 2000 and the signature of a man who
by then had not been foreign minister of Niger for 14
U.S. intelligence officials had doubts about the
veracity of the evidence long before Director
ElBaradei's report. The Los Angeles Times reported on
March 15 that "the CIA first heard allegations that Iraq
was seeking uranium from Niger in late 2001" when "the
existence of the documents was reported to [the CIA]
second- or third-hand." The Los Angeles Times quotes one
CIA official as saying: "We included that in some of our
reporting, although it was all caveated because we had
concerns about the accuracy of that information."
The Washington Post reported on March 13: "The CIA . . .
had questions about 'whether they were accurate,' said
one intelligence official, and it decided not to include
them in its file on Iraq's program to procure weapons of
There have been suggestions by some Administration
officials that there may be other evidence besides the
forged documents that shows Iraq tried to obtain uranium
from an African country. For instance, CIA officials
recently stated that "U.S. concerns regarding a possible
uranium agreement between Niger and Iraq were not based
solely on the documents which are now known to be
fraudulent." The CIA provided this other information to
the IAEA along with the forged documents. After
reviewing this complete body of evidence, the IAEA
stated: "we have found to date no evidence or plausible
indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme
in Iraq." Ultimately, the IAEA concluded that "these
specific allegations are unfounded." Questions These
facts raise troubling questions. It appears that at the
same time that you, Secretary Rumsfeld, and State
Department officials were citing Iraq's efforts to
obtain uranium from Africa as a crucial part of the case
against Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials regarded this
very same evidence as unreliable. If true, this is
deeply disturbing: it would mean that your
Administration asked the U.N. Security Council, the
Congress, and the American people to rely on information
that your own experts knew was not credible.
Your statement to Congress during the State of the
Union, in particular, raises a host of questions. The
statement is worded in a way that suggests it was
carefully crafted to be both literally true and
deliberately misleading at the same time. The statement
itself - "The British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of
uranium from Africa" - may be technically accurate,
since this appears to be the British position. But given
what the CIA knew at the time, the implication you
intended - that there was credible evidence that Iraq
sought uranium from Africa - was simply false.
To date, the White House has avoided explaining why the
Administration relied on this forged evidence in
building its case against Iraq. The first Administration
response, which was provided to the Washington Post, was
"we fell for it." But this is no longer credible in
light of the information from the CIA. Your spokesman,
Ari Fleischer, was asked about this issue at a White
House news briefing on March 14, but as the following
transcript reveals, he claimed ignorance and avoided the
Q: Ari, as the president said in his State of the Union
address, the British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of
uranium from Africa. And since then, the IAEA said that
those were forged documents -
Mr. Fleischer: I'm sorry, whose statement was that?
Q: The President, in his State of the Union address.
Since then, the IAEA has said those were forged
documents. Was the administration aware of any doubts
about these documents, the authenticity of the
documents, from any government agency or department
before it was submitted to the IAEA?
Mr. Fleisher: These are matters that are always reviewed
with an eye toward the various information that comes in
and is analyzed by a variety of different people. The
President's concerns about Iraq come from multiple
places, involving multiple threats that Iraq can
possess, and these are matters that remain discussed.
Thank you [end of briefing].
Plainly, more explanation is needed. I urge you to
provide to me and to the relevant committees of Congress
a full accounting of what you knew about the reliability
of the evidence linking Iraq to uranium in Africa, when
you knew this, and why you and senior officials in the
Administration presented the evidence to the U.N.
Security Council, the Congress, and the American people
without disclosing the doubts of the CIA. In particular,
I urge you to address:
1. Whether CIA officials communicated their doubts about
the credibility of the forged evidence to other
Administration officials, including officials in the
Department of State, the Department of Defense, the
National Security Council, and the White House;
2. Whether the CIA had any input into the "Fact Sheet"
distributed by the State Department on December 19,
3. Whether the CIA reviewed your statement in the State
of the Union address regarding Iraq's attempts to obtain
uranium from Africa and, if so, what the CIA said about
Given the urgency of the situation, I would appreciate
an expeditious response to these questions.
Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Minority Member
 Blair Says Iraqis Could Launch Chemical Warheads in
Minutes, New York Times (Sept. 25, 2002).
 Threats and Responses: Report by Iraq, Iraq Arms
Report Has Big Omissions, U.S. Officials Say, New York
Times (Dec. 13, 2002) (emphasis added).
 U.S. Issues a List of the Shortcomings in Iraqi Arms
Declaration, Los Angeles Times (Dec. 20, 2002) (emphasis
 The President, State of the Union Address (Jan. 28,
2003) (online at
html) (emphasis added).
 A War Cry Tempered by Eloquence, Washington Post
(Jan. 29, 2003).
 Press Conference with Donald Rumsfeld, General
Richard Myers, Cable News Network (Jan. 29, 2003)
 IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, The
Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update (Mar.
7, 2002) (online at
 Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake; U.N. Nuclear
Inspector Says Documents on Purchases Were Forged,
Washington Post (Mar. 8, 2003).
 U.N. Saying Documents Were Faked, CNN American
Morning with Paula Zahn (Mar. 14, 2003).
 Italy May Have Been Misled by Fake Iraq Arms
Papers, U.S. Says, Los Angeles Times (Mar. 15, 2003).
 FBI Probes Fake Evidence of Iraqi Nuclear Plans,
Washington Post (Mar. 13, 2003).
 IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, supra
note 7 (emphasis added).
 Id. (emphasis added).
 Some Evidence on Iraq Called Fake, supra note 8.
 The White House, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
(Mar. 14, 2003) (online at