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Analysis: New questions on Iraq intel

By NICHOLAS M. HORROCK, UPI Chief White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- The White House Friday continued to move aggressively to stem the firestorm over how an unverified report on Iraq's quest to buy uranium from Africa got in Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address, but all the information it provided provoked more questions than answers.

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday the focus on pre-war intelligence will not diminish history's view that their decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power was the correct one and they vowed to stay the course until a democratic form of government can be set up in the desert nation.

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But even after Blair's eloquent appeal to Congress, delivered amid applause and standing ovations, new questions were emerging.

The entire issue about misleading intelligence reports heated up Friday when an adviser to the British Ministry of Defense was found dead after disappearing from his home near London. David Kelly, 59, had been questioned by British government commission investigating who leaked a story to the British Broadcasting Corp. that Blair's staff manipulated pre-war intelligence. The BBC reported that several parts of a Sept. 24 British intelligence report on Iraq's weapon of mass destruction had been manipulated by Blair's administration. Kelly denied he was the primary source of the BBC story and an investigation has been launched.

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It was upon the Sept. 24 report that the White House relied to charge in the State of the Union address that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.

A senior administration official conducted an extraordinary off-camera briefing Friday on how the speech was written after the White House made public eight pages of excerpts of a 90-page National Intelligence Estimate upon which the Jan. 28 address was partly based.

The NIE circulated on Oct. 1, 2002, said in one section that "a foreign government service reported as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of 'pure uranium' probably yellow cake to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellow cake. We do not know the status of this arrangement."

The senior administration official said he could not confirm the "foreign government service" as Britain. The same NIE said "reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

However, the NIE also clearly warned that the State Department's intelligence and research bureau, the one of the six intelligence agencies that contributed to the NIE, thought the report "highly dubious."

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Four days later, about Oct. 5, the CIA contacted the White House and said it was dubious about this allegation. It was held out of Bush's Oct. 7 speech on Iraq.

The senior official claimed that even though the NIE contained warnings that the State Department doubted the reports, President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice did not focus on them. He said that Bob Joseph, director for non-proliferation at the National Security Counsel, discussed the address with the CIA and it was approved, including the 16 words that said "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

But The New York Times reported in its Friday editions that Alan Foley, a CIA weapons expert, told a Senate inquiry said he recalled telling Joseph that the CIA was not certain about the credibility of the evidence concerning Niger and recommended taking it out of the speech. Foley recalled that Joseph asked him if the speech could reflect that British intelligence reports said Iraq was seeking uranium. Foley said he told Joseph that the CIA had warned the British that it was dubious about the accuracy of the charge.

According to officials quoted in the Times, Foley finally said that Joseph asked him if it would be accurate to say that the British had reported the uranium request and Foley agreed that it would be.

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In Friday's briefing, the senior official said that White House officials believe Foley was misremembering the conversation and that it dealt with a Bush speech on Oct. 7 in Cincinnati from which the White House did take out a reference to uranium from Niger at the request of the CIA.

The official also claimed that he and other White House officials did not know about forged documents that contained charges of the Niger uranium request until February.

But administration officials claim that the United States received the documents, a series of letters from allegedly from Niger four months before the State of the Union address and held them back from the United Nations until February. The U.N. weapons inspectors adjudged them to be obvious forgeries with names and dates of Niger officials confused.

According to the official, the decision to attribute the uranium allegation to the British was made on Jan. 27, the day before the speech was delivered, to lend it "credibility" -- not because it was doubted, but because the administration wanted to attribute each charge to some source and the British had issued the public document on Sept. 24 carrying this charge.

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