WASHINGTON - The senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI on Friday to investigate fake documents the United States used as evidence to the United Nations of alleged Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Niger.
"As you know, the International Atomic Energy Agency has recently determined that some of the intelligence documents provided to it by the United States are forgeries," Sen. John Rockefeller said in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
"These documents were provided to the IAEA as evidence of Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from the Republic of Niger. I am writing to request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigate this matter," the West Virginia senator said.
The documents were among intelligence U.S. officials used in seeking U.N. Security Council support for their assertion that Iraq is hiding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Iraq denies having such weapons programs.
An FBI official said the FBI would probably launch some type of initial inquiry, but in part to determine whether it was an FBI issue or should be handled by the CIA, which deals with intelligence collected abroad. The CIA had no comment.
U.S. and British forces are amassed in the Gulf region for a potential war against Iraq, which Washington says may be necessary to disarm Baghdad.
President Bush alluded to the evidence in his State of the Union address, saying Britain had learned Iraq had sought "significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei undermined the U.S. position on March 7 by telling the U.N. Security Council the documents on the Iraq-Niger-uranium connection were forgeries.
U.S. officials say it was not known who forged the papers, but they were given to the United States and Britain by a third country which they would not identify.
The United States gave other information on the uranium issue to the IAEA in early February, along with the documents with caveats attached about their credibility, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
U.S. intelligence analysts "believed from the beginning the information was questionable and I understand that they did not factor it into their analysis of the Iraqi threat," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said.
"The bottom line is that the United States does not need this one piece of evidence to make its case against Iraq," the Kansas Republican said in a statement.
Rockefeller expressed concern that the forgeries "may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq."
"The implication of Senator Rockefeller's letter is that the intelligence community forged these documents to somehow bolster the case against Iraq. It just doesn't make sense that the U.S. government would forge documents and then not use them in its case or vouch for their authenticity," Roberts said.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd