Tale of the Cake

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2001: The Italian government came into possession of half a dozen letters and other documents that purported to show Iraqi officials attempting to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger government officials. In the '80s, Saddam Hussein bought several hundred tons of yellowcake, which can be enriched in gas centrifuges to produce weapons-grade uranium.

2001: The Italians' evidence about Iraq and the uranium yellowcake was shared with both the British and U.S. intelligence officials.

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FEBRUARY 2002: The CIA hears from Dick Cheney's office; he wants to know more. The agency sends former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.

MARCH 2002: After an eight-day trip to Niger, Wilson returns and reports to the CIA that he believes the allegations are "bogus and unrealistic."

SEPT. 24, 2002: A British intelligence report on Iraq features a claim that "Iraq has sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer touts it, saying, "We agree with their findings." Two days later, in a closed briefing, Colin Powell tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that U.S. intelligence has proof of an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger.

OCT. 10, 2002: The House of Representatives passes a resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq; the Senate passes it the next day. More than 180 members of Congress mention the possible Iraqi nuclear threat as a reason for supporting the resolution, and several Senators cite the British report of Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium yellowcake.

DEC. 7, 2002: Iraq submits a 12,200-page weapons declaration to the United Nations. The Administration immediately begins leaking criticisms of the report. Twelve days later, the State Department issues "eight key omissions and deceptions" by the Iraqis. Included: "The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger." It does not attribute the charge to the British.

DECEMBER 2002: After seeing the State Department's retort to the Iraqis, the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, asks the Administration for proof of the Niger allegation so it can investigate the claim. The U.S. says little for six weeks — a crucial period during which the Administration is making its case for war.

JANUARY 2003: White House officials prepare the President's State of the Union address. Sentence about Iraq trying to buy uranium is inserted. A CIA official objects, saying the language isn't backed by U.S. intelligence. But the decision is made to leave it in and attribute it to the British. CIA chief George Tenet now says his team should have pressed harder to have it deleted.

JAN. 23, 2003: Condi Rice writes an op-ed calling Iraq's report "a 12,200-page lie" and asserts, "The declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad."

JAN. 28, 2003: Bush delivers his State of the Union, including the allegation that Saddam is trying to get quantities of uranium from Africa. Intelligence experts question the claim.

FEB. 5, 2003: Speaking before the U.N. Security Council, Powell drops the uranium allegation. Last week Powell said he didn't repeat the charge before the United Nations because he didn't think it was solid enough "to present to the world."