How The Tale Unfolds

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Yellowcake being produced in Niger


The Italian government's intelligence agency obtains documents that appear to show that Iraqi officials attempted to buy yellowcake, a substance that can be enriched to produce weapons-grade uranium, from the African nation Niger. The evidence is shared with British and U.S. intelligence.


February: The CIA, in response to concerns raised by Vice President Cheney's office, looks into British reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa. CIA officials dispatch ex-diplomat Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.
Politics and the CIA (10/21/2002)

March: After an eight-day trip to Africa, Wilson reports to the CIA that he believes the allegations are "bogus." The agency sends a March 9 memo to the White House summarizing Wilson's findings.

Oct. 10-11: Both the House and the Senate pass resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Many members of Congress mention the specter of an Iraqi nuclear threat as a reason; several Senators cite as especially persuasive the British intelligence report claiming Iraq sought uranium from Africa.


Jan. 23: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice writes an impassioned Op-Ed for the New York Times calling Iraq's 12,200-page weapons declaration to the U.N. in December nothing more than a "lie" that "fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad."

Jan. 28: Bush's State of the Union address includes the statement "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" but doesn't mention that U.S. agencies questioned the validity of the British intelligence.

Feb. 5: Speaking before the U.N., U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell conspicuously drops the Administration's earlier allegations of an Iraq-Africa uranium connection, later explaining that he didn't think the evidence strong enough to "present before the world."
What Powell Achieved (2/5/2003)

March 7: Less than two weeks before the Iraq war begins, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei tells the U.N. Security Council that the claim is based on papers that are forged.

July 6: In a scolding Op-Ed in the New York Times, Wilson reveals, more than a year after his mission, that he is the retired diplomat who visited Niger. He charges that the Administration had "twisted" intelligence to "exaggerate" the Iraqi threat. The next day the White House admits that the nuke claim should not have been in the State of the Union address.

July 7: Secretary of State Colin Powell boards Air Force One for a trip to Africa with the President. Either just before or during that trip, Powell is given a memo concerning Wilson's Niger probe. The memo, prepared by State Department officials in June in reaction to media stories about the trip, says Wilson's wife works for the CIA and refers to her as Valerie Wilson.

July 8: Karl Rove discusses Wilson's trip and the role that Wilson's wife may or may not have played in initiating that trip with journalist Robert Novak. The telephone call, according to a New York Times story published last week, had been initiated by Novak, who in the course of his conversation with Rove identified Wilson's wife by her maiden name.

July 11: Rove discusses the same topic with TIME correspondent Matthew Cooper. The same day, CIA Director George Tenet says mea culpa for not cutting the Niger claim from Bush's speech, citing pressure from the National Security Council (NSC). Within days, NSC deputy Stephen Hadley says he forgot seeing two memos from the agency expressing doubts about the intelligence.

July 14: In his syndicated column, Novak outs Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an "agency operative on weapons of mass destruction" in a piece about the fallout from Wilson's Op-Ed. He writes, "Two senior Administration officials told me that his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate."

July 17: Cooper co-authors a story under the headline "A War on Wilson?". It examines the White House's attempts to discredit the former ambassador, which include charges that Wilson was woefully naive, as well as Wilson's defense, which includes the rejoinder, "These guys really need to get serious."

Late September: The Justice Department informs then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that it has opened an investigation into unauthorized—and possibly criminal—actions concerning the disclosure of the identity of an undercover CIA employee.

October: As the scandal spreads, White House spokesman Scott McClellan is asked, Did Rove and other White House sources ever discuss Plame with reporters? McClellan: "Those individuals assured me they were not involved in this."
Leaking With A Vengeance (10/13/2003)


June 10: During a news conference in Sea Island, Ga., at the conclusion of a G-8 summit, Bush answers very directly "Yes" to a journalist's unambiguous question, "Do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found" to have leaked CIA operative Plame's name?


July 1: TIME magazine agrees to comply with a court order to turn over Cooper's notes, e-mail and other documents. TIME had fought the order all the way to the Supreme Court, which, on June 27, declined to hear the case.
Statement of Time Inc. on the Matt Cooper Case (6/30/2005)

July 6: U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan jails N.Y. Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to testify before the grand jury. Cooper agrees to comply, saying he had received a specific waiver from his source to do so.

July 13: TIME correspondent Cooper testifies, detailing his conversations with Rove. "I testified honestly and openly," says Cooper as he emerges after more than two hours of questioning (see story for his account).

September 29: Times reporter Miller is released from prison after she said her source, Lewis Libby, agreed to release her from her promise of confidentiality. Miller testifies before the grand jury the next day.

October 16: The Times publishes a 6,200-word account of Miller's involvement in the Plame case.

October 28: A federal grand jury indicts Libby on obstruction and perjury charges. Libby resigns as Cheney's chief of staff