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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Told CIA of Bogus Iraqi Nuclear Intelligence

PARIS -- More than a year before U.S. President George W. Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the United States and France, described in interviews last week by the retired chief of the French counterintelligence service and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.

Chouet's account was "at odds with our understanding of the issue," a U.S. government official said. However, the essence of Chouet's account -- that the French repeatedly investigated the Niger claim, found no evidence to support it and warned the CIA -- was extensively corroborated by the former CIA official and a current French government official, who both spoke on condition of anonymity.

The repeated warnings from France's Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure did not prevent the Bush administration from making the case aggressively that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons materials.

It was not the first time a foreign government tried to warn U.S. officials off of dubious prewar intelligence.

In the notorious "Curveball" case, an Iraqi who defected to Germany claimed to have knowledge of Iraqi biological weapons. Bush and other officials repeatedly cited his claims even as German intelligence officials argued that he was unstable and might be a fabricator.

The case of the forged documents that were used to support claims that Hussein was seeking materials in Africa launched a political controversy that continues to roil Washington.

A special prosecutor continues to investigate whether the Bush administration unmasked a CIA operative in a bid to discredit her husband, a former diplomat whom the CIA sent in February 2002 to investigate the Niger reports. The diplomat, Joseph Wilson, like the French, said he found little reason to believe the uranium story. The investigation into the leak led to the indictment of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury.

The French opposed U.S. policy on Iraq and refused to support the invasion. But whether or not that made top U.S. officials skeptical of the French report on Niger, intelligence officials from both countries said that they cooperated closely during the prewar period and continue to do so.