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IN 1995, the Sunday Times reported that Iraq was making atomic bombs.
The newspaper made the claims in a series of stories printed over three consecutive weeks and based on documents it claimed came from an exiled Iraqi scientist.
The documents were fakes.
The Sunday Times passed them on to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), but decided not to report its findings that the documents were “not authentic”.
The newspaper has never acknowledged using forgeries in its stories about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
Khidir Hamza, the scientist claimed by the Sunday Times as the source of the fake documents, was sent by the Pentagon to Iraq last month to oversee the country’s nuclear industry.
Dr. Hamza worked in Iraq’s nuclear programme, later claiming to have been “Saddam’s bomb maker”, before leaving the country in 1994.
Some commentators – notably former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter – have accused Hamza of exaggerated his own importance in Saddam Hussein’s nuclear programme.
However, to date no British newspaper has reported the fact that the IAEA determined that documents supposedly passed on by him were fakes.
I have obtained a hitherto unpublicised letter to the UN Security Council from the IAEA detailing the forgeries.
Dated July 1995, the IAEA letter describes “two single-page documents, which were represented as official Iraqi correspondence generated in April/May 1994, suggesting the reconstitution of a nuclear weapons programme”.
There is also reference to “ an additional set of three documents”.
According to the IAEA, “a detailed analysis of the form and content of the documents “found a large number of errors and inconsistencies”
The UN weapons inspectors declared that as a result of this investigation, they had “reached the conclusion that, on the basis of all evidence available, these documents are not authentic”.
Nuclear weapons inspector Maurizio Ferrero described one of the letters rather more bluntly as “a fake”
After his endorsement by the Sunday Times in 1995, Hamza went on to be an important voice in the calls for war on Iraq.
He argued tirelessly that Saddam was close to making a nuclear bomb and claimed the Iraqi regime had an advanced chemical and biological weapons programme.
He also tried to show that Saddam’s regime were linked to al Qaida.
Hamza gave testimony to the United States Congress in 2002.
References to his work appeared in George Bush’s dossier on Iraq.
Last September, he told The Times that Iraq was close to making a nuclear bomb.
He made similar claims in the Daily Mirror and Daily Express.
None of these newspapers nor his Congressional supporters revealed that, seven years previously, the IAEA concluded that documents linked to Hamza were crude facsimiles made by altering genuine Iraqi papers.
According to the IAEA: “The documents reveal errors in construction, suggesting poor adaptation of authentic Iraqi documents”.
Only Radio Baghdad appears to have reported the finding at the time.
Jon Swain, the journalist who produced the original stores about Hamza, still works for the Sunday Times.
In the last of three articles on Hamza in April 1995, the Sunday Times allowed for the possibility that the documents were not genuine, noting that “some doubts remain about the Arabic text” and a possible “suspicion of forgery”.
However, despite reporting that the IAEA was going through a “line-by-line” analysis of the documents that formed the Sunday Times’ scoop, the newspaper never reported the eventual findings.
I approached the Sunday Times for an explanation, but it declined to comment.
The Sunday Times also claimed Hamza had been abducted and possibly murdered by Saddam’s agents in Greece.
This was entirely untrue.
Hamza was in Libya, not Greece, and had been neither kidnapped nor killed.
He resurfaced in the US three years later.
In 1998, Hamza denied any link to the Sunday Times story, claiming that an impostor had supplied the fake documents to the newspaper.
In the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a small-circulation magazine, he suggested that the fake Hamza who supplied the papers came from a group of Iraq exiles. He argued that the story in the Sunday Times may have been concocted by an Iraqi opposition group to force him to surface from hiding in an Arab country.
Hamza’s elaborate story could simply be an attempt to distance himself from the forged documents:
If he did admit to supplying them, then his credibility – and with it his chance to be relocated to the US by the CIA – were gone.
If what Hamza says is true, then not only was the Sunday Times story based on counterfeit documents, it was also based on a counterfeit Hamza.
Just as the Sunday Times did not acknowledge the IAEA’s findings, so it ignored Hamza’s denunciation of its original story.
Even Hamza’s convoluted explanation acknowledges the fact that Iraqi exile opposition groups used forged documents to exaggerate how far Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction had been developed.
The same opposition groups provided the American and British Governments with the basis for their most dramatic claims about Saddam’s supposed chemical, biological and nuclear arms.
Hamza’s honesty was questioned in other documents published this year.
He said that he worked for Saddam’s son-in-law, General Kamal. Kamal, who ran Saddam’s WMD programme, also defected from Iraq in 1995.
He later returned to be assassinated by Saddam’s forces.
The notes of his interview with the UN weapons inspectors were leaked at the beginning of this year.
In this, Kamal is disparaging about Hamza’s technical ability, saying, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions.
“He consulted with me, but could not deliver anything.”
Kamal describes Hamza as “a professional liar”.
In America, Hamza grew close to the hawks who became very influential after George Bush entered the White House.
One, James Woolsey, said of Hamza: “I think highly of him and I have no reason to disbelieve the claims that he has made.”
Hamza became a member of the Iraqi National Congress and supplied the “office of special plans” with information on Iraq:
This US Defence Department group supplied the evidence which “proved” Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and acted as a counterweight to the more sceptical CIA.
Assistant Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is reported to have personally selected Hamza to join America’s reconstruction team in Iraq.
He is one of a group of Iraqi exiles who will advise the troubled Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), now headed by Paul Bremer since the summary dismissal of Jay Garner.
The team of exiles, known as the Iraqi Reconstruction and Redevelopment Council, was chosen to add an Iraqi perspective to the American-led reconstruction efforts.
This is even though its members have not lived in the country for some years and will be housed in sealed compounds protected by US troops.
They work for the Pentagon, but are technically employees of a private firm, SAIC.
One of the country’s leading defence contractors, SAIC’s board includes a number of former senior defence and military officials, including retired general Wayne Downing, a former head of counter-terrorism at the White House.
While the Sunday Times would not respond to questions about Hamza, the Pentagon replied promptly to inquiries.
Asked whether it was appropriate to send Hamza to Iraq after his association with forged documents, Pentagon spokesman Daniel Hetlage expressed confidence in his abilities.
“Dr Hamza, who will be part of a team comprised of coalition partners, Americans and Iraqis, was selected for his extensive management experience in the nuclear field.”
According to the IAEA, Iraq has a fair sized civil atomic programme with radioactive sources used for many medical, engineering and agricultural sources.
So there is a pressing need for the occupying powers to take control of Iraq’s nuclear facilities.
The Al-Tuwaitha nuclear complex was looted in the post-war chaos, ironically releasing materials that could be used to create a “dirty bomb”.
The fake documents linked to Hamza also suggest whoever produced them has technical inadequacies.
The IAEA found the “scientific validity” of the papers weak, saying “technical elements of the programme, inferred from the documents, have been assessed as unlikely by experts from nuclear weapon states.”
The forger did not have in-depth knowledge of Iraq’s secret weapons programmes.
The weapons inspectors stated: “Significant inaccuracies in qualifications, titles and names of individuals, as well as in technical and administrative organisational structures, have been clearly established”.
It is now difficult to say who did produce Hamza’s fake letters, but they are not the last nuclear forgeries to be passed to the weapons inspectors.
Just before the war on Iraq began, the IAEA revealed that documents suggesting that Saddam was buying uranium from Niger – central to Tony Blair’s dossier on Iraq – were “crude forgeries”
Copyright S Hughes 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .