On the eve of expected indictments by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the CIA leak case, many believe that the Italian background of forged Niger documents showing uranium yellowcake sales to Iraq has become important to the case. -- On Tuesday, Laura Rozen reported on the American Prospect web site about articles by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. -- According to the articles, the head of Italian miltary intelligence met secretly in Washington on Sept. 9, 2002, with then Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. -- (Hadley was promoted to national security adviser earlier this year.) -- According La Repubblica, the Niger forgeries plan was produced by Antonio Nucera, an officer of Sismi, Italy's military intelligence agency, in conjunction with Rocco Martino, a former carabiniera officer who later worked for Sismi and who by 1999 was living by selling information to French intelligence for a monthly stipend. -- La Repubblica says that these two worked out their plan with two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome, though precisely how is unclear. -- In 2002, says the Italian newspaper, Nicolo Pollari, the head of Sismi, took the documents directly to the White House, after the information had twice been rejected by the CIA. -- It is this direct connection to Bush administration officials that makes the revelations potentially important to Fitzgerald's investigation. -- There are other theories about the origin of the forged documents, however, and on Wednesday Reuters reported that the Italian government had categorically denied any connection to the forged documents. -- On Friday, furthermore, the New York Times reported that the FBI has been investigating the forged Niger documents for two years without being able to determine their origin. -- The Times reported: "Law enforcement officials say they do not believe that the two issues [the Niger documents and the leak of Valerie Plame's idenity] are related." ...
LA REPUBBLICA'S SCOOP, CONFIRMED
By Laura Rozen
** Italy's intelligence chief met with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley just a month before the Niger forgeries first surfaced **
October 25, 2005
With Patrick Fitzgerald widely expected to announce indictments in the CIA leak investigation, questions are again being raised about the intelligence scandal that led to the appointment of the special counsel: namely, how the Bush White House obtained false Italian intelligence reports claiming that Iraq had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.
The key documents supposedly proving the Iraqi attempt later turned out to be crude forgeries, created on official stationery stolen from the African nation's Rome embassy. Among the most tantalizing aspects of the debate over the Iraq War is the origin of those fake documents -- and the role of the Italian intelligence services in disseminating them.
In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.
Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday.
Pollari told the newspaper that since 2001, when he became Sismi's director, the only member of the U.S. administration he has met officially is his former CIA counterpart George Tenet. But the Italian newspaper quotes a high-ranking Italian Sismi source asserting a meeting with Hadley. La Repubblica also quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."
The paper goes on to note the significance of that date, highlighting the appearance of a little-noticed story in Panorama a weekly magazine owned by Italian Prime Minister and Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi, that was published three days after Pollari's meeting with Hadley. The magazine's September 12, 2002, issue claimed that Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, had acquired 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria through a Jordanian intermediary. (While this September 2002 Panorama report mentioned Nigeria, the forgeries another Panorama reporter would be proferred less than a month later purportedly concerned Niger.)
The Sismi chief's previously undisclosed meeting with Hadley, who was promoted earlier this year to national security adviser, occurred one month before a murky series of events culminated in the U.S. government obtaining copies of the Niger forgeries.
The forged documents were cabled from the U.S. embassy in Rome to Washington after being delivered to embassy officials by Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama. She had received the papers from an Italian middleman named Rocco Martino. Burba never wrote a story about those documents. Instead her editor, Berlusconi favorite Carlo Rossella, ordered her to bring them immediately to the U.S. embassy.
Although Sismi's involvement in promoting the Niger yellowcake tale to U.S. and British intelligence has been previously reported, the series in La Repubblica includes many new details, including the name of a specific Sismi officer, Antonio Nucera, who helped to set the Niger forgeries hoax in motion.
What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper's allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House. That direct White House channel amplifies questions about a now-infamous 16-word reference to the Niger uranium in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address -- which remained in the speech despite warnings from the CIA and the State Department that the allegation was not substantiated.
Was the White House convinced that the Niger yellowcake report was nevertheless true because the National Security Council was getting its information directly from the Italian source?
Following the exposure of the discredited Niger allegations in the summer of 2003 by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, White House officials at first sought to blame the CIA for the inclusion of the controversial "16 words" in the president's speech. Although thenNational Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Hadley eventually accepted some responsibility for the mistake, the White House undertook a covert campaign to discredit Wilson and exposed the CIA affiliation of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson.
Yet if anyone knew who was actually responsible for the White House's trumpeting of the Niger claims, it would seem from the Repubblica report that Hadley did. He also knew that the CIA, which had initially rejected the Italian claims, was not to blame. Hadley's meeting with Pollari, at precisely the time when the Niger forgeries came into the possession of the U.S. government, may explain the seemingly hysterical White House overreaction to Wilson's article almost a year later.
While the Niger yellowcake claims have provoked much drama in American politics, their provenance is decidedly Italian. The Repubblica investigation offers new insights into what motivated the Berlusconi government and its intelligence chief Pollari to go to so much trouble to bring those claims to the attention of their allies in Washington.
For Berlusconi and Pollari, according to La Repubblica, the overriding motive was a desire to win more appreciation and prestige from the Americans, who were seen as eager for help in making their sales pitch for war. On Monday, the newspaper described the atmosphere in 2002: "Berlusconi wants Sismi to be big players on the international security scene, to prove themselves to their ally, the United States, and the world. Washington is looking for proof of Saddam's involvement . . . and wants info immediately."
For the Italian middleman Rocco Martino, who acquired the documents from a Sismi mole at the Niger embassy in Rome, the motive described by La Repubblica is primarily mercenary. He wanted to be paid for the forgeries.
According to the Repubblica account, Martino was a former carabinieri officer and later a Sismi operative who by 1999 was making his living based in Luxembourg, selling information to the French intelligence services for a monthly stipend. The story goes on to explain how Martino renewed his contacts with Sismi officer Antonio Nucera, an old friend and former colleague, who was a Sismi vice-captain working in the intelligence agency's eighth directorate, with responsibilities involving weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation.
Precisely how Nucera, Martino, and two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome came together sometime between 1999 and 2000 to hatch the Niger forgeries plan is still somewhat mysterious. The newspaper's reports that Nucera introduced Martino to a longtime Sismi asset at the Niger embassy in Rome, a 60 year-old Italian woman described in La Repubblica only as "La Signora." Sismi chief Pollari, who granted the newspaper an interview (as he tends to do when he fears that breaking news could taint his agency), suggests that Nucera simply wanted to help out Martino, his old friend and colleague.
But as the Italian reporters suggest, that sounds like a very convenient excuse for the chief of an agency that was engaged in promoting the bogus Niger claims from their inception, all the way to the White House. The picture that emerges of Sismi's relationship with Martino is that the agency used him as a "postman" -- a cut-out to sell the bogus intelligence to allied intelligence services. At the same time, Sismi possessed enough information about Martino to claim that he was simply a rogue agent on the French payroll.
La Repubblica's noirish portrait of Martino as a convenient vehicle for plausible deniability is given further resonance by the recent news that a Roman prosecutor has ended his investigation into Martino's role in the Niger hoax without filing any charges or issuing any report.
Although Berlusconi's government clearly sought deniability while pushing the Niger uranium claims, the Bush White House went still further by trying to blame its citation of exaggerated and discredited Iraq WMD claims on the CIA, the very same agency that consistently discounted the Niger claims. The White House's war on the CIA and on the Wilsons --the extent of which has been revealed in recent news reports emerging from the Fitzgerald investigation -- has always had an excessive and almost hysterical quality. Why was the White House so worked up over Wilson and the Niger hoax, when there was so much evidence that the administration had based its drive for war on claims that were so thoroughly discredited from top to bottom? Why did Wilson and his CIA wife become the primary targets, when Wilson was hardly alone in pointing out that the White House should have known better about the Niger claims?
News of the secret meeting between the Italian Sismi chief and the White House deputy national security adviser -- during the period when the White House was assembling its flawed case for war -- provides an important new piece of that puzzle.
--Laura Rozen reports on foreign-policy and national-security issues from Washington, D.C., as a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, a contributor to the Nation and other publications, and for her blog, War and Piece. A translation of excerpts from the La Repubblica story can be read here.
ITALY DENIES ROLE IN FAKE DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
By Phil Steward
October 26, 2005
ROME -- The Italian government denied on Wednesday reports that its secret services passed fake documents to the United States to help bolster claims about Baghdad's pre-war nuclear ambitions.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica has been running daily articles since Monday alleging that Sismi intelligence officials helped pass-off forged documents that accused Iraq of trying to buy 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium from Niger.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office said in a statement the government and Sismi had no "direct or indirect role in the fabrication and the transmission of the 'fake dossier on Niger uranium.'"
La Repubblica accuses Sismi, which is highly respected in Italy, of giving the false documents to the United States.
It says the agency gave the documents to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the chief of Sismi, Nicolo Pollari, met the then-deputy national security advisor, Stephen Hadley on September 9, 2002.
Pollari will address a parliamentary committee overseeing the intelligence service on November 3 at a closed-door meeting called to discuss the latest newspaper claims.
Accusations of an Italian angle in the Niger document case have surfaced regularly over the past two years and magistrates have investigated claims that an Italian businessman acted as a middleman looking to sell the bogus information.
Italian officials have long rejected accusations Rome had any role in the Niger affair, issuing statements in July 2003 and August 2004 denying that Sismi passed documents to the CIA.
The government accused La Repubblica of running material that was "false and devoid of all foundation".
Berlusconi, a U.S. ally who sent Italian troops to Iraq, is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on October 31, but it is not known if they will discuss the Niger affair.
The Italian controversy comes amid an investigation in the United States involving the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, after her husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the administration of twisting pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
Wilson had based the criticism in part on a CIA-sponsored mission he made to Africa in 2002 over intelligence reports that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.
Special U.S. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has made clear that he is looking into Niger-related material as he investigates the leak, amid growing expectations he will charge top White House aides.
After meeting Pollari, Hadley later took the blame for a reference to Iraq seeking uranium in Niger that showed up in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech, shortly before the invasion of Iraq.
The Niger documents were declared forgeries by the International Atomic Energy Agency in March 2003.
F.B.I. IS STILL SEEKING SOURCE OF FORGED URANIUM REPORTS
By Douglas Jehl
New York Times
October 28, 2005
WASHINGTON -- A two-year inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has yet to uncover the origin of forged documents that formed a basis for sending an envoy on a fact-finding trip to Niger, a mission that eventually exploded into the C.I.A. leak inquiry, law enforcement and intelligence officials say.
A counterespionage official said Wednesday that the inquiry into the documents, which were intended to show that Iraq was seeking uranium for a nuclear weapons program, had yielded some intriguing but unproved theories. One is the possibility that associates of Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who was a leading champion of the American campaign to topple Saddam Hussein, had a hand in the forgery. A second hypothesis, described by some officials as more likely, is that the documents were forged at Niger's embassy in Rome, in a moneymaking scheme. The official said the matter was being investigated as a counterintelligence case, not a criminal one.
The United States government did not receive the papers until October 2002, eight months after the Central Intelligence Agency sent Joseph C. Wilson IV, a retired ambassador, to Niger on the fact-finding mission, according to a review completed last year by the Senate intelligence committee. The C.I.A. decided in March 2003 that the papers were forgeries.
But a little-noticed passage in another government report said the C.I.A. had determined that foreign intelligence passed to the agency in the months before Mr. Wilson's trip also contained information that was "based on the forged documents and was thus itself unreliable."
That early foreign reporting, never endorsed by American intelligence analysts, prompted questions from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, which in turn led to Mr. Wilson's trip, a chain of events spelled out in the reviews of prewar intelligence issued this year and last year.
The continuing inquiry into the source of the forged documents has been conducted separately from the investigation by the special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald into the leak case, which has to do with whether Bush administration officials committed crimes related to disclosing the identity of Mr. Wilson's wife, an undercover C.I.A. officer.
Law enforcement officials say they do not believe that the two issues are related. The documents were among the sources of President Bush's claim in a 16-word passage of his State of the Union speech in 2003, later retracted, that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Africa.
The question of who forged the documents remains of intense interest on Capitol Hill, where Senators Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, have received classified briefings on the status of the F.B.I. inquiry. The two are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the intelligence committee.
That the initial reports prompting Mr. Wilson's trip were based on forged documents was reported in March by the Robb-Silberman commission on intelligence involving weapons of mass destruction. A footnote in the commission's report said, "It is still unclear who forged the documents and why." But it added that a classified version of the report had included discussion of "some further factual findings concerning the potential source of the forgeries."
Among American allies, Britain was the most vocal proponent of the argument that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium, but former senior intelligence officials said the reporting had actually come from Italy's military intelligence service.
An Italian journalist handed the documents over to the United States government in October 2002, months after the Wilson mission to Africa, according to the review by the intelligence committee.
A month earlier, the deputy national security adviser at the time, Stephen J. Hadley, met in Washington with the head of an Italian intelligence service, according to a report that was published this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The White House has confirmed that the meeting took place, but a spokesman for Mr. Hadley described it as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less.
"No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake being discussed or documents being provided," Frederick Jones, Mr. Hadley's spokesman, said Thursday, referring to a form of uranium.
The Italian government denied on Wednesday that its intelligence services had played any role in the "manufacture or spreading" of such a falsified dossier.
Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for Mr. Rockefeller, would say only that he and Mr. Roberts had been briefed by the F.B.I. about the Niger inquiry. An aide to Mr. Roberts said only that "ongoing investigations of that type are the kinds of things they are briefed on."
According to the review by the committee, the C.I.A. produced intelligence documents in October 2001 and February 2002 describing reports by "a foreign government service" that Niger planned to send several tons of uranium to Iraq, but cautioned that the information was uncorroborated. The second report provided what the C.I.A. described as the "verbatim text" of what the foreign service had said was an Iraq-Niger agreement.
The Defense Intelligence Agency then issued a Feb. 12, 2002, report repeating the details in the C.I.A. report, but its assessment "did not include any judgments about the credibility of the reporting," the Senate report said. It said Mr. Cheney, after reading the report, asked for the C.I.A.'s analysis of events.
In response to those questions, the Senate report said, the C.I.A.'s counterproliferation division decided to contact Mr. Wilson, who was posted early in his career in Niger. His wife, Valerie Wilson, also known as Valerie Plame, was an undercover officer in that division. The Senate report says that when the division decided to send Mr. Wilson to Niger, she approached him on behalf of the agency and told him "there's this crazy report" on a possible deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.
--David Johnston and Ian Fisher contributed reporting for this article.