Wednesday :: Oct 26, 2005

Treasongate: The Real Significance of the Niger Uranium Forgery Stories in La Repubblica

by eriposte

Laura Rozen at War and Piece has helpfully provided links to two blog posts that offer translated versions of the breaking stories on the forged Niger documents in the Italian paper La Repubblica.

The Prospect has put on-line excerpts of the translation of Monday's Repubblica piece, about a 2001 break in in the Niger embassy Rome. And reader CM has pointed out some translations of Repubblica's Monday's piece and Tuesday's piece from Nur al-Cubicle and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, respectively.

Although I did not mention this in my earlier post, perhaps the item of greatest significance in the La Repubblica piece (which has been picked up by the LA Times [via TPM]) is mentioned by Laura Rozen at The American Prospect (emphasis mine):

...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.

But that's not all. A second, almost equally important aspect is this - a little noticed, but enormously significant, additional passage in the translated version of one of the articles. This passage goes a long way in helping me confirm the mechanics of the creation of the Niger uranium hoax that I had described yesterday. Here is the translated version of the passage (emphasis mine):

So [Rocco Martino] asks for help form an old colleague at SISMI: Antonio Nucera. A Carabinieri (cop) like Rocco, Antonio is the Deputy Chief of the SISMI center in viale Pasteur in Rome. He’s chief of the 1st and the 8th divisions (weapons and technology transfers and WMD proliferation counterespionage, respectively, for Africa and the Middle East.

This section is very busy section at the end of the 1980s tailing the many agents which Saddam has deployhed around the world prior to the invasion of Kuwait. “With some success”, according to an Italian intelligence official who at the time worked for the division. The official recalls: We succeeded in getting our hands on Niger code books and a telex from Ambassador Adamou Chékou to the Niger Foreign Ministry informing Niamey that Wissam al-Zahawie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, would be coming to Niger as a representative of Saddam Hussein.

I have been harping on this for some time, but this is the visit that the British falsely associated with uranium in order to peddle their "uranium from Africa" allegation, long after the CIA had given up on it. It was the British Government's last remaining claim - one that they continued to push in the mendacious Butler report, in its Conclusions, to cover-up their false allegation and to give George Bush some cover in the aftermath of the Joseph Wilson op-ed and the White House's retraction of the false Bush SOTU claim.

Prior to the appearance of the forged documents, the Al-Zahawi visit was known to have been unrelated to uranium (as the CIA effectively admitted, as IAEA noted in their March 2003 statement and as the Iraq Survey Group independently confirmed later in 2004). However, once a mention of Al-Zahawi's visit was deliberately introduced into the forged documents, with the visit being falsely linked to uranium, it gave the documents a veneer of plausibility (since the trip did occur), while allowing the forgers and the intelligence agencies to claim that this trip was about uranium, even though it was not. Further, because the visit itself occurred, it made it easy for the British to keep claiming that the visit had to do with uranium (with no evidence whatsoever) even after the Niger documents were revealed as forgeries. This was an easy allegation to make and it was easier to sell to the public because, unlike a uranium sale, one could simply allege that Al-Zahawi was "seeking" uranium without any documentary proof for it. That, folks, is how the "sought...uranium from Africa" hoax was perpetrated by the Bush and Blair administrations and extended perpetually by the British Government.

There's more! The timing of the introduction of Wissam Al-Zahawi into the forged documents is also likely significant. As this approximate English translated version of the other La Repubblica article notes (emphasis mine):

The CIA analysts thought the first report ‘very limited’ and ‘without the necessary details.’ INR analysts in the Department of State assessed the information as ‘highly suspect.’ … The immediate impact on the American Intelligence community wasn’t very gratifying for Pollari … Gianni Castellaneta advised him to look in ‘other directions’ too, while the minister of Defence, Antonio Martino invited him to meet ‘an old friend of Italy’s.’ The American friend was Michael Ledeen, an old fox in the ‘parallel’ intelligence community in the US, who had been declared an undesirable person in our country [Italy] in the 1980’s [editorial note – I understand that this claim was contested when it was made by Sidney Blumenthal]. Ledeen was at Rome on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowiz to gather intelligence that would support military intervention in Iraq. A source at Forte Braschi told La Repubblica : “Pollari got a frosty reception from the CIA’s station head in Rome, Jeff Castelli, for this information on uranium. Castelli apparently let the matter drop [lascia cadere la storia]. Pollari got the hint and talked about it with Michael Ledeen.’ We don’t know what Michael Ledeen did in Washington. But at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convinced Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by the Italians had to be explored top to bottom. The vice-president, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence tells it, once again asked the CIA ‘very decisively’ to find out more about the ‘possible acquisition of Nigerien uranium.’ In this meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly said that this piece of intelligence was at the disposition of a “foreign service.”

The significant aspect of this passage is not just the Cheney/Ledeen link. It is the fact that Pollari felt that he had to do a lot more to convince the CIA that the Iraq-Niger uranium claims that were being sent their way were credible. Recall that, per the unclassified sections of the SSCI Report, the first piece of Niger intel the CIA received in Fall 2001 did not include a mention of Wissam Al-Zahawie. So, let's take that into consideration and add the fact that the CIA's source felt the need to be more convincing. What might the result be? What reader Pat Conway originally observed (emphasis mine):

Doc 2: Get Zahawie’s Answer has different idiosyncrasies than Docs 3, 4 and 5. First of all, the name of the government on the letterhead has changed. While Doc 4 refers to the “Conseil Militaire Supreme”, Doc 2 has the “Conseil de Reconciliation Nationale”. The name of the foreign ministry has been updated. “Et De La Cooperation” in Doc 4 has been replaced by “Et De L’Integration Africaine” in Doc 2. The seal of the foreign ministry has also changed (note the placing of the little shield) and a coat of arms has been added to the top of the page. Most importantly, they’ve changed the name of the foreign minister. Instead of Allele Habibou, Doc 2 claims to be signed by Nassirou Sabo.

Close, Cabal, but no cigar! While Sabo was Niger’s foreign minister in October 2000, like the first FIS report says, Doc 2 is dated 30 July 1999. The late nineties, it seems, was a choppy period for the Nigerien foreign ministry. In 1999, the foreign minister was Aichatou Mindaoudou. Sabo did not get the job until January 2000. Another difference is that Doc 2 has the uranium agreement signed on the 28 June 2000, whereas Docs 3, 4 and 5 have it signed more than a week later on the 5-6 July.

So I think that while Docs 3, 4 and 5 were forged sometime before the first FIS report in October 2001, Doc 2 was definitely forged later, probably before the second report in February and after the Cabal had gotten some ‘feedback’.

The second FIS report is the first to implicate Iraqi ambassador Wissam al-Zahawie in the uranium deal. (Robb-Silberman p. 76) Doc 2 also ties Zahawie to the deal, whereas Docs 3, 4 and 5 don’t mention him. I think Doc 2 was forged so the FIS could ‘name-drop’ Zahawie into the second report and clue the CIA to the pre-existing intelligence on Zahawie’s 1999 Niger trip.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that the pieces are starting to come together.

P.S. Josh Marshall, unfortunately, is still in the middle of speculations about the British evidence. I sent him a couple of emails with links to relevant posts of mine, pointing out that there are significant additional facts available which do not require as much speculation about the British claim. I have no idea if he read my emails, but I also emphasized in it the introduction of Wissam Al-Zahawi into the forged documents.

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