Monday :: Nov 14, 2005

Treasongate: The Niger Forgeries v. the CIA Intel Reports - Post Script 1: The 11/11/05 La Repubblica article

by eriposte

This is a follow-up to my series (see Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Preliminary Conclusion) focused on comparing the CIA (uranium) intel reports on Niger to the corresponding contents of the relevant Niger documents (mostly forgeries) to understand how the forgeries were "mainstreamed" and to what extent Italian intelligence (SISMI) was complicit in this affair. This post is a review of a recent article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, by reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo, that advanced this story using, in part, some of the findings reported in this series at The Left Coaster.

The three links of interest here are: the La Repubblica article, a translation of that article into English by Nur Al-Cubicle, and my own findings that the article uses. In the discussion below I entirely use the Nur Al-Cubicle translation as the basis for my commentary.

If you have read my series you will know that one of my key inferences (preliminary), using carefully documented evidence, was the following:

...the CIA most likely did not receive some of the fake information in the Niger documents (on 10/15/01, 2/5/02 and/or 3/25/02) because their source (SISMI) was excising [or changing] the overtly fraudulent material from the information they sent to the CIA.

La Repubblica appears to confirm this inference in their article. [NOTE: The CIA and the Bush administration are not off the hook though (as I have discussed before). For example, despite knowing that the Niger forgeries were the basis of their intel reports, the CIA leadership did not highlight (to the SSCI) the fact that overtly false information in the Niger dossier was changed or hidden before that information got transmitted to the CIA. Likewise, the now closed FBI inquiry into this whole matter, that exonerated SISMI in public, was clearly intended, among other things, to avoid any discussion on the discrepancies between the contents of the Niger forgeries and the CIA reports and the likely role of someone at SISMI in changing some of the claims because they were fake. This smacks of a cover-up].

What I would like to do in this post is discuss some of the detail mentioned in the La Repubblica article that seems to shed more light on how the fraud was accomplished, and raise some obvious questions (a preliminary list) that Congress should address with the CIA, FBI and the Bush administration. The discussion is in three parts.

1. The October 18, 2001 SISMI Communique

2. Nassirou Sabo v. Allele Elhadj Habibou

3. The Forgers


1. The October 18, 2001 SISMI Communique

To me, one of the two most significant aspects of this article is the discussion of a 10/18/2001 communique from SISMI director Nicolo Pollari to the CIA (emphasis mine), which is not mentioned in the Senate (SSCI) Report:

The SISMI director admits – and he even did so before Italian Parliament – that on 18 October 2001 he forwards "information" to US intelligence confirming the “credibility of a source named La Signora", who in the past had already delivered “the genuine article” filched from inside the Embassy of Niger in Rome, located at via Antonio Baiamonti No. 10.

SISMI Director Nicolò Pollari does not say what information he is guaranteeing (by vouching for La Signora) to the American ally. To uncover something more, you'd have to leaf through the US Senate Report:
We therefore know that Rome vouches for four items of information: 1)The agreement between Niger and Iraq dates back to 1999; 2) the deal is approved by the State Court of Niger in 2000; 3)that Nigerois President Mamadou Tandja gave sanction to the sale and informs Saddam; and, 4) that Foreign Minister Nassirou Sabo informed an ambassador in Europe of same.

The fact that this communication from SISMI to the CIA occurred on 10/18/01 has much significance. It may in fact shed more light on one of the mysteries I reported in Part 5 of this series regarding the CIA's claims recorded in the Senate (SSCI) Report:

  • On 10/15/01, it is stated [in the CIA intelligence report] that the State Court of Niger approved the alleged uranium deal in late 2000.
  • On 10/18/01, it is stated [in the "finished intelligence product" on the CIA report] that the State Court of Niger approved the alleged uranium deal in [early] 2001.

It is difficult to believe this was just an inadvertent error because the first report specifically used a qualifier for the year 2000 ("late 2000"), and the report from three days later changes the date to 2001. In the latter case, the context of the sentence ("early this year") indicates that the qualifier for 2001 was 'early' 2001. So just replacing 2000 with 2001, or vice versa, wouldn't make them consistent.

What does the Niger forgery corresponding to the above claim say?

That forgery is Doc 5 - the fake "Annexe 1" to the fake uranium sales agreement - wherein the State Court of Niger allegedly "approved" the deal. Doc 5 says this (translation by Cryptome, bold text is my emphasis):


Remember, the CIA did possess some or all of the contents of fake Doc 5. How do we know that? Well, they indirectly admitted it in the Senate (SSCI) report:

The foreign government service did not provide the DO with information about its source and the DO, to date, remains uncertain as to how the foreign government service collected the information in the three intelligence reports...The only mistake in any of the reports regarding dates, is that one date, July 7, 2000, is said to be a Wednesday in the report, but was actually a Friday. [page 47]

Now, perhaps July 2000 can loosely be called "late 2000", but July 2000 certainly isn't early 2001. The question is: what happened between October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001, that prompted the CIA to change the year of the alleged State Court approval? Did the CIA raise the obvious concern about "Wednesday, July 7 2000" with their source and get some "clarification" in response, with a different date? [emphasis added] Or did the report on 10/18/01 inadvertently pick up the 2001 date from a different (unsurfaced) document (after all, the 10/18/01 report refers to Niger's alleged plans in early 2001, which is not in Doc 5) which specified a different date of (alleged) approval by Niger's state court?

Per La Repubblica, the SISMI communique on 10/18/2001 was in response to questions or concerns from the U.S. regarding the credibility of the 10/15/01 intel report:

CIA, DIA, and the Department of Energy judge the information to be plausible while the INR believes, to the contrary, that it is highly suspect. To remove any remaining doubt, Langley asks for "further clarification" from Rome. Pollari, as reported by Il Messagero, responds with a quick followup on 18 October with “a letter of a page and a half." He explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora". He does not reveal her identify, but he recounts that “in the past La Signora has given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy. So, those documents could be good. The same day, 18 October 2001, the CIA writes an in-depth report (Senior Intelligence Executive brief, "Iraq, Nuclear-Related Procurement Efforts").

So, here are some preliminary questions that leaders of Congress in the U.S. should be asking U.S. intelligence and the Bush administration.

Q1: Were there any specific items in the 10/15/01 report from SISMI that raised questions or concerns in the minds of U.S. intelligence?

Q2: What was the reason behind the second communique from SISMI within 3 days - on 10/18/01? Did that communique relate to questions or concerns raised by the U.S. intelligence community? Did that communique offer any reassurances on the specific questions or concerns raised?

Q3: Was the issue of "Wednesday, July 7, 2000" raised with SISMI after receipt of the 10/15/01 report from SISMI? If so, what was SISMI's response to that question?

Q4: Why did the date of the alleged approval of the alleged uranium deal by the Niger court, change from late 2000 in the 10/15/01 CIA report to [early] 2001 in the 10/18/01 report? Did SISMI provide a "corrected" or "updated" date? If so, did that not call for more questioning of the basis of the 10/15/01 report and the 10/18/01 report?

2. Nassirou Sabo v. Allele Elhadj Habibou

The other significant aspect of the La Repubblica article is Bonini and D'Avanzo's narrative on how the Nassirou Sabo switch was executed. Let me first provide some brief background on the issue in question from my earlier post (Part 3 of this series):

In the first Niger intel report from the CIA dated 10/15/01, the following claim was included per the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report (bold text is my emphasis):

The report also indicated that in October 2000 Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had concluded an accord to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [SENTENCE DELETED] [page 36]

As I showed in Part 1, this particular claim was based on Niger Document 4 (TLC numbering) - another alleged letter. But look who this "letter" is actually signed by in that document:

Allele Elhadj Habibou

Not Nassirou Sabo, but Allele Elhadj Habibou (I mentioned this previously sometime ago). If you do a Google search on Habibou's name you will see multiple sites point out that he was the Nigerien Foreign Minister in 1988-1989 (see here, for example). Considering that the letter was dated October 2000, Habibou could not have been the Foreign Minister of Niger at that time. Who was the actual Foreign Minister of Niger in October 2000? Nassirou Sabo.
There was another aspect to Niger Doc 4 that showed it was bunk. It was dated 10/10/2000, but marked received in Rome on 9/28/00. Let's just say that time travel back to the past hadn't been invented in the year 2000. Were the CIA (and INR) told that the received date was earlier than the sent date? It seems to me that they were not.

In the context of the Nassirou Sabo switch, La Repubblica says the following (bold text is my emphasis; spelling errors in names are in the original):

But there is a problem with the letter from Allele Dihadj [sic] Habibou.

The attention of several Democratic Senators’ offices has been turned lately to the observations found in a little radical blog ( Why does the Senate Report attribute a letter written by Allele Dihadj Habibou to Nassirou Sabo? Who is disinforming whom?

We have seen that Habibou hasn’t been a member of the cabinet for a decade. So this needs a little touchup. The signature of Sabo (that on the letter of 30 July 1999) is transferred to the message of 10 October 2000 because, rightly, Nassirou Sabo is Foreign Minister from 2000 to 2001. The dossier is now ready but it must still be treated with care. It’s too dangerous to hand it over to the CIA. Could they discover the signature manipulation? What should be done then?

So here is SISMI’s expedient in the testimony of [Greg] Thielmann, recorded shortly after he resigned as director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the intelligence arm of the US State Department.

The CIA field officer stationed in Rome informed Langley that he had seen (but was unable to duplicate), thanks to the cooperation of Italian military intelligence, certain letters which document the attempt by Iraq to acquire, at the beginning of 2001, more than 500 ton of pure uranium from Niger.

It is the October 15, 2001, report prepared by the Italians. The CIA agent “in the field” hurriedly jots down a few notes on the dossier he has just been shown: the 1999 telex, the Niger State Court, the letter written by Mamadou Tandja to Saddam Hussein. He observes that the letter of 10 October 2000 is signed by Nissirou Sabo (the signature of Allele Dihadj Habibou was substituted in an ass-covering move). When the cable arrives in Langley, the chief of the Directorate of Operations jumps up on the table. Is he holding in his hand the thing he has been looking for: the “smoking gun.”?

The part about this extract that I am not sure about is whether Bonini and D'Avanzo inferred this course of action or whether their narrative is based on a description of what happened, by one or more of their sources. Also, it's not clear whether their use of the term "dossier" refers to the actual forgeries (or a photocopy of the forgeries) - or just a SISMI version of its contents (with some material from the originals removed or changed). I would sure like to find out. I say that because if the CIA field officer actually saw the raw Niger "dossier" it would have been difficult to cover-up all of the false information in the dossier when it was shown to him. After all, the Mamadou Tandja letter had the fake reference to the 1966 constitution in the middle of that letter (Part 2 of this series) and the received date on the "Nassirou Sabo" forgery was earlier than the sent date (Part 3 of this series). So, whatever was presented to the CIA field officer must have either been a transcript (or version) of the forgeries with overtly false information removed or changed, or else, the CIA field officer was complicit in not telling Langley about the overtly false information (I have serious doubts about the plausibility of the latter scenario).

So, at this point, I consider La Repubblica's narrative as possible, but requiring detailed clarification. One point to note, though, is that my inference was that the alteration or removal of fake information was done by someone at SISMI - and the La Repubblica article appears to be saying the same thing.

The Nassirou Sabo switch and other information received at the time by the CIA raises some obvious questions for leaders of Congress here in the U.S. Here is a preliminary list:

Q5: What did the CIA field officer in Rome actually see? The documents now referred to as the Niger forgeries? A photocopy of those documents? A transcript of the contents? Something else?

Q6: Did the CIA receive the name Nassirou Sabo from SISMI or the name Allele Elhadj Habibou? If the latter, why did the 10/15/01 CIA report mention Nassirou Sabo?

Q7: If the CIA did receive the name Nassirou Sabo from SISMI, who in SISMI provided this name to the CIA (whether to the field officer or someone else)? Did the field officer raise any questions about this name or the corresponding signature?

Q8: Did the field officer see a 'received date' on this alleged letter signed by Nassirou Sabo? If so, what was that date? Was it reported to CIA headquarters in Langley or the U.S. intelligence community?

Q9: Did the field officer see the reference to the 1966 constitution in the alleged letter from Mamadou Tandja? If so, what follow-up was done based on that information?

3. The Forgers

The La Repubblica article also says:

But we also know something else. We know where the information that SISMI forwards to Washington comes from because we know that 28 months prior (see La Repubblica of 16 July 2003) the documents are “prepared” by a SISMI collaborator, Rocco Martino, by a SISMI colonel, Antonio Nucera, and by La Signora, the SISMI asset inside the Embassy of Niger in via Baiamonte. The three chefs, like Totò, Peppino and La Malafemmina [Translator's Note: The reference is to a 1956 comedy film about three Neapolitan hayseeds in Milan]), cook up a phony document parcel which they sell, before 11 September 2001, to the French of the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security).

As I discussed in Part 6 of this series - and in my Preliminary Conclusions, I have serious doubts that Rocco Martino knew that the documents were crude forgeries. I would urge the La Repubblica reporters to keep an open mind on this aspect and focus more on the SISMI-La Signora nexus and their contacts (and possible co-conspirators), what they were after, how the documents were forged and why they were forged.

As for American Congressional leaders, here are some preliminary questions that I suggest they follow-up on:

Q10: What was the FBI's finding on the names of the people who were involved in some form or the other in discussions, encouragement, or financing of the Niger forgeries?

Q11: What was the FBI's finding on the names of the people who were involved in some form or the other in the creation or dissemination of the Niger forgeries?

Q12: What was the FBI's finding on the names of the people within SISMI who were involved in some form or the other in interacting with or communicating with those who encouraged, financed, created or disseminated the forgeries?

P.S. I'm sure there's more to come on this scandal whose full scope is only beginning to be understood. I hope that the mainstream media in the U.S. picks up these latest developments and launches more inquiries into it.

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