Monday :: Feb 20, 2006

Uranium from Africa: How many pages were in the final Niger dossier?


by eriposte

When I started to take a close look at the Niger forgeries, I started at the excellent Cryptome website. I noticed that according to Cryptome, there were 17 pages of documents in the Niger dossier, with an 18th page that was unrelated to Iraq and seemed to be related to China (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Of the seventeen pages at least three are probably authentic...
[...]
An eighteenth page in code was also published by Panorama. According to the author of the service, it refers to a presumed sale of uranium to China...

[Note: Using the outstanding work at Cryptome, I have built my own detailed page compiling all the documents in one place and comparing them to the CIA intel reports.]

On the 24th of July 2003, Elisabetta Burba of the Italian magazine Panorama (part of the highly conservative Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's vast business empire) wrote a piece on how she happened to get access to the Niger dossier back in October 2002 and what happened when she met with Rocco Martino. Here's what she said, based on this translation by Nur al-Cubicle:

Once we’re seated, he [Martino] takes out his “wares”. 17 pages of documents.

She also goes on to mention an 18th page - the coded document - as well ("It’s the news of the signing of an agreement between Niger and China for the sale of uranium. It is not relevant.").

So, basically, 17 pages of relevance...or so it seemed.

UPDATE on 2/22/06: No, no, no, no. I guess I should beat myself up for being poor in my reading skills. I just realized that Burba was telling us that there were more than the 17 (+1) pages. When I read her article the first time I assumed that the number 17 referred to everything she was talking about in the article, but when I read her article more carefully it becomes obvious that there were additional documents. It gets even more interesting. Back to the translation of her article:

Rosella has an idea: Let’s consult the Americans: they’ve done most of the investigating into weapons of mass destruction, so they’d be the only people who can establish the authenticity of the documents. At the same time, we’ll conduct an investigation of our own. And that’s the way it went. As soon as I left the bunker, I requested a visa for Niger. Meanwhile, the Editor-in-Chief makes an appointment for me at the US Embassy.

On October 9th, I’m in Via Veneto. [Location of the US Embassy.] I have an appointment with an Italian national –a press liaison officer. He introduces me to his American boss and disappears. We go to the cafeteria. I begin to speak cautiously. When the American understands what I'm talking about, he makes a phone call and takes me to his office, where three other persons join us. I explain that I’m there seeking confirmation. They ask me questions, and try to make me identify my source. In vain. But I tell them that Rossella has given his permission for them to make a photocopy. I then leave.

I go back to the office and find additional documents which have arrived via fax. It’s the coded original and a version decrypted by my source. One document says the uranium was to have been transported to Iraq via Turkey and the other says the ore would be loaded aboard a Gabonese vessel with transshipment to take place in international waters. As verification I demand the page from the code book which contains the transcription for the word, Iraq. It shows up shortly afterwards. The word Iraq corresponds to 243.19.

As I prepare for my trip, I make a wave of phone calls to my contacts in Africa.
...
My Editor-in-Chief suggests that I adopt an appropriate cover. I find an acceptable alibi. Some months ago in the Téneré desert, fossilized dinosaur tracks were found. Great. I’ll go to Niger to investigate dinosaurs. The next day I go to the Niger Embassy to request a visa. There, I see a person who corresponds to the description indicated by my source. Could this really be his contact? I then renew my vaccination against yellow fever. Then a family emergency arises and I postpone my trip by a few days. I decide to phone Via Veneto [the US Embassy]. We can’t tell you if the documents are authentic, the head of the press liaison office tells me. That was my last contact with US officials. I won’t hear from them again.

I arrive in Niamey on October 17 with three books on dinosaurs.

I can't believe I didn't read her article carefully the first time (and I must apologize to her for suggesting she owes us an explanation on the number of pages)! But, here is what Burba is saying:

  • She originally received 17 (+1) pages from Rocco Martino
  • She took those pages to the U.S. Embassy in Rome and had them make copies
  • After she returned from the Embassy she noticed that Martino had faxed her additional documents
  • She did NOT take any of these additional documents back to the U.S. Embassy, which means that the U.S. Government could not have gotten those documents from her
  • She called the Embassy later, once, to ask if the first bacth of pages was genuine and they declined to say one way or the other
  • She never had any contact with anyone in the U.S. Embassy subsequent to that

Fast-forward 3 months to Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker dated 20th of October 2003:

When Burba met with the man, he showed her the Niger documents and offered to sell them to her for about ten thousand dollars.

The documents he gave her were photocopies. There were twenty-two pages, mostly in French, some with the letterhead of the Niger government or Embassy, and two on the stationery of the Iraqi Embassy to the Holy See. There were also telexes.

22 pages. Not 17 (or 18).

For starters, then, here's a question: Where are the other 5 (or 4) pages and what do they say?
Bonus question: What do Panorama magazine and Elisabetta Burba have to say about this discrepancy? (see UPDATE above).

More to come, tomorrow.

eriposte :: 7:27 PM :: Comments (5) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!