Tuesday :: Mar 14, 2006

Uranium from Africa and the Niger Forgeries: When did the CIA first receive copies of the Niger uranium forgeries? - Part 4A: The credibility of Alain Chouet's claims


by eriposte

Last updated 10/15/06

[This is part of my ongoing coverage on the uranium from Africa matter; click here to read a consolidated synopsis of my overall findings]

This is the next part of a series (Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) focused on obtaining an answer to the question of when the CIA (in the U.S.) first received copies of (some or all of) the Niger uranium forgeries. In Part 4, I summarized some claims and observations by former DGSE (French Intelligence) Vice-Director Alain Chouet regarding information exchanged between the CIA and DGSE in 2001 and 2002. Chouet is the first senior official to claim publicly that the CIA had in their possession some of the Niger forgeries no later than late June 2002. That statement challenged the Bush administration's position expressed in the Senate (SSCI) Report that they first received the Niger forgeries only through Elisabetta Burba of Panorama in October 2002. Chouet's statement, if true, also provides independent evidence for what I have pointed out in parts 1 and 3 of this series - that the CIA must have received one or more of the Niger forgeries from a source other than Elisabetta Burba.

As it turns out, Chouet has been criticized and his claims have been strongly challenged in Italy. One or more articles have since appeared in the Italian press trying to discredit him and his claims. I therefore thought it might be worth examining the credibility of Chouet and his claims in greater detail than I did in Part 4. The key article that documented Chouet's claims was the one in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica by journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo. That article was translated by de Gondi at European Tribune and all quotes attributed to Chouet in this post are directly reproduced from de Gondi's translation, unless otherwise stated. (Also, all bold text/emphasis in quotes is my emphasis).

This post is divided into the following sections.

1. The Summer 2001 CIA query
2. The late-Spring 2002 CIA query
3. The late-June 2002 CIA query and the Niger forgeries
4. When did Rocco Martino first give the Niger forgeries to DGSE?
5. Did Rocco Martino meet DGSE's Jacques Nadal in Summer 2002?
6. Did Rocco Martino work for DGSE?
7. Chouet's history
8. Conclusions


1. The Summer 2001 CIA query

Chouet:

Early in the summer 2001, the CIA passed us a piece of information both general and alarming. ‘Iraq’ – Langley warned – ‘is apparently trying to purchase uranium from an African country’. The Americans added that they had been put on the alert by a trip, dating back two years, of the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See to [several] Central-African nations. As standard procedure, the Americans never reveal the source of their information. Washington did not mention Niger but, in more general terms, Africa. The U.S. knew that not a leaf stirs in the African francophone ex-colonies that the French aren’t aware of, especially in the field of counter-proliferation. For that matter, that information, though general, wasn’t just routine for us. From the Gulf War (1991) onwards, France could not afford to be accused of underestimating Saddam Hussein’s rearmament programs. Therefore, when the Americans moved in the summer 2001, I rolled up my sleeves. I instructed my men to get to work in Africa. In Niger, obviously, but also in Namibia (you will soon understand why). The outcome was entirely negative. At the end of August 2001, the alert died down.

In a subsequent article, Tom Hamburger, Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin in the Los Angeles Times said:

Chouet recalled that his agency was contacted by the CIA in the summer of 2001 - shortly before the attacks of Sept. 11 - as intelligence services in Europe and North America became more concerned about chatter from known terrorist sympathizers. CIA officials asked their French counterparts to check that uranium in Niger and elsewhere was secure. The former CIA official confirmed Chouet's account of this exchange.

Bottom line: Chouet's claims on the Summer 2001 CIA-DGSE interactions have been independently validated.


2. The late-Spring 2002 CIA query

Chouet:

The CIA knocked on our door once again, with the story of the uranium, only in late spring 2002. The end of April, I would say, beginning of May (therefore after the February and March reports). This time their request had high-priority urgency (on February 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney demanded the CIA to get information, after receiving a report from the DIA confirming the Iraqi purchase of 500 tons per year of uranium from Niger). Compared to the summer of the previous year, the Americans were more precise. They named a country, Niger. [And] gave a number of details. They actually handed us all the information which only later we found – and I’m stressing ‘only later found’ - were in Rocco Martino’s dossier and which we had never heard about till then. As standard procedure, Langley held back the source. They did not mention Martino or Sismi. They simply asked us to check that stuff. Langley’s pressure was strong. The CIA asked for an immediate answer about the authenticity of the information. Immediately after September 11th, the relations between Dgse and the CIA were excellent (these good relations have always been questioned by Italy) and therefore I arranged a ‘deep undercover’ mission. Between the end of May and June 2002, ‘my men’ were in Njamey, the capital of Niger. The mission – as arranged by the Dgse operative directions – was held back from our Foreign Office as well as from the whole diplomatic network”.
...
“Five of our best men were part of the team. With a deep knowledge of Niger and of all the issues connected to yellowcake. My men stayed in Africa for a couple of weeks and, once back, they told me a very simple thing: ‘the American information on uranium is all bullshit’. When I read their report, I did not doubt their work nor, if you let me say so, my mind. I know Niger well but I can say that I have known Baghdad and Saddam even better. And I know that if Saddam had wanted to purchase yellowcake (which he already owned in great quantities) from Niger he would have never asked an Ambassador to open negotiations. Saddam did not trust anybody in his Foreign Office. He certainly didn’t trust his ambassadors around the world. For such a task he would have sent one of his sons. On the other hand, we knew the reason of the journey of Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See, Wissam Al Zahawie. He had to identify an African country ready to accept the storage of the regime’s hazardous toxic waste, in exchange for money. In fact Namibia, which had been used as a dumping ground by Iraq, had told Baghdad they couldn’t go on contaminating their soil. I told the CIA the results of our mission in Niger.

In a subsequent article, Tom Hamburger, Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin in the Los Angeles Times said:

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief of the French counterintelligence service and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.

Chouet's account was "at odds with our understanding of the issue," a U.S. government official said. The U.S. official declined to elaborate and spoke only on condition that neither he nor his agency be named.

However, the essence of Chouet's account - that the French repeatedly investigated the Niger claim, found no evidence to support it, and warned the CIA - was extensively corroborated by the former CIA official and a current French government official, who both spoke on condition of anonymity.

In other words, a former CIA official and a French government official "extensively corroborated" Chouet's accounts regarding the 2001 and 2002 CIA-DGSE interactions. There is a current U.S. Government official quoted who appears to deny the claims. However, if you read what that official said, it is obvious that the official was not issuing a denial of the claim. Rather, the quote attributed to this official is a classic non-denial disguised as a denial. The phrase "at odds with our understanding of the issue" only means that the official had a different understanding of what happened in 2001 and 2002 vis-a-vis the CIA and DGSE. It does not mean that the interactions described by Chouet did not occur.

Bottom line: Chouet's claims on the late-Spring 2002 CIA-DGSE interactions have been independently validated.


3. The late-June 2002 CIA query and the Niger forgeries

Chouet:

The Americans seemed very disappointed for what they had to hear. I understood then the reasons for their frustration and I understood them even better when the CIA, not content with the result, at the end of June 2002, sent us a part of the documents of the Niger dossier, as if they wanted to underline the reasons for their insistence”.

We are at a crucial point. End of June 2002. Langley sent a part of the Niger documents to Paris. Which documents? According to the Italian and American reconstruction, those documents were not yet in the hands of the CIA nor had they ever been in the hands of the Sismi.

“If what I’m saying surprises you, I can’t help it. I tell you I received a ‘sample’ of those documents in the summer 2002 from Langley. They sent the sealed envelope to Paris through the usual intelligence channels. I can remember they were no more than a dozen pages. There was a short introduction where the CIA explained the meaning of the documents and no more than three complete documents, I would say. After a quick scrutiny we decided it was all rubbish. Gross fakes. The document which struck me most referred to the Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See. Reading that page, I thought back to the odd and general request of the summer 2001 and wondered: ‘Hey, the Americans… they have had this stuff for one year and they tell us only now, after we have already been to Niger twice’. Anyway the Americans didn’t say who they got that stuff from, then or later. But we discovered things ourselves. We may be French but not altogether that stupid. First of all, those documents, as far as one could read, led to the Niger Embassy in Rome. And we definitely know where Rome is. Besides, on those same days when the CIA handed down to us part of the documents, this gentleman appeared. A Rocco Martino, your fellow countryman”.

As I said in Part 4, this is a remarkable set of statements. The question is whether his claim that the CIA sent DGSE some of the Niger forgeries in late June 2002 has been specifically validated by someone else.

It is interesting that Tom Hamburger, Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin did not explicitly confirm this in their article in the Los Angeles Times. Their article does not even mention Chouet's claim that the CIA sent DGSE some of the forgeries. Here's the part of their article that comes closest to this:

Still, Chouet said in the interview that the question from CIA officials in the summer of 2002 seemed to follow almost word for word from the documents in question. He said that an Italian intelligence source, Rocco Martino, had tried to sell the documents to the French, but that in a matter of days French analysts determined the documents had been forged.

 "We thought they [the Americans] were in possession of the documents," Chouet said. "The words were very similar." The former CIA official said that in fact the U.S. had been offered the same documents in 2001 but had quickly rejected them as forgeries.

Considering that this article appeared after the La Repubblica article, I would assume that Hamburger et al. had a reason not to publish Chouet's claim on the CIA sending DGSE some of the forgeries in late June 2002. I don't know why they decided not to, but it does suggest that the LA Times article is perhaps not solid enough as independent proof for this particular claim. [I will return to the curious statement by the former CIA official that 'the U.S. had been offered the same documents in 2001 but had quickly rejected them as forgeries' in Part 5 of this series.] That said, Chouet provides significant detail on the supposed transmission of the forgeries by the CIA to DGSE in late June 2002. It is very hard to believe his narrative was simply pulled out of thin air, especially considering how significant parts of his narrative have otherwise held up to scrutiny (Sections 1 and 2 above).

There is another somewhat interesting aspect to what Chouet said:

I tell you I received a ‘sample’ of those [Niger] documents in the summer 2002 from Langley. They sent the sealed envelope to Paris through the usual intelligence channels. I can remember they were no more than a dozen pages. There was a short introduction where the CIA explained the meaning of the documents and no more than three complete documents, I would say. After a quick scrutiny we decided it was all rubbish. Gross fakes.

This struck me as interesting because I remembered how many pages the IAEA said they received from the U.S. Government in early 2003. This is what British reporter Solomon Hughes of Private Eye told me in an email:

Just to reiterate, the IAEA say they received ten to twelve pages of documents [...] and these did not include the “Global Support” paper.

Perhaps this was just a coincidence but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Bottom line: For now, I consider Chouet's claim highly plausible and that it is likely that events transpired the way he described it, especially considering what I've pointed out in parts 1 and 3 of this series. To consider his narrative rock-solid, it would be nice to have independent validation.


4. When did Rocco Martino first give the Niger forgeries to DGSE?

Here is what La Repubblica reported on SISMI's claim:

[According to SISMI, Martino] handed the fake Niger documents to Dgse, as reported by Gianni Letta to Parliament, even before September 11th.

Here is some of what Chouet said in response:

The CIA knocked on our door once again, with the story of the uranium, only in late spring 2002. The end of April, I would say, beginning of May (therefore after the February and March reports). This time their request had high-priority urgency (on February 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney demanded the CIA to get information, after receiving a report from the DIA confirming the Iraqi purchase of 500 tons per year of uranium from Niger). Compared to the summer of the previous year, the Americans were more precise. They named a country, Niger. [And] gave a number of details. They actually handed us all the information which only later we found – and I’m stressing ‘only later found’ - were in Rocco Martino’s dossier and which we had never heard about till then.
...
...The first time [Martino] knocked on our door was at the end of June 2002. He said he had important documents about an illicit trade of uranium from Niger to Iraq...

According to this account from Chouet, Martino first tried to peddle the Niger forgeries to DGSE in late June 2002, not in a prior year (e.g., 2000 or 2001). (Let me reiterate that the point of focus here is when Martino first gave the forgeries to DGSE, not when he first had any interactions with DGSE. The latter point is examined in a subsequent section). As I mentioned in Section 3 of this post, the Los Angeles Times articles say nothing about this encounter specifically - so it is not clear if the former CIA official and the current French Government official actually confirmed this or not.

As it turns out, there is another published allegation that Martino gave the DGSE the forged Niger documents back in 2000. This claim is in a post in the Free Republic which links to an article in il Giornale in support of some of the statements in the post. The way the post is written, it is not easy for me to tell whether this claim is reproduced directly from il Giornale or whether it is simply the opinion/observation of the author of the Free Republic post (parnasokan). But here's the claim (I'm only reproducing the portion relevant to the point being discussed):

Highly important details have emerged of the sworn depositions made by Rocco Martino to Italy’s most famous investigating magistrate, Franco Ionta.
...
Amongst his declarations to the investigating magistrates are the following...that he supplied the false Niger documents exclusively to the French intelligence services in 2000...
...
Contents of the depositions are contained in an article (www.ilgiornale.it/a.pic1?ID=65681), the first of a forthcoming series...

Since I was not sure where this year 2000 claim came from, I decided to take a look at the il Giornale series referred to by parnasokan. De Gondi at European Tribune has helpfully compiled the translations of the relevant il Giornale articles in a single post - so let's take a look at what il Giornale had to say. Reading through the translations, it becomes obvious that those articles do not in any way state or prove that Martino gave the forgeries to DGSE in 2000. But let's take a closer look.

(a) Let's start with a relevant statement by Martino in an interrogation session on 9/17/04, reported in this il Giornale article (which is the very article linked to in the Free Republic post - see my extract above), translated as follows by de Gondi:

If I remember rightly, [SISMI's] Nucera asked me in 2000 if I was interested in meeting someone who worked for an African embassy and was in a position to supply intelligence and classified papers, including the embassy's cipher book. I agreed, and I met the lady in question (...). I would point out that the woman knew Nucera's identity, but called him "Francesco." The woman gave me intelligence of various sorts, which I passed on to the French without informing Nucera (...). It was the woman, once again, who gave me the paperwork on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq. I took said documentation to by French secret services contact in Brussels. When it was ascertained that the documentation was phony, I demanded explanations of Mrs. (...), who, to tell the truth, was very evasive on that head.

The above extract clearly says absolutely nothing about when exactly Martino handed over copies of the Niger forgeries to the French.

The same article also has this extract from an interrogation session with Martino on 2/7/04:

At about 1000 or 1100 hours on 16 February [2000] [year added by Eriposte and this is obvious based on what Martino says in the following sentences], I met Mr. Nucera in Largo Gancia, where he had arranged a meeting with Mrs. (...), who subsequently joined us. Nucera made the introductions, and we then went off for a coffee at a neighboring bar, and the conversation with Mrs.(...) continued outside the bar as well. I recorded the conversation, first between Nucera and myself and then between the woman and myself, and it is among the material I have handed over (...). Prior to the encounter, Colonel Nucera had offered to introduce me to someone who worked at an African embassy, thinking it was in my interest to meet her, given my intelligence work, as she could provide me with reports of interest to me (...). My meetings with Mrs. (...) began in 2000 and ended after little over a year; anyway, you can find the exact date when they broke off in the audio material I have handed over. I complained on that occasion that the papers she herself had given me were phony, the file on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq in particular (...).

Again, the above extract also says absolutely nothing about when exactly Martino handed over copies of the Niger forgeries to the French. However, it does convey a piece of information that is contradicted by other il Giornale articles in the same series. Specifically, according to il Giornale's narration of what Martino allegedly said, Martino's meetings with La Signora - Mrs. (...) - started in 2000 and ended in 2001 (and the last meeting was when Martino complained that the material was bogus). Of course, Martino is also quoted as being unsure about the date when he terminated his meetings with La Signora and Martino suggests that his audio recordings be consulted to get the exact date (more on this below).

(b) In another article, il Giornale reported on some of the alleged statements made by La Signora - who gave Martino the forgeries - in her interrogation session on 2/7/05 (translated by de Gondi as follows):

Nucera introduced Martino to me- I don't recall when- I think it was February 1999, a period in which my SISMI contact was (...). I remember it was February because it coincided with my birthday. Martino gave me a small gift, a box of chocolates. Nucera came one day to the Embassy and told me that for a period of time my relations with SISMI would be interrupted due to internal restructuring, and, therefore, I could work with a friend and acquaintance, Rocco Martino, who- he told me- worked for an intelligence agency in Brussels. I remember that Nucera introduced us in a bar near the Embassy. I never again had occasion to frequent Nucera. As far as my relations with Martino go, I broke them off in 2003 as advised by my SISMI contact.

Additionally, Il Giornale's report on Antonio Nucera's testimony from 2/7/05 has Nucera saying this:

Let me clarify that it was me who arranged the meeting and the introduction of Rocco Martino and Mrs. (...). I don’t remember the exact period of the encounter, probably, I think, in 1999...

According to these narratives, the Martino-La Signora meetings started in February 1999 and their communications ended in 2003, not 2001. However, both La Signora and Antonio Nucera were unsure of the dates (see their use of the phrase "I think"). These dates are, of course, in direct contradiction to what Martino allegedly gave the interrogators (see (a) above). So, which are the correct dates? To answer that, let's review another article in the series from il Giornale.

(c) This il Giornale article is based, supposedly, on the actual recordings made by Rocco Martino - since Martino apparently taped all of his coversations with the people he spoke with on this matter. De Gondi's translation is as follows:

(We're at the beginning of Nigergate. On February 16, 2000, Rocco Martino is in a bar with the SISMI agent, Antonio Nucera, talking about the "source", that is the Secretary at the Niger Embassy, that the latter will pass on to the former. They make a deal while waiting for "la Signora" from the Embassy.)

"La Signora " arrives and the three chat a while; then Rocco takes the initiative and exchanges telephone numbers with her. When the woman leaves, Martino and Nucera discuss the meeting. When Rocco asks how much she was paid, Nucero answers, a million and a half old lire [circa € 750, my note] The conversation then passes to the discussion of several documents that the woman probably gave Nucera. They mention "ciphered" codes and the possibility to decrypt them, other than further documents "la Signora" may have furnished in the past. Rocco thanks Nucera and [Nucera] lets on that he needs a recommendation for his son who must convert his American pilot license.
...
(The source in the Niger Embassy has already consigned top secret material several times to Rocco Martino. However, on May 23, 2003, he complains directly to the woman about the authenticity of the material. Two months before the IAEA- the International Atomic Energy Agency- had certified that the documents were false.)

After conventional compliments, Rocco explains to the woman that there is a problem: some of the documents that she provided, he says, are false. "I'm sure you're in good faith but it's clear there's a problem to sort out." Martino advances two hypotheses: either someone made them within the Embassy, or they were introduced externally in a way to have her get them. The woman replies with indignation, she denies she knew the documents were false, especially a specific one concerning uranium. Martino calms her down and lets her know that the work she did was very much appreciated by his superiors.

Since this last article appears to be based on transcripts of recordings made by Martino, it is fair to say that the dates of the encounters mentioned explicitly in this article are almost certainly the correct dates, rather than the dates mentioned in the previous articles based on alleged testimony by the various individuals who all express some doubt about the dates (qualified by words like "probably", "I think", etc.). In other words, Martino first met La Signora in February 2000 and he stopped meeting with her in May 2003.

The key point to emphasize though is that none of these il Giornale articles remotely suggest that Martino specifically handed over the Niger forgeries to DGSE in 2000 (or 2001). The only article that insinuates this, but does not establish or prove the claim that Martino may have handed over the forgeries to DGSE in the 1999/2000 timeframe is this one in il Foglio, also translated at the Free Republic:

In 1999-2000, when the false dossier was made, before the war, before 9/11, before Berlusconi, before Pollari, in Brussels there were two people at work. One was Martino, the other was Chouet. How strange indeed.

However, this il Foglio article gets the date wrong on when Martino even got copies of the forgeries. Their mention of 1999 indicates that the authors of the il Foglio article were simply speculating. As the il Giornale article (c) above points out, Martino did not even meet La Signora, who confessed to being Martino's source of the forgeries, until February 2000.

In fact, here's what Martino himself said (translation published at the Cryptome website) in an interview with il Giornale in September 2004:

The hoax began one day when a Nigerian (as published) Embassy source who had proven to be reliable on previous occasions and who had contacts also with the collaborator of a SISMI (Intelligence and Military Security Service) aide, passed on to me a whole lot of information. It is true that that information included some references to a uranium traffic between Niger and Iraq. What did I do at that juncture? I passed it on to the French secret service, with which I am in touch and by which I was remunerated. I passed it on also to Panorama, which assessed it in order to study it, dispatching a reporter to Niger and turning the file over to the US Embassy in Rome for cross-checking.

This statement by Martino clearly suggests he passed on the forgeries to the French prior to passing them on to Panorama in Oct 2002.

If we go outside the Berlusconi-friendly Italian press, in late 2005, Andrew Buncombe, John Philips and Raymond Whitaker wrote this in the British newspaper The Independent:

Sismi said it was next involved in 2002, when Mr. Martino began offering the fake Niger documents to anyone willing to buy them. His first client is reported to have been the French intelligence service, but in October 2002 they were given to the American embassy in Rome by Panorama, a Berlusconi-owned magazine he had approached.

The wording in this article suggests that Martino peddled the forgeries to DGSE sometime in 2002, prior to when he gave copies to Elisabetta Burba in Oct 2002. That version of the events would seem to be consistent with what Alain Chouet claimed. It should also be noted that in an article in the Sunday Times (U.K.) on 8/1/04, titled "Tracked Down", Nicholas Rufford and Nick Fielding wrote about Rocco Martino after an interview with Martino, and they stated that "In 2002 he hawked around documents purporting to show that Saddam Hussein had tried to obtain uranium ore from the Saharan state of Niger."

Bottom line: There is no separate reporting to-date that solidly confirms Chouet's claim that Rocco Martino first peddled the Niger forgeries to DGSE in late June 2002. However, there is also no reporting that credibly contradicts Chouet's claim in this regard. An article in The Independent (U.K.) does support the contention that Martino first peddled the Niger forgeries to DGSE sometime in 2002, but prior to October 2002. Another article, in the Sunday Times (U.K.), based on an interview with Martino, indicates that Martino was peddling the forgeries in 2002. Claims in the Berlusconi-friendly Italian press that Martino had provided DGSE copies of the forgeries prior to 2002 (in 1999, 2000 or 2001) are purely insinuations without any evidence provided to back up those claims. So, for the time being, it is reasonable to conclude that Chouet's claim that Martino first peddled the Niger documents to DGSE in late June 2002 is quite plausible and indeed likely.


5. Did Rocco Martino meet DGSE's Jacques Nadal in Summer 2002?

Here is what La Repubblica reported in their lead up to Chouet's comments:

[According to SISMI, Martino] handed the fake Niger documents to Dgse, as reported by Gianni Letta to Parliament, even before September 11th. To confirm the circumstance, Sismi gave the press a photo of Rocco Martino talking ‘in Brussels’ with a French agent, whose name was also given, Jacques Nadal.

Continuing:

"...[CHOUET:] This is how things went. Martino turned up at our Embassy in Luxembourg and asked to talk to some of our people. I asked Jaques Nadal, at the Brussels station, to meet the Italian in Luxembourg. Nadal met him at the end of June 2002”.

The photos circulated by Sismi refer to that meeting. Chouet looks at them (the clearest print is published in these pages). He laughs heartily.

“I’m laughing because these photos prove the opposite of what Sismi says. Let me explain. This photo proves:

a. Sismi was shadowing Rocco Martino in the summer 2002, therefore they already knew who he was, what he was doing or what he was trying to do.

b. Rocco Martino’s contact was Jaques Nadal. Well. Do you know when Jaques Nadal was posted to the Brussels station? I appointed him between April and May 2002. Therefore, if you want to claim that Nadal was Rocco’s ‘French contact’, which is true according to the photo, the contact dates back to the summer 2002. Not before. (nor later, of course, in 2003, when all the world knew that those documents were a forgery and the meeting would have been meaningless). The photo, in short, proves the exact contrary of what it was meant to prove, that is that the French were behind Rocco.

One last remark. Look at Rocco’s and Nadal’s clothes. You do not walk around dressed like that in Luxembourg except in full summer. This proves what I’m saying. You could object: ‘It could be the summer before’. But, as I said, the summer before Nadal was not in Brussels yet.

Let me restate the obvious. If Jacques Nadal really did not work at the Brussels station in summer 2000 or 2001, then that makes any claim by SISMI that Martino met Nadal in Brussels in 2000 or 2001 completely wrong. Further, any suggestion that Martino met Nadal in summer 2003 or 2004 to peddle the forgeries would also make no sense because the documents were publicly revealed to be forgeries by no later than early March 2003, and were publicly available within a few months of that date.

It is therefore no surprise that SISMI, apparently caught in an embarrassing position, responded to Chouet's claim as follows, as captured in this article in il Foglio translated by parnasokan in the Free Republic:

Qualified sources inside Sismi claim without hesitation that “the man next to Martino is not Jacques Nadal and the photograph is from the summer of 2004, from the end of July, two years later, and it was taken in Luxemburg immediately prior to the interview that Martino gave to the Sunday Times”. An interview that took place sitting on a park bench in Brussels on August 1 2004 (in the photographs published by the Sunday Telegraph on September 19 2004 Martino wore the same jacket and tie; as regards the circumstances and the dates there are plenty of witnesses because there were three teams of photographers on the spot: the Italians from Sismi, the French Secret Services and the photographers from the newspaper)....Chouet claims that the photograph of Martino with a French agent, who is not the Nadal indicated by Chouet, is 2 years older than it really is, from an era in which, amongst other things, Chouet had already been fired.

And here's an il Giornale piece translated by the same person which makes a similar claim:

Chouet places Martino’s meetings with Jaques Nadal, a French agent in Brussels, at the end of July 2002 in order to try and place SISMI’s monitoring of Martino’s movements prior to the emergence of the letters in October 2002. This is totally false. Mr Chouet was ‘retired’ at the beginning of July (not at the end of the summer as La Repubblica claim) and thus was not operative and thus is not in a position to know. But there’s more: Martino’s meetings in Brussels and Luxemburg are documented with date and time, they are later than 2002, they are from 2004 and are amply documented in over 200 photographs and 3 hours of video. They all refer to events that took place at the end of July 2004, not 2002: Martino passed through Brussels on his way to Luxembourg where he met, in a bookshop, the other person in the photographs (who Chouet claims is his man of trust, Jaques Nadal, but who in reality is another agent). Secretly assisting at the rendez-vous are 14 Sismi agents and 7 French spies. Documents, envelopes and words are exchanged. Everything is filmed, everything.

The next day the scene is repeated, this time in Brussels where Martino, in the Dgse’s secret base has been ‘at home’ for a long time. Here in 2003 he tried to ‘place’ the false documents in the British embassy – after consultations with his French handlers – and here at the end of July 2004 he met the journalists from the Sunday Times for the interview of the first of August. For the meeting everybody is there: 14 Italian spies, 12 French spies (including Nidal who organises the French operations from a bar), 4 photoreporters, 2 British journalists and last but not least, Rocco Martino.

A total of 33 people distributed in various parts of the airport. Too many people. The Italians get in touch with the French: «We’re here. So what now? Are we going to argue?». On the telephone the French deny being where they are but half a minute later they all disappear. Only the photoreporters are left, the Sismi agents initially think that it’s another Dgse countersurveillance team but in reality it’s only the paparazzi from the Sunday Times getting ready to immortalise «the Italian». The Sismi agents document everything, spies, aspiring spies and journalists.

Martino doesn’t notice anything, after the interview he tries to contact Nadal. However Chouet’s man (not the one in the photo) is no longer in the bar. He’s no longer in the embassy either, he’s disappeared. For six months nobody sees or hears from him.

Here's what's bizarre in the claims advanced by il Foglio and il Giornale on behalf of SISMI. A photo that SISMI originally provided in support of their allegation that Martino met with Nadal prior to 9/11/2001, which Chouet claimed was Nadal meeting with Martino in 2002, is subsequently characterized by SISMI as being that of a Martino meeting someone else in 2004! If anything, this significantly destroys SISMI's claim that Martino was peddling the Niger forgeries to DGSE prior to 2002. Another point - il Foglio points out in the same article that Chouet was fired in July 2002 (I'll get into that in Section 7 of this post) and uses that to question his narrative. But if Nadal was first asked to meet Martino in late June 2002 or prior to Chouet being fired in July 2002, he might still have met Martino as Chouet suggests. So, the mere fact that Chouet was fired sometime in July 2002 does not in any way prove that Nadal did not meet Martino in summer 2002.

Let's look at Chouet's claim from another perspective. Chouet claimed that DGSE asked Nadal [based in Brussels] to meet Martino and that Martino gave him a copy of the forgeries in an attempt to sell them to DGSE for the huge sum of $100,000. As I pointed out in Part 4, this appears to be broadly consistent with the testimony of "La Signora" who supplied Martino with the forged documents. This is what "La Signora" said in her interrogation session, as reported recently by il Giornale and translated as follows by de Gondi at European Tribune:

Martino always told me that if ever he got hold of an eventual contract between the two parties he would have gained a considerable sum from a certain "intelligence" company in Brussels to which he belonged.

Martino also made the following comment in his conversation with Elisabetta Burba - as reported by il Giornale and translated by de Gondi at European Tribune:

On another tape, Burba is together with a reporter from CBS who asks a lot of questions. Martino refers the facts he already told Burba, emphasising the obscure role of Nucera and letting on that many of the documents that he received from "la Signora" were passed on to a diplomat from a "tranquil" country. "One of my friends."

The tape here refers to a recording made by Martino during the Burba/Martino interview session with CBS. When did this interview occur? According to Josh Marshall:

By the late spring of 2004, 60 Minutes had interviewed Burba, the Italian journalist, Rocco Martino, the 'security consultant' who had attempted to sell her the documents in October 2002, and the SISMI asset (the female Italian national) who works in the Nigerien Embassy in Rome.

In other words, well before the July 2004 date mentioned by il Foglio and il Giornale, Martino had already told Burba that he had passed on the Niger forgeries to a "diplomat from a "tranquil" country". Martino was clearly referring to his contact in Brussels, meaning that he gave the documents to his Brussels contact prior to spring 2004.

Further, here's il Giornale's narration of Rocco Martino's alleged statements during his interrogation session on 9/17/04, translated by de Gondi:

After my discharge from the Carabinieri in 1983, my work consisted in gathering intelligence on input from the Egyptian secret services' resident in Rome, and I kept the SISMI agent by the name of Antonio Nucera informed of said activity, meeting him periodically until 1999 (...). I received very modest remuneration for my work with the Egyptian secret services. I wish to make it clear that, in addition to working for the Egyptian secret services, I also did jobs both in Italy and abroad as an outsider on Nucera's behalf. Another contact I had with the SISMI was (...), whom I met on several occasions up to 1997 or 1998. As of 1996, I embarked on a fairly regular collaboration with a French secret service; I had a reporting cell whose name I still have and am in a position to supply.
"The French were particularly interested in the Islamic fundamentalism phenomenon, and I supplied them with both written and oral intelligence.
I said not a word to the Egyptians or the SISMI about that work The French paid me a fairly stable sum, in the region of 1,500 to 2,000 euros a month plus expenses."
...
It was the woman, once again, who gave me the paperwork on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq. I took said documentation to by French secret services contact in Brussels. When it was ascertained that the documentation was phony, I demanded explanations of Mrs. (...), who, to tell the truth, was very evasive on that head.

As I explained in Section 4, Martino first met La Signora in February 2000 and he stopped meeting with her in May 2003 - which is when he complained about the documents being forgeries. So, by il Giornale's own reporting, Martino must have met his French contact prior to May 2003.

So, SISMI's mention of a summer 2004 meeting - and il Giornale's and il Foglio's repetition of that - is nothing more than smoke and mirrors and it has no real relevance to Chouet's claim that Martino met Nadal in summer 2002.

Bottom line: For some bizarre reason, a photo that SISMI originally provided in support of their allegation that Rocco Martino met with Jacques Nadal prior to 9/11/2001, which Chouet claimed was Nadal meeting with Martino in 2002, was subsequently characterized by SISMI as being that of a Martino meeting someone else in 2004! If anything, this significantly destroys SISMI's claim that Martino was peddling the Niger forgeries to DGSE prior to 2002. Also, if Nadal was first asked to meet Martino in late June 2002 or prior to Chouet being fired in July 2002, he might still have met Martino as Chouet suggests. So, the fact that Chouet was fired sometime in July 2002 does not prove that Nadal did not meet Martino in summer 2002. Overall, SISMI has not offered any evidence disputing Chouet's suggestion that Jacques Nadal met with Martino in summer 2002. If anything, existing news reports suggest that Martino did hand over the forgeries to DGSE sometime in 2002 (prior to Oct 2002) and it is entirely possible that he did so in summer 2002, to Jacques Nadal. So, as it stands today, this claim by Chouet is entirely plausible.


6. Did Rocco Martino work for DGSE?

UPDATE 10/16/06: This section was updated based on information from de Gondi at European Tribune. I have replaced the sections that have strike-throughs with modified text.

Of all the claims that Chouet made to La Repubblica, the one claim that has been the most suspect is the most worthy of criticism is the one where he says Martino did not work for DGSE. Here's the translation:

According to Sismi, Rocco Martino has been a Dgse agent at least since 2000. He had his office in Luxembourg with a covering firm, the Security Development Organization, Intelligence Office at no. 3, Rue Hoel, Sandweiler. So, Rocco Martino worked for Chouet, according to our [Italian] Intelligence. He handed the fake Niger documents to Dgse, as reported by Gianni Letta to Parliament, even before September 11th. To confirm the circumstance, Sismi gave the press a photo of Rocco Martino talking ‘in Brussels’ with a French agent, whose name was also given, Jacques Nadal.

“This story about Rocco Martino working for us is just a falsehood. The first time he knocked on our door was at the end of June 2002. He said he had important documents about an illicit trade of uranium from Niger to Iraq and asked one hundred thousand dollars for the stuff. Now, I’m too used to Arab souks to swallow bait like that. So I told my people to tell him we would look at the stuff first and then, if we were interested, we would discuss the price. This is how things went. Martino turned up at our Embassy in Luxembourg and asked to talk to some of our people. I asked Jaques Nadal, at the Brussels station, to meet the Italian in Luxembourg. Nadal met him at the end of June 2002”.

This is a claim that is clearly untrue I originally thought was untrue because Rocco Martino, by his own admission, had been a paid informant for French intelligence for many years. For example, here's il Giornale's narration of Rocco Martino's alleged statements during his interrogation session on 9/17/04, translated by de Gondi:

After my discharge from the Carabinieri in 1983, my work consisted in gathering intelligence on input from the Egyptian secret services' resident in Rome, and I kept the SISMI agent by the name of Antonio Nucera informed of said activity, meeting him periodically until 1999 (...). I received very modest remuneration for my work with the Egyptian secret services. I wish to make it clear that, in addition to working for the Egyptian secret services, I also did jobs both in Italy and abroad as an outsider on Nucera's behalf. Another contact I had with the SISMI was (...), whom I met on several occasions up to 1997 or 1998. As of 1996, I embarked on a fairly regular collaboration with a French secret service; I had a reporting cell whose name I still have and am in a position to supply.
"The French were particularly interested in the Islamic fundamentalism phenomenon, and I supplied them with both written and oral intelligence.
I said not a word to the Egyptians or the SISMI about that work The French paid me a fairly stable sum, in the region of 1,500 to 2,000 euros a month plus expenses."
...
It was the woman, once again, who gave me the paperwork on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq. I took said documentation to by French secret services contact in Brussels. When it was ascertained that the documentation was phony, I demanded explanations of Mrs. (...), who, to tell the truth, was very evasive on that head.

The extracts above don't specifically mention DGSE, but based on other newspaper reports I have seen, I originally assumed that it is it was fair to conclude that the French secret service that had hired him for his services was DGSE.

However, de Gondi informed me via email that in Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo's book "The Fear Bazaar" (released in Italy this year), Chouet told the authors that Martino worked for the Quai d'Orsay, French Foreign Affairs - and not for DGSE. Evidently, per de Gondi's translation of Chouet's claims reported in this book, the DGSE sometimes purchased info from Martino but did not have him on their payroll.

The question therefore is why would Chouet make a statement that would be easily exposed as false? I don't know the answer, but one possibility was that Chouet was trying to say that Martino was not peddling the forgeries under the orders of DGSE or because DGSE paid him to do it. That is, after all, what the Italian Government and SISMI have been falsely alleging. In trying to make an aggressive rebuttal to SISMI's false allegation, Chouet seems to have overstepped the line himself and made a clearly inaccurate claim that Martino was not working for DGSE at all.

Let me add that it is quite apparent from the news reports to date that Martino was not peddling the forgeries because DGSE asked him to. He got the documents from a SISMI-affiliated individual in the Niger embassy, and he tried to sell the documents to the French (who rejected them as fakes) - hardly the act of someone being paid by the French to sell the documents to others! If anything, what we know about Martino's actions raise the following interesting questions (in my view):

Did Martino ever try to sell the Niger dossier to the Italians? If so when? If not, why not?

How is it that every major Western intelligence agency knew about the forgeries - but not SISMI which (falsely) claims ignorance? After all, Martino has been alleged to have made attempts to sell the dossier to the U.S., to the U.K., to France and to Germany, not to mention Panorama magazine. Why would he not try to sell it to SISMI then, if SISMI had nothing to do with the forgeries?

Is there any report of Martino trying to sell the documents to SISMI?
(None as far as I know. That's telling in itself - although we don't need that information to prove that SISMI was involved in mainstreaming the forgeries.)

Bottom line: This denial by Chouet is a black mark on his credibility, but it is not fatal because most of his other statements - key observations - have been backed up by others or appear plausible. It appears that Chouet's credibility largely remains intact. There is no evidence to date that Martino was on DGSE's payroll.


7. Chouet's history

One of the other mode of attacks on Chouet is that he has a checkered past. For example, here is the il Foglio piece translated by parnasokan at the Free Republic:

Yesterday D’Avanzo and Bonini, the leaders of the Nigergate assault, introduced to their readers without explaining who he really was an ex official of the French Secret Services, Alain Chouet. The individual in question was fired in July 2002 and publicly accused (Le Parisien, 12 July 2002) of having “in the context of internal strugles between the left and the right investigated the President of the Republic, thus damaging the good health and work of a strategic service”.

And here's an il Giornale piece translated by the same person:

The problem is that the source, Alain Chouet, isn’t just an ex Dgse officer (the French service who paid Rocco Martino, the postman of the forgeries), but is also one of the two officials (the other is Gilbert Flam) who found themselves at the centre of the scandal surrounding the plot against Chirac, a plot ordered by the «deviated» French services. The French Presidents private life was studied in detail by the service in order to favour the left wing of Lionel Jospin. An insignificant detail for La Repubblica who presenting Chouet as an immaculate figure ommited all detail other than the fact that the gentleman «who left the service at the end of the summer of 2002 following internal disputes and the reorganisation ordered by Chirac». Mr. Chouet is a source to be handled with care, far from being a fountain of truth Chouet belongs to, as Sismi point out, a long list of «ex» one thing or another who «without any title talk with very little seriousness about serious things».

Well, source credibility is important, but folks, people living in glass houses should not be throwing stones. The Berlusconi administration is one of the most corrupt administrations in the Western hemisphere. SISMI had a direct role in enabling the Niger forgeries, there is evidence that they deliberately mainstreamed the forgeries and played a role in fabricating some information not contained in the forgeries. They've long denied having anything to do with the forgeries when in fact the opposite has been the case. I could go on and on. On top of all this, many key aspects of Chouet's story have been backed up by a former CIA official no less (not to mention a French Government official). So, let's stick to the facts here, shall we? Chouet may have some skeletons in his closet, but if we're talking about skeletons in general, SISMI and its boss have far far more and have no credibility whatsoever. So, why don't we focus on the facts of the case?


8. Conclusions

In this post, I've taken a detailed look at Alain Chouet's claims and his credibility. One of his statements appears to be false on the face of it - the claim that Rocco Martino did not work for DGSE (see Sec. 6 for an update). Most of his important claims have been independently validated by other sources (especially a former CIA officer and a current French Government official). Some claims appear to be highly plausible, even though there is no independent validation for them to-date. One claim in particular relates directly to the objective of this ongoing series: Chouet's claim about the CIA having sent some of the Niger forgeries to DGSE in 2002. It is unclear if other sources have validated this, but the detail offered by Chouet and some of the observations I have made in previous parts of this series, indicate that this claim is also plausible. Other details offered by Chouet have been challenged by Berlusoni-friendly Italian media outlets, but the challenges are shown to be without merit.

Overall, Chouet's narrative appears to be highly believable and important parts have been validated independently. He should have been more careful about denying that Rocco Martino ever worked for DGSE and he should step forward to correct the record on that front.

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