Monday :: Apr 17, 2006

Uranium from Africa and the Niger forgeries: More on the Alleged French Connection, Part 2 - The Niger Forgeries

by eriposte

This is the second part of my response to London Times reporter Michael Smith's latest article which discusses both the Niger forgeries, as well as the role of the French in being a source of intel for the British uranium claim (see Part 1). Smith also has two blog posts on the recent findings. (I applaud Smith for discussing his story in his blog, allowing comments in response and responding in detail to the comments. This is the kind of approach I would like to see all reporters adopt.) In Part 1, I discussed the alleged new evidence (a "letter") that Smith reported was the basis of the British uranium claim and showed how many of the claims made regarding that "evidence" were incorrect and that "letter" was also a forgery. In this part, I discuss Smith's reporting and comments on the Niger forgeries. (Note that all emphasis in quoted portions is mine). [NOTE added on 4/18/06: Our own reader FMJ has posted his own response to Smith's article at European Tribune].

1. Summary

2. Introduction

3. Who forged the fake Niger dossier and who helped in the forgery?

3.1 Was there a SISMI role?

3.2 Was there a DGSE role?

4. SISMI's 2001/2002 reports to the CIA and SISMI denials on the forgeries

5. The fake uranium "accord"

6. More than one version of the same forgeries

APPENDIX 1: The source(s) of Smith's article

1. Summary

In this post I examine the recent reporting and commentary by London Times reporter Michael Smith on the issue of the Niger forgeries. Smith's narrative is unfortunately in the direction of conspiracy-theories on French involvement, with little or no credible evidence to support it. In contrast, it ignores significant published material that provides an open and shut case for SISMI involvement in the creation of the forgeries and dissemination of contents traceable back to the forgeries in a manner that masked the most obviously fake information in those documents.

2. Introduction

Smith's article identifies two employees at the Nigerien embassy in Rome as being the forgers of the infamous Niger dossier:

According to the sources, an official investigation believes Adam Maiga Zakariaou, the consul, and Laura Montini, the ambassador’s assistant, known as La Signora, forged the papers for money.

Perhaps this information is new to London Times readers, but pretty much all of the information offered in Smith's article about the origin of the Niger forgeries is not new to us on this side of the Atlantic. For example, the fact that the two individuals cited by Smith played a role in forging the documents was reported last year (English summary here) by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo of the Italian paper La Repubblica. The fact that Laura Montini was La Signora's real name was reported by the Wall Street Journal in late February 2006. Additionally, the Italian paper il Giornale reported on transcripts from the Italian investigations in February 2006 - also revealing some (alleged) details on the role played by La Signora, and on the meetings between SISMI's Antonio Nucera, the forgery-peddler Rocco Martino (associated with DGSE and with SISMI at different times) and La Signora (a SISMI plant inside the embassy). However, this is not the whole story.

One of the main concerns I have with Smith's article is that a considerable amount of crucial information that is already known about the origin and dissemination of the forgeries is completely missing from the article. As a result it skews in a manner very favorable to the Italian intelligence agency SISMI (also see Appendix 1 on this), while leaving out a lot of information that implicates SISMI in this whole affair. In the rest of this post I will use some examples to illustrate this and provide a better picture of what really happened (to the extent of what is known publicly).

[P.S. In his second blog post, Smith says:

The revelations in today’s Sunday Times that two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome forged documents apparently proving Niger was selling uranium to Iraq are unlikely to end the conspiracy theories that swirl around the Niger Affair, and not just because the investigation into the Plamegate affair will run and run. There are still a number of minor mysteries that require further investigation, particularly two burglaries in Rome, one at the Niger embassy over the 2001 New Year’s holiday and one at the home of the Niger consul on January 31, 2001. Both break-ins baffled the Italian police, not least because the burglar didn’t seem to be interested in taking any money.

Past reports of these burglaries have noted that the burglars allegedly stole documents and embassy stamps (which might have come in handy in forging some documents) and this was apparently not recognized back then. One point that I have not seen addressed in any reporting to-date, then, is this: if Montini (at the Niger embassy) and Zakariaou (the Niger counsel) were the forgers, why they would need to orchestrate break-ins to their own embassy and Zakariaou's home to get access to materials that they already had access to (and which they could have easily copied without anyone knowing)? This is certainly strange, as some readers have also pointed out in the last few months.]

3. Who forged the fake Niger dossier and who helped in the forgery?

3.1 Was there a SISMI role?

The fact that a SISMI-affiliated cabal (La Signora aka Laura Montini - a SISMI asset in Rome's Niger embassy, Rocco Martino - a former SISMI spy who was also allegedly on France's DGSE's payroll, Antonio Nucera - a SISMI colonel and retired former deputy-chief of SISMI's counterproliferation division, and Adam Maiga Zakariaou - a Nigerien embassy official) played some role in facilitating, creating and/or disseminating the forgeries has been reported last year. More recently, Laura Rozen reported in The American Prospect that additional individuals in SISMI played a role in the creation of the forgeries and she also discussed a possible motivation for their involvement:

Until now, press reports have indicated that La Signora concocted these documents in the Niger embassy with the help of an official from Niger. But new evidence suggests she got them from officers within SISMI itself.

The Prospect has independently confirmed that [forgeries middleman Rocco] Martino identified two other SISMI agents, along with [SISMI colonel Antonio] Nucera, who were involved in the forgery scheme from the beginning. According to a source who checked out the names Martino provided with SISMI contacts, the second agent “was a major in the [Italian] Army, and he is now a SISMI branch chief,” and the third was brought to SISMI from the Guardia di Finanzia [fiscal police] by SISMI director Nicolo Pollari. “Because of this, he can do no wrong,” this source said. Nucera and a second SISMI official involved in the Niger scheme work in SISMI’s eighth directorate on weapons-of-mass-destruction counterintelligence, while the third SISMI official works in the agency’s first directorate.

Why did the three intelligence agents, led by Nucera, introduce the intelligence peddler Martino to their Niger informant? In 2003, as Joshua Marshall has noted, the inspectors general of the CIA and the State Department suggested a theory in their Joint Report on the Alleged Iraqi Attempts to Procure Uranium from Niger. According to that report, SISMI officers allegedly approached the CIA Rome station chief to propose a counterintelligence operation against the suspected chief of Iraqi intelligence in Rome. They apparently meant to sting him with forgeries suggesting uranium traffic.

A retired senior U.S. intelligence official told the Prospect he was briefed on SISMI’s suggested sting at the time: “They were trying to get him [the suspected Iraqi spy] recalled to Iraq.” The CIA declined to be involved.

Further, Smith does not discuss this but La Signora also gave her SISMI handler the secret code book of the Niger embassy (which would have enabled SISMI to decode the contents of documents involving Niger and the embassy). According to il Giornale's reporting, this is one of the things she allegedly told the Italian investigators:

I limited myself to supplying Martino with copies of Embassy documents in which there were traces of Niger agreements, in particular with Iraq. I recall that I passed him a rough draft of an agreement with China and maybe with Korea pertinent to a possible uranium supply. I want to add that I furnished a copy of the secret code book of the Niger Embassy to Antonio Nucera at the time of my collaboration with the SISMI, I believe around 1995-96 (...). I worked with Nucera until 1997-98, then followed by a colleague of his, always of the SISMI, whose name was (...), with whom I collaborated until 1998-99. This colleague of his did not know of my relation with Martino."

The significance of the code book was explained by Bonini and D'Avanzo of La Repubblica last year (translated by Nur Al-Cubicle):

In fabricating the dossier, stale documents, such as code books, are extracted from the SISMI's division archives (where Nucera serves as deputy chief of section). To this are added the sheets of stolen letterhead that are used to fabricate letters, contracts and a memorandum of understanding between the Government of Niger and Iraq “concerning the supply of uranium on 5 and 6 July 2000 in Niamey”.

Now, it is unclear whether a fake memorandum (the actual "accord") was forged by this group, especially since it has not publicly surfaced to date (more on that in Section 5). But what is obvious is that SISMI was in possession of code books that could have come in useful in the forgeries.

Despite all of this information previously known, Smith's reporting is largely silent about the possibility of SISMI's involvement in the creation of the forgeries. There's much more evidence implicating SISMI of course, as we shall see later in this post.

3.2 Was there a DGSE role?

Smith unfortunately goes way off the cliff with his speculations on the possible involvement of the French in creating the forgeries. In his second blog post, Smith says:

...Certainly the Italian authorities appear to think so, briefing darkly to their relatively few friends in the Italian press that the French are deliberately muddying the waters, implicating Italian intelligence officers in the affair to draw attention away from the fact that it was their agent, Rocco Martino, who put the documents into circulation in the first place. Martino was a French spy, run by the French secret service station in Brussels and paid a retainer of between 1,500 and 2,000 Euros a month for his services. If any intelligence service was responsible for the appearance of the forged Niger documents, so the argument goes, it was the French intelligence service, the DGSE.

I have always found the “blame the French argument” suspicious. It has been put to me on a number of occasions and I have never used it, or indeed believed it. Certainly the break-ins took place long before any of the controversy over Iraqi WMD. Bush was barely in office in January 2001. But my research into the Niger affair has uncovered a number of strange facts that suggest there may be more to the French involvement in the affair than I previously believed.

Let's pause for a moment to respond to these statements - especially the one in bold, attributed to the Italians. The framing used by Smith unfortunately is just the right framing that the Italian government desires - "responsible". This is one of those words eminently suited to abuse because it could mean a whole lot of things to different people due to its imprecision. As I've discussed before in a long post examining many of the claims and counter-claims on the forgeries:

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.)

Claims that Rocco Martino created or disseminated the forgeries on behalf of the French Government are not borne out by the facts, especially considering the revelation that French intelligence (DGSE) warned the CIA off the Niger uranium claims on multiple occasions, especially because they resembled the information found in the forgeries that the French had also obtained from Martino and immediately debunked. (See Part 1 of this post for additional discussion on the alleged 'separate' French "evidence" for the uranium claim). In fact, Smith himself says in his article that:

Martino passed the contract to his French handlers, but they spotted it was a fake and refused to pay.

So, it makes no sense to imply that the French were "responsible", that they somehow paid Martino money to forge or distribute these documents that they dismissed immediately as fakes, as soon as Martino tried to sell it to them.

But there's an even more important part of the story that Smith did not address in his article. Despite SISMI's denials that they did not create or disseminate the Martino forgeries, one fact is inescapable. It has always been quite obvious that Italian intelligence was behind the CIA's Niger uranium reports in late 2001 and early 2002, which in turn were based on contents in the Niger forgeries (as the CIA confirmed). So, of all the intelligence agencies involved in this affair, the only one that sends out the strongest denials on the forgeries happens to be the one that transmitted selectively chosen information to the CIA that originated in or traced back to the forgeries! Which obviously raises the following questions:

Why was it that claims that were ultimately derived from the Niger forgeries - which the French identified as fakes rather quickly (as Smith himself reports) - easily made it into Italian intelligence reports that were sent to the CIA in 2001 and 2002?

How it is that a set of forgeries that were created and disseminated by a cabal - at least three of whose members (and likely more) had a current or previous SISMI connection - somehow points in the direction of the French, who specifically rejected the documents as forgeries immediately after being shown copies of them?

Smith's blog posts unfortunately propagate the bizarre narrative against the French. In the following sections, I discuss some of his other commentary on this and use that to shed more light on where the reality lies.

4. SISMI's 2001/2002 reports to the CIA and SISMI denials on the forgeries

Here is a relevant exchange between a commenter and Smith on one of his blog posts (his response starts with "Mick says"; emphasis is always mine, as I mentioned at the top of this post):

5) How did Sismi receive the forgeries as early as the late fall of 2001 to transmit transcripts of them to the Americans (CIA) as they did in full in February 2002? From where did SISMI receive the forgeries?

[Mick says: First of all you are making an assumption that the intelligence the Italians passed to the Americans actually came from the documents. They didnt have documents and they made it clear to the CIA that this was the case, and I have that from two completely different sources in two completely different countries. So where have the Italians got this from? I don't know for sure but the information clearly matches the fake documents so how to explain it?

We can only speculate. My guess is that Martino is desperately trying to make some money out of his documents which he now knows are fake, the French told him so in October 2000. He's lost his nice little earner out of the Niger embassy and he needs to make some money. By now its the beginning of 2002 and he knows there is a market in information on Iraq. The press is full of talk about US intentions to invade Iraq. So he takes the documents to the Italians to try to sell the info to them. He won't let them have the documents themselves because he knows if he does they'll say the same thing as the French. He just lets whoever he meets from SISMI copy out the detail of the contract but no more. Which is why the Italians have this detail that they just arent sure about and pass it on. But this is only speculation. I dont know for sure that the Italian intelligence was the same as the stuff in the forged documents, it certainly looks like it though.]

While I applaud Smith for being candid and responding to reader questions, there are unfortunately a number of problems with his speculations here.

(a) Smith's claim that the "French told [Martino] October 2000" that the documents he was peddling were fakes is surprising to say the least. The last time I heard a similar claim was from an author at a right-wing website and the claim was unsupported by the facts. Former DGSE Vice-Director Alain Chouet said that they first received the forgeries from Martino in summer 2002 and that was when they dismissed them as fakes. Other news reports also suggest or indicate that it was only in 2002 that Martino was peddling the documents to the French. Unless Smith offers credible evidence backing up his claim, I consider this to be an unsupported speculation.

(b) A second problem is that the Italians started sending allegations to the US that are traceable to the forgeries since September or October 2001, not 2002 like Smith speculates.

(c) That aside, Smith's guess is that Martino may have met with someone in SISMI to peddle the forgeries (something SISMI has never acknowledged). This is quite possible - although, given that La Signora was a SISMI asset, and considering SISMI mentioned her as a credible ("creditable"?) source of the information being sent to the CIA, it is quite likely that SISMI did not need Martino for this information. They may have gotten it directly from La Signora or other SISMI operatives involved in the forgery cabal. (Surprisingly, Smith doesn't question why SISMI did not dismiss Martino's documents as fakes when just about everyone else, including the French and the CIA station chief in Rome, dismissed them as fakes very quickly). He also gets another part of his timeline wrong when he says in response to another comment, in his second blog post, that:

What I also said, and this is new, was that some time in 2002, the French obtained another document - not from Martino, his arrangement with Montini was long dead by now.

In fact, the revelations by il Giornale from the Italian investigations that appear to be the basis of Smith's article, indicate that Martino's last meeting with Montini was in May 2003.

(d) More importantly, Smith says: "I dont know for sure that the Italian intelligence was the same as the stuff in the forged documents, it certainly looks like it though". This indicates that Smith is not aware of the previously published material (most of it here but some of it also in La Repubblica) that dealt with this very issue and revealed that while the Italian information passed on to the CIA was very close to what was in the forgeries, there were some very important differences, with very critical implications. In fact, anyone who raises the following question would notice that something was amiss in what SISMI was sending to the CIA:

Since the Niger forgeries were the basis of the original CIA reports, why is it that the obviously faked names and dates in the Niger dossier are not mentioned in any of those reports? Why is it that the original CIA reports appear to mention only material that couldn't be summarily dismissed as fake?

After all, despite the obvious inconsistencies in names and dates in the forgeries and the fact that the CIA's intel reports were based on claims in the Niger forgeries, the CIA and INR stood behind this blanket statement in the SSCI report:

There were no obvious inconsistencies in the names of officials mentioned or the dates of the transactions in any of the three reports. [page 47]

The answer to this apparent conundrum is simple. As I inferred in my investigation at The Left Coaster, the available data provides credible evidence that someone inside SISMI must have been involved in the altering or masking of some of the fake information extracted from the forgeries in order to "mainstream" them. Specifically, the most obviously fake information in the forgeries was likely hidden or altered by someone in SISMI before the remaining information was transmitted to the CIA. Subsequent to my report, the Italian paper La Repubblica (that cited my findings) stated that at least one of the documents was altered allegedly by someone at SISMI before the information was transferred to the CIA station chief in Rome in late 2001, confirming what I had inferred from my analysis. Additional analysis that I published using a June 2003 IAEA letter, established that at least two of the key forgeries that were distributed to the U.S. by Elisabetta Burba in Oct 2002 did not actually have any "corrections" or "deletions" associated with them. This further confirms that someone at SISMI must have made some "corrections" or "deletions" on the extracts from the forgeries that they sent to the CIA in late 2001/early 2002 to make the information look "credible". As I said in my post, even if someone claims that the Niger forgery cabal had "fixed" the obviously fake information in the Niger dossier first (why would they unless they got some "feedback"?), that would have to have occurred in the late 2001 time frame (which is when SISMI sent their first Niger uranium "report" to the CIA). However, the Niger dossier was received by Panorama reporter Elisabetta Burba roughly one year later - in October 2002 and then handed over to the U.S. Since the October 2002 dossier contained the obviously fake information that was missing in the CIA intel reports (as attested to by the IAEA letter), it is an easy conclusion that the dossier was not edited back in 2001 or even as of Oct 2002, to remove some of the fake information. In other words, someone in SISMI must have altered or masked the obviously fake information derived from the forgeries before passing the remaining information to the CIA (or to other colleagues within SISMI) - without actually sending them the forgeries as-is.

(e) In a related context, Smith also had this exchange with the same commenter in his first blog post:

1) It's hard to fathom that a Niger diplomat would get such stupid things wrong with the Niger forgeries like who was the Nigerien foreign minister when. Can you honestly imagine a British diplomat not knowing if he worked mistaking Douglas Hurd for Jack Straw? It's the kind of mistake a diplomat working in that system wouldn't make, the way one wouldn't forget who one's boss was.

[Mick says: No but if you were using copies of genuine old documents and replacing the key facts like the date, who the contract was between and how much you were supplying to make it look like it was a new contract, which is what Montini allegedly told the investigation they were doing, you might well leave in bits that were out of date, like the name of the minister, an old crest and an outdated constitution. Isnt that more likely than that a forger would think "who was the foreign minister of Niger, oh let's put this one from 1998-1999 in"? Neither of the forgers could ever have thought that their documents would ever receive this much attention.]

There is an important clue here that Smith missed, as I discussed above. The forgeries had wrong names and dates but these were conspicuously missing in the SISMI reports to the CIA that were based on those forgeries. For example, one of the forgeries had the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou when the correct name should have been Nassirou Sabo. The Habibou forgery was passed on to Burba and from there to the US and IAEA. Yet, when SISMI reported the information traceable to this forgery to the CIA, they reported the name Nassirou Sabo. In other words, someone at SISMI "fixed" the error to make the transmitted information seem credible. This is just one of several examples where fake information was likely masked by SISMI - and which Smith hasn't caught on to.

5. The fake uranium "accord"

In the context of the fake uranium sale accord (or "memorandum"), here is a comment by Smith in his second blog post, in response to another reader question:

The SIC report talks of a "verbatim text" of the deal between Iraq and Niger for 500 tons. Sadly there are two lines redacted before this reference and the bulk of a line after it. Can you get into them? So where have the Italians got this from? I don't know for sure but the information clearly matches the fake documents so how to explain it?

I am curious if Smith is claiming that the "verbatim text" of the uranium accord received by the CIA in February 2002 from SISMI has a counterpart document in the Niger dossier. The fact is that no Niger forgery has surfaced to date that comprises the actual "accord" itself; only letters and other documents purported to be written in connection with the alleged "accord" have surfaced. Elisabetta Burba herself never received a forgery that corresponded to the "accord". What is rather interesting in this context is a cryptic footnote in the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission report, which allowed me to deduce that there was also a forgery (or forgeries) among what SISMI sent to the CIA, which was not part of the forged Niger dossier. As I remarked previously, this forgery could possibly be the actual Iraq-Niger uranium "accord" itself; I had therefore urged reporters to investigate whether the "accord" (or some other fake document) was directly forged by SISMI itself in order to give the whole Niger uranium claim more "credibility".

Given all this, it is clearly disappointing that Smith says the following in another comment in his blog post:

But despite their past reputation, SISMI has been completely reformed in recent years and that is not my view that is the view of Luigi Malabarba, a communist member of the Italian parliamentary oversight body, who is scarcely a friend of Berlusconi and was an ardent opponent of the Iraq War. He backs SISMI over this and says SISMI told the oversight commitee in November 2002 that there was no conclusive evidence of a deal between Iraq and Niger. So SISMI was hardly trying to hype the contract up as has been suggested.

This is a very misleading claim. Smith is juxtaposing what someone in Italy may have said after October 2002, with what SISMI was doing in late 2001 and early 2002. Even if the Italian government did not "hype up" the contract in late 2002, and took steps to communicate the dubiousness of the claims, this does not mean that SISMI was not involved in knowingly peddling fake claims to the CIA in late 2001 and early 2002. All the facts laid out in this post (and previous work) make it obvious that there was some degree of SISMI complicity in "mainstreaming" the forgeries and in the creation of one or more forged documents.

6. More than one version of the same forgeries

In his second blog post, Smith says:

Then there is the fact that some of the alleged Martino documents published in the Italian press appear to be different in a number of respects to the ones that were passed to the US embassy in Rome and eventually to the International Atomic Energy Authority which denounced them as fakes. How could this be? It makes you wonder whether, with the intelligence market drying up for the freelance peddlers of information, they have found an alternative market among elements of the Italian press.

The fact that there is more than one version of the same forgeries has been known for sometime. For example, De Gondi at European Tribune noted sometime back how the version of a Niger uranium forgery published by Panorama magazine had a receipt stamp that was earlier than the sent date of the alleged letter. However, as De Gondi pointed out, the receipt stamp was conspicuously missing in the version of the same forgery published by La Repubblica. Another example is noted at the Cryptome website about a fake letter dated July 1999 describing a year 2000 accord. In this case, the La Repubblica version has the 1999 sent date, but the Panorama version showed the year hand-corrected to 2000 (and I mentioned this in my series last year). So, in this case, the version passed on to the U.S. and IAEA would have had the hand-correction. These discrepancies obviously need to be investigated.

That said, we already have some major clues that I discussed in Section 4 and Section 5. For instance, many of the glaring errors in the forgeries passed on by Martino to Burba were missing in the selective transcripts of the same material sent to the U.S. by SISMI in late 2001 and early 2002. An analysis of these differences indicates that SISMI was sending "corrected" information to the CIA to mask the fact that the source information was fake/forged. Given that, is it not logical to inquire whether some of these modified documents in the Italian press might have been obtained through Italian sources within SISMI?

Smith, instead, offers this:

An investigation of the various documents that appeared in the Italian press has apparently found that a number of them were faxed from French fax numbers, others were tracked in emails sent via a French server.

It is indeed quite puzzling how all the shenanigans easily traceable back to SISMI conveniently point to the French again and again, isn't it? This claim from Smith on the fax numbers is also rather misleading. After all, it is well known (and Smith himself acknowledges it) that the French dismissed Martino's documents as fakes soon after receiving copies of them. They were not the ones who circulated the claims traceable back to the forgeries, to the CIA - it was SISMI who did that. Even more importantly, DGSE took it upon themselves to specifically warn the CIA off the uranium claim in very strong terms in early/mid 2002, especially after noticing those claims matched some of what they saw in the Martino forgeries they received in summer 2002. In contrast, SISMI was peddling their claims to the CIA until at least March 2002. So, rather than pointing this out, Smith indulges in SISMI-friendly conspiracy theories. The fact remains that it is quite possible that the French faxed over (or emailed) copies as examples of the forgeries they received - and that would be a perfectly harmless explanation for this claim from Smith.

Moreover, as De Gondi at European Tribune has previously pointed out:

Although a fax machine can be gamed to indicate any sender, it is not that easy to game the receiving machine as far as time and destination fax number is concerned, unless the forger had access to the receiving fax.

As he notes, at least one of the documents in the Martino dossier (which was likely authentic) was faxed to the Niger embassy in Rome:

Basically it means that on August 30, 2001, at a certain hour, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger sent a fax to a fax number, 0039063729013, that corresponds to the Niger Embassy in Rome.

It would not be surprising if other documents also have the Niger embassy's fax number in Rome (Italy). So, it is indeed disappointing that Smith uses some fax numbers to push conspiracy theories about French complicity when there is glaring evidence that SISMI had a much more direct role in this affair.

To top this all off, Smith says:

But another Italian journalist, Dina Nascetti of the Italian news magazine Expresso, has described how she was approached with the story of the faked documents and decided not to use it, passing the sources on to the La Repubblica journalists. She described the people who offered her the story as “non-Italian diplomatic sources”. That could scarcely describe Martino but it would describe his employers, the DGSE. Could it be that the DGSE was the source for the La Repubblica stories? Could it be that those stories about the French that I found so difficult to believe were right after all? Could it be that the French manufactured some of the documents as part of a disinformation campaign designed to deflect attention away from the fact that Martino’s pursuit of a copy of a contract showing Niger supplying Iraq with uranium led to the affair in the first place?

This last sentence doesn't make any sense whatsoever. How would the manufacturing some documents possibly help the French? This is absurd. Hypothetically, even if DGSE was trying to shift attention away from something Martino peddled (forgeries that were obtained via a SISMI-affiliated cabal) because of a fear that it might be linked by conspiracy theorists to the original French request for intel, how does it in any way help the French to themselves manufacture the kind of junk that DGSE dismissed as fakes when Martino peddled it to them? How does it help the French to be labeled the manufacturers of fakes when trying to distance themselves from charges that someone allegedly on their payroll may have consipred with some SISMI-affiliated individuals to manufacture fakes? We are way beyond conspiracy theorizing here.

APPENDIX 1: The source(s) of Smith's article

One thing that's somewhat surprising is that Smith doesn't say very clearly in his Sunday Times article if his story is based entirely on findings from an Italian "investigation". For example, the article starts by citing NATO sources and mentions the "investigation" in that context and initially led me to believe that this is a NATO investigation that is being referred to:

TWO employees of the Niger embassy in Rome were responsible for the forgery of a notorious set of documents used to help justify the Iraq war, an official investigation has allegedly found.

According to Nato sources, the investigation has evidence that Niger’s consul and its ambassador’s personal assistant faked a contract to show Saddam Hussein had bought uranium ore from the impoverished west African country.
According to the sources, an official investigation believes Adam Maiga Zakariaou, the consul, and Laura Montini, the ambassador’s assistant, known as La Signora, forged the papers for money.

However, later in the article, Smith refers to an Italian inquiry:

“Nucera asked if I was interested in meeting a person who worked in an African embassy and who had been able to supply [Nucera with] documents and information, including the embassy’s cipher,” Martino told an investigating magistrate during an Italian inquiry.

“Martino told me that if he was able to obtain a copy of a contract then he would have earned a lot of money from an unspecified ‘intelligence’ organisation,” she told the magistrate.

He then goes back to citing NATO sources:

The lure of the money was apparently too much. “She was [the ambassador’s] trusted personal assistant. The consul Zakariaou . . . needed money. He would help her forge the documents,” the Nato sources claim.

Martino passed the contract to his French handlers, but they spotted it was a fake and refused to pay.

It would be beneficial if Smith clarified whether his reporting is based on findings from the Italian investigation or from independent findings reported by some kind of NATO investigation. It doesn't impact the factual information discussed here, but it does impact the credibility of Smith's sources, since the Italians have a vested interest in diverting attention away from the role of SISMI in this whole affair.

In fact, Raw Story claimed that:

According to Nato sources who spoke under condition of anonymity with the SUNDAY TIMES, an Italian investigation has fingered two employees of an embassy in Italy with forging the documents.

Interestingly, Raw Story's more detailed link just says "investigation" (without the mention that the NATO sources were speaking about the Italian investigation).

Josh Marshall says (based on the first of the two Raw Story links above):

Look closely. If this is an accurate representation of what the story will contain, it is about an Italian government investigation. That's all you need to know.

The Italian intelligence services were centrally involved in the clandestine distribution of the forgeries and in all likelihood the creation of the forgeries themselves. Everything the Italian government has done since then has been to impede any outside investigation into their role.

There's simply no reason to credit anything an Italian government investigation of this matter reveals...

Now, I don't know if I would go so far as to dismiss the findings of the Italian investigation entirely, but it is quite obvious that if Smith's article was based on Italian government "findings", then the credibility of what is being conveyed must be adjusted significantly downward accordingly. Anyway, regardless of who the source was, there are significant issues with Smith's story and commentary on his blog posts regarding the Niger forgeries and the rest of this examined those issues.

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