"Catapulting the propaganda" (Italian edition)
Close followers of the Nigergate saga may remember this article (link to Free Republic translation of the article, emphasis mine throughout this post):
Italy blames France for Niger uranium claim
Libero | 08/09/2004 | Renato Farina
Renato Farina is a deputy editor at a small right-wing newspaper in Italy called Libero. The article above was one of the several downright misleading pieces put out by some of the right-wing Italian press to deflect attention away from the role of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI in the creation and mainstreaming of the Niger forgeries (here's another one of Farina's articles translated at the Free Repubic).
If you have been reading my work or that of journalists like Laura Rozen or the La Repubblica journalists, you'd have a much more accurate picture of who was really to blame for the Niger forgeries. For example, I have reported that one or more individuals in SISMI must have played a role in deliberately altering or removing fake information in the Niger forgeries before the junk was passed on the CIA. I have also shown that one or more individuals in SISMI must have played a role in fabricating at least some of the fake Niger uranium information - very likely the fake Iraq-Niger uranium accord itself. Laura Rozen has reported that some SISMI operatives were involved in the creation of the Niger forgeries. It is also well known that SISMI-affiliated individuals were part of the Niger forgery cabal. Despite all of this evidence (barely covered by the U.S. media), the former Berlusconi (Italian) Government and SISMI kept issuing laughable denials about the role of SISMI in the forgeries caper -- and their propaganda organs (some of the Italian right-wing media "reporters") kept trying to deflect attention to the French to sustain the SISMI denials. (The pushback was strong enough for at least one respected (British) reporter to fall hook, line and sinker for the whole nonsense - to the point of even appearing dangerously unintelligent.)
What does this have to do with Renato Farina?
As I mentioned in my post yesterday there have been major developments in Italy this past week revealing SISMI's complicity, with the CIA, in the kidnapping/rendition of radical cleric Abu Omar. These developments prove beyond any doubt that SISMI's long-standing denials on reports of their complicity were completely false (no surprise there). But, as importantly, Laura Rozen points out:
I can understand just enough of this to see that Repubblica's Giuseppe d'Avanzo makes a case that Sismi under Pollari has become something like a criminal enterprise...
What intrigues me is the evidence d'Avanzo lays out here that Libero's Renato Farina, Sismi code-name Betulla -- "birch tree" -- was wittingly used as part of a full fledged Sismi disinformation operation, complete with a secret Sismi rented facility at Rome's 230 via Nazionale for that purpose, under the control of Sismi's number two official arrested yesterday, Marco Mancini.
Amazing and distracting as those details are, the larger potential implication of this arrangement is important and shouldn't be lost: the official cover story for the Italian government -- one put forward by Sismi, the Berlusconi government and seemingly accepted by the Italian parliamentary services oversight committee -- that the Niger forgeries middleman, ex Sismi agent Rocco Martino, was under the control and run by the French at the time of the forgeries caper, was first promoted by a "journalist" -- Renato Farina -- who the Milan magistrates now have wiretap evidence agreed to help Sismi put out disinformation on the Abu Omar case. The extent of Farina's alleged disinformation operations for Sismi is a matter now under investigation.
If I am reading this right, it looks like Libero deputy editor Renato Farina -- Sismi codename Betulla, "birch tree" -- did take about $10,000 dollars in Euro payment from Sismi. As Repubblica's Carlo Bonini goes through the bank deposit receipts to Betulla (and don't trust my translation too much), he comments, "the vice director of Libero does not do this work for free." The receipts were seized by Italy's Digos in a search earlier this week of an address at Rome's 230 via Nazionale, the mysterious apartment rented by the Sismi director's press advisor Pio Pompa for disinformation and domestic spying operations.
Given some of Farina's other reporting, the extent of his relationship with Sismi is fascinating.
Additionally Farina seems to have misled the magistrates. As this translation of a La Repubblica article by Henry Farrell points out:
[Mancino] reported to Pollari on May 23 that Betulla [the Sismi code name for Libero deputy director Renato Farina] had gone to Milan to be interviewed by the magistrates Monarici and Spataro who were working on the Abu Omar case.
The testimony of “Betulla” to the magistrates provoked hilarity - Betulla pretended not to know who Abu Omar was. Pompa received a written account of the meeting, as well as something from the editor of Libero, Claudio Antonelli. By May 24, the two pieces of paper were in Via Nazionale.
Initially, the Libero editors denied any "wrongdoing". Tracy Wilkinson reported this in the Los Angeles Times (an article that bizarrely appeared in the Business section of the LAT):
Among other elements of the case, prosecutors are investigating whether SISMI used friendly journalists to spy on unfriendly magistrates. Reporters with Libero, a small right-wing newspaper in northern Italy, are suspected of setting up interviews with the lead prosecutor in the abduction case, Armando Spataro, to inquire about what he had learned, and then passing the information to SISMI agents.
One of the Libero journalists, Claudio Antonelli, was interrogated by prosecutors in Milan for four hours Thursday, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Editors for the paper have denied wrongdoing. Its offices were raided Wednesday by police working for the prosecutors.
La Stampa. Libero deputy director, Renato Farina: "I confess, I gave a hand to Sismi." But it wasn't quite philanthropy. As Repubblica has reported, in Milan prosecutors' hands are the receipts for the payments from Sismi Farina -- a.k.a. "Fonte Betulla" (birch tree) -- accepted for his covert hand to Italy's military intelligence organization in its efforts to keep tabs on the Milan prosecutor's investigation into the Abu Omar rendition.
What does this mean about Farina's other journalism work? How extensive or longstanding was his arrangement with Sismi? And what was Sismi under Pollari so eager to protect that it needed to employ such tactics, which are illegal in Italy? Was it only Sismi's apparent participation in the Abu Omar rendition? Or other matters?
Here's the top of Farina's open letter on the front page of his paper Libero. More here and here. If I understand half of them, the transcripts in the latter piece [also see this post - eRiposte] seem pretty damning to Sismi director Nicolo Pollari, in terms of documentary evidence of his (Pollari's) being directly involved in the alleged cover up/obstruction of justice, including in the use of Libero's Farina as a paid spy on Milan prosecutor Spataro.
This brings us back to the starting point of this article.
Was SISMI paying friendly "reporters" to push out propaganda on their behalf in the Niger forgeries story? They were clearly using friendly reporters for false propaganda - but were there payments also made? If SISMI did have other "reporter"-spies out there, who are they? After all, La Repubblica's Giuseppe D'Avanzo points out that SISMI was obsessed about pushing disinformation on the forgeries matter as well:
In a wardrobe, a little box with the “Nigergate dossier” peeps out. For more than one year, government communiques have claimed that the stories in La Repubblica were false ... The little box demonstrates that SISMI has been obsessed with this affair in which it is embroiled hand and foot, and from which it doesn’t know how to extract itself. This too was a “task” commissioned by the Director. Just like the campaign of attack on La Repubblica that Pompa, as part of his job, conducted and supervised through “friendly” journalists at the Giornale, at Unita, at Libero, at Riformista, at Panorama. All ground out by the disinformation factory at Via Nazionale 230.
Time will tell what more emerges from the ongoing investigation. But I'll say this. It doesn't matter which side of the Atlantic you are on - reality is always stranger than fiction with todays' Bush- and Berlusconi-style "conservatives" (whether in the Government or in the media).