La Repubblica scoop

by Henry on October 25, 2005

As various bloggers have noted, the Italian paper La Repubblica seems to have a scoop on the sources of the famous forged Niger documents, and the role played by the Italian intelligence services. Laura Rozen has a summary article in the Prospect, but there’s some additional detail in the original article. For the benefit of non-Italian readers, I’ve done a quick translation of the relevant bits and put it below the fold. Two health warnings. First – this is a rough and ready translation – I’m not a professional, and there may well be a few inaccuracies (please point them out in comments if you spot them). Second, La Repubblica is, as Italian newspapers go, a trustworthy publication – but like all Italian newspapers, it’s surrounded by a swirl of politics and special interests. I’m obviously not in a position to attest to the veracity of its claims – but at the least, they’re very interesting.


For Niccolo Pollari, the director of SISMI, the rules of his job are unambiguous. He told La Repubblica, “I am the director of intelligence, and my only institutional interlocutor, after September 11 in Washington DC is the head of the CIA, George Tenet.” It’s obvious that I only talk with him …” But is it really true that our spies [barbefinte] have worked only with the CIA? Or have they also supported the parallel clandestine intelligence services created by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz with the “Iraq Group,” the Office for Special Plans of the Pentagon, and the office of the National Security Adviser, which were absolutely determined to find useful evidence for ‘regime change’ in Iraq?

It’s a fact that on the eve of the Iraq war, and under the supervision of the diplomatic advisor to the Foreign Ministry, Gianni Castellaneta (today ambassador to the USA), the director of SISMI organized his agenda in Washington with the staff of Condoleeza Rice, who was National Security Adviser to the White House at that time. La Repubblica is able to document this two track process between the government and Italian intelligence. At least one of these ‘barely official’ [molto poco istituzionali] meetings of Pollari’s was, according to secret service agents, the ‘creation of a system’ that would bring together government, intelligence and public affairs [informazione].

To summarize: Nicolo Pollari’s SISMI wanted to substantiate the [case for] the Iraqi acquisition of raw uranium to build a nuclear bomb. The game-plan was rather transparent. ‘Authentic’ documents relating to an attempted acquisition in Niger (old Italian intelligence from the 1980’s) were the dowry of the second-in-command of CISMI’s center in Rome (Antonio Nucera). They were bundled together with other fabricated documents … through a simulated burglary on the Nigerien embassy (from which they had gotten headed notepaper and seals). The documents were shown by Pollari’s men to CIA station agents, and at the same time, a SISMI ‘postman’ by the name of Rocco Martino was sent to Sir Richard Dearlove of MI6 in London.

turning to the second chapter of the Great Swindle, organized in Italy, to build the case that military intervention in Iraq was necessary. … the Italian report on uranium …

… The CIA analysts thought the first report ‘very limited’ and ‘without the necessary details.’ INR analysts in the Department of State assessed the information as ‘highly suspect.’ … The immediate impact on the American Intelligence community wasn’t very gratifying for Pollari … Gianni Castellaneta advised him to look in ‘other directions’ too, while the minister of Defence, Antonio Martino invited him to receive ‘an old friend of Italy’s.’ The American friend was Michael Ledeen, an old fox in the ‘parallel’ intelligence community in the US, who had been declared an undesirable person in our country [Italy] in the 1980’s [editorial note – I understand that this claim was contested when it was made by Sidney Blumenthal]. Ledeen was at Rome on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowiz to gather intelligence that would support military intervention in Iraq. A source at Forte Braschi told La Repubblica : “Pollari got a frosty reception from the CIA’s station head in Rome, Jeff Castelli, for this information on uranium. Castelli apparently let the matter drop [lascia cadere la storia]. Pollari got the hint and talked about it with Michael Ledeen.’ We don’t know what things brought Michael Ledeen to Washington. But at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convinced Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by the Italians had to be explored top to bottom. The vice-president, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence tells it, once again asked the CIA ‘very decisively’ to find out more about the ‘possible acquisition of Nigerien uranium.’ In this meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly said that this piece of intelligence was at the disposition of a “foreign service.”

… Forte Braschi says that “Pollari was incredibly cunning – he knew that it wasn’t enough to rely on the CIA to push the uranium story. It was necessary to work, as Palazzo Chigi and the Department of Defence had indicated, with the Pentagon and with the National Security Adviser, Rice. … An administration official has told La Repubblica “I can confirm that on September 9 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley, the deputy to the National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice.”… SISMI’s ‘postman,’ Rocco Martino contacted a journalist for a weekly newspaper – edited by Carlo Rossella – to sell her the documents at issue. … Panorama had a worldwide scoop. Title “The War? It’s already begun,’ it spoke of ‘half a ton of uranium.” … The government asked. The intelligence service gave. The media spread it. The government confirmed it. It was an old disinformation technique from the Cold War. Exaggerate the danger of the threat. Terrify and convince public opinion of it.

… Having thus prepared his ground, Pollari could concentrate on another essential aspect of his stratagem. Promoting SISMI and himself, extracting the proceeds of his secret labour over a year. … After returning from his secret meeting with Hadley, Pollari sought a hearing from the parliamentary committee that oversees the secret services. There were two hearings. In the first, the director of SISMI maintained “We don’t have documentary evidence, but we do have information that a central African state has sold pure uranium to Baghdad.” Thirty days later, Pollari said, “We have documentary evidence of the acquisition of natural uranium by Iraq in a central-African republic. …”

On leaving the Parliament, Pollari still had the problem of how to convey the fake document to Washington without leaving any of his fingerprints. … The SISMI ‘postman,’ Rocco Martino, who had already knocked on MI6’s door, contacted the Panorama correspondent, Elisabetta Burba, and tried to sell her the document. … Burba correctly checked the information in Niger … she concluded that the story didn’t stand up. … But … the editor of the weekly, Carlo Rossella, enthusiastic that he might have found, as his staff describe it, a ‘smoking gun,’ sent her with the document to the American embassy, as the ‘highest source for verification.’

Update: for a complete translation go here

{ 25 comments }

1

Uncle Kvetch 10.25.05 at 3:05 pm

Second, La Repubblica is, as Italian newspapers go, a trustworthy publication – but like all Italian newspapers, it’s surrounded by a swirl of politics and special interests.

In stark contrast to the soon-to-be-former home of “Ms. Run Amok,” you mean?

2

Sven 10.25.05 at 3:31 pm

Thanks a million, Henry. My head nearly exploded over lunch trying to decipher a Babelfish translation.

3

P ONeill 10.25.05 at 4:39 pm

the ‘creation of a system’ that would bring together government, intelligence and public affairs

What’s the Italian for WHIG?

4

AvengingAngel 10.25.05 at 5:50 pm

Get the latest PlameGate news, briefings, timelines, statutes and other essential documents:

“The Rove/PlameGate Scandal Resource Center.”

5

todd. 10.25.05 at 10:39 pm

I’m obviously not in a position to attest to the veracity of its claims – but at the least, they’re very interesting.

Isn’t that the kind of phrase for which Glenn Reynolds is endlessly lampooned here at CT?

6

Martin Bento 10.26.05 at 12:20 am

The piece that jumps at me in the Rozen summary is this:


In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d’Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.”

In other words, a month after September 11, it was not only true, but known to foreign intelligence that the US was fishing for excuses to pound down Iraq and had Pilatean attitude towards “truth”. Who sent this message? Did “Iraq fever” affect more than a few in the famous corridors? It seems to me at this point that investigation has to look at how it was actually decided that we should go to Iraq, by whom, and for what reasons.

7

Matt Weiner 10.26.05 at 1:04 am

I think when Glenn Reynolds gets dinged for something like this (first relevant result from a search involving “verify”), it’s because he’s passing along stuff from dubious or (as here) totally anonymous sources, whereas Henry has reason to believe that his source is somewhat trustworthy.

8

nick s 10.26.05 at 6:05 am

Did “Iraq fever” affect more than a few in the famous corridors?

Isn’t this pretty well established? Rumsfeld’s ‘we need to bomb somewhere with more targets’, etc?

9

jet 10.26.05 at 8:45 am

So SISMI understands that the US is looking hard for evidence that Iraq has tried to purchase uranium. SISMI fabricates this evidence and then goes to great lengths to try to pass it along to the US. These attempts ultimately fail as the US concludes the evidence, while worthy of investigation, isn’t credible enough.

While a smoking gun for SISMI, it hardly implicates anyone in the US. Sounds like the Italians need to go 1993 on their intelligence service.

10

Jared 10.26.05 at 9:16 am

jet-

No, it doesn’t implicate the CIA or the Department of State. But of course the story doesn’t end there. The lie ended up in the State of the Union, so it’s clear that the “parallel clandestine intelligence services” (i.e. Wolfowitz and Rice et al) believed what they wanted to believe.

11

jet 10.26.05 at 10:20 am

“…believed what they wanted to believe.” or perhaps were extremely willing to believe something that an Italian top spook fooled them into investigating? And SISMI’s success in fooling the US is hardly a reflection on Rice and Bush & Co. as the Post-WWII history of the US intelligence service is mostly a mockery of the word “intelligence”.

12

Martin Bento 10.26.05 at 11:00 am

nick, I think it was established that they wanted to attack Iraq, but not that they would accept obvious forgeries to do it. The former situation is a policy decision about which one could debate, but the latter is something different. I can’t imagine that Italian intelligence would be trying to pass along obvious forgeries unless they had previously been signalled that falsified data is OK.

13

bert 10.26.05 at 12:21 pm

In comment #9 you say that nobody in the US was fooled, so the Bush administration is blameless.

In comment #11 that the Bush administration was fooled, so the CIA is to blame. And, naturally, the Bush administration is blameless.

Jet, some people have described you as a troll, but you’re more of a puzzle. You write in complete sentences, yet your head’s on at right angles. At some point I’m sure the scales will fall, and I hope you don’t choose to stop posting here when that happens. It’ll be painful for you, but interesting to watch.

14

Grand Moff Texan 10.26.05 at 12:39 pm

Isn’t that the kind of phrase for which Glenn Reynolds is endlessly lampooned here at CT?

No.

On this issue, he’s justly ridiculed for pretending that it’s all too complicated.
.

15

Grand Moff Texan 10.26.05 at 12:39 pm

Isn’t this pretty well established? Rumsfeld’s ‘we need to bomb somewhere with more targets’, etc?

Dantooine was far too remote to make an effective demonstration ….
.

16

soru 10.26.05 at 1:16 pm

I can’t imagine that Italian intelligence would be trying to pass along obvious forgeries unless they had previously been signalled that falsified data is OK.

Isn’t it the case that the forgeries are so obvious that they can’t have been the work of a professional intelligence service? Unless, perhaps, that service was deliberately trying to produce something that would be detectable as a forgery.

I mean, they have nonexistent dates. Make up a date at random, what are the chances of it being the 31st of a month with 30 days?

Who would know the name of a particular Nigerien minister, without being able to check the dates he was in office? A Niger resident might possibly make that mistake, noone else would.

soru

17

jet 10.26.05 at 1:18 pm

Bert,
“Italian top spook fooled them into investigating?”

So you have “…These attempts ultimately fail” becoming “…nobody in the US was fooled,…”.

And then you have “SISMI’s success in fooling the US is hardly a reflection on Rice and Bush & Co. as the…US intelligence service is mostly a mockery…” becoming “the CIA is to blame”.

You are obfuscating what I said to make your own straw man. I said the US was fooled into taking the forgeries seriously enough to investigate and that they were ultimately proven false. This would be the US intelligence’s “fault” if you can fault them for taking an allied intelligence agency seriously.

Bush’s SOTU did not take the forgeries into account, and the case for war did no rest upon them. Although, the forgeries, even though false, did lead to more evidence of Iraq’s attempts to obtain uranium via Joe Wilson’s testimony to Congress (although he left that tidbit out of his NYT’s article).

Is my head still on at right angles? Or do you still think your misconstrued summation correct?

18

jet 10.26.05 at 1:26 pm

One thing to keep in mind is all this schedenfreude on the Italian intelligence agency is that the US Congressional investigation into the intelligence mess that was the Iraqi uranium connection finished with this conclusion,”…it was reasonable for analysts to assess that Iraq may have been seeking uranium from Africa based on Central Intelligence Agency reporting and other available intelligence.” do to intelligence from the DRC, Niger, and Somalia.

19

bert 10.26.05 at 2:10 pm

The last thing I’m going to do is parse your drivel.
Everyone else here can make their own minds up.
Assuming they’re interested.
Clearly, you’re past reaching.

Catch you next time.

20

MQ 10.26.05 at 3:31 pm

So why would the Italians want to do this? What do they gain? I don’t get it.

21

jet 10.26.05 at 3:52 pm

Bert,
You crack me up. You did try to “parse my drivel” and got lost when the extremely complicated words “into investigating” appeared. And “drivel”? I’m devasted. Truly.

But please do “catch me next time”, as I would hate to miss your lovely condescending attitude letting me know how enjoyable it will be to watch when I finally see the light that obviously emanates from the holy crown of knowledge resting upon your head.

Laugh with ya next time.

22

Steve 10.26.05 at 4:17 pm

“Ledeen was at Rome on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowiz to gather intelligence that would support military intervention in Iraq”

This is the first time that I’ve seen this link explicitly stated anywhere. If there is hard evidence that Ledeen went to Rome to concoct the Niger document fiasco at the behest of the OSP, then there’s an even more direct link back to the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal than the secret meeting with Stephen Hadley. Come on, there are neocon fingerprints all over these Niger documents.

- Steve

23

jet 10.27.05 at 7:21 am

Steve,

Ledeen’s “concoction” had the small effect of having Cheney bypass the Italian station chief and force the CIA to investigate the matter seriously.

So why do you think Ledeen’s motives were to “concoct” a story? Isn’t it more likely that an old friend asked him to Italy to check out some information. After seeing this, Ledeen informs his chain of command which by-passes the local station chief making it an issue for the CIA? Hardly Machiavellian.

The article itself attepts to explain the US motivations

Wolfowitz convinced Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by the Italians had to be explored top to bottom.

Granted the US local station chief had it right the first time, and you can fault “the Neo-cons” for being over-zealous, but all they did was force the CIA to continue the investigation.

24

andyB 10.27.05 at 8:00 am

cheney…bypass…hee hee…

sorry, couldnt resist

25

jet 10.27.05 at 9:55 am

Holy sheet, that got coffee on my monitor.

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