More from la Repubblica

by Henry on October 26, 2005

La Repubblica has another story today on the role of Italian intelligence in feeding bogus evidence on Niger to Hadley and others in the US and elsewhere. There’s one key piece of new information. UK intelligence claimed to have evidence independent of the forged documents, which showed that Iraq had indeed been trying to obtain uranium in Niger. According to La Repubblica:

This “evidence” has never been brought forward … “If it ever were brought forward,” said a source in Forte Braschi to la Repubblica, with a smile, “it would be discovered, with red faces, that it was Italian intelligence collected by SISMI at the end of the 1980’s, and shared with our friend Hamilton McMillan.”

As best as I can piece this together, the timeline that La Repubblica is arguing for goes as follows. Italian intelligence collected [genuine] information that Hussein was trying to obtain raw uranium at the end of the 1980’s, before the First Gulf War. This information was stored by the branch of Italian intelligence dealing with weapon proliferation issues. When the invasion of Iraq was imminent, this information was brought out from the archives, and bundled together with fake documents in order to make the latter look more legitimate. This dossier was then circulated to UK and US intelligence. The latter didn’t bite at first, causing the director of Italian intelligence to use back channels to Hadley and to Wolfowitz via Ledeen. UK intelligence did bite, either then or later. UK intelligence later claimed that it had a source of intelligence independent from the faked documents saying that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium. However, according to La Repubblica the ‘independent’ source was also from Italian intelligence, and related to efforts by Hussein’s regime to obtain uranium in the 1980’s. Hence, it was for all intents and purposes irrelevant to the question of whether Hussein was trying to obtain uranium in post-sanctions Iraq.

Again, this should be taken with a considerable pinch of salt, until and unless there’s independent confirmation. There’s clearly a backstory to this – someone in Italian intelligence with his own agenda is leaking like crazy. There’s a word in Italian – dietrologia – for the science of shadowy manipulations in the background which never come to light – it’s a national pastime. But it raises some troubling issues – and not only for US politics. At key points, the La Repubblica narrative contradicts the claims made in the Butler Report. What did UK intelligence ‘know’ about Niger, and when did they know it?

{ 42 comments }

1

Brendan 10.26.05 at 10:33 am

The problem is not the lies per se. The problem is that the complacent and comformist media continues to believe them. For example, when Blair claims: ‘that new explosive devices used against coalition forces in Iraq “lead us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah”‘ the response should be derisory laughter, followed by a slow chant of W…M…D…, with handclaps to match.

But instead the clever boys of journalism sit and stroke their chins as if this was a genuine news story. It is extremely disturbing, especially with Bush’s poll numbers plummeting. When under stress, Bush tends to lash out.

2

cleek 10.26.05 at 10:42 am

i can’t read much Italian, but this little phrase jumped out at me: “la pistola fumante”.

:)

3

Filter 10.26.05 at 11:08 am

More exactly, “dietrologia” means something like “the habit of thinking that there are shadowy manipulation behind (dietro) the curtains”. The main point – Italy is not a very transparent country – is valid nonetheless. Dietrologia is endemic in Italy because it is usually true.

4

Henry 10.26.05 at 11:28 am

filter – yep, when I said ‘science’ I meant ‘science’ as in mode of inquiry into these shadowy manipulations. But your definition is still more accurate. When I lived in Italy, I found it very easy to slip into dietrologia – I’d pick up _La Repubblica_ and read verbatim accounts of speeches which didn’t so much argue as they insinuated. It gave the sense that there were only 7 people in Rome who understood what was actually happening in Italian politics, and everyone else was guessing. Am guessing that we are unlikely ever to fully know what was happening in this instance either – a new addition to the mysteries of Italy.

5

mrjauk 10.26.05 at 11:49 am

Hmmm…

So that means that not only did Hussein gas the Kurds while he was our (US) ally, but he also tried to buy uranium while he was our ally.
What else was he up to that had the blessing of the Reagan and Bush I administrations?

6

jjoats 10.26.05 at 12:16 pm

Toon of the Day: Haunted

7

abb1 10.26.05 at 12:27 pm

8

Grand Moff Texan 10.26.05 at 12:34 pm

Wow, I wonder what could have pissed off the Italians so much that they’d let the cat out of the ….

Oh, yeah. That.
.

9

soru 10.26.05 at 12:57 pm

However, according to La Repubblica the ‘independent’ source was also from Italian intelligence, and related to efforts by Hussein’s regime to obtain uranium in the 1980’s.

Thre are two anomalies that need explanation:

1. why the UK government hasn’t revealed it’s source, if it had one.

2. if it didn’t have one, why the UK opposition MPs who saw the relevant intelligence didn’t speak up.

This story explains the first, but not really the second. The Lib Dems would have loved to be able to run with a story along the lines of La Republica’s.

There are two explanations I can think of:

1. the spooks successfully bullshitted/intimidated the MPs.
2. the source is someone in Iraq, perhaps in or close to the current government, judged more valuable alive than scoring a domestic political point.

Neither is impossible, although the second does require stretching credulity to the point of believing a politician made a probably correct decision.

soru

10

bert 10.26.05 at 1:12 pm

From Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy:

a large number of Italian journalists, academics and judges were still trying to solve whodunits from many years ago. The list of the mysteries was endless, as were the theories they spawned. The weekly revelations … often appeared incredible. Invariably, the secret services were involved….[T]here really is something very unusual going on. It’s not just that there’s so much murderous intrigue, or that there’s such an appetite for it, it’s that nothing is ever resolved.

So, someone in Italy is leaking. Dark forces playing games, as someone said. Yet both the Butler (civil service) and Taylor (parliamentary) reports dismissed the Italian forgeries yet backed up Blair’s position that an unnamed independent source underpinned British claims on Niger. This always struck me as smelling of bullshit, but it will take more than wry smiles from anonymous sources in Forte Braschi to dislodge Blair from his defensive position.

What could change that is a combinatiion of two things, neither of which has yet happened. First, developments in America, leading to serious investigations into the misuse of intelligence. Some people are hoping these may be conducted by Fitzgerald. That seems unlikely. But there is a Senate process, currently in the long grass of the Select Committee on Intelligence, which could well become interesting if the midterms go very badly for the Republicans.

Second, revelations from this US process (and any Italian leads that don’t look too flakey) need to be followed up in Parliament by a reinvigorated opposition. Now that Bush is a lame duck, there will be precious little interest in following Iain Duncan Smith’s strategy of waiting around for a cigarette paper’s width of difference to emerge between Bush and Blair, so as to wriggle into it. Sometime before New Year, David Cameron will have to decide whether or not to attack Blair on issues that damage Bush. The more trouble Bush is it at that point, the easier the decision will be.

In the meantime:

“Think it’s true?” I asked one of the Italian reporters next to me, who duly put his chin in the air and shrugged his shoulders in dramatic slow-motion. “E che ne so io?”, “What do I know?”. He looked at me and smiled, as if the question were rather risible.

11

Silent E 10.26.05 at 1:39 pm

I’ve read that Pollari green-lighted the Abu Omar abduction. So whoever’s leaking the dirt on the SISMI Niger-Iraq documents, it’s not his folks. And I don’t think the Milanese prosecutor’s office has anywhere close to enough dope to be doing this…

12

Jon 10.26.05 at 1:46 pm

I’m pleased to see soru is coming around on this.

The reason “why the UK opposition MPs who saw the relevant intelligence didn’t speak up” seems fairly obvious on the face of it. It’s like asking why the Senate Democrats haven’t done more about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence whitewash. Well: (1) they aren’t the majority and have little power; (2) many of them supported the war; and (3) those who didn’t are timid, particularly on intelligence matters.

Then add in England’s Official Secrets Act. It’s not too hard to understand.

13

M. Gordon 10.26.05 at 1:56 pm

I think Henry is a little dash happy in his prose, e.g., “There’s clearly a backstory to this – someone in Italian intelligence with his own agenda is leaking like crazy. There’s a word in Italian – dietrologia – for the science of shadowy manipulations in the background which never come to light – it’s a national pastime.” This is similar to the sin of semicolon abuse, a stage most people go through during one of the late-college developmental writing cycle. I think in this case we can probably chalk it up to excitement and eagerness, though.

14

abb1 10.26.05 at 2:29 pm

Porca Madonna!

15

abb1 10.26.05 at 2:30 pm

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

16

Pepsi 10.26.05 at 2:38 pm

This has never made any sense to say the Brits had other information that was reliable. If they did they would have most certainly shared with the CIA and there would be no need to say “ the British ….” But the CIA never accepted this information. If you are interested in a good analysis of the forgeries and the evidence as cited in the Senate and the Butler report you must read eriposte at http://www.theleftcoaster.com she did a thorough analysis of the entire mess. Her conclusion: There never was anything more than the Italian fabricated information.

17

Enzo 10.26.05 at 3:16 pm

Why is everybody assuming that the leak comes from SISMI? Couldn’t it come from the CIA? After all, they’re not in good terms with the Bush administration, are they?

18

eriposte 10.26.05 at 3:36 pm

Henry,

This claim about the 1980s does not make sense at all. All you have to do is read the Butler Report to see what the British claimed regarding this “additional” evidence. It had nothing to do with the 1980s. They say straight out that it had to do with the trip taken by Wissam Al-Zahawie (of Iraq) to Niger in 1999.

I have analyzed this at length in the past and shown why the British claim is/was false. My latest post continues the earlier discussion:
http://www.theleftcoaster.com/archives/005844.php

[By the way, I'm a "he", not a "she"]

19

AAA 10.26.05 at 4:16 pm

I thought Wilson actually authenticated the Niger connection:

Wilson said that a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, was unaware of any sales contract with Iraq, but said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq — which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales. A report CIA officials drafted after debriefing Wilson said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq.”

According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.

20

Sven 10.26.05 at 4:44 pm

AAA – That last sentence should read Iran, not Iraq. Susan Schmidt screwed it up in the WaPo, and the mistake has been spreading ever since.

21

Belle Waring 10.26.05 at 9:14 pm

I think the actual italian national pastime is engaging in the kind of convoluted conspiracies and shifting alliances that form the actions behind the curtain, and then number two is trying to figure out what everyone else is scheming about.

22

Fraulein Anna 10.26.05 at 11:15 pm

It’s great to read that people are really digging, deconstructing the evidence and asking the tough questions.

I have yet to see the following discussed anywhere, however :

Not coming clean

…inspectors claim that it was the evasive behaviour of Mr Jafar himself and his failure to come clean about the programme that led them to believe that Iraq had to be hiding something.

Mr Jafar also says the British government’s assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger is false.

**He said Iraq already had a supply of uranium purchased there in the 1980s.**

**”We had 500 tons of yellow cake [uranium] in Baghdad so why would we get more?” he said.**

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3556714.stm

and for what it’s worth:

Still, experts say Saddam’s massive uranium stockpile was largely benign.

Largely? Well, except for the 1.8 tons of uranium that Saddam had begun to enrich. The U.S. Energy Department considered that stockpile so dangerous that it mounted an unprecedented airlift operation four months ago to remove the enriched uranium stash from al Tuwaitha.

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/10/8/112447.shtml

also see:

http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2005/7/17/171214.shtml

I do realize newsmax.com is a highly partisan site, but their information seems legitimate.
So, does the above fit into the puzzle anywhere or is it irrelevant at this point ?

The separate British claim unrelated to the forgeries first appeared in the Financial Times.
There is a discussion of it here:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1161949/posts

This is another pro_Bush site, but again, they have what appears to be legitimate information.

An attempted debunking of the FT articles is here:

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/003169.php

Thanks for distilling this complex history into a single paragraph !

23

Steve Sailer 10.27.05 at 1:00 am

Americans tend to think of Italy as being a not very serious country, with governments rising and falling constantly over seemingly petty comic opera disputes. Yet, Italy’s history since the mob-assisted American invasion of Sicily in 1943 has had a lurid subterranean element involving the Mafia, a rogue Masonic lodge preparing an alternative post-coup government, the Pope’s banker, the corruption of almost the entire power elite, the CIA, American funding of Italian election campaigns, and Michael Ledeen.

It doesn’t take much to get Italians to conspire, but America bears some of the responsibility, since in the higher cause of fighting first Fascism, then Communism, we subsidized a fair amount of the underground / covert activity over the years. Once again, in the yellowcake fiasco, the U.S. government appears to have elicited the traditional flaws in the Italian character.

24

abb1 10.27.05 at 2:44 am

…the traditional flaws in the Italian character.

Skepticism (and even cynicism) in politics is not a flaw, it’s a healthy feature.

They know their politicians are scheming and cheating; they know their mafia – and you live in a world of illusion. I asked an Italian guy at work to read this article and he said there’s nothing surprising or unusual there – they’re all crooks and criminals. That’s the right attitude.

25

raj 10.27.05 at 5:28 am

Sorry, this is a bit silly. Did Iraq have any success in obtaining uranium from Niger? I could try to obtain OxyContin from my local drug dealer, but unless he is willing to cough it up, I’m left with nothing.

Regardless of what Iraq might have wanted, it appears as though the Nigeri did not provide it to them. Apparently there are some people who are unable to understand the difference.

26

jet 10.27.05 at 8:37 am

raj,
That isn’t the point. The point the administration was making was that if Iraq was still actively pursuing uranium then they were still a big threat, regardless of their success.

If Iraq had actually received uranium, there probably wouldn’t be an anti-war movement worth mentioning.

27

Grand Moff Texan 10.27.05 at 10:18 am

AAA – That last sentence should read Iran, not Iraq. Susan Schmidt screwed it up in the WaPo, and the mistake has been spreading ever since.

Yep. I heard one of our local, low-budget Limbaughs screaming about that one last week.

Dim and sad.
.

28

Grand Moff Texan 10.27.05 at 10:21 am

anna – “enrich”?

With what? Their prodigious moustaches? Iraq had zero refining capacity, unless you count one centrifuge buried under a rosebush since before Gulf War I.

Newsmax isn’t merely partisan, it’s systematically dishonest. They’ve taken one of the biggest flaws in the yellowcake ploy, i.e., that Iraq already had it so the president’s scare tactic about Africa is silly, and turned it into faux support for the same dumb story for the same dumb people.
.

29

AAA 10.27.05 at 1:43 pm

I don’t know of anyone who has claimed that Iraq actually purchased Uranium. Did anyone anywhere try to make that case.

In a post 9/11 many placed alot of trust in a dictator who was a sworn enemy of the US.

According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.

It’s also irrelevant to Wilson’s statements. Wilson’s did the hard research that turned up the proof that his friend the former minister, had made contact with an Iraqi searching to cut a deal for Uranium.

Newsmax isn’t merely partisan, it’s systematically dishonest. They’ve taken one of the biggest flaws in the yellowcake ploy, i.e., that Iraq already had it so the president’s scare tactic about Africa is silly, and turned it into faux support for the same dumb story for the same dumb people.

I guess you can’t fathom why a dictator might want a supply on the side that was not under UN control. Shame you can’t fit that thought into your brain. Same dumb analysis by the same dumb people.

30

ralph 10.27.05 at 1:51 pm

I didn’t see anyone note that this sudden clarity on the beginnings of the niger stuff occurred after the U.S. and Italy formally disagreed about the shooting of the Italian intelligence agent during the rescue of the Italian journalist from Baghdad.

Noticed. Wonder if anyone in SISMI takes it personally that the US killed an agent and then said, “never happened.” ???

31

Fraulein Anna 10.27.05 at 1:52 pm

Texan:

Thanks for the response.

Read this and let me know what you think:

Along with 1.77 tons of enriched uranium, about 1,000 “highly radioactive sources” were also removed.

The material was taken from a former nuclear research facility on 23 June, after being packaged by 20 experts from the US Energy Department’s secret laboratories.

It was flown out of the country aboard a military plane in a joint operation with the Department of Defense, and is being stored temporarily at a Department of Energy facility.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3872201.stm

This was in July of 2004.

This was the site that was left unattended by the US for 14 months after the invasion and was subsequently looted.

PURE uranium oxide which could be used in the making of a “dirty nuclear bomb” capable of killing countless people is being offered for sale in a Basra souk for $250,000.

Senior American officials have confirmed that rampant looting was discovered by US marines arriving at the al-Tuwaitha nuclear site on April 7.

[...]

John Large, a leading independent nuclear consultant, said the size and description of the cylinders “suggests this is enriched uranium”. He added: “A well-informed terrorist might be able to construct a crude nuclear device which would act like a mini-nuclear reactor and generate highly radioactive fission products for release into the urban atmosphere.”

Even if the uranium was not enriched, he says any radio active material is dangerous in the hands of terrorists because of its psychological impact. “The public perception of all things nuclear is of a fate worse than death. The use of even low-level uranium in a dirty bomb would cause widespread psychological and economic panic.”

http://www.sundayherald.com/35736

So, I guess my question is, why go through all the trouble of creating the forgeries, when the yellowcake was already there in prodigious quantities ? And why didn’t the IAEA inspectors previously see to it that this crap was taken out of there ?

32

abb1 10.27.05 at 3:10 pm

The stuff was sealed and monitored by the IAEA.

33

nick s 10.27.05 at 3:19 pm

Wilson’s did the hard research that turned up the proof that his friend the former minister, had made contact with an Iraqi searching to cut a deal for Uranium.

No. The WaPo corrected that article. It’s in a box marked ‘Correction’ to the right of the original article. You did read the original article, didn’t you?

Oh, you didn’t. I see.

34

AAA 10.27.05 at 4:01 pm

Maybe you should actually read the report itself… don’t take my word or the Wapo’s. Go see for yourself. Here’s a link to the pdf.

Check out page 43 in the actual document or 53 in the pdf.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/documents/senateiraqreport.pdf

The intelligence report based on the former ambassador’s [Wilson's] trip was disseminated on March 8, 2002 … The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki…said that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.

35

Fraulein Anna 10.27.05 at 4:09 pm

“The stuff was sealed and monitored by the IAEA.”

Yes, but the site was guarded by Saddam’s Iraqi soldiers, not by the UN or the IAEA. Perhaps I’m over reaching here, but the Bush administration could have made the case that the stockpile was a threat to national security and not safe under those circumstance. And that Saddam must agree to the physical removal of the stockpile or face the consequences.

Point being, I’m not convinced the forgery business had anything to do with this yellowcake issue. The actions of Valerie Plame / Joseph Wilson, their connections, the activities of Brewster-Jennings and the whole sordid history of nuclear and WMD proliferation merits further scrutiny.

Fitzgerald’s case will probably hardly scratch the surface.

Perhaps we’ll find out what the real truth is decades from now…maybe

36

abb1 10.27.05 at 4:28 pm

Well, it just like in N.Korea where they had those plutonium rods under 24/7 video surveillance according to the framework agreement from 1994(?) till 2003. No one had any problem with that; I guess this is the standard way the IAEA deals with these things. Then the Bushies started their bullying, Koreans quit the NPT, processed the rods and now no one knows where the stuff is. Something similar is bound to happen in Iran as well, I guess.

One can only wonder whether this is a bug or a feature of Bushies’ policies.

37

jet 10.27.05 at 5:46 pm

“Then the Bushies started their bullying, Koreans quit the NPT, processed the rods and now no one knows where the stuff is.”

Oh no you didn’t. Damn abb1 and here I was thinking you were down with Reason.

N Korea’s nuke program was restarted under Clinton, or as the left refers to him, General Best President Since Jesus. This is also the same period where N. Korea proved the size of their dicks by firing a ballistic missile over Japan.

Obviously those IAEA seals and cameras were magical in their ability to stop the Koreans from developing nuclear weapons (prior to 2001).

38

Fraulein Anna 10.27.05 at 6:31 pm

Another thing to consider is why Italian intelligence passed off such ridiculously crude forgeries ? Documents that were proven to be bogus by doing a simple Goggle search ?

Seems to me perhaps someone was being setup that didn’t know any better. Or has this all been some kind of twisted Skull and Bones / P-2 Lodge prank ?

39

liberal 10.27.05 at 9:40 pm

jet wrote, N Korea’s nuke program was restarted under Clinton…

IIRC, that’s a different program, involving the enrichment of uranium. The “rods” program is the plutonium route. IIRC NK pursued the uranium program in an attempt to circumvent the letter of the agreement with the US, which referred to plutonium.

…or as the left refers to him, General Best President Since Jesus.

Huh? The left typically doesn’t like Clinton. I know I didn’t.

Though he’s certainly better than Bush…

40

nick s 10.28.05 at 12:15 am

The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.

Which is bobbins, because the 1999 trip was with regard to creating international pressure to relax the sanctions regime. As the Duelfer Report noted:

ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material—activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program…. Regarding specific allegations of uranium pursuits from Niger, Ja’far claims that after 1998 Iraq had only two contacts with Niamey—neither of which involved uranium.

But that’s only one of the many howlers in the crappy Senate report. Next?

41

Enzo 10.28.05 at 7:03 am

A piece purporting to debunk La Repubblica‘s claims has been published today in the right-wing, Berlusconi family-owned Il Foglio. I don’t find it very convincing; yet it does succeed in leaving the reader with the impression that La Repubblica‘s reporters really pushed their evidence to the outer limits.

42

john cole 10.29.05 at 1:45 am

Fraulein Anna [october 27 post] may need her glasses to make a Goggle search.

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