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?