Niger Uranium Forgeries: Excavating a Roman Mystery

Laura Rozen’s “war and piece” weblog is one of my favorite stops on the internet: that’s because she is incredibly well-informed and her interests roughly approximate my own. And she’s been all over the Niger uranium forgery story. However, I must take issue with her recent post questioning Martin Walker’s October 24 piece, and my own column detailing the same story, in which I wrote:

” A parliamentary committee was charged with investigating, and they issued a heavily redacted report. Now, I am told by a former CIA operations officer, the report has aroused some interest on this side of the Atlantic. According to a source in the Italian embassy, Patrick J. ‘Bulldog’ Fitzgerald asked for and ‘has finally been given a full copy of the Italian parliamentary oversight report on the forged Niger uranium document.”

Laura, however, is having none of it:

“There’s just one problem: Not only has Fitzgerald not received such a report or even indicated he has any interest in one. There is no Italian parliamentary report, published or unpublished, on the Niger forgeries. In fact, until today, there has been no Italian parliamentary investigation of the Niger forgeries, or the claim promoted by the Italian military intelligence organization Sismi to the CIA and other western intelligence agencies that Iraq was seeking vast quantities of yellowcake uranium in Niger.”

One has to wonder how Laura can have such certain knowledge of what Fitzgerald has or has not requested. Ah, but if there is no such report — and she cites the head of the Italian intelligence oversignt committee, one Enzo Bianco, denying it — then how can Fitzgerald have requested it? There is, here, perhaps some confusion as to the nature of the “report” — is it official, or is it just a transcript of a hearing? I think this guy, whoever he is, has the right idea.

Giovanni D’Avanzo, writing in La Repubblica [November 3], poses a few questions to Senor Bianco’s oversight committee, and in the course of them avers:

“Sometime after October 9, 2002, a team of SISMI agents are ordered to keep Rocco Martino under close surveillance … Why was no surveillance memo or report issued to judicial investigators on Rocco Martino, who is investigated by the Rome Public Prosecutor’s office in 2003, until the fall of 2004?”

So there was an investigation, albeit not by the Italian parliament but by Rome’s public prosecutor. It could be that this is what both Walker’s and my own sources are referring to.

Laura cites several other skeptics, including a reporter for La Repubblica and “a former U.S. official recently in Italy,” who say this story is “the echo of a rumor put out by people back the States.” She also cites Vince Cannistraro, “who at one time heard rumors of such a report from Italian sources,” and who

“Now says there doesn’t appear to be a parliamentary report either. ‘There is no published report,”’Cannistraro told me Monday. ‘If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report. …I think this stuff is just getting circulated.'”

Of course it isn’t published — that’s the whole point.

Yes, it’s true, as Laura says, that the Italians aren’t too eager to have the blame pinned on SISMI — but that doesn’t mean SISMI isn’t involved. And some Italians — the left-wing opposition coalition, for example — might be understandably eager to expose the scandal in the run-up to Italy’s elections scheduled for next year.

Laura goes into the Italian role in creating and disseminating these documents, referring to the La Repubblica series on the subject, but somehow neglects to mention the crucial American angle — and the key role of American neocons, i.e. Michael Ledeen, in funneling the information contained in the Niger forgeries to Washington. Someone legitimized these fake documents by doing an end run around the CIA and the mainstream intelligence community, and injected a fabrication into the American intelligence stream. Who was it? La Repubblica fingers the Office of Special Plans, and names names, including Ledeen, Harold Rhode, and Larry Franklin, the confessed spy for Israel.

Laura goes on to write:

“It’s understandable people spin conspiracy theories without real answers. And given credible reports of the role of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress in putting forward other bogus Iraq intelligence claims and defectors with made-up legends to the western media and western governments, much of it stovepiped directly to receptive Pentagon hawks and the Office of the Vice President, suspicion remains high. Without a comprehensive investigation of policymakers’ use of Iraq intelligence, such as that promised but not delivered by the Senate Select Intelligence committee, and now demanded by Senate Democrats, these questions, rumors and conspiracy theories are certain to persist.”

“Conspiracy theories”? Excuse me, but we are talking about someone deliberately falsifying “intelligence” based on a forgery The mere existence of these forgeries and their prominence in setting us on the path to war is prima facie evidence of a campaign of deception aimed at lying us into war with Iraq. You can call this a “conspiracy theory” if you want — but then again, you might also call it the history of a scam.

I trust my source, and I furthermore think it’s unimportant whether this information is coming from the Italian parliament or Rome’s public prosecutor: the point is that the information is there, and it’s getting out. stands by its story.