Friday, November 04, 2005

Following the Yellowcake Road

And my, where it leads! According to a series of articles in La Repubblica, the poorly forged documents that were the basis for administration WMD claims were the work of a known 'intelligence fabricator'. An Italian administration eager to curry favor fobbed them off on the White House after every reputable intelligence agency who saw it spotted it for the nonsense it was. SISMI chief Nicolo Pollari met with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on Sept. 9, 2002, and Mr. Hadley now finds himself with 'no recollection' of anything that went on at that meeting. (It was the Panorama, owned by Mr. Pollari's boss, Silvio Berlusconi, which later added the 'aluminum tubes' angle.)

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

Ongoing translation efforts are being undertaken by Nor al-Cubicle. Corrente has something of the 'dieter's version' of this particular stew.

For more deeply inquiring minds, 'Pen' speculates and comments on these developments at great length, and the Left Coaster has launched an ongoing four-part (thus far) series of articles comparing CIA intelligence on Niger with the documents in question.


Blogger Management said...

La Repubblica's Scoop, Confirmed
Italy's intelligence chief met with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley just a month before the Niger forgeries first surfaced.

By Laura Rozen
Web Exclusive: 10.25.05

Print Friendly | Email Article

With Patrick Fitzgerald widely expected to announce indictments in the CIA leak investigation, questions are again being raised about the intelligence scandal that led to the appointment of the special counsel: namely, how the Bush White House obtained false Italian intelligence reports claiming that Iraq had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.

The key documents supposedly proving the Iraqi attempt later turned out to be crude forgeries, created on official stationery stolen from the African nation's Rome embassy. Among the most tantalizing aspects of the debate over the Iraq War is the origin of those fake documents -- and the role of the Italian intelligence services in disseminating them.

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.

Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday.

Pollari told the newspaper that since 2001, when he became Sismi's director, the only member of the U.S. administration he has met officially is his former CIA counterpart George Tenet. But the Italian newspaper quotes a high-ranking Italian Sismi source asserting a meeting with Hadley. La Repubblica also quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."

The paper goes on to note the significance of that date, highlighting the appearance of a little-noticed story in Panorama a weekly magazine owned by Italian Prime Minister and Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi, that was published three days after Pollari's meeting with Hadley. The magazine's September 12, 2002, issue claimed that Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, had acquired 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria through a Jordanian intermediary. (While this September 2002 Panorama report mentioned Nigeria, the forgeries another Panorama reporter would be proferred less than a month later purportedly concerned Niger.)

The Sismi chief's previously undisclosed meeting with Hadley, who was promoted earlier this year to national security adviser, occurred one month before a murky series of events culminated in the U.S. government obtaining copies of the Niger forgeries.

The forged documents were cabled from the U.S. embassy in Rome to Washington after being delivered to embassy officials by Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama. She had received the papers from an Italian middleman named Rocco Martino. Burba never wrote a story about those documents. Instead her editor, Berlusconi favorite Carlo Rossella, ordered her to bring them immediately to the U.S. embassy.

Although Sismi's involvement in promoting the Niger yellowcake tale to U.S. and British intelligence has been previously reported, the series in La Repubblica includes many new details, including the name of a specific Sismi officer, Antonio Nucera, who helped to set the Niger forgeries hoax in motion.

What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper's allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House. That direct White House channel amplifies questions about a now-infamous 16-word reference to the Niger uranium in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address -- which remained in the speech despite warnings from the CIA and the State Department that the allegation was not substantiated.

Was the White House convinced that the Niger yellowcake report was nevertheless true because the National Security Council was getting its information directly from the Italian source?

Following the exposure of the discredited Niger allegations in the summer of 2003 by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, White House officials at first sought to blame the CIA for the inclusion of the controversial "16 words" in the president's speech. Although then–National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Hadley eventually accepted some responsibility for the mistake, the White House undertook a covert campaign to discredit Wilson and exposed the CIA affiliation of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson.

Yet if anyone knew who was actually responsible for the White House's trumpeting of the Niger claims, it would seem from the Repubblica report that Hadley did. He also knew that the CIA, which had initially rejected the Italian claims, was not to blame. Hadley's meeting with Pollari, at precisely the time when the Niger forgeries came into the possession of the U.S. government, may explain the seemingly hysterical White House overreaction to Wilson's article almost a year later.

While the Niger yellowcake claims have provoked much drama in American politics, their provenance is decidedly Italian. The Repubblica investigation offers new insights into what motivated the Berlusconi government and its intelligence chief Pollari to go to so much trouble to bring those claims to the attention of their allies in Washington.

For Berlusconi and Pollari, according to La Repubblica, the overriding motive was a desire to win more appreciation and prestige from the Americans, who were seen as eager for help in making their sales pitch for war. On Monday, the newspaper described the atmosphere in 2002: "Berlusconi wants Sismi to be big players on the international security scene, to prove themselves to their ally, the United States, and the world. Washington is looking for proof of Saddam's involvement … and wants info immediately."

For the Italian middleman Rocco Martino, who acquired the documents from a Sismi mole at the Niger embassy in Rome, the motive described by La Repubblica is primarily mercenary. He wanted to be paid for the forgeries.

According to the Repubblica account, Martino was a former carabinieri officer and later a Sismi operative who by 1999 was making his living based in Luxembourg, selling information to the French intelligence services for a monthly stipend. The story goes on to explain how Martino renewed his contacts with Sismi officer Antonio Nucera, an old friend and former colleague, who was a Sismi vice-captain working in the intelligence agency's eighth directorate, with responsibilities involving weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation.

Precisely how Nucera, Martino, and two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome came together sometime between 1999 and 2000 to hatch the Niger forgeries plan is still somewhat mysterious. The newspaper's reports that Nucera introduced Martino to a longtime Sismi asset at the Niger embassy in Rome, a 60 year-old Italian woman described in La Repubblica only as "La Signora." Sismi chief Pollari, who granted the newspaper an interview (as he tends to do when he fears that breaking news could taint his agency), suggests that Nucera simply wanted to help out Martino, his old friend and colleague.

But as the Italian reporters suggest, that sounds like a very convenient excuse for the chief of an agency that was engaged in promoting the bogus Niger claims from their inception, all the way to the White House. The picture that emerges of Sismi's relationship with Martino is that the agency used him as a "postman" -- a cut-out to sell the bogus intelligence to allied intelligence services. At the same time, Sismi possessed enough information about Martino to claim that he was simply a rogue agent on the French payroll.

La Repubblica's noirish portrait of Martino as a convenient vehicle for plausible deniability is given further resonance by the recent news that a Roman prosecutor has ended his investigation into Martino's role in the Niger hoax without filing any charges or issuing any report.

Although Berlusconi's government clearly sought deniability while pushing the Niger uranium claims, the Bush White House went still further by trying to blame its citation of exaggerated and discredited Iraq WMD claims on the CIA, the very same agency that consistently discounted the Niger claims. The White House's war on the CIA and on the Wilsons --the extent of which has been revealed in recent news reports emerging from the Fitzgerald investigation -- has always had an excessive and almost hysterical quality. Why was the White House so worked up over Wilson and the Niger hoax, when there was so much evidence that the administration had based its drive for war on claims that were so thoroughly discredited from top to bottom? Why did Wilson and his CIA wife become the primary targets, when Wilson was hardly alone in pointing out that the White House should have known better about the Niger claims?

News of the secret meeting between the Italian Sismi chief and the White House deputy national security adviser -- during the period when the White House was assembling its flawed case for war -- provides an important new piece of that puzzle.

Laura Rozen reports on foreign-policy and national-security issues from Washington, D.C., as a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, a contributor to The Nation and other publications, and for her blog, War and Piece. A translation of excerpts from the La Repubblica story can be read here.

6:56 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Monday, October 24, 2005
Berlusconi Behind Fake Yellowcake Dossier

Update 2 Nov 05: View the crude forgeries here.

La Repubblica's Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo have been bird-dogging the phony yellowcake documents and they now have the goods on Silvio Berlusconi, who instructed Italian Military Intelligence to plant the evidence implicating Saddam in a bogus uranium deal with Niger. This is their story, printed in yesterday's on-line edition and translated by your friendly little blog owner.

Double-Crossers and Dilettantes--the Men Behind Nigergate Were All Italians.

The military intervention in Iraq was justified by two revelations: Saddam Hussein attempted to acquire unprocessed uranium (yellowcake) in Niger (1) for enrichment with centrifuges built with aluminum tubes imported from Europe(2). The fabricators of the twin hoaxes (there was never any trace in Iraq of unprocessed uranium or centrifuges) were the Italian government and Italian military intelligence. La Repubblica has attempted to reconstruct the who, where and why of the manufacture and transfer to British and American intelligence of the dodgy dossier for war.

They are the same two hoaxes that Judith Miller, the reporter who betrayed her newspaper, published (together with Michael Gordon) on September 8, 2002. In a lengthy investigative piece for the New York Times, Miller reported that Saddam could have built an atomic weapon with those aluminum tubes. These were the goods that the hawks in the Bush administration were expecting.

The "war dance" which followed Judith Miller’s scoop seemed like "carefully-prepared theater” to an attentive media-watcher, Roberto Reale of Ultime Notizie (The Latest News). [Note: Roberto Reale is a TV news commentator for RAI-3 and a professor of Language and Media at the University of Padua--Nur]

Condoleezza Rice, who was then White House Security Advisor, said on CNN: We don’t want the smoking gun to look like a mushroom cloud. A menacing Dick Cheney delivers a bolus injection on Meet the Press that We know with absolute certainty that Saddam is using his technical and commercial capacities to acquire the material necessary to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon. This was the beginning of an escalation of fear.

26 September 2002: Colin Powell warns the Senate: The Iraqi attempt to acquire uranium is proof of its nuclear ambitions.

19 December 2002: The information on Niger and the uranium is included in the three-page President’s Daily Briefing prepared each day by the CIA and the Department of State for George W. Bush. The ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, added his stamp of approval: Why is Iraq dissimulating its purchase of Niger uranium?

28 January 2003: George W. Bush pronounced the 16 words, which amountd to a declaration of war. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The beans in that bag are Roman.
In the general haze of events which precede the invasion of Iraq, Italian involvement is prefigured by a single, grotesque protagonist: Rocco Martino, son of Raffaele and America Ventrici, born in Tropea (Province of Catanzaro) on September 20, 1938.

Unmasked by the British press (The Financial Times, The Sunday Times) in the summer of 2004, Rocco Martino spills the beans: It’s true, I had a hand in the dissemination of those (Niger uranium) documents, but I was duped. Both Americans and Italians were involved behind the scenes. It was a disinformation operation.

An incomplete confession but close to the truth.
Martino conceals the identify of the architects behind the “operation” and appears to be merely a pawn, like his partners in crime. So who is the puppeteer pulling the strings behind their sordid adventure? To find out, we’ll start with that funny-looking fellow who came to Rome from Tropea...

Rocco Martino is a dishonest cop and a double-crossing spy. He’s got the aura of a rogue about him even if you are not familiar with his background. A captain of politico-military intelligence between 1976 and 1997, he was let go for unethical behavior. In 1985, he was arrested for extortion in Italy. In 1993, he was arrested in Germany in possession of stolen checks. Nevertheless, according to a Defense Ministry official, Martino worked for SISMI until 1999 as a double agent.

Martino rents a place at No. 3 rue Hoehl in Sandweiler, Luxemburg. He gets a fixed salary from French intelligence and uses a consulting firm as cover: Security Development Organization. In other words, he also works for French intelligence. Serving two masters, Rocco tries his best. He sells information on the Italians to the French and information on the French to the Italians. That’s my job. I sell information.

In 1999, the pleasure-seeking Rocco is running out of cash. When he’s down to his last dime, he hatches a plot of his own. He's convinced that he’s got a brilliant and risk-free idea. What illuminates the light bulb is the problem the French are encountering in Niger.

In brief, between 1999 and 2000 the French realize that someone is working abandoned mines to generate a brisk clandestine trade in uranium. Who is purchasing the smuggled uranium? The French are looking for an answer and Rocco Martino senses an opportunity.

So he asks for help form an old colleague at SISMI: Antonio Nucera. A Carabinieri (cop) like Rocco, Antonio is the Deputy Chief of the SISMI center in viale Pasteur in Rome. He’s chief of the 1st and the 8th divisions (weapons and technology transfers and WMD counterproliferation, respectively, for Africa and the Middle East).

This section is very busy section at the end of the 1980s tailing the many agents whom Saddam has deployed around the world prior to the invasion of Kuwait. “With some success”, according to an Italian intelligence official who at the time worked for the division. The official recalls: We succeeded in getting our hands on Niger code books and a telex from Ambassador Adamou Chékou to the Niger Foreign Ministry informing Niamey that Wissam al-Zahawie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, would be coming to Niger as a representative of Saddam Hussein.

But that wasn’t all. We confiscated maraging steel (ultra-high strength steel) in the port of Trieste. We thought it was destined for a series of centrifuges used to separate uranium. We exchanged information on Iraqi nuclear proliferation at the end of the eighties with the British of MI6—the cream of the crop. A sincere friend of Italy worked there: Hamilton MacMillan. MacMillan mentored Francesco Cossiga [Interior Minister, in charge during the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades] in Cossiga's introduction to the mysterious ways of espionage when he was "resident" in Rome.

Nucera decided to give a hand to his old friend, Rocco. Rocco quickly briefs him on the job. Isn’t there anything you can give me—Info? A good Niger contact? I’ll take anything you have! The French are as dry as trekkers lost in the desert. They want to know who is buying their uranium under the table. I’m prepared to pay well to find out.

In the archives of Nucera’s SISMI division, there are documents that could be useful in pawning off a half-baked frittata and making a few bucks. There’s the telex from the Niger ambassador. Further needs might be met at the Niger Embassy at No. 10 via Baiamonte in Rome. SISMI director Nicolò Pollari confirms to La Repubblica: Nucera wanted to help out his friend. He offered him the use of an intelligence asset—no big deal, you understand--one who was still on the books but inactive--to give a hand to Martino. The asset worked at the Niger Embassy in Rome. She was in bad shape. She barely eked out a living in the back of the espionage shop. She didn't get a monthy stipend from Italian intelligence. In other words, she was a contractor.

Information and cash were exchanged. It was only chickenfeed—a few hundred thousand lira notes. But that was a lot of money in 2000, when Martino was really desperate. He was on a slow slide to destitution—nothing to spy on and nothing to sell.

La Signora.
You should have seen her, "La Signora". Sixty years old if she was a day! A face that once was pretty—now it looked a crinkled leaf. You could call her a gofer for the Niger Embassy. She looked like my old auntie. A French accent. A complicit wink. Always spoke in a whisper. Even when she said “hello”, her voice was like a tiny, mysterious flute, ready to reveal a thousands secrets. But even "La Signora" was in need of cash.

Nucera arranged the meeting. Rocco and La Signora don’t take long. He going to get what he came for. But wasn’t Nucera her official contact at SISMI? Then why wasn’t she supposed to know that it was SISMI who wanted the favor? And why was the item useful to the Agency?

With the blessing of Nucera, Rocco and La Signora, a pair of clever snake oil vendors, conclude a bargain. There would be a few sheets of paper available for sale. But the help of a Niger national was needed. La Signora points him to the right man. He’s First Embassy Counselor Zakaria Yaou Maiga. As Pollari told us, that Maiga spent six times more than he earned.

The gang of spendthrift bunglers, short on cash, is ready to go into action. Rocco Martino, La Signora, Zakaria Yaou Maiga. Nucera retreats into the shadows. They wait for the embassy to close its doors for New Years 2001. They simulate a break-in and burglary. When on January 2, 2001, bright and early, the Second Secretary for Administrative Affairs Arfou Mounkaila reports the burglary to the Carabinieri of the Trionfale station, he has to admit with a grin that the burglars were half asleep. A lot of trouble and effort for nothing. Mounkaila is unable to report missing what he doesn’t know is gone: Letterhead, and official stamps. In the hands of the snake oil vendors, useful stuff with which to assemble a dodgy dossier.

In fabricating the dossier, stale documents, such as code books, are extracted from the SISMI's division archives (where Nucera serves as deputy chief of section). To this are added the sheets of stolen letterhead that have been used for forged letters, contracts and a memorandum of understanding between the government of Niger and Iraq “concerning the supply of uranium on 5 and 6 July 2000 in Niamey”. The memorandum has a 2-page attachment entitled “Agreement”. Rocco hands over the “package” to agents from the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. They hand him some banknotes which he spends in Nice. Rocco loves the Cote d’Azur.

Up to this point, a caper worthy of Stan Laurel, Goofy and Cruella deVille. But it's an innocuous swindle. The French take the documents and pitch them in the rubbish. One of the agents remarks, Niger is a French-speaking place and we know how they do things there. But no one would have mistaken one minister for another in they way they did in that useless piece of garbage.

Case closed, then? No! The burlesque imbroglio is transformed into a very grave matter—along comes September 11th and Bush immediately starts to think about Iraq and requests proof of Saddam’s involvement in the attacks.

SISMI recalls the via Baiamonti squad to into action. A new director, Nicolò Pollari, arrives at Forte Brasco. And Col. Alberto Manenti, the new man on the job, is placed in charge of WMD. A well-prepared officer but completely incapable of saying "No" to a superior, says a SISMI official who worked with him. Col. Manenti had Nucera on his staff for a time and knew him well. Manenti, who knows that Nucera is about to retire, asks him to stay on as a consultant.

SISMI wants to make itself useful. It's got more room for maneuver than ever before in the history of the Italian republic. Berlusconi asks Pollari for a feat on the international stage which will catapult Italy to the first among US allies. A request along the same line comes in from the CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli. News, information, useful scraps of intelligence are needed. Now! On the double! Washington is looking for proof to use against Saddam.

The White House (in particular, Cheney) puts pressure on the CIA to hop to it. The absence of proof isn’t proof of absence, philosophizes Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. In that kind of climate, with their phony dossier, the snake oil salesmen of via Baiamonti, (Rocco Martino and Antonio Nucera) would be useful. So what do they do in the fall of 2001? Rocco Martino describes it this way: At the end of 2001, SISMI handed the yellowcake dossier to the British of MI6.

They hand over a dossier devoid of scrutiny. They claim only that they got it from “a reliable source.” Then they make a small adjustment to their story: SISMI wanted to disseminate the Niger documents to allied intelligence but at the same time it did not want its role in the operation to be disclosed. These are allegations which Palazzao Chigi vehemently denies. The government tells a bald-faced lie. After the war reveals the WMD chicanery, the Italian Government swears that no uranium dossier was handed over or made to be handed over to anyone, either directly or through intermediaries.

The next move was predictable. The Italian Government and SISMI build a dike between Forte Braschi and the tracks of the via Biaimonte squad. But its denial does not hold up. It is a known fact that in fall of 2001, SISMI monitored Rocco Martino’s every move in London. This is confirmed to La Repubblica by SISMI chief Nicolò Pollari. We monitored Martino and photographed his meetings in London. Would you like to see the pictures? So why didn’t Rome put the lie to its ex-agent and snake oil salesman? Especially since the information in the dossier was vouched for by Pollari to Jeff Castelli, CIA station chief. It is a known fact that a report on the bogus, made-in-Rome dossier ended up at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence—in the Office of Strategic, Military and WMD Proliferation Affairs.

Strategic Affairs is not a big place. At the time, 16 analysts worked there under the direction of Greg Thielmann. Thielmann tells La Repubblica: I received the report in fall of 2001. We thought that Langley had acquired it from their field officer in Italy. The agent in the field reports that Italian intelligence permitted him see some papers documenting the attempt by Iraq to acquire 500 tons of uranium ore from Niger. So, SISMI purported the truth of documents it knew to be false to the CIA. There’s a second confirmation. At Langley, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson was assigned the mission to verify the Italian “story” of the 500 tons of uranium.

Says Wilson: The report was not very detailed. It’s not clear if the agent who signed the report materially saw the peddled documents or whether he heard it from another source.

We'll have to modify the sequence of events:

Fall 2001: General Pollari’s SISMI is in possession of a phony dossier assembled by Rocco Martino and Antonio Nucera. They show it to the CIA while Rocco Martino delivers it to Sir Richard Dearlove’s MI6. This is only the beginning of the Great Italian Yellowcake Scam.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Yellowcake Dossier Not the Work of the CIA

English translation cleaned up and republished on 30 October 2005--Nur

Part Two of the investigative series by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo of La Repubblica.

INVESTIGATION / SISMI Director General Nicolò Pollari travels to the States to corroborate the purchase of nuclear material by Saddam Hussein.

Pollari travels to Washington to present his version of "the truth"
The Yellowcake Dossier was not the work of the CIA.

For SISMI Director Nicolò Pollari, the rules of his profession are very clear. He tells La Repubblica: I am an intelligence chief and my only institutional partner in conversation following 9-11 was CIA Director George Tenet in Washington. Obviously, I held my conversations solely with him.... But is it really true that our cloak-and-dagger people worked solely with the CIA? Or did they work as part of the clandestine effort within the parallel intelligence conduit ["Stovepipe"--Nur] created by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz within the Iraq War Group, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and the office of the National Security Advisor—all avidly determined to produce the evidence for “regime change" in Baghdad.

It is a known fact that on the eve of the war on Iraq and under the guidance of Palazzo Chigi Diplomatic Advisor Gianni Castellaneta (today Italian Ambassador to the United States), SISMI chief Pollari organizes his appointment book in Washington with the help of the staff of Condoleezza Rice, who was then serving as National Security Advisor. La Repubblica has documented the dual course pursued by the Italian government and by Italian intelligence. According to intelligence sources, in at least one of the backdoor meetings in which Pollari participated, the the creation of a conduit took place marshalling together government, security agencies and intelligence.

Brief synopsis: Pollari’s SISMI wants to give credence to the story of acquisition of uranium ore for the purpose of building a nuclear bomb. The gameplan is transparent. The “authentic” papers concerning an attempt to acquire uranium in Niger (stale Italian "intelligence" left over from the 80’s) are a legacy of a former SISMI Deputy Chief in Rome, Antonio Nucera. They are bundled up together with other worthless documents hastily forged after a simulated burglary of the Niger Embassy (embassy letterhead and stamps are taken). The documents are exhibited by Pollari’s men to the CIA Station Chief in Rome while SISMI’s "postman", a certain individual by the name of Rocco Martino, delivers a copy to Richard Dearlove’s MI6 in London.

That was the first installment. We’ll now provide the second chapter of the Great Italian Yellowcake Scam orchestrated in Italy to build up the necesary pretext for the invasion of Iraq. We reintroduce Greg Thielmann, former director of the US Department of State's intelligence bureau, who encounters the "Italian" report on the uranium on his desk. He does not recall the precise date.

Thielmann recounts the events of autumn 2001 in generalities. But the precise date may prove noteworthy: it is October 15, 2001. On that date three events are woven together to produce an astounding coincidence: Nicolò Pollari, nominated by the goverment on September 27 after serving as Number Two at CESIS (a coordinating intelligence agency at Palazzo Chigi), assumes control at SISMI. Silvio Berlusconi is finally invited to the White House by George W. Bush. October 15 marks the date of the first CIA report on the evidence in the possession of the Italians. It’s impossible to say if all this is coincidence, but one cannot ignore the context: The Italians have a burning desire to be useful. After his unfortunate outburst on the Clash of Civilizations, Berlusconi is encountering problems in getting an invitation from the White House, under fire from moderate Arab regimes. Pollari is eager to quickly get in step with Premier and the new course of action. The new chief at the SISMI section concerned with WMD, Colonel Alberto Manenti (direct superior of Antonio Nucera), wants to put himself on the same page as the new SISMI director. It is a known fact that Bush shows the West Wing’s Rose Garden to Berlusconi and the CIA acknowledges, as reported by [investigative reporter] Russ Hoyle (who devoted himself to a year-long analysis of the conclusions of the Senate Investigation Committee) that Italian intelligence has some neatly prepackaged information bedecked with a pretty bow: Negotiations (between Niamey and Baghdad) on the purchase of uranium have been ongoing since the start of 1999; the sale [of uranium to Baghdad] was approved by the Niger Supreme Council in 2000. No documentary evidence is offered to show that any shipment of uranium has transpired. CIA analysts consider the report to be “somewhat limited” and “lacking in necessary detail”. Intelligence and Research analysts at the US Department of State qualify the intelligence as “highly suspect.”

The initial contact with the American intelligence community is not particularly gratifying for Pollari but suffice it to say that it is still highly useful. The SISMI director, who is no fool, quickly surveys the landscape and the players of the ongoing behind-the-scenes battle in the US Administration between those who stress caution and pragmatism (the US Department of State and the CIA) and those who are looking for an excuse to start a war (Cheney and the Pentagon), which is already on the drawing board. However, upon returning to Italy, the SISMI director finds a similar battle underway in Rome. Gianni Castellaneta advises Pollari to look in other directions, while Defense Minister Antonio Martino suggests that Pollari arrange an appointment to meet an old friend of Italy. This old friend is Michael A. Ledeen, the old fox of American parallel intelligence conduits, who had once been declared persona non grata by Rome during 1980s. [Likely because of kidnapping of Abu Abbas, orchestrated by Ledeen and Oliver North, and the attempted "extraordinary rendition" of Abbas through Italy--Nur.]

Ledeen is in Rome at the behest of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz to collect intelligence supporting a war on Iraq. A source at Forte Braschi [Italian equivalent to Langley, VA, the headquarters of the CIA--Nur] tells La Repubblica: On the subject of intelligence collected on the uranium purchase, Pollari gets the cold shoulder from CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli. Apparently, Castelli has dropped the matter entirely. Taking a hint, Pollari discusses the matter with Michael Ledeen.... No one knows what prompts Ledeen to return to Washington but at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convinces Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by Italian intelligence should be explored in depth. As the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence relates, a a very determined Vice President repeats a request to the CIA to take another look into “the possible acquisition of Niger uranium." During a meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly states that a crucial piece of intelligence is held by “a foreign intelligence agency”.

The parallel intelligence conduit ["Stovepipe"--Nur] over at the Pentagon circulates “new information” according to which there exists an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the supply of 500 tons of uranium per year. The technicians at the Department of State raise an eyebrow at the report--500 tons of uranium! A vastly exaggerated quantity! The report is manifestly devoid of all plausibility. Every independent report ordered following the circulation of the "Italian memorandum" indicates that the Niger uranium mines at Arlit and Akouta can yield at most 300 tons per year. But time is growing short. George Tenet, stung by the intelligence gaps of 9-11, grins and bears it but becomes incredibly unreceptive when State Department intelligence controverts him, recounts Greg Thielmann to La Repubblica, by saying that the intelligence collected in Rome is inconsistent, that the uranium story is phony and that a bunch of things contained in the report are fabricated.

Pollari is a very clever man, they say at Forte Braschi, and so he understands that to pursh the uranium story in Washington he cannot deal with the CIA alone. He must work with, suggest Palazzo Chigi and the Italian Defense Minstry, the Pentagon and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The affirmation might have been meant as malicious (in the world of espionage, that's often the case), but we can confirm the "alternate conduit" which Pollari creates in Washington through a snapshot and a meeting.

This is the snapshot. Pollari is in Washington. He arranges a meeting with George Tenet and, as happens frequently, his presentation is to be given in a reserved conference room at a hotel close to Langley. An attendee at the meeting tells La Repubblica: Pollari’s English must not have been very polished, so a female interpreter is placed between him and Tenet. There’s an embarrassing upshot. In the course of exchanging pleasantries, George reveals some information from al-Qaeda concerning Italy which the Agency has gathered from prisoners at Guantanamo. Tenet expects at least a smile or possibly a nod of gratitude. A stone-faced Pollair looks back at him. If at first Tenet found Pollari unpleasant, he now finds him positively untrustworthy. What what strikes everyone seated around the conference table is the absolute sidelining of Pollari's station chief in Washington. The bizarre treatment is intriguing. In 2002, the SISMI station chief in Washington is Admiral Giuseppe Grignolo. He possesses extensive background in WMD, an excellent relationship with the CIA and the respect of CIA Number 2, Jim Pavitt. A source at Forte Braschi recalls: The truth is that we did not want to keep the nose of the CIA out of our business but Pollari distrusted Grignolo, whom he believed was too cozy with Langley—so he blocked Grignolo’s every move. He forced him, so to speak, into the useless task of conductinjg background checks on SISMI new hires, who might have spent some time in the United States.....During those months, the most significant contacts take place elsewhere—through Gianni Castellaneta with Condoleezza Rice and through Ledeen with the Office of Special Plans run by Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith. It is Castellaneta who arranges a meeting for Pollari in the offices of the National Security Advisor at the White House. When did they meet and what did they discuss? What did you expect them to be talking about in the summer of 2002? Weapons of mass destruction! When did the meeting take place? That’s my business…but all you have to do is to is check the visitors' roster and archived flight plans between Ciampino [Rome’s military airport--Nur] and Washington.

Here in Rome, it’s difficult for us to access those flight plans. We had better luck in Washington. An Administration official told La Repubblica: I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolò Pollari met with Stephen Hadley, deputy to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

As was the case for October 15, 2001, September 9, 2002 was a day marked by several coincidences. On that day, the Italian magazine Panorama was coming up on the editorial deadline for its 12-19 September issue. As one might expect from Rocco Martino (the SISMI "postman" in the Yellowcake Affair), he contacts a woman reporter from the magazine (Carlo Rossella was Editor-in-Chief at the time) in October to sell her the documents inside the phony dossier. No one cares to recall that in the 12-19 September 2002 issue of Panorama, coinciding with Pollari’s secret meeting with Hadley, the magazine published a international scoop entitled, War with Iraq? It has already started. The Panorama article mentions “a delivery of a half-ton of uranium”: The men of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence agency, acquired the ore through a Jordanian middleman in far-away Nigeria, where a few traders succeeded in smuggling it after stealing it from a nuclear depot in a republic of the former USSR. The cargo containing 500 kilograms of uranium was then docked at Amman and afterwards shipped overland in a 7-hour journey to its final destination: the al-Rashidiyah plant 20 km north of Baghdad, recognized as a site for the production and processing of fissile material. And further along in the article: The alarm concerns Germany, where in the past Iraq had attempted to purchase technology and industrial parts from the firm, Leycochem....and even the much sought-after aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges.

Although there is a discrepancy in the location (Nigeria and not Niger—a lapsus calami?) and the story is somewhat of a fairy-tale (contraband from the USSR is transported all the way to Africa by truck), what is essential here is to notice that in the Panorama article, the recipe (so to speak) has all the right ingredients needed for war: the 500 tons of uranium which make its way from Africa to Baghdad, and the aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. One could accurately superimpose the story churned in Italy on the allegations made in the CIA-gate/New York Times affair. The government asks, the intelligence service produces, the media spreads the story and the goverment confirms what's in the media. It’s an old disinformation technique from the Cold War. Exaggerate the danger posed by the enemy. Terrorize and convince the public--and this time Italy is involved as an accessory. The magazine that spreads the poisonous disinformation is owned by PM Silvio Berlusconi, who has intelligence oversight in Italy and who wants to become and to be seen as the close ally of George W. Bush, impatient to declare war.

You could say that with the terrain prepared in advance, Pollari is able concentrate on another essential aspect of the operation: the promotion of himself and SISMI by cashing in on a year’s worth of cloak-and-dagger work, pulling the wool over the eyes of Parliament using carefully manipulated information and revelations which should have been subject to careful reconstruction accompanied by corroborating documentation--and not the wall of silence of the State (imposed by Gianni Letta on July 16, 2003).

Back from his secret meeting with Hadley, Pollari was debriefed by an Italian Parliamentary intelligence oversight committee. They summon him twice. In the first session, the SISMI director maintains: We do not have documentary proof, only information that a central African country sold uranium ore to Baghdad. Thirty days later, Pollari says: We had documentary proof of the acquisition by Iraq of uranium ore from a republice in central Africa. We also know of an Iraqi attempt to purchase centrifuges for uranium enrichment from German and possibly Italian manufacturers. Once out of the maw of Parliament, Pollari is still confronted with the problem of conveying the phony dossier to Washington without leaving fingerprints. Pollari stumbles into a lucky break. SISMI “postman” Rocco Martino, who has already left a package on the doorstep of MI6, contacts Panorama correspondent Elisabetta Burba and attempts to sell her the dossier. But is it the snake oil salesman’s idea—or that of Antonio Nucera—or is someone else behind it? Mrs. Burba rightly double-checks the information in Niger. She concocts a cover story on dinosaurs—from Oranosaurus nigeriensis to Afrovenator abakensis.

In the meantime, she is approached by a reliable source. Elisabetta does what a reporter has to do—with rigor and tenacity. She concludes that the story is baseless and refrains from publishing a single sentence. But in reality her efforts were after-the-fact, because the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Carlo Rossella, entralled with the possibly having found—as he tells his staff--a smoking gun, has forwarded the documents to the US Embassy in Rome, which he regards as "the highest source of confirmation". Does Pollari notify Berlusconi’s publication, Panorama, which is patting itself on the back over the uranium scoop, that the information is bogus? It seems that he did not. And this is how Jeff Castelli and the CIA came to find on their plate the half-baked frittata of which they'd been refusing to partake for nearly a year. The documents are such crude forgeries that they must be hidden from scrutiny lest they rain on Dick Cheney’s parade. The arrival of the documents in Washington occurs by stealth. They are distributed on October 16, 2002, to the various intelligence agencies by State Department officials during a routine meeting at which four CIA officials were in attendance. Not one of those present at the meeting is able to recall actually taking the dossier into their possession. Mysteriously, the "Italian papers" are “misplaced” at Langley for three months and it is only after an internal audit ordered by the Inspector-General that they are found inside a safe in the Counterproliferation Section. This is the first Italian lunge-and-parry. The uranium hoax inflated with the aluminum tube chicanery. But that is another story.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Excerpts From Stephen Hadley’s Press Briefing, 11/2/05

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

HADLEY: Can you limit it to one follow-up, because I want to try and get — I’d like to get through everybody if I could. It would be a first.

QUESTION: On September 9th, 2002, you met in Washington with Niccolo Polari, the head of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI. According to the Italian daily, La Repubblica, Mr. Polari came to the meeting to discuss and alleged attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger.
Is that claim false?

HADLEY: We’ve looked at this issue. We have both looked at our documentary record. I have searched my own recollection. We have also talked to other people on the NSC staff at the time who might have a recollection of that meeting.

I can tell you what that canvassing has unearthed. There was a meeting in Washington on that date. I did attend a meeting with him. It was, so far as we can tell from our records, about less than 15 minutes. It was a courtesy call.
Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium or any recollection of any documents being passed. And that’s also my recollection. I have very little recollection of the meeting, but I have no recollection there was any of that discussion or that there was any passing of documents — nor does anybody else who may have participated in that meeting. That’s where we are.

QUESTION: Can you say what you did discuss with Mr. Polari?

HADLEY: I told you, I have very little recollection of the meeting. And it was in the order of a courtesy call, getting to know a person who was going to be a colleague going forward.

And you can tell that from the relative briefness of the meeting. And I think what the Italian authorities have said is very consistent with what I just said.


QUESTION: Have you or any member of your staff met with Italian intelligence officials elsewhere, outside the White House or any other time when the question of Niger and uranium was discussed?

QUESTION: And if not, can you us how the fake documents came into the possession of the U.S.?

HADLEY: I would obviously in answering a question like that want to check records and all the rest. I can tell you my recollection. My recollection is no, not here, not anyplace else.

I asked that question on the documents to refresh my own recollection. My understanding is that they came to the State Department after the NIE of October 2002. But, again, I don’t want to mislead you. That’s the answer I got from a staff person a few minute ago to refresh my memory.

Suffice to say they didn’t come to me. They didn’t come to the NSC. And we can try and get a more precise answer.
But my understanding is that they came to the State Department. They were then shared with the CIA. And I think it’s pretty much in the public record as to what happened with respect to those documents.

QUESTION: Came via? How did they come to the State Department?

HADLEY: We can try and get you an answer on that. I mean, I think this is actually quite out in the public record, but let me see if we can get an answer for you on that.

7:05 AM  

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