|Towards the end of 2000, Rocco Martino, an information peddler, vaguely connected with one or another secret service groups in Italy came up with a money-making scheme. Apparently, the French were concerned that someone was working their abandoned Uranium mines in Niger. So Rocco Martino got with old friend Antonio Nucera who worked at SISMI and they concocted a scheme. They obtained a seal and stationery from a woman on hard times, "La Signora" she’s called, who works at the Niger Embassy. Then over the New Year break, Rocco Martino, "La Signora," and Zakaria Yaou Maiga, a Niger national, faked a break-in at the Embassy [either to explain the missing stationery or the soon-to-be-created documents]. Whatever the case, they mixed some old document from the 90’s pilfered by Antonio Nucera, and forged a few more to make a packet that looked like Iraq was buying Uranium Ore from Niger. The packet was sold to the French for not very much. The French saw it as a worthless forgery and that was that.|
While the details vary slightly, this is the generally accepted version of how these documents came into being. It’s a strange story about a strange way to make a living – peddling fake intelligence. All of this was before the September 11th, 2001 bombing of the Trade Towers. The French, who actually mine the Uranium in Niger, have never varied in their total rejection of these documents and repeatedly warned the U.S. that they were forgeries. One of the questions in Eriposte‘s current analysis concerns when the U.S. first got wind of their existence. Here’s my summary of what la reppublica had to say about what came next:
Time passes, and then along came September 11th, 2001, changing the game. The Americans, led by Cheney, were looking for evidence to implicate Saddam Hussein. This came from CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli. And the Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi was looking to be a number one ally of the Americans. The new director of SISMI, Nicolò Pollari, and Alberto Manenti, the new man in charge of WMDs, asked Antonio Nucera who was about to retire to stay on as a consultant. So, the amateurish Niger Forgeries were about to be reborn in a much bigger venue.
Nicolò Pollari at SISMI hatched a plan to use these documents to put Italy and his agency in the limelight. First, Rocco Martino turned the documents over to M16 in England. Then, Pollari reported about them to Jeff Castelli in Italy [October 2001] – 500 tons of Yellowcake Uranium sold to Iraq. Castelli may have seen the documents, but they didn’t make it to Washington – only his report came to Langley.
Nicolò Pollari actually travelled to Washington to corroborate the intelligence, meeting with George Tenet, who was apparently underwhelmed. At this point, the CIA was dubious that this information was valid, and in Italy, Castelli began to cool towards Pollari.
Thus far, what we’re being told is that the Niger Documents began their life as a second rate scam, but after 911, the Italian government began to push these documents to an eager U.S. audience as real intelligence, motivated by a desire to get in good with their American allies. The Italians presumably all knew that these documents were forged. The CIA was initially skeptical at best, and gave the Italian, Nicolò Pollari, the cold shoulder.
Pollari realized that there was a split in the U.S. government between the cautious CIA and State Department and the anti-Iraq Hawks, Cheney and Rumsfield’s Defense Department. Back in Italy, Defense Minister Antonio Martino suggested that Pollari give up on the CIA and arrange an appointment to meet "an old friend of Italy," Michael Ledeen. If you’re confused about Rocco Martino, Michael Ledeen will drive you over the edge. He’s a Ph.D. foreign policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fascist [for real], a Zionist of sorts with ties to Israel, a major player in the Iran-Contra scandal, an active writer for the National Review fomenting for war with Iran, and then there’s his murky involvement with the Italian Secret Service.
Ledeen happened to be in Rome at the behest of the Office of Special Plans, a group created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz to collect intelligence supporting a war on Iraq [guess he didn’t trust the CIA]. He was accompanied by Larry Franklin [who has subsequently pled guilty to passing U.S. Secret Documents to Israel]. So Nicolò Pollari met with Michael Ledeen, who then abruptly returned to the U.S. Shortly thereafter, Paul Wolfowitz convinced Dick Cheney that the documents intercepted by Italian intelligence should be explored in depth, and Cheney began to knock on the door of the CIA asking questions.
So, failing to get a rise out of the CIA with his coopted forged Niger Yellowcake documents, Pollari did an end run and talked to Wolfowitz’s cloak and dagger man, Michael Ledeen, who was in Italy to find a reason to go war with Iraq. At this point, it’s in early 2002. Though no copy of these documents had yet made it to the U.S., by early in 2002, the story is an item of interest in Washington.
The State Department didn’t buy it. The Niger Uranium operation couldn’t even produce 500 tons of ore in a year. But Tenet had been burned by 911, and wasn’t too receptive to the doubting State Department staff. In the meantime, in February, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson off to Niger to check things out.
Throughout 2002, Pollari apparently continued his contacts with the Defense Department outside the CIA, and by September 9, 2002, came to Washington for a secret meeting with Steven Hadley, assistant to Condoleezza Rice. At the same time, the Italian Magazine, Panorama, came out with an article War with Iraq? It has already started which described Hussein’s aquisition of Uranium from Nigeria and "aluminum tubes" for gas centrifuges used to purify Uranium. What’s interesting about this article? Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy [also the richest man in Italy] owns Panorama Magazine! Note also that the media coverage of Uranium and aluminum tubes in Italy is on the Timeline with Judith Miller’s articles in the U.S. suggesting coordination from somewhere! When he returns to Italy from meeting Hadley, Pollari is interviewed twice by the Italian Parliment and gives conflicting views on the verifiability of his information.
Sounds like a lot was going on between Italy and the U.S. Office of Special Plans in the lead up to the Iraq War! According to the article, Berlusconi and Pollari were operating outside the oversight of the Italian Parliment [as was the Office of Special Plans operating outside of the view of the U.S. Congress and the CIA].
We have been told that rogue Rocco Martino’s charade, originally aimed at the French, has mushroomed into a device being used by the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, and his SISMI chief, Nicolò Pollari, to get tight with the U.S. Bush Administration. Failing to titillate the CIA with their revelation, they hook up with the Neoconservative epicenter of our government, the Defense Department, and find an enthusiastic audience.
Now we’ve come to September 2002, one year after the 911 attack. If you recall, that’s when the ad campaign started in earnest in this country. Bush was stumping for war with Iraq. Judith Miller was pouring out articles about Iraqi Uranium, Centrifuge tubes ["the smoking gun"], and her favorite, germs, at a galloping pace. Cheney and Rice could talk of little else.
I personally recall that time as beyond confusing. I thought we were involved in a war with Arab Terrorists – Islamic Fundamentalists who lived in caves with a bunch of wives and plotted to destroy us. All of a sudden, all we heard about was Saddam Hussein and Iraq. It just didn’t make a lick of sense [still doesn’t]. But back then, I didn’t know about AEI, PNAC, the Neocons, etc. None of us did.
When Pollari met with Hadley on September 9th, he didn’t tell him that Rocco Martino is a creep, and he didn’t tell him that these famous aluminum tubes that Judith Miller has revealed the day before are made in Italy for missles, not centrifuges. He knew that both claims were totally false, but apparently didn’t tell.
Meanwhile, sleazeball Rocco Martino tries to sell the documents to a reporter for Panorama, Elizabeth Burba, who immediately realizes they are bogus. But her editor, thinking they are hot stuff, forwards them to the U.S. Embassy. So finally, the documents themselves arrive at the CIA in October [where they are misplaced and lie fallow for 3 months]. What happens next is well known to all of us.
Much of this is in question – either unproven or speculation. Ledeen’s role is murky. The Italians alternate between confirming and denying their role. The U.S. role is equally shrouded in mystery. In my next post, I’ll attempt to summarize what clarity the left coaster, Eriposte, has been able to gather from a close reading of the documents themselves and the public statements of the parties involved.