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Context of 'October 18, 2001: Italian Military Intelligence Chief Verifies to CIA Credibility of Source Who Provided Niger Documents'

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Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Marshall, 11/10/2005; Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” [Marshall, 11/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
bullet The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org [ERiposte, 10/31/2005] , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003]
bullet The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
bullet According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [Unknown, n.d.; Reuters, 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003; US Department of State, 9/2005]
bullet The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Unknown, n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome), 7/16/2003] This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. [ERiposte, 10/31/2005]
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” [New Yorker, 5/17/2004, pp. 227] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005]
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mamadou Tandja, SISMI, Elisabetta Burba, Nassirou Sabo, Wissam al-Zahawie, Saddam Hussein, Jeff Castelli, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari, the newly appointed head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI, visits his counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pressured Pollari to give the US any information he has that would be useful for the US case for war with Iraq. As such, Pollari gives the CIA a dossier concerning the supposed uranium deal between Iraq and Niger, not the first time the CIA has received these documents (see October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001). The actual forged documents are not in Pollari’s dossier. Although CIA analysts will call the report “very limited and lacking necessary detail,” the fact that Pollari himself delivers the dossier adds credibility to the information; as a result, the State Department will direct the US embassy in Niger to look into the allegations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Nicolo Pollari, US Department of State, Silvio Berlusconi, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI—see (After October 18, 2001) and September 9, 2002), responds to the CIA’s request for clarification on the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see October 15, 2001). Pollari’s page and a half letter explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora [Laura Montini],” who has in the past “given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy.” [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005] Some time around this same date, according to La Repubblica, Pollari discusses the issue with Italy’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino (no relation to Rocco Martino, the document peddler—see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Martino tells Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” Martino’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Ledeen (see (After October 18, 2001) and April 3, 2005). Ledeen will later deny that any such meeting with Pollari ever happened. Pollari will deny any involvement with the Iraq-Niger affair. [Unger, 2007, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Central Intelligence Agency, Antonio Martino, Laura Montini, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari.Nicolo Pollari. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italian intelligence (SISMI), is reportedly disappointed with his attempts to communicate with US intelligence. (It is not clear from the reporting what exactly Pollari is dissappointed about. It has been interpreted to have meant that Pollari is disappointed about US intelligence’s refusal to take SISMI’s October 15 report seriously) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly asked Pollari to establish closer relations with Washington (see Shortly after September 11, 2001). According to La Repubblica, the prime minister’s diplomatic advisor, Gianni Castellaneta, advises Pollari to look in “other directions.” The Italian minister of defense, Antonio Martino, invites Pollari to meet with American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, which he does in December (see December 9, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Gianni Castellaneta, Michael Ledeen, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler, attempts to sell a collection of mostly forged documents (though it is not clear precisely what documents these are) to the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), France’s intelligence agency for $100,000. (According to Martino, he has been selling documents to the French since 1999 (see June or July 1999).) The documents suggest that Niger agreed to sell uranium to Iraq in 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Knight Ridder, 10/25/2005; Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005] The French insist on reviewing the documents before there is any exchange of money. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] In a matter of days, French intelligence determines the documents are not authentic. [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005] SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, is reportedly aware of Martino’s dealing with the French, and may have actually arranged them. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Rocco Martino, SISMI, Antonio Nucera

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, meets briefly with US National Security Council officials. [Il Foglio (Milan), 10/28/2005] Present at the meeting are National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; her deputy, Stephen Hadley; and other US and Italian officials. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005; American Prospect, 10/25/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/26/2005; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2005; AGI online, 10/29/2005]
Mysterious 'Courtesy Call' - Pollari can presumably set the record straight on the question of whether Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes for manufacturing rockets or for use in building muclear weapons (see Between April 2001 and September 2002, April 11, 2001, July 25, 2002, September 24, 2002, October 1, 2002, Between December 2002 and January 2003, January 11, 2003, and March 7, 2003)—the aluminum tubes in question are exactly the same as the Italians use in their Medusa air-to-ground missile systems (see December 2002). Apparently Iraq is trying to reproduce “obsolete” missile systems dating back to when Italy and Iraq engaged in military trade. Pollari could also discuss the documents alleging that Iraq and Niger entered into a secret uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001), a set of documents originally promulgated by SISMI and now thoroughly discredited (see February 5, 2003). But apparently Pollari discusses none of this with White House officials. Hadley, who hosts the meeting with Pollari, will refuse to say what they discuss, except to label Pollari’s visit “just a courtesy call,” and will add, “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 passed.”
Meeting with Hadley, Not Tenet, Significant - Author Craig Unger will write in 2007 that the real significance of the meeting is that Pollari meets with Hadley (widely considered an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney), and not with Pollari’s counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi later says, “It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the CIA. It is uniquely unusual.” Of the Iraq-Niger documents, Giraldi will say, “In spite of lots of people having seen the documents, and having said they were not right, they went around them.” Former CIA and State Department analyst Melvin Goodman will concur. “To me there is no benign interpretation of” the Pollari-Hadley meeting, Goodman will say. “At the highest level it was known that the documents were forgeries. Stephen Hadley knew it. Condi Rice [Hadley’s supervisor] knew it. Everyone at the highest level knew.” Neoconservative columnist, author, and former Italian intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, who has close ties with both Pollari and Hadley and may have played a part in producing the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see December 9, 2001). will deny setting up the meeting. And a former CIA official speaking on Tenet’s behalf will say that Tenet has no information to suggest that Pollari or elements of SISMI were trying to circumvent the CIA and go directly to the White House. [Unger, 2007, pp. 258-259] (In 2006, history professor Gary Leupp will write that Ledeen is the informal liaison between SISMI and the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002). [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Downplaying Significance of Meeting - The Bush administration later insists the meeting was of little importance. Frederick Jones, a National Security Council spokesman, describes the meeting as a courtesy call of 15 minutes or less. He also says, “No one present at that meeting has any recollection of yellowcake [uranium oxide] being discussed or documents being provided.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Meeting Remains Secret until 2005 - This meeting is not reported until 2005, when Italy’s La Repubblica reports that a meeting—arranged through a backchannel by Gianni Castellaneta, the Italian prime minister’s diplomatic advisor—took place between Pollari and Hadley on this date. The report is refuted by Italy which insists it was actually a short meeting between Pollari and Rice. Italy says that although Hadley was present, he was really not part of the meeting. [AGI online, 10/29/2005] It is not clear from the reporting, however, if the meeting acknowledged by Italy and Washington, is in fact the same meeting reported by La Repubblica.

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Craig Unger, George J. Tenet, Gianni Castellaneta, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen J. Hadley, Nicolo Pollari, Philip Giraldi, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italian freelance information peddler and former SISMI agent Rocco Martino, surprised at the tremendous media coverage his documents alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium deal are receiving (see September 24, 2002,March 2000, Late June 2002, and Summer 2004), approaches Elisabetta Burba, a journalist for a Milan news magazine, Panorama. Martino and Burba have worked together in the past; she considers him to be a reliable source. Panorama is edited by Carlo Rossella, a close political ally of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (see October 16, 2001). Berlusconi is a close ally of the Bush administration, and is actively working with the US to promote the war with Iraq. One of Panorama’s foreign contributors is American neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see December 9, 2001). These are all considerations which may have influenced Martino’s decision to contact Burba rather than a journalist with another news outlet. He tells her that he has some documents (see March 2000) that might interest her. [Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 259-261; Washington Post, 4/3/2007]
'Let's Make This War Start' - They meet at a restaurant in Rome. Martino tells Burba that he has documents proving that Iraq made a deal to purchase hundreds of tons of uranium from Niger. “Let’s make this war start,” he says. “This is a megagalactica situation.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 147]
The 'Italian Letter' - Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter from Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, giving his formal approval for a deal for Niger to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Iraq. Washington Post reporter Peter Eisner will later write, “This was the smoking gun in the package, claiming to show the formal approval of Niger’s president to supply Iraq with a commodity that would in all likelihood only be used for a nuclear weapons program: Iraq had no nuclear power plants.” The letter is written in all capital letters, like an old telex, is dated July 27, 2000, and bears what Eisner describes as “an odd shield on the top, a shining sun surrounded by a horned animal head, a star, and a bird.” It is marked “Confidential and Urgent.” The letter reads in part, “500 tons of pure uranium per year will be delivered in two phases.” It bears a seal reading “The Office of the President of the Republic of Niger.” Written over the seal is a barely legible signature, apparently from Tandja. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007]
Cash on Corroboration - Martino hands over copies of the documents, totaling some 22 pages, mostly in French, and offers to sell Burba the originals. Skeptical but interested, Burba agrees to pay Martino 10,000 euros—about $12,500—for the documents if they can be corroborated by independent authorities. When Burba informs Rossella of the deal later in the day, he proposes sending her to Africa to investigate the claim (see October 16, 2002 and After), and insists she give copies of Martino’s documents to the US embassy. “I think the Americans are very interested in this problem of unconventional weapons,” he tells her. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 259-261; Washington Post, 4/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Peter Eisner, Panorama, Rocco Martino, Michael Ledeen, Bush administration (43), Elisabetta Burba, Mamadou Tandja, Saddam Hussein, Carlo Rossella, Silvio Berlusconi

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler, reportedly admits his involvement in the forged Niger documents scandal: “It’s true, I had a hand in the dissemination of those [forged Niger] documents, but I was duped. Both Americans and Italians were involved behind the scenes. It was a disinformation operation.” [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Journalist and radio host Ian Masters asks former CIA operative Vincent Cannistraro during an interview, in reference to the question of who forged the Niger documents (see March 2000), “If I were to say the name Michael Ledeen to you, what would you say?” Cannistraro replies, “You’re very close.” After the radio show, Ledeen denies in a statement that he has any connection to the documents. [Ian Master's Background Briefing, 4/3/2005]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Vincent Cannistraro

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The FBI terminates its two-year investigation into who disseminated the forged documents that alleged Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari has confirmed that former Italian intelligence agent Rocco Martino disseminated the documents (see November 3, 2005). FBI chief Robert Mueller has praised Pollari and SISMI’s cooperation with the bureau’s investigation. In part because of information provided by SISMI to the FBI, the bureau concludes that the forgeries were produced by a person or persons for personal profit, and rules out any possibility that SISMI attempted to influence US policies. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica has published a three-part investigative series claiming Pollari had knowingly provided the US and Great Britain with the forgeries (see October 16, 2001, October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and September 9, 2002), perhaps at the behest of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who it says was said to be eager to help President Bush in the search for weapons in Iraq (see (After October 18, 2001)). Berlusconi has denied any involvement. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]

Entity Tags: La Repubblica, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolo Pollari, Rocco Martino, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the Bush Defense Department, confirms that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama. A Panorama reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was one of the first to come across forged documents that purported to prove Iraq had attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see September 12, 2002 and Afternoon October 7, 2002). Ledeen is widely suspected of playing a role in channeling those forged documents to the CIA (see October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and April 3, 2005), though he has always denied doing so. Ledeen confirms that “several years ago” he was a “twice a month” contributor to Panorama, but refuses to give further details. He also denies, again, any involvement in the Niger documents: “I’ve said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared in the press,” he writes. “I have not discussed it with any government person in any country.” Reporter Larisa Alexandrovna notes that Ledeen wrote for Panorama during the time that the magazine received the forgeries from an Italian intelligence peddler, and sent them from the US Embassy in Rome via backchannels to the US State Department. Around that same time, Ledeen also allegedly facilitated an unusual meeting between the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration (see September 9, 2002). Hadley has denied discussing anything about uranium during that meeting. [Raw Story, 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Larisa Alexandrovna, Bush administration (43), Elisabetta Burba, US Department of State, Stephen J. Hadley, Panorama, Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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