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Panorama was a participant or observer in the following events:
Panorama, an Italian weekly owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reports that Iraq’s intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, obtained 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria [not Niger, as other reports at this time are alleging] through a Jordanian intermediary. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
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]
Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001,
February 5, 2002,
and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]
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]
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