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Profile: Rocco Martino

Positions that Rocco Martino has held:

  • Italian Intelligence (SISMI) agent

Rocco Martino was a participant or observer in the following events:

Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent, will later tell reporters that he provides French officials with documents suggesting that Iraq intends to expand its “trade” with Niger. He does not say from where he obtains these documents. The French assume the trade being discussed concerns uranium, Niger’s main export. At French intelligence’s request, according to Martino, he continues supplying them with documents. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] However Martino’s account is disputed by French intelligence official Alain Chouet who insists that France’s first contact with Martino takes place in June 2002 (see Late June 2002). [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Alain Chouet, Rocco Martino, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome and one of Italy’s foremost experts on WMD, telephones Rocco Martino, an Italian information peddler and former SISMI agent. Nucera tells Martino of a SISMI intelligence asset working in the Niger Embassy in Rome who is in need of money and who can provide him with documents to sell. [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; Il Giornale (Rome), 9/21/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Il Giornale (Rome), 11/6/2005] According to Martino, “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004] Martino, who left the agency in 1999, has a long history of peddling information to other intelligence services in Europe, including France’s DGSE. He is weathering financial difficulties, and Nucera’s proposal may be a lucrative one. Nucera tells Martino about a longtime Italian “asset” in the Nigerien embassy in Rome, a woman of around 60 with a low-level position there. The woman will later be dubbed “La Signora” by the Italian press, and be identified as Laura Montini, the Nigerien ambassador’s assistant. Nucera suggests that Martino can possibly use her as SISMI had, paying her to pass on documents stolen or copied from the Nigerien embassy (see January 2, 2001) and March 2007). [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, SISMI, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

A set of documents is forged implicating Iraq in an attempt to purchase 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake,” from Niger. [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Reuters, 7/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; Talking Points Memo, 10/31/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] It is possible that official stamps and letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001) are used to fabricate the documents, though a subsequent police investigation suggests that the break-in may have been staged to provide a cover story for the origins of the documents. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88] Material gleaned from real Italian intelligence (SISMI) documents dating back to the 1980s concerning Iraq’s yellowcake purchases from Niger during that period are also incorporated into the set of forged documents. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005] But it is unclear who exactly is responsible for the forgeries. In August 2004, the Financial Times will report that according to Rocco Martino, the Italian information peddler who later tries to sell the documents, the documents are fabricated by SISMI, which passes them on to Martino through embassy employee Laura Montini, a paid SISMI asset. [Financial Times, 8/2/2004] In October 2005, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica will suggest the forgery is done by Montini and fellow embassy employee Zakaria Yaou Maiga under the guidance of Martino and Antonio Nucera, the deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] In 2006, an official investigation will add support to this account, concluding that Montini and Maiga, motivated by money, were indeed the forgers of the documents. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] SISMI director Nicolo Pollari will later acknowledge that Martino had worked as a SISMI agent in the past, but deny any SISMI involvement in the Iraq-Niger affair. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [Montini]—no big deal, you understand—one who was still on the books but inactive—to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari will explain. Author Craig Unger will observe that the issue is, if Pollari is to be believed, just one friend helping another friend by loaning him an intelligence asset to help disseminate forged documents. Martino has a different explanation: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” The information is quite contradictory. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will call Martino “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” and a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence.” But Unger will later note that assets like him are valuable precisely because they lack credibility. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to hire someone like Rocco,” says former DIA analyst Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. That’s standard tradecraft for the agencies.” Until Martino stops talking to journalists in 2005, he will insist he believed the documents were authentic (see Summer 2004). “I sell information, I admit,” he will tell a London reporter. “But I only sell good information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari, Laura Montini, La Repubblica, Zakaria Yaou Maiga, Antonio Nucera, Craig Unger, SISMI, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

An official of the Embassy of Niger in Rome returns to the embassy to find that it has been burglarized some time over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The embassy offices are located in a large apartment and office building near the Piazza Mazzinni. Little of value seems to be missing: a wristwatch, some perfume, bureaucratic documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. The documents and materials stolen from the embassy will be used to create forged documents alleging a secret plan for Iraq to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150; Unger, 2007, pp. 189-190] It appears that the people involved in the break-in also searched through and took some of the embassy’s documents and files. [Newsweek, 7/28/2003; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005] The first comprehensive report on the burglary will come from a 2005 series of reports in Italy’s La Repubblica news daily. The series is based on interviews with SISMI director Nicolo Pollari, former SISMI agent and document peddler Rocco Martino (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004), and others. Martino will deny participating in the burglary himself, and will claim he only became involved after SISMI had its agent in the embassy, Laura Montini, deliver to him documents secured from the embassy. “I was told that a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me” (see Early 2000), he will later recall. “I met her and she gave me documents.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207] Italian police will later suspect that the break-in was staged to provide an explanation for how a collection of mostly forged documents (which play an important role in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq) came into being. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 88]

Entity Tags: Laura Montini, Rocco Martino, Nicolo Pollari

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Following a number of meetings in Rome and London between SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence, and the British MI6 [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303-304] , SISMI provides the British with an intelligence report on Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The report—delivered by freelance SISMI agent Rocco Martino to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of Britain’s MI6 in south London—is reportedly based on the collection of mostly forged documents put together in Italy (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). MI6 will include this information in a report it sends to Washington saying only that it was obtained from a “reliable source.” Washington treats the report as an independent confirmation of the Italian report (see October 15, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005; Independent, 11/6/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), SISMI, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 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

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

London’s Sunday Times interviews the person it calls “a mysterious middleman who was a key figure in the notorious Niger uranium hoax before the Iraq war.” The middleman is information peddler Rocco Martino, though Martino uses the alias “Giacomo” in the interview. He claims to have been an “unwitting dupe” in the passing of forged documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Early 2000). Martino confirms that he has worked as a low-level agent for the Italian military intelligence service SISMI, and says that the agency used him to spread the forged Iraq-Niger documents. “I received a call from a former colleague in SISMI,” he says. “I was told a woman in the Niger embassy in Rome had a gift for me. I met her and she gave me documents. Sismi wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.” Martino is referring to Laura Montini, another SISMI asset (see March 2000). He says he believed the documents were real when he gave them to various intelligence contacts and journalist Elisabetta Burba (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [London Times, 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Rocco Martino, Sunday Times, Laura Montini, SISMI

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Western intelligence officials say that a French intelligence operation to protect Niger’s uranium industry and to prevent weapons proliferation is the inadvertent cause of the forged documents alleging a surreptitious attempt by Iraq to procure uranium from Niger. The operation began in 1999, the officials say. In 2000, French intelligence officials received documents from Italian information peddler Rocco Martino, a source they had used before, that indicated Iraq wanted to expand economic “trade” with Niger. The intelligence officials assumed Iraq wanted to trade for uranium, Niger’s main export. Alarmed, the French asked Martino to provide more information, which, the Financial Times reports, “led to a flourishing ‘market’ in documents.” The next documents Martino provided to the French were forgeries, later exposed as such by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003). The US, which used the documents to support President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger in his 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), later disavowed the claim; the British have yet to do so, insisting that they have other evidence showing the truth behind the allegations. Martino recently confirmed that the documents originated from contacts provided to him by Italian intelligence (see Late July, 2004). A Western intelligence official says: “This issue shows how vulnerable intelligence services and the media are to tricksters like Martino. He responded to a legitimate… demand from the French, who needed the information on Niger. And now he is responding to a new demand in the market, which is being dictated by the political importance this issue has in the US. He is shaping his story to that demand.” [Financial Times, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino, Financial Times, International Atomic Energy Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CBS’s Ed Bradley.CBS’s Ed Bradley. [Source: Associated Press]CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2004; Salon, 9/29/2004] The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).

Entity Tags: Jafar Dhia Jafar, Ed Bradley, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Andrew Heyward, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Elisabetta Burba, George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rocco Martino, Saddam Hussein, Mark Hosenball, Mary Jacoby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italian document peddler Rocco Martino, who first sold the forged documents purporting to prove a secret uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004), tells the British news daily The Guardian: “It was the Italians and Americans who were behind it. It was all a disinformation operation. [I was] a tool used by someone for games much bigger than me.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: 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

General Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency SISMI, identifies former SISMI agent and information peddler Rocco Martino as the disseminator of forged documents that alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Pollari discloses Martino’s identity in closed-door hearings conducted by the Italian parliament. Senator Massimo Brutti tells reporters that Martino is a former SISMI agent who had been “kicked out of the agency.” Brutti also tells reporters that Italy attempted to warn the US that the documents were forgeries, but then retracts the claim (see November 3, 2005). Senator Luigi Malabarba, another participant in the hearing, tells reporters that according to Pollari, Martino was “offering the documents not on behalf of SISMI but on behalf of the French,” and that Martino told prosecutors in Rome that he was in the service of French intelligence. A senior French intelligence official refuses to say whether Martino has ever been a paid agent of French intelligence, but calls Pollari’s assertions about France’s involvement in the document dissemination “scandalous.” Pollari denies any involvement in the document forging or dissemination by SISMI. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]

Entity Tags: SISMI, Nicolo Pollari, Rocco Martino, Luigi Malabarba, Massimo Brutti

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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