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Context of 'January 17, 2006: Neoconservative Allegedly Involved in Iraq-Niger Forgery Dissemination Admits to Working for Italian Magazine'

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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

Manucher Ghorbanifar.Manucher Ghorbanifar. [Source: Ted Thai / Getty Images]The Bush administration sends two defense officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, to meet with Iranians in Rome in response to an Iranian government offer to provide information relevant to the war on terrorism. The offer had been backchanneled by the Iranians to the White House through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms trader and a central person in the Iran-Contra affair, who contacted another Iran-Contra figure, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute. Ledeen passed the information on to his friends in the Defense Department who then relayed the offer to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Hadley, who expressed no reservations about the proposed meeting, informed CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage. According to officials interviewed by the New York Times, the United States Embassy in Rome was not notified of the planned meeting as required by standard interagency procedures. Neither the US embassy nor the CIA station chief in Rome learns of the three-day meeting until after it happens (see December 12, 2001). When they do catch wind of the meeting, they notify CIA and State Department headquarters in Washington which complain to the administration about how the meetings were arranged. [Newsday, 8/9/2003; Washington Post, 8/9/2003; New York Times, 12/7/2003] In addition to Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, Franklin, and Rhode, the meeting is attended by Nicolo Pollari, head of SISMI, and Antonio Martino, Italy’s minister of defense. [Washington Monthly, 9/2004]
Destabilizing the Iraqi Government - According to the Boston Globe, either at this meeting, a similar one in June (see June 2002), or both, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar discuss ways to destabilize the Iranian government, possibly using the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a US-designated terrorist group, as a US proxy. [Boston Globe, 8/31/2004] The meetings are suspected of being an attempt by what investigative reporters Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Gastris will later call “a rogue faction at the Pentagon… trying to work outside normal US foreign policy channels to advance a ‘regime-change’ agenda.” The fact that MEK members attend the meetings adds weight to the claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 234-235]
Italian Intelligence on Iraq-Niger Allegations - Additionally, according to an unnamed SISMI source, Pollari speaks with Ledeen about intelligence his agency has collected (see October 15, 2001) suggesting that Iraq made a deal with Niger to purchase several tons of uranium. SISMI already sent a report to Washington on the matter in mid-October (see October 15, 2001). Reportedly, Pollari has also approached CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli about the report, but Castelli has since indicated he is not interested in the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Paul Gastris, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Larry Franklin, Nicolo Pollari, Harold Rhode, Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, George J. Tenet, Antonio Martino

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence, 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

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]

Entity Tags: Panorama

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

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

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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