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SISMI was a participant or observer in the following events:
Billy Carter. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]An Italian-American disinformation campaign has a profound effect on the US presidential election of 1980. With the assistance of Italian intelligence (SISMI) and the shadowy right-wing organization called “Propaganda Due,” or P-2 (see 1981), American neoconservative Michael Ledeen organizes a smear campaign against Billy Carter, the brother of US President Jimmy Carter. (Billy Carter is a self-proclaimed alcoholic whose escapades have provoked much hilarity among the US press and an equal amount of embarrassment in the White House.) In the weeks before the election, Ledeen publishes articles in the British and American press accusing Billy Carter of having untoward and perhaps illegal financial dealings with Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Billy Carter is forced to admit that he did accept a $200,000 loan from al-Qadhafi’s regime. The ensuing scandal becomes known as “Billygate.” It is not known for sure what impact the scandal will eventually have on the race between President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan; what is known is that “Billygate” erupted in 1979, was investigated, and had died down. Then, less than a month before the November 1980 election, Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave write an article for the US’s New Republic and Britain’s Now magazine that falsely alleges Billy Carter took an additional $50,000 from al-Qadhafi, and worse, met secretly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The articles reignite the scandal in time to affect the election. In 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation will find that “Billygate” is an orchestrated attempt by Ledeen and SISMI to throw the election to Reagan. Ledeen, who used SISMI sources to unearth financial information on Billy Carter, was himself paid $120,000 by SISMI for “Billygate” and other projects. Ledeen has a code name, Z-3, and is paid through a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen will later admit that his consulting firm, ISI, may have accepted SISMI money, and will claim he can’t remember if he has a coded identity. P-2 operative Francesco Pazienza will be convicted in absentia on multiple charges stemming from the “Billygate” disinformation campaign, including extortion and fraud. Ledeen will not be charged in the Italian court that convicts Pazienza, but prosecutors will cite his participation in their arguments against Pazienza. Ledeen will deny any involvement with either Pazienza or P-2, and deny any connection to any disinformation schemes. In fact, Ledeen will say he doesn’t even believe P-2 exists. After Reagan takes office, Ledeen will be made a special assistant to chief of staff Alexander Haig, and later will become a staff member of Reagan’s National Security Council, where he will play a key role in setting up the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. [Unger, 2007, pp. 233-234, 388]
Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Billy Carter, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Carter administration, Francesco Pazienza, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Michael Ledeen, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Wall Street Journal, Yasser Arafat, SISMI, Propaganda Due
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Elections Before 2000
Licio Gelli. [Source: Reformation (.org)]“Propaganda Due,” or P-2, an informal, parallel Secret Service in Italy led by neofascist and Freemason Licio Gelli, is banned by the Italian Parliament, though the organization continues to function. (Gelli is expelled from the Masons the same year as P-2 is banned.) It had a penchant for secret rituals and exotic covert ops against what it considered Communist-based threats. P-2 members swear to have their throats slit and tongues cut out rather than break their oaths of secrecy and loyalty. Author Craig Unger characterizes the organization as “subversive, authoritarian, and right-wing.” It was sometimes called the “P-2 Masonic Lodge” because of its ties to the Freemasons. It served as a covert intelligence agency for militant anticommunists. It was also linked to Operation Gladio, a secret paramilitary wing of NATO that supported far-right military coups in Greece and Turkey during the Cold War. P-2 is banned by the Italian Parliament after an investigation found that it had infiltrated the highest levels of Italy’s judiciary, parliament, military, and press, and was linked to assassinations, kidnappings, and illicit arms deals around the world. The critical event was the murder of Freemason and bank president Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging from a bridge in London; the investigation found that P-2 may have been involved in Calvi’s murder. American neoconservative Michael Ledeen, who has long if murky connections with both US and Italian intelligence agencies, was a part of two major international disinformation operations in conjunction with P-2 and SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency (see October 1980 and Mid-1981 through Late 1981). [BBC, 10/16/1998; Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, 12/14/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 232-233]
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]
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]
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]
A compendium of documents both real and forged is given to US intelligence by Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI. It is doubtful that the US receives the key documents themselves—it is standard practice among intelligence agencies to share reports, but not original materials, with allies. The dossier includes materials purloined from the Nigerien embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001). According to document peddler Rocco Martino (see Early 2000), SISMI later added more documents to the ones he originally obtained from the Nigerien embassy, including a codebook and a dossier filled with documents both genuine and forged. The dossier includes an authentic telex dated February 1, 1999, in which Nigerien ambassador Adamou Chekou wrote to another official about a forthcoming visit from Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican (see February 1999).
Forged Document Asserting Sale of Uranium to Iraq Included - The last and most important document the US receives is a forged memo dated July 7, 2000. This forgery is supposedly a report on the sale of 500 tons of pure “yellowcake” uranium per year by Niger to Iraq (see Between 1999 and 2000 and Summer 2001). Such uranium is useful in making nuclear weapons.
Documents for Money - For Martino’s part, it seems that his only motivation in disseminating the forged documents is money. Italian reporter Carla Bonini later says, “He was not looking for great amounts of money—$10,000, $20,000, maybe $40,000.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]
CIA Analysts Disbelieving of Claims - The initial reaction of the CIA analysts reading over the documents is to dismiss the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy huge quantities of Nigerien uranium as ridiculous. In September 2006, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern will say: “The reports made no sense on the face of it. Most of us knew the Iraqis already had yellowcake. It is a sophisticated process to change it into a very refined state and they didn’t have the technology.” In October 2006, Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say, “The idea that you could get that much yellowcake out of Niger without the French knowing, that you could have a train big enough to carry it, is absurd.” Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who will serve in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia Division in 2002 and 2003, will note in October 2005: “Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore. If Saddam [Hussein] wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore, when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?” McGovern will add that it is routine for “all manner of crap” to come “out of the field.” The CIA’s experienced analysts “are qualified to see if these reports made sense. For some reason, perhaps cowardice, these reports were judged to be of such significance that no one wanted to sit on it.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207-208]
Difference in Dates - Other sources say that SISMI waits until October 2001 to provide the documents to the US (see October 15, 2001).
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli, reportedly asks SISMI to provide the US with any useful intelligence it might have. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303]
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:
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]
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]
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]
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
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]
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]
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]
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
Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence. [Source: CIA]The final, published report from British intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs is released. Prepared by Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and known as the “Scarlett dossier,” it contains much the same vagaries of language that the previous draft versions contained (see September 10-11, 2002 and September 16, 2002).
Contradictory Claims about African Uranium - Chapter 3 tells the reader “what we know” about Iraqi WMD, including the statement that “Uranium has been sought from Africa.” Unfortunately, the first and second drafts’ language clearly indicated that British intelligence does not “know” anything about the uranium deal, but merely believes the claim to be true. Author Dennis Hans writes in 2003, “Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions, and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying ‘we know’ when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.” The language of the final draft contradicts the claim of established fact; later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of earlier drafts has been downgraded to merely stating, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.” The language is similar to that of the first draft, but a statement saying “we judge” is not the same as a statement saying “we know.” Hans concludes, “In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a ‘judgment’ in the executive summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague ‘there is intelligence’ claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.” Prime Minister Tony Blair uses the dossier to flatly assert that “we now know the following”: that Iraq indeed tried to purchase uranium from Africa, “though we do not know whether he has been successful” (see September 24, 2002). [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003; Hutton Inquiry, 1/28/2004] Later reporting will reveal that the main source for the dossier’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that was based on the same set of forged documents that formed the basis of the US allegations. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
'No Definitive Intelligence' on Aluminum Tube Allegations - In the section discussing Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the dossier says there “is no definitive intelligence evidence” that the shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted by the CIA was intended for use in an Iraqi nuclear program. This assessment of the tubes contradicts the majority view at the CIA. [United Kingdom, 9/24/2002]
'Echo Chamber,' 'Disinformation Campaign' - Former CIA official Milt Bearden will later say, “When you are playing a disinformation campaign, you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.’” Author Craig Unger will note that by the time the “Scarlett dossier” is released, between the various US and British claims and the array of reports in the media, it seems as if the claims of Iraq trying to buy Nigerien uranium are coming from multiple sources, “when in fact there [is] merely an echo chamger of corroboration.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 259]
Claim that Iraq Can Launch WMD within 45 Minutes - Perhaps the most infamous portion of the dossier is the claim that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction against chosen targets within 45 minutes of the order being given. That particular claim was not in the drafts of the dossier, and was apparently inserted by Blair administration officials seeking to bolster the case for war with Iraq. The Blair government will later deny that assertion. [Associated Press, 2/18/2008] After it is revealed early the following year that the US had relied on intelligence based on forged documents, the British will insist that they have additional evidence to support their claims (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003). [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005]
Nicolo Pollari, the chief of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI, personally warns the CIA that the documents “proving” that Iraq attempted to buy 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) are fakes. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
The Italian military intelligence agency SISMI is briefed by the CIA on a plan to kidnap radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003). SISMI agrees to the plan, but it appears other Italian agencies are not informed of it. The CIA will later claim the plan is even approved by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, although documentation to support this will not be produced. When Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who are monitoring Nasr and planning to arrest him, find he has been kidnapped, they will charge several CIA officers with breaking Italian law (see June 23, 2005 and After). [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The CIA notifies the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI that Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist radical the agencies kidnapped from Milan in February (see Noon February 17, 2003), is being interrogated in Cairo, Egypt. After Italian prosecutors begin investigating the kidnap, they will raid a SISMI safehouse in Rome, finding a document that confirms the notification. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Nasr is actually tortured in Egypt (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After).
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]
Italian lawmaker Senator Massimo Brutti states that in January 2003 (see November 20, 2005) Italy’s military intelligence service, SISMI, warned the United States that its reporting (see March 25, 2002)
(see October 15, 2001)
(see February 5, 2002) on Iraq’s purported attempts to procure uranium from Niger were wrong. Brutti says he is not sure whether this warning was sent before or after President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “At about the same time as the State of the Union address, they (Italy’s SISMI secret services) said that the dossier doesn’t correspond to the truth,” Sen. Massimo Brutti tells journalists after he and other lawmakers on a parliamentary commission were briefed by SISMI’s head, Nicolo Pollari, and Gianni Letta, a top aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi. [Associated Press, 11/3/2005] Shortly after making the statement, Brutti calls the Associated Press and says these comments were made in error. There was no warning in January 2003, he says. He also says lawmakers were told during the briefing that Italian intelligence did not have “a role in the dossier that was supposed to have demonstrated that Iraq was in an advanced phase of possession of enriched uranium.”
[Associated Press, 11/3/2005; Reuters, 11/3/2005]
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]
The Los Angeles Times concludes a 6-month investigation on how misinformation provided by Curveball was used to bolster the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction. In a front-page article summarizing the investigation, the Times reports: “An investigation by the Times based on interviews since May  with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the US, Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that US bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed. The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball’s account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq’s biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.”
[Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005 Sources: Massimo Brutti]
(Show related quotes)
An Italian judge rules that there is enough evidence to try thirty-five people in the affair of kidnapped imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). Nasr was kidnapped by the CIA, with the knowledge of the Italian military intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), in Milan in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, a former CIA asset (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), was then taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured (see April-May 2004). The 26 Americans that are indicted can be tried in absentia in Italy and include Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, the former CIA station chief in Rome, and an officer from the US air base in Aviano, near Venice. The nine Italians include former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, but three of them are only charged with complicity in the kidnapping, not the kidnapping itself. However, none of the Americans are in Italy at this time, and Italy has not asked for them to be extradited. [Associated Press, 1/26/2007; CNN, 2/16/2007]
In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206-207]
Italy’s Constitutional Court bars the prosecution at the trial over the 2003 rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from using some evidence. That evidence, barred on state secrecy grounds, includes phone taps and testimony from agents with the Italian military intelligence service SISMI. At least partially because of this ruling, five of seven SISMI agents charged with involvement in the rendition will not be convicted (see November 4, 2009). [Reuters, 11/4/2009]
Most of the defendants are found guilty at a trial of dozens of US and Italian officials over the rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003). Twenty-three US officials are convicted, the most high-profile being former CIA officers Robert Seldon Lady and Sabrina de Sousa, as well as Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano. [Reuters, 11/4/2009] Lady gets the heaviest sentence, eight years, whereas de Sousa, Romano, and the other Americans—Monica Adler, Gregory Asherleigh, Lorenza Carrera, Drew Channing, John Duffin, Vincent Faldo, Raymond Harbaough, James Harbison, Ben Amar Harty, Cynthia Logan, George Purvis, Pilar Rueda, Joseph Sofin,
Michalis Vasiluou, Eliana Castaldo, Victor Castellano, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Anne Lidia Jenkins, and James Kirkland—get five years. [Reuters, 11/4/2009; International Commission of Jurists, 11/24/2009 ] Judge Oscar Magi finds three US officials not guilty as they have diplomatic immunity. They are the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli, whose “brainchild” the abduction was (see Before February 17, 2003), former first secretary at the US embassy in Rome Ralph Russomando, and former second secretary Betnie Medero. Prosecutor Armando Spataro says he may appeal the decision to grant them diplomatic immunity. Five agents of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI are also not convicted. The officials, including former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, get off because evidence against them is suppressed on state secrecy grounds (see March 2009). However, two junior SISMI agents are convicted and sentenced to three years in prison as accomplices. [Reuters, 11/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Monica Adler, Oscar Magi, Michalis Vasiluou, Pilar Rueda, SISMI, Raymond Harbaough, Vincent Faldo, Ralph Russomando, Victor Castellano, Robert Seldon Lady, Sabrina De Sousa, Joseph Sofin, Lorenza Carrera, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Joseph L. Romano III, Ben Amar Harty, Armando Spataro, Anne Lidia Jenkins, Central Intelligence Agency, Cynthia Logan, Betnie Medero, Eliana Castaldo, Jeff Castelli, John Duffin, James Kirkland, Drew Channing, Gregory Asherleigh, George Purvis, James Harbison
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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