Thursday, April 12, 2007

Niger Forgeries


Amy Goodman has a great interview with two journalists, both of whom have books coming out about the Niger forgeries:
CARLO BONINI: SISMI is the Italian CIA. It's the secret service, the counterintelligence service. And Rocco Martino made his way, and his documents made their way to the White House and to the sixteen words.
AMY GOODMAN: How? First, did you know him before?
CARLO BONINI: No. No. This guy came out of the blue. I mean, at least we never -- I mean, we didn't know the existence of him. But it was quite clear after a while that Rocco Martino didn't act by himself. I mean, the Italian job was not only by him. Rocco Martino could count on the complicity of the Italian SISMI. It was thanks to the Italian SISMI that at the beginning the content of the fake documents could be shared with the CIA, and it was because of Rocco Martino's old friendship with an Italian reporter that the documents in the fall 2002 could be shipped to US through the US embassy in Rome.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Eisner, can you take it from there? And also place this in the context of when this happened in relation to President Bush uttering those sixteen words.
PETER EISNER: Well, in fact, Amy, the CIA and other members of the intelligence community had heard from SISMI in the first few days after 9/11, which was saying that there was information that they didn't specify about possible uranium purchases or attempts to buy uranium in Niger, and the CIA solicited more information from SISMI. And by early 2002, they actually had a version of one document saying that this had taken place.
Let me take a moment here to add - given that I did a good deal of reporting on this (as did Laura Rozen) that Martino first asked for money when he approached Burba, but then gave her the documents in the end for free. The question is why? At the same time, roughly within the same 30 day period, the head of SISMI - Nicolo Pollari was meeting with our very own now National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, where has been said that Pollari made the rare visit to deliver something to Hadley. So while it is easy to chase Martino on this, as I have always said and firmly believe, Martino is the laundry man for the intelligence laundry. What I mean by intelligence laundry is that certain people who have an interest in making intelligence look authentic - when it is not - will plant it with foreign intelligence organizations, so that when it trickles back through our own pipeline of information, it appears to be coming from a foreign source. The French would not take it and the CIA station chief at the time rebuffed Martino, leaving the crook to try to plant it with a foreign news agency - which he did.
Onwards with the interview:
PETER EISNER: Rocco Martino was a failed former policeman, Italian policeman, a sometimes agent -- and that is, outside the house of SISMI -- who sometimes was able to provide nuggets of information to journalists and certainly was also working as a freelance for other intelligence agencies, even the French, or working for or providing them information for a stipend.
Rocco Martino approached a journalist named Elisabetta Burba at the Milan news magazine Panorama on October 7, 2002, and said he had some great material, a hot tip about Iraq and uranium, if she was interested. And that was how he first surfaced in this story. Elisabetta Burba and others at her magazine had heard of Martino before. They had gotten information from him before. They had paid him before. And she took a look at his documents, had immediate doubts, brought it into her editors, and started investigating.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another issue. In November 2001 -- you write this at the end of your book, Collusion -- there was a meeting in Italy between Iranian intelligence and the Pentagon. Talk about this meeting.
CARLO BONINI: The meeting, I think, is an astonishing evidence that what has been reported in America before, that at the end of 2001, the US administration was ready to build a case for the war in Iraq -- but it's quite interesting, these meetings show that it's clear that in the road up to the war, the Americans negotiated, had more than, you know, shadow diplomacy with the Iranians. And, I mean, during these meetings, the Iranians attending the meetings were not simply ex-patriots. They were from SCIRI, the Supreme Council of Revolution. They were tightly tied to the ruling Ayatollah in Tehran. So it's quite clear that in the name of the war of Iraq in Iraq, the US administration, especially the Office for Special Plans of the Pentagon, ran a shadow program, diplomacy program, with the Iranians. And I think it's very interesting, because this administration still has to give an answer about those meetings. I mean, all the answers gained until now are groundless, and doesn't make any -- don't make much sense.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Eisner, do you have more to say on this point of this backroom, backdoor Iran-Pentagon link that goes back? I mean, it goes way back to Iran-Contra, secret channel to Iran to sell weapons to them and then skim off the profits and support the Contras in Nicaragua.
PETER EISNER: Yes, indeed. First of all, it was arranged by a gentleman by Michael Ledeen, who is a long-term operative in US circles that goes back at least to the Iran-Contra period. Michael Ledeen is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, the heart of neoconservatism in the United States, allied with Lynne Cheney, allied with various other people close as could be to the Bush administration. Ledeen set this meeting up. Ledeen set it up without advising the US embassy. Ledeen has a longtime relationship with Italy.
Ledeen, interestingly, very interestingly, had a relationship with the magazine Panorama, which was the target of the delivery of the Italian letter and its dossier in October 2002. As a matter of fact, Ledeen started writing a column in October of 2002 for the magazine Panorama, and yet, (a), Ledeen has been widely discredited in the US intelligence community. The person that he brought to the meeting in Rome, Manuchar Ghorbanifar, has been described for years by US intelligence as a serial fabricator. But Ledeen, close to the Bush administration, has said that Ghorbanifar is the most reliable and honest person that he knows. This cannot be separated from the fact that Chalabi himself is questioned as having been an Iranian agent. So there's a whole nexus of questions here that go beyond what one can really get without a series of subpoenas."
I broke the Ledeen-Panorma story, so I think I can speak with some expertise here. Ledeen did set up the initial December 2001 meeting between the key players, including Ghorbanifar - a friend of his - and with Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin (who plead guilty in the AIPAC espionage case). In interviews I have done with Ledeen and from what I have been able to confirm, what we know is that Hadley and Rice both approved the mission, with full knowledge of Donald Rumsfeld and Doug Feith. Ledeen and group went abroad, but Rhode and Franklin continued the meetings  in Paris as late as spring of 2003 as did Republican members of Congress, including Weldon, and Hoekstra, who actually had a Paris meeting as late as last year with Ghorbanifar.
From my article on a story that was being "laundered" in 2003:
Several U.S. and foreign intelligence sources, along with investigators, say an Iranian exile with ties to Iran-Contra peddled a bizarre tale of stolen uranium to governments on both sides of the Atlantic in the spring and summer of 2003.
The story that was peddled -- which detailed how an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq prior to the start of the war in March of 2003, and stole enriched uranium to use in their own nuclear weapons program -- was part of an attempt to implicate both countries in a WMD plot. It later emerged that the Iranian exile was trying to collect money for his tales, sources say.
By all credible accounts, the source of this dubious tale was Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer who used middle-men and cut-outs to create the appearance of several sources. Ghorbanifar played a key role in the Iran-Contra scandal that threatened to take down the Reagan administration, in which the U.S. sold arms to Iran and diverted the proceeds to Nicaraguan militants.
While the various threads of the larger story of Ghorbanifar and his intelligence peddling began in December of 2001, meetings in Paris in 2003 are far more important in illustrating -- as a microcosm -- the larger difficulties faced in untangling the facts relating to global intelligence trafficking.
Tall Tale of Uranium
During the spring and summer of 2003, Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) made several visits to Paris to meet with a source believed to have important military intelligence information.
Unbeknownst to Weldon, the informant, who he would dub simply "Ali," was already peddling a tale of stolen uranium traveling between Iraq and Iran that had been deemed false by most intelligence agencies.
As reported by American Prospect and confirmed by intelligence sources, Ali is a pseudonym used to identify a former minister in the Shah's Iran, Fereidoun Mahdavi. Mahdavi himself is a secretary to Ghorbanifar, the originating source of the uranium fable.
The American Prospect's reporters wrote, "'Ali' is actually a cipher for Manucher Ghorbanifar, the notorious Iranian arms dealer and accused intelligence fabricator -- and the potential instrument of another potentially dangerous manipulation of American policy in the Persian Gulf region."
Ghorbanifahr has strong ties to Michael Ledeen, and both of them were involved in a controversial meeting in Rome of 2001. That meeting, whose purpose is unknown, included high level officials in Italian intelligence, Iranian nationals and Larry Franklin, a former Defense Department analyst who current pled guilty to charges of passing classified information to Israel and Iran. Also in attendance was Middle East expert Harold Rhode, also under investigation for charges of passing classified information to Israel and Iran. Both Rhode and Franklin worked for Feith in the Office of Special plans.
Ledeen was consulting for OSP when all three were dispatched to Rome in 2001. He says the meetings had nothing to do with Iraq.
"The Rome meetings had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq, but with Iran and Afghanistan," Ledeen wrote in an email. "I don't think a single word was pronounced, by anyone, on Iraq."
Later, in a phone conversation, Ledeen explained that the Rome meeting had to do with what his sources told him was going on on the ground in Afghanistan, namely that Iran was allegedly fueling the Afghan insurgency.
"I reported this back," Ledeen said. "This information saved American lives."
Clearly by spring of 2003, we were already in Iraq. Ledeen and Ghorbanifar both say that their discussions were always about Iran, and others have confirmed this. So the question of the Niger forgeries does not so much focus on Ledeen as it does on Rhode and Franklin and the INC in terms of intelligence "creation," something they would have hired their man Martino to handle. For Ledeen, this first meeting and all other meetings he had with Ghorbanifar during this time and later, during a vacation, has always been Iran.
Now, the Panorama bit is interesting, because it shows a conduit from Ledeen to Burba and Ledeen also knew Pollari well, from my Ledeen-Panorama article:
While most Americans have yet to hear of Ledeen or Panorama, the confirmation of his work with the publication adds yet another dimension to the Niger forgeries scandal and possible U.S. government involvement in pre-war intelligence manipulation.
Ledeen denies that he was involved in the Niger forgeries. He says he has no knowledge of the documents or how they came to be provided to the U.S. government.
"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," Ledeen said in an email. "I have not discussed it with any government person in any country."
But Ledeen confirmed that he wrote for Panorama and worked with the publication's Editor-in-Chief, Carlo Rossella.
"I have no current relationship with Panorama," Ledeen said. "For a year or two I wrote an occasional column for Panorama, I would guess on average twice a month."
"That ended when the editor, Carlo Rossella, became a TV star," he added.
A closer look at the series of overlapping relationships and events, however, suggests that Ledeen may have been connected, even if inadvertently, to the Niger forgeries.
But "a couple of years ago" would be right around the time when the forgeries were delivered to Burba or sent from the U.S. embassy in Rome via backchannels to the U.S. State Department, bypassing the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Burba says she got the documents from former Italian intelligence asset Rocco Martino. Martino handed the documents off to Burba in the fall of 2002, initially demanding money and then simply providing them.
After investigating the documents for an article and finding them to be suspect, Burba suggested to her editor, Carlo Rossella, that she take a trip to Niger to investigate further. Rossella diverted her to the U.S. embassy in Rome instead. She never ran the article. Burba dropped off the forgeries to the US embassy on Oct. 9, 2002.
But as Burba was investigating the veracity of the documents, head of Italian intelligence Nicolo Pollari was meeting with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. 
The meeting, which took place in September 2002, is alleged to be brokered by Ledeen, although the only U.S. official Pollari claims to have met is George Tenet, whom he also met in October 2001. Questioned about the meeting, Hadley has said no one involved in the meeting had "any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed."
Ledeen knew all the players, but that is like saying that Judith Miller knew all the players surrounding her chemical weapons reporting, which was false. We know she did not make it up, it was given to her - laundered domestically, as it were. Ledeen knows all the players, but all the players also know each other and there would be no reason for Pollari to make the strange trip to the US if Ledeen's December meeting were directed toward Iraq, which I do not believe it was. Now, what Rhode and Franklin did later is a whole other story and Martino making a drop for free after he demanded cash would suggest that someone paid him for his trouble.
Also, from my series of interviews with Ledeen:
Raw Story: I am not accusing you or attempting to locate suspicious connections. I am simply asking about allegations. How did you meet current SISMI chief Nicollo Pollari? You are good friends, no?
Ledeen: Pollari isn't a good friend; he's a person I met occasionally, at bridge games in Rome.
RS: When we have talked in the past you have indicated that you did indeed do some work for [Italian Intelligence] SISMI around 1980. What was the nature of the work?
Ledeen: I think in the late seventies, when I was invited to participate in a desktop exercise dealing with how to communicate with friendly countries. What to ask, what not to ask; who to ask, who not to ask; how to ask, how not to ask. An exercise in bureaucratic communication.
RS: Diplomacy work? Or training on counterterrorism? Let me re-ask this differently: When you say "what to ask" and "what not to ask" do you mean interrogation techniques? I don't think I fully grasp "how to communicate with friendly countries" in this context. Were you not a reporter at the time?
Ledeen: It's just what I said – communication between governments – it had nothing to do with interrogation. There were problems for the Italians because there was no extradition treaty at that time, and our Justice Department was very reluctant to provide the Italian Government with information about Italians in the U.S. I had looked into those problems – I was by then in Washington – and they thought I could be helpful. I was happy to try to help.
RS: Let's flash forward to 2001 quickly to address a meeting or series of meetings that we had once discussed already. How did you come to be in Rome in December of 2001 and for what purpose were you there?
Ledeen: I was in Rome – at my own expense, as a private citizen – for meetings between American officials from the Pentagon (Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode) and Iranians who had information about the mullahs' plans to attack Coalition forces in Afghanistan.
RS: Was there discussion of Iraq?
Ledeen: There was no discussion of Iraq at all. 
RS: Who authorized the meeting and who was made aware of the meeting?
Ledeen: I was told that the meeting had been approved by State, Defense, CIA and the NSC, and I personally briefed our ambassador both before and after the meetings.
They were very good meetings, by the way.  They produced information that saved American lives in Afghanistan.
RS: Was Ghorbanifar there?
Ledeen: Ghorbanifar helped arrange the meeting.
I also don't believe that Ledeen went to Rome and did not tell our Embassy, his good friend Mel Sembler that - which Sembler alleges and is mentioned in the Democracy Now piece. I know that Ledeen had dinner with Sembler during that trip and they have business dealings together.
In any case, while the interview with the two very reputable journalists is fantastic, I wish there was less focus on Martino and more focus on what I said here just the other day:
I think the same people involved in switching the presentations, would have likely also been involved in other intelligence fabrication matters, either as go-betweens or on a managerial level of such a project or something similar.  The go-betweens and managerial types (the likely candidates or proven elements) is something that journalists have done much of the heavy lifting on, beyond that, is something journalists will not have access to. Because beyond the fabricators are the policy-makers and their the true loyalists, so none of them will ever be a whistleblower.
But we can probably say with near certainty that whomever was directly involved in presenting the President with a whole separate intelligence briefing (which is what I believe) is likely also to be implicated on some level in the rest of the scam to "fix the facts around the policy" and even the policy decision itself. That scam includes the Niger forgeries, the mobile labs evidence, and WMDs as well as the afore mentioned al-Qaeda/Saddam relationship claim.
The Fabricators (the fixers of fact):
The list of candidates of the likely pre-war intelligence fabricators, for me anyway,  is short:
From a go-between angle: people who likely served as a go-between to either Italian intelligence and OVP, or between the OVP and the DIA, on the project:
Herald RhodeJohn Hannah, David Wurmser, Michael Rubin, Eleana Benador, Abram Shulsky, Ahmed Chalabi, and a few others, including some more than willing journalists.
From a lower-level managerial angle: people who likely oversaw each smaller element of the project:
From a high-level managerial angle: people who likely oversaw  large parts or most if not all of the project:
The Policy Cabal:
Beyond  the above listed - the "decision"  - crowd is hard to trace just how close to the Oval Office the fabrication scandal goes. At the very least, the following people from the OVP and DOD are likely implicated:  Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle.
It is nice, however, to see the IG pointing directly at Feith, as though those below and above him in rank/position, could not have known of what the OSP was doing. "
You cannot understand the Niger forgeries without first asking: "who was the audience for the forgeries?" and once you ask that, you understand that the audience was never intelligence agencies, rather, we - the public - were the audience to give the administration plausible denial. It has worked... because to this day, the worst that has been said of the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was that it was "cherry picked," suggesting there were external allegations and reports that were picked over other key pieces of information. In reality, intelligence was fabricated and we were the target audience.


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