DSM Sequel: Roots of a Scandal

As Washington awaited news of possible indictment of Bush administration officials in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative's name, a sensational series in an Italian newspaper was laying bare the roots of the scandal.

Three stories published by the left-leaning La Repubblica (in Italian) suggest why the Bush White House was so determined to discredit the operative's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former-diplomat-turned-war-critic. Wilson was attacking the administration on a point where it was vulnerable: the origins of its allegations about Iraq's nuclear activities in Africa.

The Repubblica series advances the story of the Downing Street Memo story first reported by the Times of London last May.

Like the DSM story, La Repubblica's series tells a tale of a European spy chief who came to Washington in the summer of 2002 as the Bush administration was putting in motion plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power, a plan to be justified by the Iraqi dictator's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

In the DSM story, British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove told his principals in London that he had met with National Security Council policymakers in July 2002 and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of smashing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and installing a secular capitalist democracy in Iraq.

The La Repubblica series tells what happened a few weeks later when Dearlove's counterpart from the Italian military Intelligence agency, known as SIMSI, came to Washington. (You can read what seems to be a decent English translation of the Repubblica series on the blog Nur-al-Cubicle, which specializes in "news accounts unpublished by the US press." Here are Parts One, Two and Three.)

Like Dearlove, SIMSI chief Nicolo Pollari was a career intelligence officer working for a government whose prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, supported Bush's intention to invade Iraq. And like Dearlove, Pollari found himself meeting with Washington policymakers who were convinced that the Hussein regime was actively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and were looking for intelligence to firm up their case for war. 

According to La Repubblica, Pollari was providing the false information, specifically a batch of forged documents concerning alleged Iraqi efforts to purchase nuclear material in the African country of Niger. The documents, rejected as genuine by the CIA and State Department earlier in 2002, were fed to a "parallel intelligence conduit" created by Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo say officials working for Cheney and Wolfowitz were "determined to produce the evidence for 'regime change' in Baghdad." President Bush then used the information to make the case for invading Iraq.

At the heart of the story is a secret meeting between the chief of Italian military intelligence and then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley on Sept. 9, 2002. A National Security Council spokesman confirmed the Hadley-Pollari meeting to the American Prospect on Tuesday. (Today, the NSC spokesman told the New York Times that the meeting was "a courtesy call" and that no documents were provided.)

At the time of the Hadley-Pollari meeting, the Niger documents were already well-known in U.S. intelligence circles. Italian intelligence reports on Iraq's nuclear activities had been circulating in Washington since October 2001.

La Repubblica's account suggests the forged documents were the product of an Italian government  eager to curry favor with President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. They were originally produced by a rogue cop on the payroll of both French and Italian intelligence services, the newspaper reported. The French wanted to follow up on reports from the late 1980s that Iraq had bought nuclear material in Niger, so the cop, in need of money, sold them the phony documents.

After Sept. 11, the Italian intelligence service showed the documents to the CIA without disclosing their dubious origins, according to La Repubblica. Berlusconi met with President Bush in the White House on Oct. 15, 2001. In what La Repubblica concedes might be a coincidence, the CIA started circulating the forged Niger documents to other Washington agencies the next day.

Later in 2001, Italian operatives passed the same documents to British intelligence via Richard Dearlove, the Italian paper says.

By the summer of 2002, Pollari knew the documents were forged and the credibility of their source dubious, according to La Repubblica, but never said anything to his British and American counterparts.  As The Post reported in July 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in March 2003 that the documents were forged.

Seeking to verify the reports, U.S. government officials asked Wilson, who had served in Africa, to go to Niger in early 2002 to check out claims of Iraqi activity. Wilson reported that the claims were unfounded. 

In September 2002, Pollari came to Washington for meetings with CIA Director George Tenet.  He also met with Hadley, who was active in the Bush administration's campaign to build public support for an invasion of Iraq.

La Repubblica notes that the Hadley-Pollari meeting immediately preceded the Bush administration claims that it had proof Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons.

That same week, reporters from the Italian weekly magazine Panorama, owned by the Berlusconi family, reviewed the documents leaked them by an intelligence source and concluded they were false. But a front-page story based on them was published anyway on orders of the publisher, a Berlusconi crony who was "enthralled with possibly having found -- as he told his staff -- a 'smoking gun' on Saddam Hussein."

The Bush administration also embraced the "evidence." In late September 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited Iraq's alleged activities in Niger as proof of Hussein's nuclear ambitions. In December, the story of Iraq's alleged dealings in Niger appeared in President Bush's daily briefing. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush declared that British intelligence had "learned" that Saddam Hussein had been seeking to buy nuclear material in Africa.

When invading U.S. troops found no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, Wilson went public with the story of his Niger trip in a July 2003 newspaper column. Seeking to discredit him, White House officials told reporters that his trip to Africa had been arranged by his wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative.

Italian officials deny any involvement in disseminating the Niger documents, saying this is old news discredited by two previous government investigations. Il Giornale (in Italian), a Rome daily owned by Berlusconi's family, quotes one official saying that the Italian secret service did not have "even the slightest role in this story." 

The Niger dossier, they assert, was actually a hoax designed by French intelligence to embarrass the Americans. A parliamentary probe of the matter is scheduled to begin in Rome on Nov. 3.

There is one important difference between the DSM and La Repubblica stories. The Downing Street Memo itself did not identify the U.S. officials with whom Dearlove met in the summer of 2002. The La Repubblica series is more specific. It raises the question of whether Hadley deliberately circulated false information about Saddam's nuclear activities after his meeting with Pollari in September 2002.

Hadley, now the national security adviser, has taken responsibility for the inclusion of the Niger claims in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, saying he had forgotten warnings about the documents.

For Americans, the question raised by the La Repubblica series is the same question raised by the Downing Street Memo: Did U.S. officials intentionally "fix" intelligence reports with false information as a way to hype the danger of Iraq to the American public? And more specifically, did Stephen Hadley do the fixing?

By Jefferson Morley |  October 28, 2005; 11:05 AM ET  | Category:  Europe
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Dear Jefferson,

I read the Repubblica story in Italian and you left out some information that makes this story even more damning: The rogue cop showed the mis-intelligance first to the French government, who saw immediately that it was false, having been the colonial power in Niger, and discarded it. This was in 2000.

In March of 2003, prior to our going to war, the French government let the US government know that the misintelligence about uranium sales and aluminium tubes was false, according to Repubblica.
We went to war anyway.

Repubblica does not imply that it was a scam by the French to mislead the US, but rather it was one of the reasons France did not want to support the war.

Best, Kathleen

Posted by: Kathleen | October 28, 2005 12:25 PM

I'm betting that Fitzgerald's going to extend his investigation and start tracking down paths like this one - it seems like a lot of people got their hands dirty pushing this document around.

Posted by: Kris | October 28, 2005 12:28 PM

Another question is whether the State Department and the various intelligence agencies were looking for some information, and some of their supposed allies (the French) conveniently provided them, so they got less of a provenance check than normal.

My takeaway from this article is that the French are Evil. But then, I already knew that.

Posted by: sw | October 28, 2005 01:10 PM

It is great to know we are finally getting to know who is behind all of this. The French or George Tenet.

Posted by: DC | October 28, 2005 01:18 PM

Hadley "forgot" the warnings on the intelligence? Oh yeah, and now he's the NS advisor? Is this for real, or did you get it out of a comic book?

Posted by: OhYeah | October 28, 2005 01:22 PM

I've seen this movie before and it was called Vietnam. The fictitious Gulf of Tonkin incident gave Johnson (another Texan) the excuse to escalate the war against Vietnam. Let me give away the ending. Elections will be held, Iraqi leaders will come and go, we'll Iraqize the war with unmotivated local troops, and after 2009 we'll start to pull out our troops. As soon as we leave, the Iraqi army disintegrates and the Iraq leaders escape to Hawaii and live like kings on the stolen billions. Conservatives will spend the next 40 years blaming the press and liberals for the loss.

Posted by: Desert Leap | October 28, 2005 01:45 PM

isn't Pollari the guy who was killed near Baghdad airport by US fire at the time of the liberation of the kidnapped italian journalist ?

Posted by: anonymous | October 28, 2005 01:55 PM

The theory being that the French outwitted the Bush Administration, the State Dept, AND the CIA with a fake document from the Italians? Good luck trying to turn this into another ABB - Anyone But the Bush Administration is responsible for this extremely expensive and poorly handled War on Iraq based on bad intelligence and false premises.

The responsibility for this fiasco is pointing straight at the neocons.

Posted by: Kris | October 28, 2005 01:57 PM

No, don't bash the French! They tried to warn us that we were entering a war on false information. The point is that it didn't matter to Iraq war architects in the US, and we know who they are, that the intelligence was false. It was a selling point (a marketing strategy) so they ran with it, disingenuously, even after having been advised that their info was fake.

Not only that, the CIA originally passed on the fake memo in 2002, according to Repubblica, until Hadley/Cheney/Condi got involved.

Posted by: Kathleen | October 28, 2005 02:01 PM

Thank you Jefferson Morley. It's as I suspected, but without the paper trail. At last, all of the pieces are woven together and proves without a shadow of a doubt just how long and deep this wide spread connection extends. I did not realize how involved both France and Italy were in this setting up of this war. Now, its even more clear to me why the US and France began to have so many problems. The CIA Leak involves more than just "Scooter" ... hopefully, they will reel in Karl Rove and those involved across the Atlantic. This conspiracy is world-wide. All for one reason: Because one former President's son wanted to exact revenge on Hussein...Why? To pay him back for what he did to Senior Bush during his term in office. Who suffers? Once again, thank you.

Posted by: Denise | October 28, 2005 02:17 PM

As a related story, please read "New Evidence Opens Bush and Rumsfeld to War Crimes Prosecution"

Here:

http://georgewashington.blogspot.com/2005/10/new-evidence-opens-bush-and-rumsfeld.html

Posted by: George | October 28, 2005 02:23 PM

I strongly suggest you take a look at http://www.911Proof.com and review the evidence yourself, as a thinking person, about what ELSE the administration did to justify its war.

Posted by: Alex | October 28, 2005 02:25 PM

No, Wilson's report from Niger confirmed that Iraq was seeking to get uranium from that country.

Posted by: Paterali | October 28, 2005 04:00 PM

Actually, Paterali, Wilson in his published article (link below) states that he found no evidence to that effect. He also says he did not file a written report.

http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0706-02.htm

Can I get a link or reference to support what you say? I have heard Republican pundits, attempting to discredit Wilson, say that he has contradicted himself and/or made false statements. I like to read original sources and come to my own conclusions.

The fact is, a CIA agent was outed and that puts all of us at risk, and should make all of us very angry. We are also in a war based on false intelligence that France and Italy warned us in advance were false.

Joseph Wilson's character or flaws are not the issue here.

Posted by: Kathleen | October 28, 2005 04:34 PM

Not only was France the former colonial power in Niger, it is also a big part of the consortium that mines the uranium in Niger. Not surprising since France depends on nuclear power stations for something like 75% of its electricity.

Simply put, if Iraq got significant amounts of uranium from Niger then France would be either aware that production was increased, or be experiencing of electricity shortages.

Thats if someone somewhere even approved the deal without France in the loop. (Did I just sign a multi million euro deal with iraq? Doh, I guess I will go for the "it was like that when I got here" card)

Had anyone in either Italy, the UK or the US (someone who knows yellowcake is far less healthy than normal cake) thought for a second that these docs where real then chiraq would be getting his ears yelled of his head by the rest of the world in a matter of minutes. I mean who sells uranium to a country inspectors had just cleared out with lots and lots of effort?

But the "significant quantities of uranium" went pretty much unchallenged in speeches and the press.

The interesting thing is that if only evidence of natural or low enriched uranium was provided independent experts might publicly complain based one the speeches instead of on looks at the actual classified intelligence: What good is that? you need either a reactor or a centrifuge to make a bomb with that... silly Bush, didn`t you pay attention during high school physics class? Missing evidence the other way around works even worse, you can`t exactly dry laundry in these centrifuges so you better have some uranium. (irak did, but not that much)

But, concidentaly, there also was the aluminum tube claim, for use in centrifuges according to the cia, and only the cia, also debunked at the time. I wish urenco.com still had the photo of a guy posing next to a bunch a centrifuges I looked at at that time to get a feel of a common size of centrifuges... I guess you will have to do with a piece of corporate propaganda at http://www.sayyeah.nl/movies/urenco/urencovideo.htm now look at the tubes http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2004/10/02/international/20041003_TUBE_SLIDESHOW_1.html. Who would have thought that the CIA would fight oak ridge geeks being on the "size *doesn`t* matter" side of the debate.

So the question becomes, who could orgestrate such a compelling mix of (rather obiously) fake evidence if nuclear experts arent part of it? Or rather, knowing what we know about how the individual things got faked, who was in charge of coordination? Did the italians just think, "gee, wouldn`t it be fun to have uranium with the aliminium" or were they told what the story lacked by someone who also could convince the cia that it is the US expert on enrichment centrifuges?

Posted by: wo | October 28, 2005 04:45 PM

Oh, not again..The Senate bipartisan Intelligence Commitee commission put all these Wislon's claims to rest
http://intelligence.senate.gov/iraqreport2.pdf
The Committee report notes that the CIA intelligence report "did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium." (page 44)

And now Reppbulica dragged that Wilson report already buried under his own lies.

Another mistake - usually by liberals who can only focus on one thing and for a very short time - to consider that this yellow cake stuff was the most important reason to go to war. Read Bob Woodward's book on how the decision was made, for crying out loud, instead of repeating "yeah, just like in that movie by a Clancy novel"

Posted by: OMG | October 28, 2005 04:48 PM

Visit the Rove/PlameGate Resource Center for all of your CIA leak scandal needs:

- How it all started
- Latest news and articles
- Key White House briefings
- Scandal timelines
- Key statutes and laws
- Other essential resources

http://www.perrspectives.com/resources/documents.htm#plame

Posted by: AngryOne | October 28, 2005 06:03 PM

These news items and the commentary along with other published accounts, for the most part, present an accurate account of the Bush Administrations push toward the Iraqi war. While 9/11 provided an opportunity to generalize on the Terrorism threat, the Bush Administration discussed the coming war with Iraq before that event.
They are doing the same thing with Syria and Iran. In a 10/22/2005, AP story called "U.S/: Zarqawi's Terror Network Growing" The director of the National Counterterrorism Center Scott Redd describes Hezbollah and several smaller groups as being part of Zarqawi's terror network. President Bush repeated these comments in his speeechs on the subject.
They are lying in their teeth. Hezbollah is a Shia organization, and, as Zarqawi targets the Iraqi Shia population, I sincerely doubt that Hezbollah would have anything to do with him. Besides, unlike al-Qaida which has international aspirations, Most of these groups have a nationalist orientation. Hezbollah is concerned with Lebanon, and Hamas, etc with a Palestinian state. The main force of the Iraqi resistance are Iraqi nationalists.
We are still not getting the correct intelligence because Bush has placed his placed his own people in leadership positions in the various agencies. They shape Intelligence to fit his policy. Nothing has changed.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | October 28, 2005 06:05 PM

Maybe Berlesconi had his Intelligence people give the documents to Hadley et al in DC again, on Bush/Cheney's request? i.e. maybe it wasn't the Italians trying to curry favor w/ Bush by providing what they knew, but them currying favor by doing what Bush/Cheney asked them to do?

Posted by: J Stevens | October 28, 2005 06:07 PM

Thanks OMG for the reference.

The Senate report doesn't say anything about the Italian intelligence service as the origin of the Nigergate memo, the resurrection of which La Repubblica claims was a scam by a former intelligence officer who was fired for unethical behavior on the job, and who makes his living by selling intelligence to whatever party would buy it. The memo was apparently in a closed case file having been addressed and discredited, when the former agent broke in and resuscitated it for sale.

Anyway, why do you think Wilson is lying? There isn't anything in the Senate document to contradict his report, nor did he exceed his mission. There does seem to be a lot of muddying and exaggerating of a single abortive attempt in 1999 on the part of Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger, an attempt that was brushed off by officials in Niger according to this document you linked to.

Attempting unsuccessfully to buy something isn't the same as actually buying it. What seems important is that this "Nigergate" fake intelligence report was discredited by two foreign governments as well as our own intelligence service (the CIA), yet was subsequently recycled, exaggerated, and used as an excuse to take the US into war.
I hope we haven't seen the end of this investigation.

Posted by: Kathleen | October 28, 2005 06:22 PM

It amazes me that some people here are trying to pin this on the French - talk about clutching at straws.
And their evidence? That Berlusconi cronies said so! Do they know what Berlusconi is?

Think for a minute, doofuses. If France had tried to trick America into attacking Saddam, that doesn't do much for your previous argument, that France was trying to protect Saddam because they found the relationship profitable.

So which is it, Bush apologists? I already know the answer. You'll say (and quite possibly believe) anything that will cover your guys' asses for one day longer.

Whatever excuse works at the moment will do fine.

Can we look forward to the day when US conservatives, in their bizarre alternative reality, blame France for the Iraqi mess they themselves made?

Why not blame France for starting the Iraq War? We've already seen stranger contortions of reality from this crowd.

Posted by: OD | October 28, 2005 07:35 PM

The story published in the Italian paper Repubblica reads like a mystery novel. Was there such a "deep throat" conspiracy surrounding the motives to invade Iraq?

The media in the United States has not yet exposed this European and Italian angle of the Iraq war to the American public. Do you think the Post must pick up on the story and educate public opinion right here in this country so that we get a fuller picture of the bogus claim of WMD to justify the war?

Posted by: Jack K. | October 29, 2005 02:15 PM

Morley's misrepresentation of the role of the French in the La Repubblica article along his omission of some of the most damning facts is representative of the U.S. media's willingness to be a tool of the Bush Administraion.

The foreign media including the left British media such as the Guardian and Independent and even the BBC at one point have done a much better job of pointing out the obvious flaws and clear lies in the case that Bush and Blair made to justify this war of choice.

The forgies that seem to popping up like candy in this saga constantly fails to even get the notice of the American media unless they go against the Bush Administration. Who forged the Niger documents? What it the same people who forged the Galloway documents? What is

Additionally, the Washington Post has been unwilling to examine the role that its news department and warmongering editorials played in the Bush Adminstration propoganda machine. As horribly flawed as the New York Times is, at least they made attempt which is even more damning to the Washington Post.

Posted by: Simone | October 29, 2005 09:51 PM

The comments are quite amusing, for they pretend as if nothing happened prior to our March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Professor J.M. Roberts, The History of the World, wrote (prior to his death) about 1991 Gulf War. He told us that conflict was a continunation of the historical ripples from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Prior to our 2003 invasion, America was at war with Iraq; those that deny that essential fact are deluding themselves. For a dozen years following the Gulf War, America had asserted dominion over the sovereignty of Iraq. We flew thousands of combat missions, we destroyed countless military targets, we launched scores of cruise missiles strikes, and we controlled the flow of their natural resources. If that is not WAR, then what is it?

Beyond dispute, America was at WAR with Iraq before our 2003 invasion.

Bush was foolish for recognizing the situation for what it truly was. And his foolishness is only surpassed by his critics' blinkered denial of the common sense reality of the world as it was.

500 years ago, Machiavelli (The Discourses) said the events and actions of people of all times could be found in the events and actions described by Livy (Early History of Rome).

What do we find there: first, for 300 years, the Volsicans went to war with Rome, each year they lost, but they were undeterred by past failures, so they would march off to war again the following year until they were finally defeated.

Secondly, after 42 years of war spanning 118 years, Rome defeated Carthage. Yet no one believes the three Punic Wars are unrelated, or even disconnected, although decades separated years of their actual warfare.

Today, many believe the absence of WMD suggests the invasion of Iraq was illegitmate.

Those same critics have remained deathly silent while hundreds of thousands of slaughtered Iraqis have been unearthed only to yell out: "See! I told you, Hussein had no nuclear weapons."

Only hypocritical fools can close their eyes to the bestiality and tyranny of Hussein and chortle about a so-called illegal or illegitmate war, because Bush cannot give them yellow cake to eat.

Regards,
Tony Harrison
Gaithersburg, MD

Posted by: Tony Harrison | October 30, 2005 07:16 AM

How come these reports are in "blogs" and not on the front page of the MSM?

Posted by: Concerned Citizen | October 30, 2005 01:21 PM

The Downing Street Memo pales in comparison to Lord Goldsmith's (British Attorney General) Memo to Mr. Blair...he spells out, in no uncertain terms to Mr. Blair, how to fabricate the case for war in Iraq. It is rather lengthy, however well worth reading.

Posted by: Robert Borders | October 31, 2005 07:42 AM

While we waged war via sanctions an estimated 500,000 Iraqi civilians died as a result. Since the official declaration another 100,000 are estimated to have perished. Certainly it is correct to assert that "Only hypocritical fools can close their eyes to [this] bestiality and tyranny" as well.

Posted by: jp | November 1, 2005 10:02 AM

This is a further indictment of the Bush administration. Too bad it won't be on the front page of the Post and the Times anytime soon.

Posted by: Eaaron Henderson-King | November 4, 2005 02:56 PM

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