Nigergate: The Great Nuclear Centrifuge Scam
English translation cleaned up and republished on 31 October 2005
This Part III of the investigative series by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo of La Repubblica.
THE INVESTIGATION : Nicolò Pollari knew that the equipment purchased by Saddam Hussein was not destined for nuclear use. But when he is at the White House, he avoids mentioning it.
Nigergate: The Great Nuclear Centrifuge Scam
The bizarre Panorama scoop is accepted as fact and included in the dodgy dossier.
The story of the Italian involvement in [intelligence] manipulations which will provide the justifications for war on Iraq is one of dates on the calendar. We have already looked at of a few of them. And once again, it is a date that unravels and reveals Chapter Two of the Great Scam.
The date is September 9, 2002. On that day, in the chambers of the National Security Council, a very strange (if you believe in the principle of institutional transparency) and secret meeting takes place.
Why is the director of Italian military intelligence meeting a White House Administration official? It would be perfectly natural for Nicolò Pollari to meet with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It would be quite routine if the director of SISMI were to meet with Italian administration officials--but very bizarre indeed if he meets with officials of a foreign government, even if an ally. In this meeting there were Cabinet officials and under-secretaries. So, just what is it that he discusses with Stephen Hadley?
Stephen Hadley is no low-ranking underling in the White House. Today he is National Security Advisor. In 2002, he is deputy to Condoleezza Rice and a node in the parallel intelligence conduit ["Stovepipe"--Nur] desired by Dick Cheney to legitimize a war on Saddam Hussein. He is the man who, among other things, is responsible for the sixteen words pronounced by George W. Bush in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address which served as a declaration of war on Iraq.
We know that Hadley, together with Pollari, are concerned with weapons of mass destruction. And it’s reasonable to ask what exactly Pollari knows on the score of the Niger uranium on the 9th of September 2002. As he admits himself, Pollari knows everything. He has been apprised of sordid adventure of Rocco Martino. His own men were up to their necks in it. He is familiar with the actions of SISMI deputy division chief Antonio Nucera, who lends a hand to snake oil salesman Martino. On the day in question, Pollari well-positioned to make a choice: either to tell Rice’s deputy that the White House had better forget about the uranium story, because it’s a hoax and that the Martino-Nucera duo are imposters, or to reinforce the convictions of the American ally, perhaps with a little well-intentioned silence. So what does Pollari choose to do? To find out, we had better take a look at Pollari’s comportment concerning the other topic of conversation with Hadley: the nuclear centrifuge dossier.
Barely 24 hours before, on September 8, 2002, Judith Miller reports on the nuclear threat posed by Baghdad on the front page of the New York Times. In the last 14 months, writes the reporter, Iraq has sought to acquire aluminum tubes which, according to US officials, are intended for use as rotor sheathings inside uranium enrichment centrifuges.
On September 9, 2002, seated in front of Stephen Hadley, Pollari has the means to address even this aspect of the issue. As Pollari admits, SISMI is in possession of documentary proof of the acquisition of aluminum tubes by Iraq. But let’s take a look what he’s talking about.
These are 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. This is the preferred material for low-cost missile systems (each tube costs approximately $17.50). There are made with an extremely hard alloy which makes them suitable as rotors inside a centrifuge capable of separating fissile from non-fissile uranium. It is not simple process because thousands of centrifuges (16 thousand) are needed and they must withstand synchronous rotation at extremely high speed.
As we now know, the CIA and the very cautious Secretary of State, Colin Powell, convince themselves that dual use material was meant for Iraq’s nuclear program. Powell draws on all his military experience. He says: I am not an expert in centrifuges, but from the standpoint of a military veteran, ask yourself this this: why are the Iraqis are so busy in acquiring these tubes which, if they were used as rockets, would disintegrate soon after launch?
Incredibly, the objection is left standing even after the scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (where uranium for the US nuclear arsenal is processed by centrifuge enrichment) annihilate Powell’s theory. The Oak Ridge people say that the tubes are too narrow, to heavy, too long and likely tto fracture if used as centrifuge components. They conclude with: Those tubes are used in the manufacture of a specific type of artillery shell.
So on September 8, 2002, Judith Miller portrays the aluminum tubes as “a smoking gun.” The next day, Pollari is seated in front of Stephen Hadley. So what does he tell him? Pollari keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t reveal what he knows about the aluminum tubes, which are the source of so much concern (or even enthusiasm) within the Bush Administration. The shame is that those 7075-T6 tubes--900 millimeters long, 81 millimeters in diameter, 3.3 millimeters thick--are well-known hardware to the Italian Army. They are 81-mm rocket artillery shells used in the Medusa air-to-ground missile defense system installed on Italian Army and Navy helicopters. In reality, the Iraqis are merely attempting to reproduce weaponry with which they became familiar during the long years of economic, military and nuclear cooperation between Rome and Baghdad. (Iraq’s top army and air force officers trained in Italy during the 1980’s). Saddam’s General Staff needs to duplicate them, so to speak, because their inventory is stockpiled outdoors and is now corroded. That was the reason behind the new anodized aluminum tube purchases.
Why does Pollari not utter a word? If you ask Greg Thielmann, ex-chief of the State Department Intelligence Service, he’ll tell you: But seriously, haven’t you yet understood why the chief of Italian military intelligence did not provide us with any indication that would have allowed us to definitively discard the notion that the tubes would be used in someone’s nuclear program? Well, I have an idea for you. SISMI, like the CIA and the entire Anglo-Saxon intelligence community, is ready and willing to satisfy the hawks in the US Administration. Thielmann’s assertion echoes like a shotgun blast. And the dates will yield solid confirmation.
September 8, 2002: Judith Miller throws a rock thorugh the window.
September 9, 2002: Hadley meets Pollari.
September 11, 2002: Stephen Hadley’s office contacts the CIA for authorization to allow the President of the United States to use the information on the sale of Niger uranium in a public address. Specifically, as the report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence relates, the request made to the CIA at the behest of the National Security Council asks George Tenet in writing if George W. Bush is authorized to say, "Iraq has made several attempts to acquire aluminum tubes for use in its uranium enrichment centrifuges. We also know that over the last few years, Iraq has restarted its attempts to acquire large quantities of uranium oxide, known as yellowcake--the necessary component for enrichment processing." The CIA gives its permission but on October 7th in Cincinnati, Ohio, the authorized words are not found in the President's speech.
The day before the scheduled address, Langley recommends that the statement be expunged. The intelligence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the intelligence source as used for the extraction of uranium is flooded. The other mine is under the control of the French authorities.
What the devil was Pollari up to? The twisted yellowcake affair and now the centrifuges are tangled up around Rocco Martino’s phony documents. Who did what to whom and where and why? Who read the documents and who kept silent on their phony origin? Who believed in their worth and who "distributed" them? The crux of the imbroglio lies not only in answering those questions but in the words which are never spoken. The Italians know that Rocco Martino is a creep. They know very well that the only genuine papers in the dossier are stale intelligence pulled from the files of the SISMI division concerned with WMD. Pollari lets the lie off the leash and permits it trot around the globe. He does not have Rocco Martino “busted” when he knocks on the door of MI6. Instead, Pollari credits Martino as “a reliable source”. He does not put the damper on the enthusiasm of his American friend Michel Ledeen and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. He simply sits there in silence as the imbroglio simmers. In fact, when he does open his mouth, he neither extinguishes nor disappoints American expectations. This is what happens to the aluminum tubes. Following a “brilliant operation”, SISMI enters into concrete possession of the tubes. It’s a military intelligence victory. But even the lowest grunt would understand that the tubes must be Italian—they are shells from the Medusa-81 aircraft missile defense system. Naturally, SISMI is well aware of this. Yet on September 9, 2002, Pollari maintains a reserved silence in the presence of Hadley. And he does more than that.
On September 12, 2002, Panorama magazine hits the newsstands. In a lengthy article titled,La guerra? è cominciata, (War with Iraq? It has already started)the magazine make decisive yet unverified revelations on Iraqi nuclear rearmament to the world. So far, no one has started talking about uranium, let alone 500 tons of the ore. It will be Tony Blair to mention it first, but not until September 24, 2002--two weeks following the meeting between Pollari and Hadley and twelve days after Panorama’s "scoop". Inside the 50-page British government document, London affirms that Iraq is seeking to acquire uranium from Africa. Blair maintains that Iraq has attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium from an African nation despite the fact that he has no civilian nuclear program which would require it. Even today, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continues to repeat that the “Italian dossier” was not the basis behind Blair’s words and that MI6 is in possession of previously acquired intelligence. Yet such “evidence” has come to light. If it were to come out--a source at Forte Braschi tells La Repubblica with a smile, it would be easily discovered, producing more than a few red faces, that the “evidence” is in fact stale Italian intelligence collected by SISMI at the end of the 1980s and shared with our friend, Hamilton Mac Millan.
There was no excessive talk implicating Italy in the yellowcake affair. It was the silence. We’ve seen how SISMI keeps silent (or is forced to keep silent). But poor SISMI is not alone. Although perfectly informed, none of the protagonists in this sordid affair talks. Panorama clams up. When the editorial board of the magazine, owned by the Italian head of government, is called upon to reconstruct its contacts with Rocco Martino (who tried to sell the hoax to Segrate), it omits the recollection that the information contained in the bogus dossier was already published a month earlier. The weekly's Editor-in-Chief inexplicably shares the documents with the US Embassy in Rome alone--and not with the Italian government or the excellent resources of the Italian intelligence agency to which, as September’s scoop shows, it has access. He has no interest in relating, as a second possible worldwide scoop, that the evidence on which the war is based is false. As you would expect, Palazzo Chigi is also silent. The role of Silvio Berlusconi’s diplomacy advisor, Gianni Castellaneta, has been key in mediating the relations between Italy with the parallel conduit [“Stovepipe”—Nur] that Dick Cheney creates with financing from Ahmed Chelabi’s Iraqi National Congress to funnel "tweaked" intelligence by the Office for Special Plans which is then distributed to the media by the “Iraq Group” (which is also seen in action in the Judith Miller-New York Times affair.) But who has ever heard Castellaneta utter one word? And who within any institution has ever asked Mr. Castellaneta about it?
Also silent is Gianni Letta. When the truth on the bogus Italian dossier surfaces, the Under-Secretary with intelligence clearance, despite what one reads in inaccurate government memos, invokes State secrecy. Letta maintains that no further documentation would be presented to Parliamentary scrutiny because Italian intelligence sources would be compromised. But what sources? Rocco Martino, the bad cop, the crooked spy, the double-crosser? Or would that be Antonio Nucera, the deputy director at the SISMI center in viale Pasteur offices who filches (or is compelled to filch) stale intelligence from the division archives to assemble the package?
Now that the frittata has been turned out of the mould, they obviously have to come up with something after their long silence. Pollari makes his move in the summer of 2004. Once taciturn, he all of a sudden he becomes talkative. He even opens the doors to his modest office in Palazzo Baracchini. We find him in a darkened office behind a desk with papers piled high. Papers here, papers there, papers everywhere. To his left, there is another desk covered with dossiers like so many pebbles on the beach. On August 5th, 2004, he tells La Repubblica: I can’t trust anyone. I have to read all the papers myself! Pollari seems agitated. He feels the hot breath of the reporters from Atlantic Monthly. He’s turns an interview request from CBS Television received through the Italian Embassy in Washington in his hands. He asks us: What do these people want of me? Who’s talking to them? The CIA? The FBI? A CIA leaker? An enemy of the FBI? He knows that Rocco Martino has been contacted by a producer for 60 Minutes and he’s afraid of what Martino might confess in front of the microphones--turing it into a personal catastrophe for him. Pollari has to find an exit from the impasse he’s in and it seems that he’s found one. He tells La Repubblica: It was the French of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure who tried to dupe the Americans. We are not involved in any way. He pulls out from a folder an item that looks like it belongs in a Power Point presentation. (It’s yellow, red, purple, blue and green). The document purports to prove the “role of French intelligence in the Niger affair.” But it is not convincing. Today, it falls flat. Time has shown the substantial groundlessness of a connection to the French. That bird has flown the coop. In fact, as the US Senate report shows, two weeks prior to the invasion, on March 4th, 2003, the French informed Washington that that the documents were forged because as it transpired, they were the same documents that Rocco Martin had previously pawned off on Paris.
But no document was every pulled out of an Italian file to put a stop to Dick Cheney’s impetuosity. Like the Italian government, SISMI knows that its intelligence on Iraq was complete hogwash. There is silence as if the entire Italian power establishment has been stricken mute. Silence on the part of [Berlusconi's] majority is understandable but must the opposition be silent in the face of manipulations that led to war? The only act on record is a request by a commission of inquiry presented by L’Unione [Romano Prodi’s leftist coalition--Nur]. But it turns out that it was merely bureaucratic ass-covering, because once issued, it was promptly forgotten. Meanwhile, in the United States, three independent investigations have been launched into CIA-gate, Niger-gate and a conspiracy headed by Larry Franklin, an official inside the Office of Special Plans. But in Italy not even a leaf flutters in the breeze. If you are enterprising enough to arrange a meeting with Rome Public Prosecutor Franco Ionta to discover, just out of curiosity, what ever became of the investigation of Rocco Martino, he’ll tell you: Yes, I investigated Martino. A fraudster. It took me half an hour to take his deposition. But just what did you expect him to tell me? I put in a request to close the case with the Giudice per le indagini preliminare [judge handing the preliminary investigation]. It was just lot of buffoonery. . Yes indeed, but Italian buffoonery that is going to die in silence, ignored by the politicians, the intelligence community and the judiciary. That’s how things work in Italy.
:::End of series:::