Yellowcake Dossier Not the Work of the CIA
English translation cleaned up and republished on 30 October 2005--Nur
Part Two of the investigative series by Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo of La Repubblica.
INVESTIGATION / SISMI Director General Nicolò Pollari travels to the States to corroborate the purchase of nuclear material by Saddam Hussein.
Pollari travels to Washington to present his version of "the truth"
The Yellowcake Dossier was not the work of the CIA.
For SISMI Director Nicolò Pollari, the rules of his profession are very clear. He tells La Repubblica: I am an intelligence chief and my only institutional partner in conversation following 9-11 was CIA Director George Tenet in Washington. Obviously, I held my conversations solely with him.... But is it really true that our cloak-and-dagger people worked solely with the CIA? Or did they work as part of the clandestine effort within the parallel intelligence conduit ["Stovepipe"--Nur] created by Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz within the Iraq War Group, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and the office of the National Security Advisor—all avidly determined to produce the evidence for “regime change" in Baghdad.
It is a known fact that on the eve of the war on Iraq and under the guidance of Palazzo Chigi Diplomatic Advisor Gianni Castellaneta (today Italian Ambassador to the United States), SISMI chief Pollari organizes his appointment book in Washington with the help of the staff of Condoleezza Rice, who was then serving as National Security Advisor. La Repubblica has documented the dual course pursued by the Italian government and by Italian intelligence. According to intelligence sources, in at least one of the backdoor meetings in which Pollari participated, the the creation of a conduit took place marshalling together government, security agencies and intelligence.
Brief synopsis: Pollari’s SISMI wants to give credence to the story of acquisition of uranium ore for the purpose of building a nuclear bomb. The gameplan is transparent. The “authentic” papers concerning an attempt to acquire uranium in Niger (stale Italian "intelligence" left over from the 80’s) are a legacy of a former SISMI Deputy Chief in Rome, Antonio Nucera. They are bundled up together with other worthless documents hastily forged after a simulated burglary of the Niger Embassy (embassy letterhead and stamps are taken). The documents are exhibited by Pollari’s men to the CIA Station Chief in Rome while SISMI’s "postman", a certain individual by the name of Rocco Martino, delivers a copy to Richard Dearlove’s MI6 in London.
That was the first installment. We’ll now provide the second chapter of the Great Italian Yellowcake Scam orchestrated in Italy to build up the necesary pretext for the invasion of Iraq. We reintroduce Greg Thielmann, former director of the US Department of State's intelligence bureau, who encounters the "Italian" report on the uranium on his desk. He does not recall the precise date.
Thielmann recounts the events of autumn 2001 in generalities. But the precise date may prove noteworthy: it is October 15, 2001. On that date three events are woven together to produce an astounding coincidence: Nicolò Pollari, nominated by the goverment on September 27 after serving as Number Two at CESIS (a coordinating intelligence agency at Palazzo Chigi), assumes control at SISMI. Silvio Berlusconi is finally invited to the White House by George W. Bush. October 15 marks the date of the first CIA report on the evidence in the possession of the Italians. It’s impossible to say if all this is coincidence, but one cannot ignore the context: The Italians have a burning desire to be useful. After his unfortunate outburst on the Clash of Civilizations, Berlusconi is encountering problems in getting an invitation from the White House, under fire from moderate Arab regimes. Pollari is eager to quickly get in step with Premier and the new course of action. The new chief at the SISMI section concerned with WMD, Colonel Alberto Manenti (direct superior of Antonio Nucera), wants to put himself on the same page as the new SISMI director. It is a known fact that Bush shows the West Wing’s Rose Garden to Berlusconi and the CIA acknowledges, as reported by [investigative reporter] Russ Hoyle (who devoted himself to a year-long analysis of the conclusions of the Senate Investigation Committee) that Italian intelligence has some neatly prepackaged information bedecked with a pretty bow: Negotiations (between Niamey and Baghdad) on the purchase of uranium have been ongoing since the start of 1999; the sale [of uranium to Baghdad] was approved by the Niger Supreme Council in 2000. No documentary evidence is offered to show that any shipment of uranium has transpired. CIA analysts consider the report to be “somewhat limited” and “lacking in necessary detail”. Intelligence and Research analysts at the US Department of State qualify the intelligence as “highly suspect.”
The initial contact with the American intelligence community is not particularly gratifying for Pollari but suffice it to say that it is still highly useful. The SISMI director, who is no fool, quickly surveys the landscape and the players of the ongoing behind-the-scenes battle in the US Administration between those who stress caution and pragmatism (the US Department of State and the CIA) and those who are looking for an excuse to start a war (Cheney and the Pentagon), which is already on the drawing board. However, upon returning to Italy, the SISMI director finds a similar battle underway in Rome. Gianni Castellaneta advises Pollari to look in other directions, while Defense Minister Antonio Martino suggests that Pollari arrange an appointment to meet an old friend of Italy. This old friend is Michael A. Ledeen, the old fox of American parallel intelligence conduits, who had once been declared persona non grata by Rome during 1980s. [Likely because of kidnapping of Abu Abbas, orchestrated by Ledeen and Oliver North, and the attempted "extraordinary rendition" of Abbas through Italy--Nur.]
Ledeen is in Rome at the behest of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz to collect intelligence supporting a war on Iraq. A source at Forte Braschi [Italian equivalent to Langley, VA, the headquarters of the CIA--Nur] tells La Repubblica: On the subject of intelligence collected on the uranium purchase, Pollari gets the cold shoulder from CIA Station Chief Jeff Castelli. Apparently, Castelli has dropped the matter entirely. Taking a hint, Pollari discusses the matter with Michael Ledeen.... No one knows what prompts Ledeen to return to Washington but at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convinces Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by Italian intelligence should be explored in depth. As the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence relates, a a very determined Vice President repeats a request to the CIA to take another look into “the possible acquisition of Niger uranium." During a meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly states that a crucial piece of intelligence is held by “a foreign intelligence agency”.
The parallel intelligence conduit ["Stovepipe"--Nur] over at the Pentagon circulates “new information” according to which there exists an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the supply of 500 tons of uranium per year. The technicians at the Department of State raise an eyebrow at the report--500 tons of uranium! A vastly exaggerated quantity! The report is manifestly devoid of all plausibility. Every independent report ordered following the circulation of the "Italian memorandum" indicates that the Niger uranium mines at Arlit and Akouta can yield at most 300 tons per year. But time is growing short. George Tenet, stung by the intelligence gaps of 9-11, grins and bears it but becomes incredibly unreceptive when State Department intelligence controverts him, recounts Greg Thielmann to La Repubblica, by saying that the intelligence collected in Rome is inconsistent, that the uranium story is phony and that a bunch of things contained in the report are fabricated.
Pollari is a very clever man, they say at Forte Braschi, and so he understands that to pursh the uranium story in Washington he cannot deal with the CIA alone. He must work with, suggest Palazzo Chigi and the Italian Defense Minstry, the Pentagon and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The affirmation might have been meant as malicious (in the world of espionage, that's often the case), but we can confirm the "alternate conduit" which Pollari creates in Washington through a snapshot and a meeting.
This is the snapshot. Pollari is in Washington. He arranges a meeting with George Tenet and, as happens frequently, his presentation is to be given in a reserved conference room at a hotel close to Langley. An attendee at the meeting tells La Repubblica: Pollari’s English must not have been very polished, so a female interpreter is placed between him and Tenet. There’s an embarrassing upshot. In the course of exchanging pleasantries, George reveals some information from al-Qaeda concerning Italy which the Agency has gathered from prisoners at Guantanamo. Tenet expects at least a smile or possibly a nod of gratitude. A stone-faced Pollair looks back at him. If at first Tenet found Pollari unpleasant, he now finds him positively untrustworthy. What what strikes everyone seated around the conference table is the absolute sidelining of Pollari's station chief in Washington. The bizarre treatment is intriguing. In 2002, the SISMI station chief in Washington is Admiral Giuseppe Grignolo. He possesses extensive background in WMD, an excellent relationship with the CIA and the respect of CIA Number 2, Jim Pavitt. A source at Forte Braschi recalls: The truth is that we did not want to keep the nose of the CIA out of our business but Pollari distrusted Grignolo, whom he believed was too cozy with Langley—so he blocked Grignolo’s every move. He forced him, so to speak, into the useless task of conductinjg background checks on SISMI new hires, who might have spent some time in the United States.....During those months, the most significant contacts take place elsewhere—through Gianni Castellaneta with Condoleezza Rice and through Ledeen with the Office of Special Plans run by Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith. It is Castellaneta who arranges a meeting for Pollari in the offices of the National Security Advisor at the White House. When did they meet and what did they discuss? What did you expect them to be talking about in the summer of 2002? Weapons of mass destruction! When did the meeting take place? That’s my business…but all you have to do is to is check the visitors' roster and archived flight plans between Ciampino [Rome’s military airport--Nur] and Washington.
Here in Rome, it’s difficult for us to access those flight plans. We had better luck in Washington. An Administration official told La Repubblica: I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolò Pollari met with Stephen Hadley, deputy to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
As was the case for October 15, 2001, September 9, 2002 was a day marked by several coincidences. On that day, the Italian magazine Panorama was coming up on the editorial deadline for its 12-19 September issue. As one might expect from Rocco Martino (the SISMI "postman" in the Yellowcake Affair), he contacts a woman reporter from the magazine (Carlo Rossella was Editor-in-Chief at the time) in October to sell her the documents inside the phony dossier. No one cares to recall that in the 12-19 September 2002 issue of Panorama, coinciding with Pollari’s secret meeting with Hadley, the magazine published a international scoop entitled, War with Iraq? It has already started. The Panorama article mentions “a delivery of a half-ton of uranium”: The men of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence agency, acquired the ore through a Jordanian middleman in far-away Nigeria, where a few traders succeeded in smuggling it after a heist from a nuclear depot in a republic of the former USSR. The cargo containing 500 kilograms of uranium was then docked at Amman and afterwards shipped overland in a 7-hour journey to its final destination: the al-Rashidiyah plant 20 km north of Baghdad, recognized as a site for the production and processing of fissile material. And further along in the article: The alarm concerns Germany, where in the past Iraq had attempted to purchase technology and industrial parts from the firm, Leycochem....and even the much sought-after aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges.
Although there is a discrepancy in the location (Nigeria and not Niger—a lapsus calami?) and the story is somewhat of a fairy-tale (contraband from the USSR is transported all the way to Africa by truck), what is essential here is to notice that in the Panorama article, the recipe (so to speak) has all the right ingredients needed for war: the 500 tons of uranium which make its way from Africa to Baghdad, and the aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. One could accurately superimpose the story churned in Italy on the allegations made in the CIA-gate/New York Times affair. The government asks, the intelligence service produces, the media spreads the story and the goverment confirms what's in the media. It’s an old disinformation technique from the Cold War. Exaggerate the danger posed by the enemy. Terrorize and convince the public--and this time Italy is involved as an accessory. The magazine that spreads the poisonous disinformation is owned by PM Silvio Berlusconi, who has intelligence oversight in Italy and who wants to become and to be seen as the close ally of George W. Bush, impatient to declare war.
You could say that with the terrain prepared in advance, Pollari is able concentrate on another essential aspect of the operation: the promotion of himself and SISMI by cashing in on a year’s worth of cloak-and-dagger work, pulling the wool over the eyes of Parliament using carefully manipulated information and revelations which should have been subject to careful reconstruction accompanied by corroborating documentation--and not the wall of silence of the State (imposed by Gianni Letta on July 16, 2003).
Back from his secret meeting with Hadley, Pollari was debriefed by an Italian Parliamentary intelligence oversight committee. They summon him twice. In the first session, the SISMI director maintains: We do not have documentary proof, only information that a central African country sold uranium ore to Baghdad. Thirty days later, Pollari says: We had documentary proof of the acquisition by Iraq of uranium ore from a republice in central Africa. We also know of an Iraqi attempt to purchase centrifuges for uranium enrichment from German and possibly Italian manufacturers. Once out of the maw of Parliament, Pollari is still confronted with the problem of conveying the phony dossier to Washington without leaving fingerprints. Pollari stumbles into a lucky break. SISMI “postman” Rocco Martino, who has already left a package on the doorstep of MI6, contacts Panorama reporter Elisabetta Burba and attempts to sell her the dossier. But is it the snakeoil salesman’s idea —or that of Antonio Nucera— or is someone else behind it? Mrs. Burba rightly double-checks the information in Niger. She concocts a cover of an investigation dinosaur tracks—from Oranosaurus nigeriensis to Afrovenator abakensis.
In the meantime, she is approached by a reliable source. Elisabetta does what a reporter has to do—with rigor and tenacity. She concludes that the story is baseless and refrains from publishing a single sentence. But in reality her efforts were after-the-fact, because the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Carlo Rossella, entralled with the possibly having found—as he tells his staff--a smoking gun, has forwarded the documents to the US Embassy in Rome, which he regards as "the highest source of confirmation". Does Pollari notify Berlusconi’s publication, Panorama, which is patting itself on the back over the uranium scoop, that the information is bogus? It seems that he did not. And this is how Jeff Castelli and the CIA came to find on their plate the half-baked frittata of which they'd been refusing to partake for nearly a year. The documents are such crude forgeries that they must be hidden from scrutiny lest they rain on Dick Cheney’s parade. The arrival of the documents in Washington occurs by stealth. They are distributed on October 16, 2002, to the various intelligence agencies by State Department officials during a routine meeting at which four CIA officials were in attendance. Not one of those present at the meeting is able to recall actually taking the dossier into their possession. Mysteriously, the "Italian papers" are “misplaced” at Langley for three months and it is only after an internal audit ordered by the Inspector-General that they are found inside a safe in the Counterproliferation Section. This is the first Italian lunge-and-parry. The uranium hoax inflated with the aluminum tube chicanery. But that is another story.
To be continued...