Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Berlusconi's Men "Doctor" Niger Uranium Dossier

Update: Jak's view from Toronto has an excellent timeline (.pdf file) for Plamegate-Nigergate. One hundred eleven pages worth! I am added Jak to the sidebar without delay!

Translation edited for errors and omissions and republished 23:19 pm, 13 November 2005.

Nigergate won't go away. Not only did Berlusconi forward the bogus Nigergate dossier to Washington but he had his intelligence people doctor the documents in an attempt to make them look genuine. But in cutting and pasting they made one mistake, which the US Senate discovers. 7 July 2000 was a Friday, not a Wednesday!

Italian reporters Bonini and D'Avanzo are back and they've got the goods on SISMI. (TalkingPointsMemo and The Left Coaster (cited in the article) are also on the case. Read the story of the professional cut-and-paste artists inside SISMI and weep.

Nigergate: The CIA confounded. SISMI "doctored" documents in the phony uranium dossier.

SISMI is familiar with the spectacularly phony dossier on Niger uranium fabricated “by private motivation for lucre” by three characters on SISMI’s payroll: Rocco Martino, Antonio Nucera and La Signora, who worked at the Embassy. SISMI is aware of the information contained the dossier. SISMI "doctors" the mistakes and absurdities contained in the documents. It does not entrust the dossier to the CIA. Instead it is revealed to a “field officer” of the Agency stationed in Rome, who is permitted to “view” the documents. The US agent scribbles a few notes, which produce the first report prepared for Washington. When the (false) news that Saddam is moving to acquire the bomb causes consternation (or joy) in the US intelligence community, Nicolò Pollari’s SISMI prepares a second report validating the first --this time with the inclusion of a transcription of the Niger-Iraq agreement confirming “the credibility of the source [La Signora]”. With a third cable comes the announcement that at last, “500 tons of uranium have already been shipped to Iraq.” This is precisely what took place in the Nigergate scandal. Yet the Italian Government and the SISMI chief stubbornly cling to the claim that Rome never forwarded a single document to Washington. They admit to having "shared" information with their American ally, but the pertinent question is this: Exactly what information did Italy share with the United States?

It is documented that our intelligence people, with the consent of the Italian Government, presented intelligence to the United States which it knew to be not only fabricated but fabricated so sloppily that was it necessary to hide some errors and to doctor others employing the routine magic of the clandestine services.

It isn’t that complicated to make decidedly false information appear to be true —or sufficiently true. As the cloak and dagger world knows, "Disinformation relies on both the true and the false." This is the maxim which guides the clever hand of Italian intelligence when it concocts, a month following 9-11, the swill of false information on a uranium purchase in Niger by agents of Saddam Hussein. The half-baked frittata prepared by the Italians is a simple operation. For spies, it should be equally simple to move a signature —a single signature— from one document to another. The Italian Job, as the Americans call it, would be more aptly named Three Card Monte or Three Document Monte because it is carried out in plain sight of everyone. Somewhat like Edgar Allan Poe's The Purloined Letter. The SISMI chief admits —before Italian Parliament– that on 18 October 2001 he forwards "information" to US intelligence confirming the “credibility of a source named La Signora", who in the past had already delivered “the genuine article” filched from inside the Embassy of Niger in Rome, located at via Antonio Baiamonti No. 10.

SISMI Chief Nicolò Pollari does not say what information he is guaranteeing by vouching for La Signora) to the American ally. To learn more, you'd have to leaf through the US Senate Report: Report on the U. S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq. On Page 36, it reads:
Reporting on a possible yellowcake sales agreement between Niger and Iraq first came to the attention of the US Intelligence Community (IC) on October 15, 2002. The Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Operations (DO) issued an intelligence report [censored] from a foreign government service indicating that Niger planned to ship several tons of uranium to Iraq [...censored...]. The intelligence report said the uranium sales agreement had been in negotiation between the two countries since at least early 1999, and was approved by the State Court of Niger in late 2000. According to the cable, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja gave his stamp of approval for the agreement and communicated his decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The report also incicated that in October 2000 Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had concluded an accord to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [...censored...].
We know that the “foreign government" is Italy. We also know that Rome vouches for four items of information: 1)The agreement between Niger and Iraq dates back to 1999; 2) the deal is approved by the State Court of Niger in 2000; 3)that Nigerois President Mamadou Tandja gave sanction to the sale and informs Saddam; and, 4) that Foreign Minister Nassirou Sabo informed an ambassador in Europe of same.

But we also know something else. We know where the information comes from that is forwarded by SISMI to Washington because we know that 28 months prior (see La Repubblica of 16 July 2003) the documents are “prepared” by a SISMI collaborator, Rocco Martino, by a SISMI colonel, Antonio Nucera, and by La Signora, the SISMI asset inside the Embassy of Niger in via Baiamonte. The three chefs, like Totò, Peppino and La Malafemmina [Translator's Note: The reference is to a 1956 comedy film about Neapolitan hayseeds in Milan]), cook up a phony document bundle which they sell, before 11 September 2001, to the French DGSE [General Directorate for External Security]. Let’s take at look at the document concerned.

It is an authentic document. It is a telex dated 1 February 1999 (ref. N° 003/99/ABNI/Rome). Nigerien Ambassador Adamou Chékou writes to the Foreign Minister in Niamey (the capital of Niger):
I have the honor to inform you that the Iraqi Embassy to the Holy See in the person of His Excellency Wissam Al Zahawie, Iraq Ambassador to the Holy See, will set out on an official mission to our country as the representative of Saddam Hussein, President of the Republic of Iraq. His Excellency will arrive in Niamey on Friday 5 February 1999 at approximately 18:25 aboard Air France Flight 730 originating in Paris.
Around an authentic telex the three snake oil salesmen are able to forge a phony dossier.
  • A letter signed by Nassirou Sabo dated 30 July 1999 from the Foreign Ministry to the Nigerien Ambassador in Rome;
  • A letter addressed to Monsieur Le Président (Saddam Hussein) from the President of the Republic of Niger dated 27 July 2000 officially acknowledging the agreement for the supply of 500 tons per year of uranium to Iraq;
  • A second letter dated 10 October 2000 from Foreign Minister Allele Dihadj Habibou to the Ambassador of Niger in Rome, with the subject, "The memorandum of understanding between Niger/Iraq concerning the supply of uranium" together with a 2-page attachment labeled “Agreement” in which sanction from the State Court of Niger is given to the sale “in compliance with Article 20 of Ordinance No. 74-13 of 5 July 2000."
  • The swindle can be discovered merely by disinterested perusal of the forged dossier. The letter dated 30 June 1999 signed by Nassirou Sabo, who has not yet been appointed Foreign Minister, refers to an agreement reached in Niamey a year in the future --on 29 June 2000.
  • The letter from Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja to Saddam Hussein dated 27 July 2000 refers to the Constitution of 1966; since then, Niger has had four other Constitutions. The Constitution in force in 2000 was ratifed in 1999.
  • Last, the letter dated 10 September to the Ambassador to Rome concerning the “memorandum of understanding” is signed by Allele Dihadj Habibou, who hasn't served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Coooperation since 1989

The imaginary correspondence includes the four items of information that Pollari forwards to the United States. There is no further intelligence gathered by the Italians. The so-called "intelligence" is invented around a table where the three snake oil salesmen sit down to concoct a swindle. The phony dossier which they prepare is unpresentable. It needs to be scrubbed up to make it believable. This is what occurs when high-ranking officials inside SISMI —and not the trio of Totò, Peppino and La Malafemmina— get involved. The letter dated 30 July 1999 disappears. But the problem of the inconsistent reference to an agreement dated 29 June 2000 is insurmountable. For the letter from Mamadou Tandja to Saddam, they trust their lucky stars. Essential to the fairy tale is the 1966 Constitution. [Besides, who would ever discover that it had been superseded?] The 1999 telex is not a problem. It is authentic. But there is a problem with the letter from Allele Dihadj Habibou.

The attention of several Democratic Senators has been turned lately to the observations found in a little radical blog ( Why does the Senate Report attribute a letter written by Allele Dihadj Habibou to Nassirou Sabo? Who is disinforming whom?

We have seen that Habibou hasn’t been a member of the cabinet for a decade. So this needs a little touchup. The signature of Sabo (that on the letter of 30 July 1999) is transferred to the message of 10 October 2000 because, rightly, Nassirou Sabo is Foreign Minister from 2000 to 2001. The dossier is now ready but it must still be treated with caution. It’s too dangerous to hand it over to the CIA. Could they discover the signature manipulation? What if they do?

So here is SISMI’s expedient in the testimony of [Greg] Thielmann, recorded shortly after he resigned as director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the intelligence arm of the US State Department.
The CIA field officer stationed in Rome informed Langley that he had seen (but was unable to duplicate), thanks to the cooperation of Italian military intelligence, certain letters which document the attempt by Iraq to acquire, at the beginning of 2001, more than 500 tons of pure uranium from Niger.
It is the October 15, 2001, report prepared by the Italians. The CIA agent “in the field” hurriedly jots down a few notes on the dossier he has just been shown: the 1999 telex, the Niger State Court approval, the letter written by Mamadou Tandja to Saddam Hussein. He observes that the letter of 10 October 2000 is signed by Nissirou Sabo (the signature of Allele Dihadj Habibou was substituted in the ass-covering maneuver). When the cable arrives in Langley, the chief of the Directorate of Operations jumps up on the table. Is he holding in his hand the thing he has been looking for: the “smoking gun.”?

CIA, DIA, and the Department of Energy judge the information to be plausible while the INR believes, to the contrary, that it is highly suspect. To remove any residual doubt, Langley asks for "further clarification" from Rome. Pollari, as reported by Il Messagero, responds in a quick followup on 18 October with “a letter of a page and a half." He explains that “the information comes from a creditable source, La Signora". He does not reveal her identify, but he relates that “in the past La Signora has given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memo registers from the Niger Embassy. So, those documents could be good. The same day, 18 October 2001, the CIA writes an in-depth report (Senior Intelligence Executive brief, "Iraq, Nuclear-Related Procurement Efforts"). You can read the following in the CIA report as well as in the Senate report:
According to information from a foreign intelligence service, Niger, at the beginning of this year, planned to ship several tones of uranium to Iraq in virtue of an agreement concluded last year. Iraq and Niger began negotiating the deal beginning in 1999 but, according to the foreign intelligence source, the Niger State Court approved the agreement only this year. The negotiated quantity of uranium is such that once enriched it could produce at least one atomic bomb.
As we see, the false information is identical to
that extracted from the bundle assembled by Totò, Peppino and La Malafemmina. With one tragic difference. The deceiving documentation, born to scam the French and polished here and there by the experienced hand of SISMI officials, finds its true purpose in announcing a concrete threat from Saddam to build a nuclear weapon.

What does Pollari know about the half-baked frittata and the “chefs” behind the phony dossier? It’s true that he vouched for La Signora, but he’s only been at SISMI a few days (after leaving his job as No.2 at CESIS). It’s possible that he said what he said in good faith. But then again, he could have been confounded by some clever operator close to him. It is nevertheless unthinkable that during the course of the following weeks, he did not personally verify a story as hot as molten steel. He is accustomed to doing such checks. His words, I don’t trust anyone around here, have now become a millstone around his neck. It is clear that he performed a personal assessment after the CIA requested more information from the Italians. Whatever Pollari’s knowledge of the first cable, the SISMI cheif's correspondence register is not silent concerning the second and third reports, which our intelligence people forward to Virginia. The information is identical, with a few supplemental details. No additional source. The origin of those documents and their purpose, never revealed to the United States, is in the half-baked frittata cooked up by Totò, Peppino and La Malafemmina.

Reading the Senate Report one finds:
On 5 February 2002, the Directorate of Operations of the CIA issues a second report which, once again, sites as a source “a foreign intelligence agency”. Although unidentified, the source is that of a foreign intelligence agency. This time, there are few more details, including the document described as a “transcription” of the text of the agreement between Niger and Iraq [censored)]. The governments of Niger and Iraq signed an agreement on 5 and 6 July 2001. The report refers to 500 tons of uranium [censored] per year.
The details and the substance of the second SISMI report impresses the CIA and DIA analysts. In particular, a CIA analyst testifying before the Senate observed that there had been no previous recollection of such a detailed report on uranium transactions. The INR continues to harbor doubt. It asks “if the source in question can be subjected to a lie detector test". A CIA analyst requests an accounting of the origin of the information from the Directorate of Operations. He is told that it is from “a very creditable source.” With a guarantee from Forte Braschi [SISMI headquarters], La Signora of via Antonio Baiamonti No. 10 is even more of a stunning success, just as the purge by SISME blunders contained in the dossier. The “packet” continues its triumphant march.

On 12 February 2002, the DIA (the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency) drafts a report entitled Njiamey signed an agreement to sell 500 tons of uranium a year to Baghdad. During the morning briefing, Vice President Dick Cheney reads the report. He asks for a verification from the CIA. In reply the CIA director in charge of WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control) issues a memo (with limited distribution) saying that the information on a presumed contact between Iraq and Niger originates solely from a report issued by a foreign intelligence service but lacks crucial details for which we are attempting to corroborate the reliability. The ball is back in SISMI’s court. Can it confirm the documents? Is there other evidence? Has a verification been carried out? Pollari forges on with a full head of steam. Perhaps he is entrapped by previous lies. Perhaps he is under pressure from the Italian Government, which wants to reinforce its ally’s desire to overthrow Saddam. Perhaps it is for a different reason. Once can read in the US Senate report on Page 47,
On March 25, 2002, the DO issued a third and final intelligence report from same "[foreign] government service". The report said that the 2000 agreement by Niger to provide uranium to Iraq specified that 500 tons of uranium per year would be delivered in [censored].

As in the two previous reports, the foreign service is not identified. The foreign service does not provide the Directorate of Operations with any information concerning the trail of its own intelligence and remains ambiguous on how it gathered the intelligence included in its three reports. Who has the courage to confess to the American ally that the intelligence is from Martino, Nucera and La Signora and that in order to make it believable, it was doctored even futher through the transfer of the signature of Nassirou Sabo from one document to another.

For Washington, the truth lies in the information contained in the three reports, accredited by an allied source (SISMI) and plausible only after a prudent once-over, which transforms the dissimulation into a coherent narration. The United States falls for it (or wants to fall for it). Senate Report, Page 47.
There were no obvious inconsistencies in the names of officials any of the three intelligence reports. Of the seven names mentioned in the reporting, two were former high-ranking employees who were the individuals in the positions described in the reports at the time described and five were lower ranking officials. Of the five lower-ranking, two were not the individuals in the positions described in the reports, however these do not appear to be names or positions with which intelligence analysts would have been familiar. For example, an INR analyst who had recently returned from a position as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Niger told Committee Staff that he did not notice any inconsistencies in the names of the officials mentioned. The only mistake in any of the reports regarding dates is that one date, July 7, 2000, is said to be a Wednesday in the report, but was actually a Friday.
A Wednesday for a Friday. What do you expect, for an Italian job?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m as earnestly interested as any in learning what went on in this affair, but I have to ask: “Stan Laurel, Goofy and Cruella Deville” is your substitution of American-meaningful references for some trio of Italian characters that wouldn’t register here, right?

3:57 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Yes, the original text was Totò, Peppino e la malafemmina.

If somebody is gonna pay me for a formal translation, then I take no liberties such as that. But it's just a blog, so I take licence.

But since you mentioned, I'll put a Translator's note in the text.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Jak King said...

For a detailed and fully documented timeline of events in the Plamegate and Niger Forgery scandals, please visit Jak's View

5:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the same Anonymous, you’re entitled to the license. Translation’s difficult and subtle, and you’re doing us all a service by providing these in close to real time. Thank you.

7:32 AM  
Blogger chicago dyke said...

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9:46 AM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

You're welcome, c-d babe!

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Jak King said...

Nur, there seems to be some confusion in this article. After discussing the Italian messages to the CIA of October 15 and 18, 2001, your authors say something to the effect that "we know the documents were created 28 months before." That takes us back to June 1999.

However, from previous reporting (see the Chronology), the creation of the documents is more likely in 2000, and the robbery of the Embassy in January 2001 must have some connection.

11:35 PM  

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