As Libby’s indictment and the Plame/Wilson saga trundles on and as more and more people begin to question the CIA’s role in politics, the subject of the yellowcake that Saddam may or may not have wanted to buy in Niger has cropped up in Europe. And what a convoluted tale it is, to be sure.
The man who has been accused of passing on the forged documents about the possible Niger shopping expedition is Rocco Martino, a one-time spy with Italian military intelligence agency Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI). In fact, he has also been accused of forging them but whether he did or did not, he is supposed to have done so off his own bat.
As ISN Security Watch repeated on Monday:
“Enzo Bianco, chairman of an oversight committee on Italy’s secret services, said on 3 November that SISMI had played no role in passing on the bogus information.”So, errm, who did pass on the bogus information. According to Signor Martino, “known in the Italian media by his intelligence code name ‘Giacomo’”, it was he who acquired the information from the Niger Embassy in Rome. He did not think the dossier was forged and he did what any intelligence agent would do when he acquires a particularly juicy piece of information:
“Once he had the information in hand, he turned to Italian news magazine Panorama to publish an article based on part of it, and then he sold the entire dossier to US intelligence officials after first shopping it to Italy, Britain, France, and a US television network.”Well trained, these people, aren’t they. But then, as I recall, Ambassador Wilson, having spent 8 days in Niger, gave an oral report of his mission in Langley and then, a little while later, published an op-ed piece in which he contradicted everything he said in his report. I suppose, it is his wife who is the agent but still.
Back to the Martino documents. The surprising part of it, as Michael Ledeen points out jocularly in one of his spectral conversation pieces in the National Review, was how easily was the forgery was recognized. Does this mean, as he suggests that it was meant to be seen as such? In which case, why did Signor Martino not realize that they were dubious?
There is a good deal of doubt as to who Rocco Martino was working for. He had been a SISMI agent but was, apparently, not one by this stage. His shenanigans would indicate that he was strictly free-lance, out to get whatever he could for himself.
There have been two main suggestions. One is that it was an Italian forgery, designed to bolster the case for the Iraqi war and Italy’s part in it. In which case, one has to ask, whatever happened to the Italian ability, noted throughout history, to produce amazing forgeries?
Then there is the other theory: that this was a French forgery (Signor Martino has once acknowledged that he worked for the French intelligence but then he has acknowledged so many different things at so many different times that it is hard to know what one can believe).
The French forgery theory is a little more believable, the idea being to discredit the case for war and to protect Chirac’s buddy Saddam Hussein. That would explain quite satisfactorily why the forgeries were so easily detected.
There is, as it happens, a good deal of indication that these documents were produced some years earlier than they surfaced, the idea being to stop President Clinton from going to war. Clinton, as we know, huffed and puffed and decided not to blow Saddam’s house down. Therefore, if one goes along with the French forgery theory, the documents were not needed.
When Bush showed that his intentions were a bit more serious (several things having happened in the meantime), the documents appeared through some unknown intermediary in the Niger Embassy in Rome.
They were hawked round, used by Bush in his State of the Union speech and unmasked as forgeries by the UN Atomic Commission. And eventually, they made Ambassador Joseph E. Wilson’s career as a political pundit.