The source of the Niger yellowcake documents has now been officially identified in a story by the New York Times.
ROME, Nov. 3 - Italy's spymaster identified an Italian occasional spy named Rocco Martino on Thursday as the disseminator of forged documents that described efforts by Iraq to buy uranium ore from Niger for a nuclear weapons program, three lawmakers said Thursday.
The spymaster, Gen. Nicolò Pollari, director of the Italian military intelligence agency known as Sismi, disclosed that Mr. Martino was the source of the forged documents in closed-door testimony to a parliamentary committee that oversees secret services, the lawmakers said.
The interesting part is here buried in the middle of the story.
Senator Luigi Malabarba, who also attended Thursday's hearing, said in a telephone interview that General Pollari had told the committee that Mr. Martino was "offering the documents not on behalf of Sismi but on behalf of the French" and that Mr. Martino had told prosecutors in Rome that he was in the service of French intelligence.
A senior French intelligence official interviewed Wednesday in Paris declined to say whether Mr. Martino had been a paid agent of France, but he called General Pollari's assertions about France's responsibility "scandalous."
Even this is old news. The Daily Telegraph reported the following a year ago:
Italian diplomats have claimed that, by disseminating bogus documents stating that Iraq was trying to buy low-grade "yellowcake" uranium from Niger, France was trying to "set up" Britain and America in the hope that when the mistake was revealed it would undermine the case for war, which it wanted to prevent.
Italian judicial officials confirmed yesterday that Mr Martino had previously been sought for questioning by Rome. Investigating magistrates in the city have opened an inquiry into claims he made previously in the international press that Italy's secret services had been behind the dissemination of false documents, to bolster the US case for war.
According to Ansa, the Italian news agency, which said privately that it had obtained its information from "judicial and other sources", Mr Martino was questioned by an investigating magistrate, Franco Ionta, for two hours. Ansa said Mr Martino told the magistrate that Italy's military intelligence, Sismi, had no role in the procuring or dissemination of the Niger documents.
He was also said to have claimed that he had obtained the documents from an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, before passing these to French intelligence, on whose payroll he had been since at least 2000.
However, he reportedly also added that he had believed that the documents in question were genuine, and to have never suspected that they had been forged. "Martino has clarified his position and offered to deliver to the magistrates the documents which confirm his declarations," his lawyer, Giuseppe Placidi, told Ansa.
It was not possible to contact Mr Martino through his lawyer yesterday. Contacted by The Telegraph, Mr Ionta politely declined to comment, but did not deny that the questioning had taken place. The Interior Ministry in Rome, which had also expressed keen interest in the Telegraph article, refused to comment on the matter.
Mr Martino is said by diplomats to have come forward of his own accord and contacted authorities in the Italian capital following the earlier article in the Telegraph. They said he had written a letter of resignation to the French DGSE intelligence service last week.
According to an Italian newspaper report yesterday, members of the Digos, Italy's anti-terrorist police, removed documents from Mr Martino's home in a northern suburb of Rome on Friday afternoon.
"After being exposed in the international press, French intelligence can hardly be amused or happy with him," one western diplomat said. "Martino may have thought the safest thing was to hand himself over to the Italians." Investigators in Rome suspect that Mr Martino was first engaged by the French secret services five years ago, when he was asked to investigate rumours of illicit trafficking in uranium from Niger. He is thought to have then been retained the following year to collect more information. It was then that he is suspected of having assembled a dossier containing both real and bogus documents from Niger, the latter apparently forged by a diplomat.
The New York Times on the other hand only cares about whether Italian intelligence was complicit in this and apparently had no curiosity about French intelligence. Nevertheless, Italian intelligence gets acquitted in the process.
General Pollari also said that no Italian intelligence agency officials were involved in either forging or distributing the documents, according to both Senator Brutti and the committee chairman, Enzo Bianco.
Committee members said they were shown documents defending General Pollari, including a copy of a classified letter from Robert S. Muller III, the director of the F.B.I., dated July 20, which praised Italy's cooperation with the bureau.
In Washington, an official at the bureau confirmed the substance of the letter, whose contents were first reported Tuesday in the leftist newspaper L'Unità. The letter stated that Italy's cooperation proved the bureau's theory that the false documents were produced and disseminated by one or more people for personal profit, and ruled out the possibility that the Italian service had intended to influence American policy, the newspaper said.
As a result, the letter said, according to both the F.B.I. official and L'Unità, the bureau had closed its investigation into the origin of the documents.
Finally, The New York Times states as fact something that is not so:
The documents were the basis for sending a former diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, on a fact-finding mission to Niger that eventually exploded into an inquiry that led to the indictment and resignation last week of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby. [emphasis mine]
Note the following conclusions that the Democrats didn't allow to be published as part of the SSCI report:
Conclusion: The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee.
The former ambassador's wife suggested her husband for the trip to Niger in February 2002. The former ambassador had traveled previously to Niger on behalf of the CIA, also at the suggestion of his wife, to look into another matter not related to Iraq. On February 12, 2002, the former ambassador's wife sent a memorandum to a Deputy Chief of a division in the CIA's Directorate of Operations which said, "[m]y husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." This was just one day before the same Directorate of Operations division sent a cable to one of its overseas stations requesting concurrence with the division's idea to send the former ambassador to Niger. [emphasis mine]
Two things should be noted. First, that Ambassador Wilson was sent on a matter not related to Iraq and thus was not evaluating the forged documents. Second, that according to his wife he had "lots of French contacts".
There should be an investigation on the role of French intelligence in this whole mess to determine if they deliberately planted these documents in order to discredit the Iraq war effort given that there were many French companies up to their eyeballs in the Oil for Food scandal.