Sunday, November 06, 2005

Recycled forgery?

PV Vivekanand

WASHINGTON'S efforts to blame Italian intelligence for forgery of documents showing Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger have fallen apart with a firm assertion from Rome that not only that it had nothing to do with the forgery but also that it had warned the US that the papers were forged.
From what one could judge from reports in newspapers and postings on the Internet, the fake papers originated with American neoconservatives and Pentagon officials, including a confessed spy for Israel, and passed on to Iraqi exiles and Iranians. The circle was completed when the forgeries were landed back in the US and added to the false intelligence information that was used to set the ground for war against Iraq.
More specifically, someone who belongs to the neoconservatives is tentatively identified as the main forgerer and the papers were passed on to Ahmed Chalabi, then an Iraqi in exile, who used Iranians to place them somewhere in the European intelligence circuit and then the forgeries ended up in the US through a former Italian spy.
Establishing that no one linked to the Bush administration had anything to do with the forged documents has assumed great importance in the wake of the indictment against Lewis Scooter Libby, former aide to Vice-President Robert Cheney. Libby faces charges of perjury in connection with the outing of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative whose husband had investigated and found that there was no proof that Saddam Hussein did try to buy uranium from Niger.
Washington needed to convince everyone that it had nothing to do with the forgery. However, in the wake of the fresh revelations, if proper follow-up work is undertaken by the prosecution, the whole Libby and perjury case could take a different direction and could even bring down the Bush administration.
The forged papers were the basis for the investigations conducted by Joseph Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame (who was lated outed as a CIA operative). The International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) had officially confirmed that the documents were forgeries.
However, the Bush administration ignored the investigation's finding that there was no truth ito the allegation. President George W Bush cited it in his state of the union address in early 2003.
Later, it became known that the forged papers were the basis for Bush's assertions and that it had an Italian link, implying that they originated with Italian intelligence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said last week it had closed a two-year investigation into the origin of the forged documents.
In March 2003, Senator Jay Rockefeller, vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed not to open a congressional investigation of the matter, but rather asked the FBI to conduct the investigation.
As of September 2004, the FBI had not yet interviewed former Italian spy Rocco Martino, claiming they were awaiting permission from the Italian government to do so. However, Martino is known to have been in New York in August 2004.
The forgeries were the focus of reports carried last week by Italy's La Republicca, which suggested that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had pressured the head of the country's secret service, which is known by its Italian acronym SISMI, into giving the forgeries to the US.
This prompted SISMI director Nicolo Pollari to call a parliamentary committee briefing where he explained that the agency had warned the US months before it invaded Iraq that the documents were fake.
"At about the same time as the State of the Union address, they (SISMI ) said that the dossier doesn't correspond to the truth," Massimo Brutti, a member of the Italian Senate, told journalists after the parliamentary panel was briefed.
Brutti said the warning was given in January 2003, but he did not know whether it was made before or after Bush's speech.
Pollari was reported to have told the briefing that an Italian occasional spy named Rocco Martino as the disseminator of the forged documents.
Brutti said Pollary identified Martino as a former intelligence informer who had been "kicked out of the agency." He did not say Martino was the forger.
Senator Luigi Malabarba, who also attended Thursday's hearing, said Pollari had told the briefing that Martino was "offering the documents not on behalf of Sismi but on behalf of the French" and that Martino had told prosecutors in Rome that he was in the service of French intelligence.
A senior French intelligence official called Pollari's assertions about France's responsibility "scandalous."
La Repubblica, a strong critic of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, alleged that after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks Pollari was being pressured by Berlusconi to make a strong contribution to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Berlusconi clearly stated that Italy had not passed any documents on the Niger affair to the United States. He added that La Repubblica's allegations were dangerous for Italy because "if they were believed, we would be considered the instigator" of the Iraq war.
If it was not the Italian intelligence behind the forgeries, then who was?
This is the question that people who claim to have inside information are seeking to answer. They claim that Michael Ledeen, of the American Entreprise Institute, which is described as a neoconservative group, and Pentagon officials Harold Rhode, Larry Franklin, the confessed spy for Israel, and other officials were behind the forgeries. Ledeen is former National Security Council and State Department official.
These officials were eported to have attended a meeting in Italy with Iraqi exiles like Ahmed Chalabi and some unidentified Iranians who were described as representatives of the Tehran government. The meeting took place some time in December 2002.
According to La Republicca: "The story of Italian military intervention in Iraq begins when the resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Ledeen, sponsored by Defence Minister Antonio Martino, debarks in Rome with Pentagon men in tow to meet a handful of 'Iranian exiles.
"Twenty men are gathered around a large table, covered by a maps of Iraq, Iran and Syria. Those who count are Lawrence Franklin and Harold Rhode of the Office of Special Plans, Michael Ledeen of the AIE, a SISMI chief accompanied by his assistant..."
The paper quoted Pollari as telling its reporters.
"I can tell you those Iranians were not exactly 'exiles.' The came and went from Tehran with their passports with no difficulty whatsoever as if they were transparent to the eyes of the Pasdaran..."
L a Repubblica also quoted an American intelligence source as saying, "You Italians have always underestimated the work of conversion carried out Ahmed Chalabi, the chairman of Iraqi National Congress."
The paper says two key Chalabi lieutenants, Aras Habib Karim and Francis Brooks, also played a key role and so did the the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite group SCIRI. Another participant was said to Iranian arms merchant Manoucher Ghorbanifar, but La Repubblica said he was only included in the Rome meetings as a diversionary tactic.
In 2005, Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of counterterrorism operations at the CIA and the intelligence director at the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan, expressed the opinion that the documents had been produced in the United States and funnelled through the Italians: "The documents were fabricated by supporters of the policy in the United States. The policy being that you had to invade Iraq in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein ...." (
In an interview published April 7, 2005, Cannistraro was asked what he would say if it was asserted that the source of the forgery wasl Ledeen. Cannistraro answered by saying: "You'd be very close."
In an interview on July 26, 2005, Cannistraro's business partner and columnist for the "American Conservative" magazine, former CIA counter terrorism officer Philip Giraldi, confirmed that the forgeries were produced by "a couple of former CIA officers who are familiar with that part of the world who are associated with a certain well-known neoconservative who has close connections with Italy."
When Horton said that must be Ledeen, he confirmed it, and added that the ex-CIA officers, "also had some equity interests, shall we say, with the operation. A lot of these people are in consulting positions, and they get various, shall we say, emoluments in overseas accounts, and that kind of thing."
Again, the revelations represent yet another nail, if anyone needed one, in the coffin of all American assertions that the Bush administration acted in good faith but was given "faulty" intelligence that Iraq had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The picture that emerges clearly shows that the administration was dead bent upon waging war against Iraq and actually built the case for military action based on doctored intelligence reports.
But then, it is not exactly a secret anymore. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted as much, albeit not in so many words, when she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that "it was always the Bush administration's intent to redesign the Middle East after the Sept. 11 attacks, which exposed a 'deep malignancy growing' in the region, and that the Iraq was part of that plan."
However, that Rice did not say — perhaps she did not know —  was that the "intent to redesign the Middle East" actually dates back to the mid-90s when a hardcore core group of neocons authored a report containing recommendations that the removal of Saddam Hussein was paramount not only to the "security" of Israel but also the Jewish state's quest's regional domination.
In the immediate context, the American people and indeed the international community at large are waiting to see how much of truth a Sentate Intelligence Committee report due by Nov.14 would contain and whether it would unveil the reality about the Niger forgery.