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Mambo Italiano and Plame Gate
By Larry C Johnson
With friends like the Italians who needs enemies? If Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are indicted they can shift some of the blame to the Italians. If it were not for Italy, Joe Wilson probably never would have been sent to Africa to investigate the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger and the ensuing chain of events to smear Wilson would not have happened. A careful review of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq (July 2004) shows very clearly that there was only one source claiming that Iraq was buying the uranium. Shades of Curveball! Except in this case the source was not an Iraqi linked to Ahmed Chalabi, but a foreign liaison service. Knowledgeable friends say it was the Italian Intelligence Service (SISME).
SISME provided the CIA with three separate intelligence reports that Iraq had reached an agreement with Niger to buy 500 tons of yellowcake uranium (October 15, 2001; February 5, 2002; and March 25, 2002). (See Expanded PlameGate Timeline below). The second report from February was the subsequent basis for a DIA analysis, which led Vice President Cheney to ask CIA for more information on the matter. That request led to the CIA asking Ambassador Joe Wilson to go check out the story in Niger.
Even in the much maligned October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the entire intelligence community remained split on the reliability of the Iraq/Niger claim. During briefings subsequent to the publication of the NIE, senior CIA officials repeatedly debunked the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium. They also dismissed as unreliable reports from Great Britain, which also were derived from the faulty Italian intelligence reports.
Italy’s SISME also reportedly had a hand in producing the forged documents delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in early October 2003 that purported to show a deal with Iraq to buy uranium. Many in the intelligence community are convinced that a prominent neo-con with longstanding ties to SISME played a role in the forgery. The truth of that proposition remains to be proven. This much is certain, either SISME or someone with ties to SISME, helped forge and circulate those documents which some tried to use to bolster the case to go to war with Iraq.
Although some in the intelligence community, specifically analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), believed the report, the intelligence community as a whole did not put much stock in the reports and forged documents, and repeatedly told policy makers that these reports were not reliable. Despite being rebuffed repeatedly by the intelligence community on these questions, policymakers persisted in trying to make the fraudulent case.
Two weeks before President Bush spoke the infamous 16 words in the January 2003 State of the Union speech, the Department of Defense was fanning the flames about Iraq’s alleged Nigerien uranium shopping trip. Starting in late 2001, senior Department of Defense officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Doug Feith, provided favored military talking heads with talking points and briefings to reinforce messages the Administration wanted the public to remember. One of those who frequently attended these affairs, Robert Maginnis, published an op-ed on January 15, 2003 subsequent to one of the briefings. In writing about the case for attacking Iraq, Maginnis affirmed that Saddam, “failed to explain why Iraq manufactures fuels suited only for a class of missile that it does not admit to having and why it sought to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger.