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Blogosphere Reporting on Forged Niger Docs: Will this be the Left's Rathergate?
The liberal blogosphere has been way out in front of investigating the origin of the forged Niger documents that may have been deliberately used to help sell the war in Iraq. I've come across a lot of insights from investigative bloggers who have been connecting the dots using information from the public record -- as well as doing some original reporting.
These forged Niger documents were publicly discredited as being "not authentic" by Mohamed ElBaradei on March 7th, 2003 before the war began 12 days later, but it has always been a bit of a mystery as to who forged them -- as well as how they ended up being used by the Bush Administration to help create the impression that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program.
The cultural right has their takedown of Dan Rather under their belts, and if it turns out that the forged documents originated from the United States and can be tied to the Bush Administration, then that would certainly not bode well for Republicans in the next election cycle and could ultimately result in impeachment hearings with a Democrat majority in Congress.
The liberal blogosphere would certainly take this as an unprecedented victory if this plays out to how Steve Soto describes it:
Get some more popcorn folks. Once you tie Chalabi and people like Ledeen into the forgeries, you tie Cheney’s office into this crap as well. And if that connection is made, it is game, set, and match.
The Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, the FBI investigation into the forgeries, Congressional action, and the mainstream media would inevitably put the final nails into the coffin, but there has been a lot of work by liberal bloggers in aggregating what has been already reported on this story overseas -- as well as pushing the story forward.
For example, it looks as though blogger Josh Marshall may have had a role in shining a spotlight to the fact that the FBI may have never even interviewed one of the couriers of the forged documents.
At least until late in 2004 the FBI had never interviewed the man who tried to sell the documents, Rocco Martino -- despite the fact that he came to the United States twice in the summer of 2004.
The FBI now says it concluded its investigation in July of this year. So did the FBI interview Martino before making its determination?
Those findings concerned some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after published reports that the FBI had not interviewed a former Italian spy named Rocco Martino, who was identified as the original source of the documents. The committee had requested the initial investigation.
It appears as if the FBI tried to whitewash the investigation, but they were called out by Marshall -- and potentially others in the media -- to give the Senate the ammunition they needed in order to call their bluff. So it's good news that the press can still play a watchdog function, and this LA Times report could help open up the floodgates for other news organizations to start digging into material that some liberal bloggers have already been exploring:
After talking with committee members, FBI officials decided to pursue "additional work" on the case, likely exploring the origins of the forgeries and whether the documents had been created specifically to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein...
Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators could examine whether the forgeries were instigated by U.S. citizens who advocated an invasion of Iraq or by members of the Iraqi National Congress -- the group led by Ahmad Chalabi that worked closely with Bush administration officials in the buildup to the war.
There is quite a bit of detailed information on this already from the blogosphere, and I'd thought I'd do a quick brain dump of what's passed through my radar screen in the following sections below:
Investigative Blogging from Marshall and eriposte on Niger Docs State withheld forged Niger Doc from IAEA John Bolton involved in withholding documents from IAEA? La Repubblica: Niger forgeries -- New Revelations by top French Spymaster Clarridge, Wolf & Ledeen implicated by Italian Parliament for Forged Documents
Investigative Blogging from Marshall and eriposte on Niger Docs
Josh Marshall actually teamed up with 60 Minutes to bring one of the couriers of the forged Niger documents Rocco Martino to the US a couple of times to interview him. Marshall has also publicly complained that the FBI never bothered to interview Martino when he was brought to the United States by Marshall and 60 Minutes.
But then 60 Minutes bailed and eventually Marshall started posting the following blog posts on what he was able to report on the story:
* Italian Connection Part I * Italian Connection Part II * Italian Connection Part III * Marshall reports that Part IV is coming soon.
The Italian government seems to have been involved and knowledgeable of the forgeries at some point, and the US was also probably complicit in knowing that they were not legitimate.
Marshall also pointed to an Italian report that the intelligence agency of SISMI tried to clean up Niger documents which shows that they knew that they were bogus, but still tried to pass them off as authentic:
"Very interesting news out of Italy this morning, and news which appears to confirm a theory advanced recently by a poster at theleftcoaster.com (big coup for him, about which I'll explain more later)...
But there's one more small detail, reported this morning in La Repubblica. The report sent over from Italy removed the out-of-date names (one of the key reasons they were spotted later as forgeries) and replaced them with the correct names. In other words, there seems to have been a conscious effort to cover up the fact that the documents were bogus, to clean them up, as it were."
That "poster at theleftcoaster.com" is eriposte, and Marshall hasn't followed up with his specific coup yet. But I'm assuming that Marshall is referring to the fact that eriposte has sifted through the SSCI, Butler, Robb-Silberman, Taylor reports and summarized what is known about the Niger documents in this lengthy post that contains many different of his different conclusions:
In this post, emptywheel summarizes eriposte's major findings and relevance.
State withheld forged Niger Doc from IAEA
Eriposte also got a copy of an investigative report from the UK Private Eye that says that the State Department deliberately withheld an obviously forged document from the IAEA when they handed over the bundle of Niger documents (that were also forged).
Solomon Hughes, an investigative reporter who writes for Private Eye sent me the text of the article in the magazine and it has this bombshell (emphasis mine):
"When the US State Department finally gave international weapons inspectors its "evidence" that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from the African State of Niger in 2003, they held back the one document even their own analysts knew was "funky" and "clearly a forgery". Experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency quickly discovered that all the papers were fake, but they did this by spotting errors that had slipped passed the State Department and CIA: The fact that the US government handed over the whole bundle of what became known as the "Niger Forgeries" except the one paper they recognised as a hoax suggests they were trying to pass off documents they knew were phoney as the real thing."
I've haven't seen whether or not this has broken through the US mainstream press yet.
John Bolton involved in withholding documents from IAEA? TheNextHurrah's emptywheel speculates that John Bolton was involved with causing this forged document to be withheld within the State Department's bureaucracy. I believe he's getting this information from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report and other reports, and it's an interesting hypothesis:
One important reason why the discrepancy didn't discredit the intelligence is because the documents were distributed in such a way to make sure no one vetted them (this stuff is mine, not eRiposte's, so it is more speculative and any errors are mine). Rather than coming in through CIA, which would be the normal distribution channel for these documents, the forgeries came into the US through John Bolton's office. One INR analyst saw them and knew immediately they were garbage. But somehow, that analyst was unexpectedly on leave the following day, so he couldn't explain the problems of the documents to his colleagues, nor could he make sure they actually got the documents. (The SSCI says they did, but it based this conclusion on the fact that the documents were in files that Fred Fleitz would have had access to.) Further, the probable supervisor for this INR analyst testified during the Bolton confirmation hearings that Bolton prevented her INR analysts from distributing intelligence with their opinions on it. They were supposed to give the intelligence to WINPAC, and then comment after WINPAC redistributed the intelligence. In the case of the Niger forgeries, this would have meant four months elapsed before the INR analyst could share his opinion with his colleagues.
Again, I've seen other speculation about Bolton's potential involvement with the Niger documents, but I haven't seen it reported out anywhere else.
La Repubblica: Niger forgeries -- New Revelations by top French Spymaster
Here is a link to a translation of a La Repubblica article published a couple of days ago by investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo. (via Alan's comment)
They just interviewed Alain Chouet, the retired Vice-Director of Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) -- "the French counter-espionage abroad"
Chouet is speaking out about the pre-war handling of the Niger documents from France's perspective.
he was the man who handled the `Nigergate' on behalf of Paris. He says: "I know what happened. When it happened. How it happened. I guided the French intelligence in this affair. I made the decisions. I communicated and exchanged with the Americans all information concerning this case.
He's saying that the Italian SISMI is lying about their role, and that France has been telling the CIA that there was nothing to the Niger claims since July 2002.
I haven't verified the accuracy of the translation, but there are lots of details in the article including this key excerpt:
They simply asked us to check that stuff. Langley’s pressure was strong. The CIA asked for an immediate answer about the authenticity of the information. Immediately after September 11th, the relations between Dgse and the CIA were excellent (these good relations have always been questioned by Italy) and therefore I arranged a ‘deep undercover’ mission. Between the end of May and June 2002, ‘my men’ were in Njamey, the capital of Niger. The mission – as arranged by the Dgse operative directions – was held back from our Foreign Office as well as from the whole diplomatic network".
In Niger the Dgse men found nothing at all, nothing different from what had already been found by ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whom the CIA had sent to Njamey in February.
"Five of our best men were part of the team. With a deep knowledge of Niger and of all the issues connected to yellowcake. My men stayed in Africa for a couple of weeks and, once back, they told me a very simple thing: ‘the American information on uranium is all bullshit’. When I read their report, I did not doubt their work nor, if you let me say so, my mind. I know Niger well but I can say that I have known Baghdad and Saddam even better. And I know that if Saddam had wanted to purchase yellowcake (which he already owned in great quantities) from Niger he would have never asked an Ambassador to open negotiations. Saddam did not trust anybody in his Foreign Office. He certainly didn’t trust his ambassadors around the world. For such a task he would have sent one of his sons. On the other hand, we knew the reason of the journey of Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See, Wissam Al Zahawie. He had to identify an African country ready to accept the storage of the regime’s hazardous toxic waste, in exchange for money. In fact Namibia, which had been used as a dumping ground by Iraq, had told Baghdad they couldn’t go on contaminating their soil. I told the CIA the results of our mission in Niger. The Americans seemed very disappointed for what they had to hear. I understood then the reasons for their frustration and I understood them even better when the CIA, not content with the result, at the end of June 2002, sent us a part of the documents of the Niger dossier, as if they wanted to underline the reasons for their insistence".
What's notable is that this retired French Spymaster is willing to go on the record about all of this. It usually takes the US press A LONG TIME to incorporate insights from the foreign press into their coverage of an issue, but it would still be considered a scoop for a US-based newspaper to interview Chouet about his version of what happened.
What's also notable is that this blog has posted a translation of this Italian article so quickly.
Raimondo: Clarridge, Wolf & Ledeen implicated by Italian Parliament for Forged Documents
Back on 10/19/05, the Libertarian antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo reported that a former CIA officer told him that the "Italian parliamentary oversight report on the forged Niger uranium document" says that:
* Principle Forgers of Niger Docs = CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf * Michael Ledeen = conduit of forgeries * All three had business interests with Chalabi
Raimondo also heard from a source in the Italian embassy that Patrick Fitzgerald has a copy of this Italian report.
Here's the relevant excerpt from Raimondo:
I am told by a former CIA operations officer, the report has aroused some interest on this side of the Atlantic. According to a source in the Italian embassy, Patrick J. "Bulldog" Fitzgerald asked for and "has finally been given a full copy of the Italian parliamentary oversight report on the forged Niger uranium document," the former CIA officer tells me:
"Previous versions of the report were redacted and had all the names removed, though it was possible to guess who was involved. This version names Michael Ledeen as the conduit for the report and indicates that former CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf were the principal forgers. All three had business interests with Chalabi."
Alan Wolf died about a year and a half ago of cancer. He served as chief of the CIA's Near East Division as well as the European Division, and was also CIA chief of station in Rome after Clarridge. According to my source, "he and Clarridge and Ledeen were all very close and also close to Chalabi." The former CIA officer says Wolf "was Clarridge's Agency godfather. Significantly, both Clarridge and Wolf also spent considerable time in the Africa division, so they both had the Africa and Rome connection and both were close to Ledeen, closing the loop."
This is a very complicated story, and I wonder if the mainstream media will start to look into this -- or if they are just going to accept whatever the FBI investigation reveals.
This story has been advanced by bloggers in the sense that Marshall has already helped give senators a reason to question the validity of the preliminary conclusions from the FBI.
So if the Niger docs are eventually tied back to the United States and to the Bush Administration, then this new media ecosystem would have certainly helped keep alive this story that would've very quickly fallen off the radar screen of the mainstream media.