Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why were SISMI invited to play niger forgeries

emptywheel explains eriposte for the less-smart amongst us.
eR has analyzed the Niger forgeries obsessively for years now. He has shown a number of things, notably that Italy's intelligence service SISMI was involved in "fixing" the information that CIA was getting, so that the obvious errors in the Niger forgeries didn't appear in the cables CIA received; he has provided strong evidence to suggest SISMI was doing this with feedback from CIA, so they could adjust to the reactions within CIA to make their "intelligence" more persuasive.

In today's post, he discusses the accord, the agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of a huge amount of yellowcake. This accord is the whole reason the Niger claims were supposed to have been so dangerous--it was supposed to be proof that Niger and Iraq had already closed a deal on uranium.
Well, eR's latest post proves that the accord was not part of the Niger dossier forwarded to the US in Fall 2002 (which also served as the source for all the other claims). That is, there was no accord in the documents that were supposed to prove that Niger was such a threat. There was no accord in the documents sent to the IAEA.

So where did the claim there was an accord come from? Well, SISMI cabled the CIA in February 2002 describing "verbatim" the terms of the deal. Does February 2002 ring a bell? Well, it should. This cable was the piece of intelligence, you see, that so attracted Dick Cheney's attention, that caused him to ratchet up the harassment of intelligence personnel to go find him some corroborating information. This was the piece of intelligence that caused the CIA to send Joe Wilson to Niger to check into the accord. This was the piece of intelligence that lies at the core of debates about gaming intelligence to bring us to war.

But it's also a piece of intelligence that may not exist. It may be no more than the "verbatim" transcription of a document that never really existed, in forged or real form.
a commentor there asks:
"Tbe big question remains: Why did the Italian spy agency participate in this fraud?"
ew replies:
"They got to be part of the Coalition of the Future Axis Members, and got dibs on Iraq's oil and the power that accrued from possession of it? After all, they didn't have the troops the Brits did, for their share in the booty. Is it a surprise they were willing to do the heavy lifting on the propaganda front?"
I left a question over there asking why the italians were even invited to participate. Were they required at all?

Was it simply because the Iraqi diplomat who travelled to Niger was from the Vatican? Could the cabal have pulled off the embassy robbery without SISMI? Could they have effected a similiar robbery in, say, DC? Was it simply a matter that La Signorina was already a SISMI asset?

11 comments:

Kathleen said...

Italy has not been an equal player on the US- European chess board, not like Brittain, France and Germany. Brown nosing Bush was a way for Berlusconi to become one the three tenors so to speak, the 3 B's Triumverate, Bush, Blair and Burlusconi. They got the Presidential helicopter deal and who knows what oil deals, etc. Burlusconi got to play with the big bullys.

Now that Burlusconi is gone, when the Italian military is no longer in harm's way in Iraq, to be fragged by "accident" by the US, like we shot their top Intel Agent on the road to Baghdad, I think the Italian gov't will be waaay more forthcoming with evidence to Fitz on Plame and the Niger forgeries than they were under B. They've given some dox, but I think there's more.

Italy was going to replace its military with civil technicians but then decided not to because they would need to send Italian soldiers to protect them.

It's a different opera now.

lukery said...

kathleen - i can see the arguments about what the italians got - but why were they even asked to play in the sand box?

Simon said...

Luke,

Relating to: "The big question remains: Why did the Italian spy agency participate in this fraud?"

Because there was no-one else out there that would have carried this through. Burlusconi was never a straight player and I'm sure that various US factions had 'stuff' on him that they could use to make him feel very uncomfortable indeed.

'If you do this for us we could forget all about that for you etc etc. We could even throw in a sweetener...'

Just to recap as to where we got to on an earlier thread about this (Re: the errors in the docs):

so the question is whether that was intentional or sloppy. if it was sloppiness,...

Emptywheel above states (my emphasis)"so that the obvious errors in the Niger forgeries didn't appear in the cables CIA received...", well I don't think they are quite as obvious as CW now seems to think they are. If the forgeries HAD to allow for a later back-step, they equally HAD to have something about them that could point to the fact that they weren't genuine. Some of the errors, particularly relating to dates and the general chronology of events could quite easily be initially dismissed as being simple typographical mistakes. If this possibility is allowed into the equation, then the forgeries were a cleverer piece of work than suggested, plainly intended for dissipation into the 'stream' through an assortment of intelligence services.

On the subject of the accord, yes it probably didn't exist as a paper document, but to pass on a cover page that says "ACCORD", well that might certainly allow room to suggest (to a certain European party) that such a document really did in fact exist.

lukery said...

thnx again simon.

my interest (in this particular conversation) isnt really in why the italians *accepted* the invitation - but why they were even *invited* at all (i.e. why not do it domestically?)

with respect, dismissing the chronological errors as "simple typographical mistakes" really stretches credulity.

Simon said...

Luke,

(i.e. why not do it domestically?)

Because the feed then disappears? No Rocco Martino, no cut-out, and they would have had to have created another believable way to spread the docs about?

With even greater respect, I'm not dismissing the chronological errors as "simple typographical mistakes", I'm suggesting that they allowed for degrees of doubt to be applied to the quality of the docs within the intel system.

emptywheel said...

lukery

I hadn't thought about the possibility that they picked Italy because of the Zahawie visit. That's a good point, I hadn't thought of that. Though I wonder whether that's why they picked Niger as opposed to South Africa (IIRC, the other three countries Zahawie visited were not uranium producers). So that may explain why the Niger embassy got burgled rather than another.

I'd be curious to see your answer to my other question--I suggested Italy and Spain were the most likely candidates. But then I wondered why not Australia. While I suspect it has a lot to do with historical relationships (thus the appropriateness of Ledeen's recent JJA column to remind us of those relationships), I wonder what you think.

Don said...

(i.e. why not do it domestically?)

It could be as simple as my favourite line from Independence Day:

"Two words, Mr. President: plausible deniability."

But of course, nothing politicians ever do is simple, which is why everything is so fucked up.

lukery said...

simon - good points all.

however - presumably there are a gazillion rocco martinos (and La Signorinas) around the place, including in the US.

mind you, i'm not arguing anything specific - just questions still. my presumption is that it would be easier/less risky to pull off this sort of operation with fewer intelligence agencies rather than more - so introducing SISMI (apparently at the highest level) comes with a whole new set of complications.

as i asked in the post - could the cabal have pulled off the operation, exactly as it happened, in Rome, with Martino, without the help of SISMI? possibly.

and could they have pulled off the same operation, say in DC, using their own Rocco Martino and got the same outcome - and saved themselves from involving SISMI (and all the necessary complications) at all? probably. would it have been as believable? almost, i'd have to think.

in fact - why did they even need to break into the embassy at all? given what we know about the quality of the forgeries - did the seal/letterhead really add any 'believability' to the forgeries? in fact, arguably, (at least in retrospect) the fact that there was an embassy burglary where nothing of value was taken - apart from stationary - might even have pre-emptively raised suspicions when official looking documents telling a 'crazy story' turned up.

similarly, it was particularly sloppy (again in retrospect) that the embassy break-in was in Rome, and they tried to inject the forgeries into the stream in Rome. (or did they? maybe they went to the french first)

lukery said...

ew - nice to see you here, as always.

I'm not particularly arguing that they picked italy because of the Zahawie trip - again, it was just a question.

another interesting question re 'why the niger embassy?' - here's kwiakowski, via Unger:
"Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore," explains Karen Kwiatkowski... "If Saddam wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?""

Zahawie went to the Congo on his trip.

(mind you, i'm still fascinated by the idea that Wilson found that Iran was apparently trying to get uranium in Niger, AND that it was apparently covered up, AND that the cabal isnt screaming this fact from the rooftops as they try to sell their new adventure)

Why not Australia? I have no idea (and i probably know less about australia in these affairs than you do). AFAIK, australia hasnt been involved in anything particularly nefarious wrt iraqi intelligence. (apart from signing on to the war, providing cannon fodder, clapping loudly, giving the world rupert murdoch, and being the largest sanctions buster - bribing saddam to the tune of $300mill).

(we did have a couple of whistleblowers - andrew wilkie and rod barton.)

Simon said...

Luke,

You're probably right about the Zahawie/Italy connection, it all pulls together as part of the plot, along with the burglary. If it had been Australia or Spain why would the Nigerien Government be sending details of a secret (illegal) sanctions-busting deal to embassies in countries with no interest in the affair?

Karen throws Congo into the mix but why do that anyway when lower grade yellowcake is natural in Iraq to begin with? If you've got the technology to refine, it really doesn't matter about the starting point cos you can keep on doing it until you've got the percentages right.

Besides which, another point is that the whole uranium/Niger/anywhere thing falls flat on a production engineering basis, simply because you don't start out with raw materials until you've got your manufacturing facilities organised. I mean, does Ford or GM start buying sheet steel long before they've got a production line up-and-running?

Simon said...

Luke,

I've got a bit more time today so I'll have a go at your direct questions:

my presumption is that it would be easier/less risky to pull off this sort of operation with fewer intelligence agencies rather than more

Well, as far as I read into this, there was really only one agency involved in the concoction of the docs, that supposedly being SISMI. Other agencies were only concerned with the content of the docs after they were sent their way.

...could the cabal have pulled off the operation, exactly as it happened, in Rome, with Martino, without the help of SISMI?

Somehow I don't think so. If SISMI was out of the loop they may well have caught wind of what was going on and that might have been problematical to the instigators of all this.

and could they have pulled off the same operation, say in DC, using their own Rocco Martino and got the same outcome - and saved themselves from involving SISMI (and all the necessary complications) at all?

Personally I don't think so.

would it have been as believable? almost, i'd have to think.

Again I don't think so. All the necessary elements centered on the Rome embassy. They didn't exist elsewhere.

in fact - why did they even need to break into the embassy at all?

A good question. Possibly because it allows for the mysterious unknown burglars to be the forgers when it later became necessary to stand away from the docs?

...did the seal/letterhead really add any 'believability' to the forgeries?

Well, they wouldn't have any believability at all (to get where they got) if they'd been in plain text.

similarly, it was particularly sloppy (again in retrospect) that the embassy break-in was in Rome, and they tried to inject the forgeries into the stream in Rome.

I don't see this, I think it keeps it as a more naturally running local affair. Where else could they 'inject' them with out adding another layer of complexity?

(or did they? maybe they went to the french first)

I don't know about this. The French controlled the mines and would be in the strongest position to debunk the idea of a deal for uranium ore. France is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and therefore would have always sat in on the considerable discussions about Iraq's WMD. Italy, on the other hand, has not been a non-permanent member since 1996.