Watergate II : the Italian connection


Richard Moore


ntl. Intelligence 

Walker's World: Bush at bay 

UPI Editor 

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) --   The CIA leak inquiry that
threatens senior White House aides has now widened to
include the forgery of documents on African uranium that
started the investigation, according to NAT0 intelligence

This suggests the inquiry by special prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald into the leaking of the identity of undercover
CIA officer Valerie Plame has now widened to embrace part
of the broader question about the way the Iraq war was
justified by the Bush administration.

Fitzgerald's inquiry is expected to conclude this week and
despite feverish speculation in Washington, there have
been no leaks about his decision whether to issue
indictments and against whom and on what charges.

Two facts are, however, now known and between them they do
not bode well for the deputy chief of staff at the White
House, Karl Rove, President George W Bush's senior
political aide, not for Vice President Dick Cheney's chief
of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The first is that Fitzgerald last year sought and obtained
from the Justice Department permission to widen his
investigation from the leak itself to the possibility of
cover-ups, perjury and obstruction of justice by
witnesses. This has renewed the old saying from the days
of the Watergate scandal, that the cover-up can be more
legally and politically dangerous than the crime.

The second is that NATO sources have confirmed to United
Press International that Fitzgerald's team of
investigators has sought and obtained documentation on the
forgeries from the Italian government.

Fitzgerald's team has been given the full, and as yet
unpublished report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry
into the affair, which started when an Italian journalist
obtained documents that appeared to show officials of the
government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi regime of
Saddam Hussein with Yellowcake uranium. This claim, which
made its way into President Bush's State of the Union
address in January, 2003, was based on falsified documents
from Niger and was later withdrawn by the White House.

This opens the door to what has always been the most
serious implication of the CIA leak case, that the Bush
administration could face a brutally damaging and public
inquiry into the case for war against Iraq being false or
artificially exaggerated. This was the same charge that
imperiled the government of Bush's closest ally, British
Prime Minister Tony Blair, after a BBC Radio program
claimed Blair's aides has "sexed up" the evidence on
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

There can be few more serious charges against a government
than going to war on false pretences, or having
deliberately inflated or suppressed the evidence that
justified the war.

And since no WMD were found in Iraq after the 2003 war,
despite the evidence from the U.N. inspections of the
1990s that demonstrated that Saddam Hussein had initiated
both a nuclear and a biological weapons program, the
strongest plank in the Bush administration's case for war
has crumbled beneath its feet.

The reply of both the Bush and Blair administrations was
that they made their assertions about Iraq's WMD in good
faith, and that other intelligence agencies like the
French and German were equally mistaken in their belief
that Iraq retained chemical weapons, along with the
ambition and some of technological basis to restart the
nuclear and biological programs.

It is this central issue of good faith that the CIA leak
affair brings into question. The initial claims Iraq was
seeking raw uranium in the west African state of Niger
aroused the interest of vice-president Cheney, who asked
for more investigation. At a meeting of CIA and other
officials, a CIA officer working under cover in the office
that dealt with nuclear proliferation, Valerie Plame,
suggested her husband, James Wilson, a former ambassador
to several African states, enjoyed good contacts in Niger
and could make a preliminary inquiry. He did so, and
returned concluding that the claims were untrue. In July
2003, he wrote an article for The New York Times making
his mission -- and his disbelief -- public.

But by then Elisabetta Burba, a journalist for the Italian
magazine Panorama (owned by Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi) had been contacted by a "security consultant"
named Rocco Martoni, offering to sell documents that
"proved" Iraq was obtaining uranium in Niger for $10,000.
Rather than pay the money, Burba's editor passed
photocopies of the documents to the U.S. Embassy, which
forwarded them to Washington, where the forgery was later
detected. Signatures were false, and the government
ministers and officials who had signed them were no longer
in office on the dates on which the documents were
supposedly written.

Nonetheless, the forged documents appeared, on the face of
it, to shore up the case for war, and to discredit Wilson.
The origin of the forgeries is therefore of real
importance, and any link between the forgeries and Bush
administration aides would be highly damaging and almost
certainly criminal.

The letterheads and official seals that appeared to
authenticate the documents apparently came from a burglary
at the Niger Embassy in Rome in 2001. At this point, the
facts start dribbling away into conspiracy theories that
involve membership of shadowy Masonic lodges, Iranian
go-betweens, right-wing cabals inside Italian Intelligence
and so on. It is not yet known how far Fitzgerald, in his
two years of inquiries, has fished in these murky waters.

There is one line of inquiry with an American connection
that Fitzgerald would have found it difficult to ignore.
This is the claim that a mid-ranking Pentagon official,
Larry Franklin, held talks with some Italian intelligence
and defense officials in Rome in late 2001. Franklin has
since been arrested on charges of passing classified
information to staff of the pro-Israel lobby group, the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Franklin has
reportedly reached a plea bargain with his prosecutor,
Paul McNulty, and it would be odd if McNulty and
Fitzgerald had not conferred to see if their inquiries

Where all this leads will not be clear until Fitzgerald
breaks his silence, widely expected to occur this week
when the term of his grand jury expires.

If Fitzgerald issues indictments, then the hounds that are
currently baying across the blogosphere will leap into the
mainstream media and whole affair, Iranian go-betweens and
Rome burglaries included, will come into the mainstream of
the mass media and network news where Mr. and Mrs. America
can see it.

If Fitzgerald issues no indictments, the matter will not
simply die away, in part because the press is now hotly
engaged, after the new embarrassment of the Times over the
imprisonment of  the paper's Judith Miller. There is also
an uncomfortable sense that the press had given the Bush
administration too easy a ride after 9/11. And the Bush
team is now on the ropes and its internal discipline
breaking down, making it an easier target.

Then there is a separate Senate Select Intelligence
Committee inquiry under way, and while the Republican
chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas seems to be dragging his
feet, the ranking Democrat, Jay Rockefeller of West
Virginia, is now under growing Democratic Party pressure
to pursue this question of falsifying the case for war.

And last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,
introduced a resolution to require the president and
secretary of state to furnish to Congress documents
relating to the so-called White House Iraq Group. Chief of
staff Andrew Card formed the WHIG task force in August
2002 -- seven months before the invasion of Iraq, and
Kucinich claims they were charged "with the mission of
marketing a war in Iraq."

The group included: Rove, Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Karen
Hughes, Mary Matalin and Stephen Hadley (now Bush's
national security adviser) and produced white papers that
put into dramatic form the intelligence on Iraq's supposed
nuclear threat. WHIG launched its media blitz in September
2002, six months before the war. Rice memorably spoke of
the prospect of "a mushroom cloud," and Card revealingly
explained why he chose September, saying "From a marketing
point of view, you don't introduce new products in

The marketing is over but the war goes on. The press is
baying and the law closes in. The team of Bush loyalists
in the White House is demoralized and braced for disaster.
© Copyright 2005 United Press International, Inc. 


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