Saturday, December 03, 2005

FBI Is Taking Another Look at Forged Prewar Intelligence

This is from the Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON — The FBI has reopened an inquiry into one of the most intriguing aspects of the pre-Iraq war intelligence fiasco: how the Bush administration came to rely on forged documents linking Iraq to nuclear weapons materials as part of its justification for the invasion.

The documents inspired intense U.S. interest in the buildup to the war — and they led the CIA to send a former ambassador to the African nation of Niger to investigate whether Iraq had sought the materials there. The ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, found little evidence to support such a claim, and the documents were later deemed to have been forged.

The documents in question included letters on Niger government letterhead and purported contracts showing sales of uranium to Iraq. They were provided in 2002 to an Italian magazine, which turned them over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

The FBI's decision to reopen the investigation reverses the agency's announcement last month that it had finished a two-year inquiry and concluded that the forgeries were part of a moneymaking scheme — and not an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

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.

"This is such a high-profile issue for a lot of reasons, and we think it's important to make sure there aren't lingering questions," said an aide to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee. "There's always a chance that you do a little more investigating and you uncover something you hadn't seen before or you hadn't realized."

A senior federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, confirmed late Friday that the bureau had reopened the inquiry.

The FBI never bothered questioning Rocco Martino on the forged Niger documents? He was one of the key players in this entire fiasco, Martino and his SISMI friend Antonio Nucera originally created these forged documents to sell to the French back in 2000. When the French threw them out, Martino offered them to the CIA--and the CIA also threw them out at forgeries. The trouble really starts when top officials in the Italian government--namely Defense Minister Antonio Martino, SISMI chief Nicolo Pollari, and possibly Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi use these forged documents as a means to improve Italian-US relations in the Bush White House's "War on Terror." The Italians knew these documents were forgeries, but used them to make Rome, Washington's best friend. The CIA in Rome knew these documents were forgeries, but the White House Strategy Group--which was cherry-picking intelligence to market their invasion of Iraq--rejected any dissenting opinions regarding intelligence. And the original player who started this all, Rocco Martino, was never questioned by the FBI in this matter.

Now this is interesting:

Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators might 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.

But the senior federal official said, "I don't expect the results to be any different. I think the answer is going to be that [Martino] wasn't acting in behalf of any government or intelligence agency. This guy was trying to peddle this to whoever he could."

Okay, first Martino was peddling these documents to whoever he could for cash. The FBI certainly knows that, just as we know through the La Repubblica story. But the big question here is how did Chalabi gain possession of these documents? Chalabi had these documents when he met with top SISMI officials, and the White House Office of Special Plans in Rome. Chalabi has contacts with Iraqi exiles, Iranian intelligence, and the neocons in Washington. Chalabi got possession of the documents, and certainly realized the importance of these documents to sell the invasion of Iraq to the neocons in the Bush White House. It certainly wouldn't matter to Chalabi if they were forged or not--he could claim it was Washington's fault for not verifying the authenticity of the Niger documents. This is a big question that needs to be answered. Continuing on with the story:

Until now, the FBI's inquiry had been limited to probing whether foreign governments were involved in the forgeries, despite a broader request from Rockefeller that the FBI look into whether the forgeries reflected a "larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq."

"I was surprised that [the FBI] ever closed it without coming to a conclusion as to the source," said former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the Niger uranium claims first surfaced in the U.S. "It looks as if it's a fairly straightforward investigation trail to who the source was. And I'm glad the FBI has resumed the hunt."

More to come.

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