Italian Connection is Key to Niger Connection
Italian Connection is Key to Niger Connection
By Dennis Hans
Did U.S. intelligence use Italian intelligence to con British intelligence into believing what U.S. intelligence knew to be a lie — that Iraq sought uranium from Africa for use in a nuclear weapons program? Is that the “back story” behind this discredited assertion — “there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — in the Brits’ ballyhooed September 2002 dossier, which Bush cited in his 2003 State of the Union address?
Recent revelations in the New York Times by former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson ( http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/06WILS.html), coupled with other reports cited below, suggest that such is the case: The Bush team, knowing that the U.S. public, Congress and media held the Blair government in highest esteem, fooled that government into believing the uranium tale in the hope — ultimately fulfilled — that the trusted Brits would alert America to this frightening development and thus help the president gain a green light from Congress for an attack on Iraq.
British officials vehemently deny that they knew anything about the forged Iraq-Niger correspondence and “memorandum of agreement” for the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide when they published the dossier. They insist that their assertion was based on other evidence that their government had obtained from at least two western (but non-U.S.) intelligence services.
I believe the Brits. Their position is supported by an important story in the March 22 Washington Post ( http://commondreams.org/headlines03/0322-04.htm). Paraphrasing an official of the U.N. shortly after that body’s International Atomic Energy Agency exposed the forgeries, the Post reported that “a Niger diplomat turned the letters over to Italian intelligence, which provided summaries of the information to Washington and London.”
The key word is “summaries.” The Brits never received the actual documents. Determining the who, when, how and why of the preparation of these summaries — and whether “summaries” is a good description of what the Italians distributed — will go a long way toward determining if the Brits believed these materials or merely pretended to.
Consider “who?” The summaries presumably were prepared by the Italians. Did they prepare them on their own? Did the CIA, with whom the Italians have often collaborated, provide input? If so, what was its nature?
Consider “why?” Was the purpose of the summaries to accurately reflect the contents of the documents or to hype and distort them? At any point in their preparation phase did the preparers learn that the allegations were false and the documents fake?
Consider “when?” The actual documents seem to have been acquired by Italian intelligence in the latter half of 2001. Not till months later did the Italians distribute the summaries. After Wilson revealed in Sunday’s New York Times that he conducted his eight-day investigation into the allegations in Niger in “late February 2002,” the British Foreign Office said that it was some time after that that the Brits received information on Iraq’s pursuit of African uranium from their sources, the British press reports ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,993779,00.html; http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=422729).
One British source was Italy, and the material from the other source or sources very likely derives from the original tainted evidence — e.g., an analysis, duplication, amplification or even “summary” of the “summaries.”
Consider the additional “evidence” various U.S. officials referred to in recent months to implicate Iraq in efforts to buy uranium from an African nation other than Niger, after the Niger Connection fell apart. A State Department official recently told Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that the source for that later allegation was a “second Western European government” (i.e., other than the British) that had “based its assessment on the evidence already available to the U.S. that was subsequently discredited” ( http://alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=16155). According to a “senior intelligence official” quoted in the July 8 Washington Post ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A23777-2003Jul7?language=printer ), “We both [the U.S. and Brits] had one source reporting through some liaison service which said, ‘Look what we found.’ There were other [intelligence] reporting streams, but it may be that all streams are traced to the same source.”
By the time the Brits received their “summaries” from Italy in March 2002 or shortly thereafter, the U.S. had already conducted two investigations into allegations based on the documents acquired by Italy in 2001. As Wilson noted in the Times, U.S. Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick had earlier debunked the allegations and informed Washington of that fact (“Washington” presumably meaning, at a minimum, the State Department). Wilson then confirmed her judgment.
Neither Wilson nor Owens-Kirkpatrick examined the actual documents, which were still in Italy’s custody. Nevertheless, they determined that the Niger officials who allegedly took part in the correspondence and signed the “memorandum of agreement” simply could not, for a variety of reasons, have done so. Thus, the two ambassadors proved indirectly that the unseen documents were fraudulent.
At some point after the completion of the second of those investigations, the British received the so-called “summaries” of those very same documents and were persuaded by them that Iraq had indeed “sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa”!
Does anyone smell a rat?
As reported in the March 22 Washington Post article cited above, the U.S. also received those summaries from the Italians, presumably around the same time.
Our officials, of course, did not find the evidence in the summaries persuasive, as they knew from their own people that the allegations were baseless and the source material was fake. Did we share this information with our trusted British ally, so it wouldn’t be taken in? The Brits say no, and no U.S. official in a position to know has contradicted them.
We let the Brits draw a false conclusion and trumpet it in their September dossier. Then, rather than urging them to retract the bogus assertion, U.S. officials started to make the same claim, sometimes with caveats, sometimes citing the Brits as their reliable source!
Did we alert our Italian ally that it was spreading disinformation? Apparently not. Then again, there wouldn’t be any need to do so if spreading lies was the intent and we were in on the scheme.
Bob Woodward reported in the March 23 Washington Post that, in very early 2002, Bush “signed a secret intelligence order authorizing the CIA to undertake a comprehensive program to remove Hussein” ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A12215-2003Mar22?language=printer). If that covert campaign was anything like past ones to topple a foreign government, a significant component would be disinformation. Did Bush authorize the CIA to launch an overseas disinformation campaign? Was the writing and distribution of the “summaries” part of that effort?
Did the summarizers broaden Iraq’s potential list of suppliers to include all four uranium-producing nations in Africa — perhaps to give the allegations a longer life by making them more difficult to speedily refute?
The U.S. Congress needs to put the right officials under oath and pose tough questions to determine if the Bush team used the Brits to deceive America. The British Parliament needs to determine if British intelligence were witting or unwitting participants. The Italian Parliament needs to determine if their intelligence agents produced credible “summaries” or hyped and distorted ones; and if the latter is the case, did they do so on their own or in cahoots with the CIA.
Democracy rests on the informed consent of the governed. “Lied-to consent” doesn’t quite measure up.
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq war he published “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html) and “The Disinformation Age” ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm). He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu