Alain Chouet's story modifies the reconstruction of the affair given by the government and Sismi to Parliament in four main points.
- Rocco Martino, the crook who spread the false documents abroad, was not working for DGSE as the Sismi director, Nicolò Pollari, has repeatedly said (also to Repubblica).
- The CIA have been in possession of at least a part of the false documents (given out by Rocco Martino) not since October 2002 [as previously reported, my note], when they were handed over to the American Embassy in Rome by Panorama, but four months before, during the summer.
- Contrary to what Pollari and Letta (the chief political authority for intelligence) reported, it was not the French who transmitted the false documents to Washington but rather the Americans who transmitted them to the French asking to verify their authenticity. The French complied and had denounced them as groundless since July 2002.
- Rocco Martino, shadowed and photographed by Sismi, came into contact with the French in the summer 2002 only. Alain Chouet's story, then, reveals the gross window-dressing (let's call it that way) of our government. Now it's time to listen to him.
"My personal relations with the Italians have always been excellent. That's why I feel even more astonished. I keep wondering why Sismi claim that we are behind this affair. I'll tell you how things really went. I'll simply stick to the facts I know myself".
Alain Chouet wants to put in the right sequence dates and protagonists. A substantial correction: the `Nigergate' prologue was staged in the summer 2001, before September 11th, at the hands of the CIA.
“Early in the summer 2001, the CIA passed us a piece of information both general and alarming. ‘Iraq’ – Langley warned – ‘is apparently trying to purchase uranium from an African country’. The Americans added that they had been put on the alert by a trip, dating back two years, of the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See to [several] Central-African nations. As standard procedure, the Americans never reveal the source of their information. Washington did not mention Niger but, in more general terms, Africa. The U.S. knew that not a leaf stirs in the African francophone ex-colonies that the French aren’t aware of, especially in the field of counter-proliferation. For that matter, that information, though general, wasn’t just routine for us. From the Gulf War (1991) onwards, France could not afford to be accused of underestimating Saddam Hussein’s rearmament programs. Therefore, when the Americans moved in the summer 2001, I rolled up my sleeves. I instructed my men to get to work in Africa. In Niger, obviously, but also in Namibia (you will soon understand why). The outcome was entirely negative. At the end of August 2001, the alert died down. After the attack against the Towers, between September 2001 and the spring of the following year, that piece of information about the uranium from Niger was once again an indistinct and irrelevant background noise. Then something happened…”
This is what happened according to the Sismi. On September 21st 2001, Admiral Gianfranco Battelli (Pollari’s predecessor) sent a cable to Langley with news of a mission ‘of Iraqi staff to Niger, which took place in 1999. On that trip questions were asked as to the production of uranium ore in the country’s two mines and on the mode of exportation of that material’. On October 15th of the same year, Nicolò Pollari took office at Sismi. On October 18th, with a letter one and a half pages long, Pollari explained to the CIA that ‘the news on Niger come from a reliable source, even though we cannot evaluate its quality’. In February and March 2002, two more reports confirming the Niger lead of Saddam’s atomic re-armament came to Langley from a ‘foreign Service’. Sismi claimed it was ‘French information’. Chouet smiles.
“No, things did not go that way. The CIA knocked on our door once again, with the story of the uranium, only in late spring 2002. The end of April, I would say, beginning of May (therefore after the February and March reports). This time their request had high-priority urgency (on February 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney demanded the CIA to get information, after receiving a report from the DIA confirming the Iraqi purchase of 500 tons per year of uranium from Niger). Compared to the summer of the previous year, the Americans were more precise. They named a country, Niger. [And] gave a number of details. They actually handed us all the information which only later we found – and I’m stressing ‘only later found’ - were in Rocco Martino’s dossier and which we had never heard about till then. As standard procedure, Langley held back the source. They did not mention Martino or Sismi. 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”.
We are at a crucial point. End of June 2002. Langley sent a part of the Niger documents to Paris. Which documents? According to the Italian and American reconstruction, those documents were not yet in the hands of the CIA nor had they ever been in the hands of the Sismi.
“If what I’m saying surprises you, I can’t help it. I tell you I received a ‘sample’ of those documents in the summer 2002 from Langley. They sent the sealed envelope to Paris through the usual intelligence channels. I can remember they were no more than a dozen pages. There was a short introduction where the CIA explained the meaning of the documents and no more than three complete documents, I would say. After a quick scrutiny we decided it was all rubbish. Gross fakes. The document which struck me most referred to the Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See. Reading that page, I thought back to the odd and general request of the summer 2001 and wondered: ‘Hey, the Americans… they have had this stuff for one year and they tell us only now, after we have already been to Niger twice’. Anyway the Americans didn’t say who they got that stuff from, then or later. But we discovered things ourselves. We may be French but not altogether that stupid. First of all, those documents, as far as one could read, led to the Niger Embassy in Rome. And we definitely know where Rome is. Besides, on those same days when the CIA handed down to us part of the documents, this gentleman appeared. A Rocco Martino, your fellow countryman”.
According to Sismi, Rocco Martino has been a Dgse agent at least since 2000. He had his office in Luxembourg with a covering firm, the Security Development Organization, Intelligence Office at no. 3, Rue Hoel, Sandweiler. So, Rocco Martino worked for Chouet, according to our Intelligence. He handed the fake Niger documents to Dgse, as reported by Gianni Letta to Parliament, even before September 11th. To confirm the circumstance, Sismi gave the press a photo of Rocco Martino talking ‘in Brussels’ with a French agent, whose name was also given, Jacques Nadal.
“This story about Rocco Martino working for us is just a falsehood. The first time he knocked on our door was at the end of June 2002. He said he had important documents about an illicit trade of uranium from Niger to Iraq and asked one hundred thousand dollars for the stuff. Now, I’m too used to Arab souks to swallow bait like that. So I told my people to tell him we would look at the stuff first and then, if we were interested, we would discuss the price. This is how things went. Martino turned up at our Embassy in Luxembourg and asked to talk to some of our people. I asked Jaques Nadal, at the Brussels station, to meet the Italian in Luxembourg. Nadal met him at the end of June 2002”.
The photos circulated by Sismi refer to that meeting. Chouet looks at them (the clearest print is published in these pages). He laughs heartily.
“I’m laughing because these photos prove the opposite of what Sismi says. Let me explain. This photo proves:
a. Sismi was shadowing Rocco Martino in the summer 2002, therefore they already knew who he was, what he was doing or what he was trying to do.
b. Rocco Martino’s contact was Jaques Nadal. Well. Do you know when Jaques Nadal was posted to the Brussels station? I appointed him between April and May 2002. Therefore, if you want to claim that Nadal was Rocco’s ‘French contact’, which is true according to the photo, the contact dates back to the summer 2002. Not before. (nor later, of course, in 2003, when all the world knew that those documents were a forgery and the meeting would have been meaningless). The photo, in short, proves the exact contrary of what it was meant to prove, that is that the French were behind Rocco.
One last remark. Look at Rocco’s and Nadal’s clothes. You do not walk around dressed like that in Luxembourg except in full summer. This proves what I’m saying. You could object: ‘It could be the summer before’. But, as I said, the summer before Nadal was not in Brussels yet. So, Rocco looked for us. We met him twice. The first time he showed his papers. Nadal took them, sent them to Paris. In Paris we compared them with those the Americans had passed on to us a few weeks before and which we had already judged a forgery. They were identical. We decided Rocco was the source of all the bullshit passed off to the Americans. The very same bullshit which had been going around since the summer 2001. We decided that Rocco was the source that, in those same days, was trying to pass off those same documents to the Germans of the Bundesnachrichtendiens (Bnd, federal intelligence service). The Germans asked for advice and we warned them it was all rubbish. We met the Italian a second time around the end of July 2002. We told him his stuff was a trashy forgery. In the meantime we checked up on Rocco Martino and discovered he was an ex agent of the Italian Intelligence”.
Sismi accused the French Intelligence of having kept quiet about the groundlessness of the Niger dossier. Actually Sismi reported that the counter-proliferation director in the French Foreign Office during a meeting on November 22nd 2002, with officials from the State Department, had said that France had information according to which Iraq had tried to purchase uranium in Niger. The information, claimed the French diplomat, had been verified and thought reliable. Quoting the report of the Control Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. Senate, Sismi maintained that ‘only on March 4th 2003, France told Washington that their information about uranium was based on the same information Paris had’.
“I’ll say this again for the umpteenth time. First: our Foreign Office does not know what the Dgse does. That’s the rule. It’s standard procedure not only in the French Services. Second: we told the CIA in the summer 2002. Third: pay attention to the words in the US report. It does not say that France informed the Americans on March 4th 2003. The report says: ‘On March 4th 2003, the American government has learnt that the French had based their initial analysis on the same documents in the hands of Washington’. ‘The government understands that the French…’. Someone sat on that information. In Washington, perhaps. Certainly not in Paris. And then I would be more cautious in saying that our Foreign Office claimed that France had evidence of an attempted illegal trade of uranium. I’ll tell you one thing. In the two years when I was director at Dgse, I happened to meet George Tenet, the then CIA head. I took part in meetings between Paris and Washington. Well, if I said something was ‘possible,’ that word became ‘probable’ in Tenet’s words”.
Conclusion with a question. According to Alain Chouet’s story, the French have nothing to do with Rocco Martino (Sismi definitely has). Sismi didn’t miss a single move of Rocco Martino’s when, in the summer of 2002, the crook met the French agent for the first time (it’s not true, then, that Sismi only discovered who Rocco Martino was in the summer of 2003).
The CIA turned to the French for clarification on the news received by the Italians and it was the French who debunked them (therefore, it was not the Italians who debunked the news in the hands of the French to the CIA). More precisely it was the French who told the Americans of the forgeries back in the summer of 2002 (while [to the contrary] the Sismi did not tell the CIA nor the National Security Council of the forgeries).
The CIA have at least part of Rocco Martino’s documents, gathered by a Sismi source (the ‘Signora’ in the Niger Embassy in Rome), controlled by a Sismi Colonel (Antonio Nucera) already as far back as July 2002. Not, as the Sismi says, only since October 2002.
Alain Chouet’s evidence muddles up the false account given by the government to the ineffectual and submissive Parliamentary Control Committee [Copaco] and the public prosecutor[Ionta] in Rome. Will Parliament and the magistracy be able to understand that there is still much more, perhaps too much, to know in the Nigergate story?