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Of Forgeries and Kidnappings

by de Gondi Wed Jul 20th, 2005 at 08:09:06 PM EST

Whatever information on a possible Saddam-Niger uranium pact was dismissed by CIA analysts in 2001. Presumably the CIA had received some forgeries, directly or indirectly from the Italian secret services, SISMi. The rest is public: Cheney wanted a double check on the CIA conclusions. Wilson was dispatched to Niger; General Fulford also went on a fact-finding mission to Niger and, according to some European reports, to the Congo. Both Wilson and Fulford came to the same conclusions: there was no yellowcake traffic to Iraq.

In September 2002 a sexed-up set of forgeries was offered to Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama. "Sexed-up" because some of the documents could not have been presented in 2001. They refer to events that occurred in 2002. On advise from her editor, Carlo Rosella, she turned over copies to two employees at the US Rome Embassy. It was Rosella who organized the meeting. It was not known what role these two employees covered.

Now it gets interesting.

In an overlooked column in Il Riformista, dated July 23rd, 2003,  the anonymous author declares that Jeff Castelli, the Rome CIA station chief, had just been recalled to Langley by Tenet allegedly because of his misconduct. The article states that according to anonymous intelligence sources, Castelli had not handled the Burba Niger forgeries correctly.

Apparently Castelli had dismissed the forgeries right off as the same old stuff and had not bothered to forward them to Langley until February 2003.

However, the forgeries had been immediately sent to the Europa State desk which fowarded to State in Washington. This occurred at the beginning of October. But back in Rome, Jeff Castelli did not receive the forgeries until October 19th.

If we are to give any credit to the Riformista reconstruction, it appears that Castelli had already dealt with Niger forgeries before. But what may strike the reader in the light of recent developments is that the sexed-up edition of the Niger forgeries only went to State and not to the CIA. It was State that went public on December 19th, 2002, with the accusations against Niger- accusations promptly denied by the Niger Minister of Mines, Rabiou Hassan Yari, and PM Hama Amadou, yet totally ignored by the MSM.

Was the CIA being side-stepped? Was the CIA privy to the new enhanced forgeries? And in State what exactly was going on, given that their intelligence analysts (Carl Ford, for example) are no fools either?

Jeff's shift in Rome was not only Niger, but Abu Omar. Just as he sent the Niger forgeries, he was allegedly coordinating the Abu Omar kidnapping. Reports in Italy are conflicting. In an interview with la Repubblica, Michael Scheuer declared that the kidnapping was actually organized by Jim Pavitt at Langley while Jeff's role was not the maverick bravado that some reporters depict. In this latter version, Bob Seldon Lady grudgingly executed orders from Castelli. Lady apparently did not agree with the operation. Castelli may have been recalled for his overbearing handling of the operation. Scheuer however, dismissed this version and remarked that Jeff had simply finished his assignment to Rome.

Be that as it may, the arrest warrant is for Lady and not Castelli.

The chief prosecutor in Milan, Armando Spataro, has appealed the preliminary court's decision to issued only 13 arrest warrants. The court had ruled that there was insufficient evidence to incriminate another six individuals.

A further ruling is expected in the next few days.

Hmm, interesting article...I am only passing through at the moment, and will return later to read this in more depth. But what I do get is this: what is the European part of the whole Niger Yellow Cake forgery, leading up to the Iraq war? Thanks for the research on this!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Jul 21st, 2005 at 04:00:30 AM EST
According to some information Seymour Hersch relayed, the story is that the second set of forgeries were prepared by CIA men angry at the neocon intel unit in the Pentagon (the infamous Office of Special Plans), who hoped that if obviously fake forgeries could be fed to the OSP, they'd look good after exposing the documents as forgeries.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jul 21st, 2005 at 06:13:10 AM EST
Heh. That worked really well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 21st, 2005 at 07:13:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have problems with Sy's hypothesisthat a few old hands got together to pull a fast one on the OSP. Beyond that, his work on the case is exceptional. I'ld also mention a pioneer article by Gary Leupp at CounterPunch, as well as the work done by Josh Marshall and Laura Rozen of War and Piece on the Rocco Martino story. Laura just had a very interesting piece the other day (July 17th) on the Niger docs. There have been quite a few diaries by Booman recently on the matter.

I think there's been a lot of noise from the English on this story (FT and Times), especially their blaming it on the French Services. Hilarious and ridiculous. Alas, the Sunday Times scooped the Rocco Martino story right under Josh's nose.

The original scoop was published by la Repubblica here and here etc., written by Carlo Bonino  and Giuseppe d'Avanzo. The Newsweek article was also by them in collaboration with Newsweek reporters. There were a couple of minor discrepancies between the two scoops.

All of the published Niger documents are available at Cryptome with translations and some discussion. Use their "search" function and enter "Niger docs". There are more forgeries which have not been made public.

An excellent timeline is at Cooperative Research. It only cites English language sources.

What tweaked my curiosity in the above diary was the coincidence of Castelli's "removal" from the Rome office with the explosion of the Niger case. On July 6th Wilson came out with his famous article, just as Bush and his entourage were leaving for Africa. Around the 16th of July la Repubblica began publishing its scoop. One week later la Riformista published an anonymous article naming the Rome CIA station chief. And revealed that the crucial Niger forgeries went only to State. Period. Not to the CIA. Not to the OSP. And State used those docs to do the damage we know.

Perhaps I'm disingenuous, but who exactly prepared the December 19th, 2002, memo asserting that there was an African yellowcake deal, given that the State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had long since dismissed the matter as false?

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Jul 21st, 2005 at 06:22:00 PM EST
A really excellent post, and great comments. The links you provide are also precious. As far as Castelli is concerned, one can only hope that he has better luck than some of his earlier predecessors as Rome Station Chief: Howard "Rocky" Stone fell down a flight of stairs and loss his hearing, and William Colby's swimming accident is too well known to bear repeating. By the way, who is the incumbent station chief? This is a question that only non-Americans can legally answer, so no Yanks need risk sharing a jail cell with Karl Rove just to satisfy my curiosity.

Hannah K. O'Luthon
by Hannah K OLuthon on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 01:40:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I really don't know what the law is on this in the States. Both Castelli and Pavitt have been mentioned in the States, apparently without consequence. If you try NameBase.org, you'll find some pointers on them. Cryptome has published spy names, Castelli among them last week, without apparent problems. My impression is that the law focuses on government officials more than on private citizens. If there's a lawyer out there...

It definitely concerns territorial USA. Spy names and secret documents do turn up in print in Europe. There is a relevant story of a purported secret US Army doc that the CIA did not want released under FOIA. They eventually relented in 2000 or 2001. The same document without omissions had been publicly available in Italy since the 80's. It was used as evidence in one of the trials for the Bologna station massacre.

And Michael Scheuer, the retired CIA terrorist specialist? In an interview with Bonino for la Repubblica a couple of weeks ago he had no problem openly discussing Castelli, and actually indicating Pavitt as the major coordinator of the Abu Omar kidnapping. In Italian, in Europe. Would he have kept shut if it was the WP or the Observer?

I don't know the names of actual station chiefs in Italy. Nor does it interest me really. It's actions that count, and quite frankly I don't feel that the CIA per se is behind a lot of the shit that rained down here these past 6o years. The CIA is definitely behind the Abu Omar case, but likely is not the only actor. I have my doubts that the CIA was a major actor in the Niger caper.  

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 04:39:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that there are other factors beyond and above CIA functionaries, although they have certainly supervised a lot of nefarious activity over the years. In particular, in recent years it seems that the NSC (the presidential National Security Council) has handled a lot of the "blacker than black" operations, while the role of the DIA and its SAPs remains much more obscure than the more visible CIA.

For the record, a bit of Googling reveals the following names of CIA station chiefs in Rome (presumably better Googling would produce more)

  • James Angleton (OSS chief WWII to early 50's??)
  • Mark Wyatt (1948 election payoffs)
  • William Colby (1953-1958)
  • Thomas Karamessines (early 60's)
  • William Harvey Feb.1963--??
  • Howard "Rocky" Stone 197?-75
  • Duane Clarridge 1980 Ustica!!!!
  • Jeffrey W. Castelli Rome Station Chief up to summer 2003
  • The are obvious gaps, especially between Dewey Clarridge and Jeff Castelli, as well as the incumbent. Note also that the (in)famous Ted Shackley was second in command in Rome in the early 70's. It's striking to note what a springboard to success the Rome station has been.

    As always, I make no claim to infallibility, and the above list could well be "off" on dates, etc. Corrections and additions are welcome.

    Hannah K. O'Luthon

    by Hannah K OLuthon on Wed Jul 27th, 2005 at 05:15:45 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Indeed, that's the point: someone decided that these obvious fakes are good for propaganda, and anyone making calculations based on reality-based community thinking made a big mistake.

    What are your problems with Sy's hypothesis? (BTW it's not his hypothesis, but the version of one of his CIA informants.) I don't think they really contradict anything in the way you put the story, it's just that the few old hands blew it (as Colman also wrote). In Seymour Hersch's version, Castelli might either have been in the way of the neocons in working with the few old hands, or he was in cahoots with the neocon moles in State and was removed by angry paleocons in CIA.

    BTW, I first saw the few old hands version in a German documentary on the issue, which interviewed Hersch, but also interviewed Greg Thielmann (the resigned State Department official mentioned in the Hersch article too), who made similar claims.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.

    by DoDo on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 04:07:56 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Some interesting quotes from the Hersch article that are on-topic:

    Greg Thielmann, after being turned away from Bolton's office, worked with the INR staff on a major review of Iraq's progress in developing W.M.D.s. The review, presented to Secretary of State Powell in December, 2001, echoed the earlier I.A.E.A. findings. According to Thielmann, "It basically said that there is no persuasive evidence that the Iraqi nuclear program is being reconstituted."

    Note the timeline: this is after the alleged first batch of documents from SISMI; and note the persons: at this point, Powell and State (minus Bolton) is apparently still not on board.

    The next quote will be long but worth it:

    In the fall of 2001, soon after the September 11th attacks, the C.I.A. received an intelligence report from ... SISMI, about a public visit that Wissam al-Zahawie, then the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, had made to Niger and three other African nations two and a half years earlier, in February, 1999. The visit had been covered at the time by the local press in Niger and by a French press agency. The American Ambassador, Charles O. Cecil, filed a routine report to Washington on the visit, as did British intelligence. There was nothing untoward about the Zahawie visit. "We reported it because his picture appeared in the paper with the President," Cecil, who is now retired, told me. There was no article accompanying the photograph, only the caption, and nothing significant to report...

    None of the contemporaneous reports, as far as is known, made any mention of uranium. But now, apparently as part of a larger search for any pertinent information about terrorism, SISMI dug the Zahawie-trip report out of its files and passed it along, with a suggestion that Zahawie's real mission was to arrange the purchase of a form of uranium ore known as "yellowcake."

    ...Inside the American intelligence community, it was dismissed as amateurish and unsubstantiated. One former senior C.I.A. official told me that the initial report from Italy contained no documents but only a written summary of allegations.

    So: were there a previous set of documents at all? Or, is all talk about these documents merely anonymised reference to the above SISMI "information", plus spin?

    At any rate, after the neocons pushed the SISMI report,

    On January 30th, the C.I.A. published an unclassified report to Congress that stated, "Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear-weapons program." A week later, Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee, "With respect to the nuclear program, there is no doubt that the Iraqis are pursuing it."

    Note the timeline again: Tenet & Powell on-board now. Enter Wilson:

    In late February, the C.I.A. persuaded retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson to fly to Niger to discreetly check out the story of the uranium sale.

    ...Before his departure, he was summoned to a meeting at the C.I.A. with a group of government experts on Iraq, Niger, and uranium. He was shown no documents but was told, he said, that the C.I.A. "was responding to a report that was recently received of a purported memorandum of agreement" -- between Iraq and Niger -- "that our boys had gotten." He added, "It was never clear to me, or to the people who were briefing me, whether our guys had actually seen the agreement, or the purported text of an agreement."

    Now the sentence I put in italic is a mysterious one to me. What does "that our boys had gotten" mean? Does this mean that the foreign report about a purported memorandum was shored up with a copy of the actual memorandum acquired by the CIA? Then why refer to the original report at all? At any rate, the most likely scenario is again that only the wild speculations in the SISMI report were the basis for this. (More stuff from SISMI came probably shortly before the September 2002 British "sexed-up" dossier, if the Butler Report is to be believed.)

    Elisabetta Burba ... received a telephone call from an Italian businessman and security consultant whom she believed to have once been connected to Italian intelligence. He told her that he had information connecting Saddam Hussein to the purchase of uranium in Africa. She considered the informant credible. In 1995, when she worked for the magazine Epoca, he had provided her with detailed information, apparently from Western intelligence sources, for articles she published dealing with the peace process in Bosnia and with an Islamic charity that was linked to international terrorism. The information, some of it in English, proved to be accurate.

    That is, I think only intelligence insiders could have been behind this, using existing channels.

    Carlo Rossella, who is known for his ties to the Berlusconi government, told Burba to turn the documents over to the American Embassy for authentication. Burba dutifully took a copy of the papers to the Embassy on October 9th.

    A week later, Burba travelled to Niger. She visited mines and the ports that any exports would pass through, spoke to European businessmen and officials informed about Niger's uranium industry, and found no trace of a sale. She also learned that the transport company and the bank mentioned in the papers were too small and too ill-equipped to handle such a transaction. As Ambassador Wilson had done eight months earlier, she concluded that there was no evidence of a recent sale of yellowcake to Iraq.

    Burba's repeat of Wilson's trip is usually left out of the story, tough it would be a good point against those who want to assault Wilson's credibility. (This wasn't left out by the German documentary I mentioned.)

    Two former C.I.A. officials provided slightly different accounts of what happened next. "The Embassy was alerted that the papers were coming," the first former official told me, "and it passed them directly to Washington without even vetting them inside the Embassy." Once the documents were in Washington, they were forwarded by the C.I.A. to the Pentagon, he said. "Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false--until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed."

    In the above version, the documents did reach the CIA! That is, Tenet or some underling stopped the propagation of negative assessment within the CIA, too - or prevented the documents from reaching CIA analysts. (The latter would be CIA spokesman William Harlow's version that the analysts received the report in early 2003, see this other Hersch article.) Here is the second, slightly different version, in line with yours:

    The second former official, Vincent Cannistraro, who served as chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis, told me that copies of the Burba documents were given to the American Embassy, which passed them on to the C.I.A.'s chief of station in Rome, who forwarded them to Washington. Months later, he said, he telephoned a contact at C.I.A. headquarters and was told that "the jury was still out on this"--that is, on the authenticity of the documents.

    I think William Harlow is a proven liar. He had to say "early 2003" because the IAEA was informed about the documents only in February 2003.

    Finally, here is the few old hands version in full, via Sy's informant:

    Who produced the fake Niger papers?...

    Another explanation was provided by a former senior C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, "Somebody deliberately let something false get in there." He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

    "The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney," the former officer said. "They said, `O.K, we're going to put the bite on these guys.' " My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. "Everyone was bragging about it -- `Here's what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.' " These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the SISMI intelligence.

    "They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go -- to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence," my source said. "They thought it'd be bought at lower levels -- a big bluff." The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. "It got out of control."

    However, another CIA source more removed from these claims suggests this may be internal CIA gossip:

    a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. "What's telling," he added, "is that the story, whether it's true or not, is believed"

    However, the first source tells a further part of the few old hands story which is totally forgotten (including me, as I realised upon re-reading):

    The former intelligence official who gave me the account of the forging of the documents told me that his colleagues were also startled by the speech. "They said, `Holy shit, all of a sudden the President is talking about it in the State of the Union address!' They began to panic. Who the hell was going to expose it? They had to build a backfire. The solution was to leak the documents to the I.A.E.A."

    But here is how the IAEA official at the centre of it remembers:

    On February 4, 2003, while Baute was on a plane bound for New York to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Iraqi weapons dispute, the U.S. Mission in Vienna suddenly briefed members of Baute's team on the Niger papers, but still declined to hand over the documents. "I insisted on seeing the documents myself," Baute said, "and was provided with them upon my arrival in New York."

    So, the jury is still out. I'm curious about your misgivings regarding this version, anyway.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.

    by DoDo on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 05:10:43 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I append: Sy's informant's version and Baute's version can be in line if (a) someone of the US mission in Vienna acted on his own (and in alliance with the old hands), or (b) that someone was actually from the CIA, rather than State. (Baute wouldn't know.)

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.
    by DoDo on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 06:36:42 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Thanks for your excellent reconstruction. I'll try to address some of the interesting points you've brought up.

    Hersh's description of stovepipe policy is quite accurate. It explains both Feith's and Bolton's concepts of  promoting private, ideological agendas- and exonerating the president from any personal responsibility in the process. It also is a damned good functional description of the Iran-Contras scandal under Reagan. It's no wonder that it's the same band playing.

    But Hersh wonders off Occam's razor when he hangs around the water-cooler. One weakness is that the argument banks on intentionality. Nothing excludes malicious intent in place of pulling a fast one. Nor do the old hands need necessarily be part of the CIA. You could go through the role call at the CSIS and pick plenty of eligible retired pranksters, "un-indicted co-conspirators" as Otto Reich calls them, and like Mr. Reich, well introduced in the Italian society that counts. But this sort of argument would entail a hell of a lot more footwork and some serious substantiated allegations before going to print. So why not sneak in the back door with a batch of generic old pranksters?

    (Let me throw in a disclaimer here that with the present state of knowledge I do not endorse the hypothesis that American elements are behind the actual forgeries.)

    A small weakness of the water-cooler argument that you call attention to

    "...They began to panic. Who the hell was going to expose it? They had to build a backfire. The solution was to leak the documents to the I.A.E.A."

    Every nation that belongs to IAEA is obliged to provide all information they may know about concerning clandestine or illegal nuclear material. After Blair's public declaration in September 2002, El Baradei publicly requested all the information that the US and GB had on the African uranium traffic. The IAEA repeatedly requested the Niger documents from the US and GB, all the more so since both Saddam and Niger had emphatically denied any such traffic immediately after the December 19th report.

    The US stonewalled their international obligation to the IAEA until February 2003 with the ridiculous excuse that they were still translating the documents. (Just out of curiosity, how many hours would it take to translate the available published documents? Seven, maybe? Three or four hours, if you're a professional?)

    There never really was a case to leak the documents to the IAEA. They had to be turned over. One Italian report said that it took Vienna twenty minutes to conclude they were fake. Sy reports a few hours.

    My impression is that the established intelligence agencies were outmanoeuvred, something similar to sensory overload. The same false information with variants kept coming back from different sources. Il Riformista article supports William Harlow's version. Contrary to Cannistraro's version, the CIA did not receive the recycled docs because Castelli sat on them in Rome until February 2003. The importance was to keep them in State and produce a pre-conceived report.

    We can go on, and it's my fault this time around, writing away in the reality-based world, while the Boltons and Feiths work to harvest events that irremediably change the world for worse. All that counted was to get those sixteen words in there and convince the idiots in Congress to pass another war powers resolution. What counts is for a few brief moments and with the maximum coverage a vital message gets across, vital to a very personal and highly profitable agenda.

    by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Jul 22nd, 2005 at 06:46:11 PM EST
    [ Parent ]

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