by de Gondi
Thu Jul 13th, 2006 at 08:44:27 AM EST
"It's known that news doesn't exist at a certain level. Instead, news leaks exist. That is, whispered ones, indiscretions with which each power center in this pluralist Republic tries to condition, warn or menace other power centers. In this sense, to talk about "spy reporters" is to talk about fresh water. A reporter is both a spy and its contrary. A spy in that in order to get access to certain information he must establish contacts with certain groups of power, perhaps plugging his nose, but without virginal fears about the candour of his hands. An anti-spy because he immediately offers to his public whatever indiscretions he's gotten hold of. In the final analysis, the reporter risks becoming the tool of someone else, and he may not immediately understand where certain initiatives taken behind his back may lead, but certainly never will a person with the vice of the plume loan himself to the clandestine omertà of spydom."
-December 12, 1976. Mino Pecorelli, reporter, assassinated on March 20th 1979, in the center of Rome
What emerges from the police operation in Via Nazionale 230 is the extent to which the Italian Military Secret Services, the Sismi, was obsessed with magistrates, reporters and businessmen whom they perceived as a menace. Not terrorists and criminals that could pose a danger, threat or aggression to the independence and integrity of the state but ordinary citizens who did not subscribe to their private brand of reality, a reality at times curiously convergent with the previous government's interests.
***From the front page - whataboutbob
It's reported that there's a large number of dossiers on the "Niger" forgeries. Apparently damage control spin operations were brainstormed here and leaked both to an allied press or to gullible press kiddies.
Two reporters who had Marco Mancini or his entourage as a source have already been interrogated as simple testimonies. They are Andrea Purgatori of the left-wing Unità and Claudia Fusani of the center-left daily, la Repubblica. Other reporters are expected to be interrogated for possibly having written articles under dictation by Pio Pompa's Sismi group.
But let's get some background material to help the reader understand the Byzantine world of Italian intrigue.
This is the situation over the years: A group of professional reporters has systematically done a brilliant job debunking vast spin operations by the Sismi or the Berlusconi government. Foremost are Giuseppe D'Avanzo and Carlo Bonini of the Repubblica, possibly the first reporters to catch on in November 2001 of the mounting prewar disinformation campaign. It has emerged that they were spied on and had their phones tapped by the Pompa-Mancini Sismi group.
D'Avanzo and Bonini are best known abroad for their investigations into the Italian forgeries of Niger documents allegedly to furnish uranium to Iraq. Another major smear campaign exposed by them is the Telekom Serbia Commission scandal against opposition leaders. And their colleagues at la Repubblica did a brilliant job ridiculing Berlusconi's Mitrokhin Commission smear campaigns against the opposition and lame revisionist attempts to resell, for example, the false Bulgarian connection in the Ali Agca assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II.
Recently, D'Avanzo and Bonini have revealed that the Sismi may be implicated in a vast wire-tapping campaign against magistrates and opposition figures. And in many cases such as the Abu Omar kidnapping they share credit with the excellent work done by Guido Olimpio and Paolo Biondani at the Corriere della Sera or the investigative staff at la Stampa.
There is a well-tuned group of reporters largely funded by Silvio Berlusconi. The major operators for the Berlusconi frond are the dailies il Giornale, the family paper; Libero, a yellow rag daily that has cost Berlusconi a fortune in slander suits and has seen its director, Vittorio Feltri, expelled from the Order of Journalists of Lombardia for unethical reporting; il Foglio, run by the exuberant and brilliant Giuliano Ferrara under the graces of Berlusconi's wife; the Roman conservative daily il Tempo, once run by Berlusconi's right-hand man, Gianni Letta; and the glossy family weekly Panorama that doled out false information on an industrial scale on Iraq's alleged WMDs and false Iraq-al-Qaeda ties throughout 2002- with the single exception of the Niger documents. Those were kindly turned over to the US Embassy in Rome, reportedly after a friendly chat between Carlo Rosella, editor in chief, and his good acquaintance, then-Ambassador Mel Sembler.
The reporters, Gian Marco Chiocci and Mario Secchi for il Giornale, Christian Rocca of il Foglio, and Renato Farina of Libero do a good job of getting across the neocon viewpoint. Their coverage of the so-called Nigergate affair are of interest not so much for their ad personam attacks on the Repubblica reporters or their arguments based on strawman reasoning, rehashed citations and so-called authority, long since analysed and confuted.
What's of note are their scoops and exclusive interviews that offer further understanding of an intrigue. Never mind how they interpret their scoops- or subsequently distort them. One of their scoops was the leaked judiciary testimony transcripts of the "Nigergate" protagonists or the exclusive interview with Rocco Martino.
Further Il Giornale, Panorama and Libero make an overgenerous use of anonymous Sismi sources and purported proof of all sorts of evil doings that are perpetually just ready to be turned over to some sort of Procura of the Republic. Invariably the authors seek to demonstrate that their scoops bolster their case that the French DGSE was behind the peddling of the false Niger dossiers through their agent Rocco Martino for reasons that defy common sense.
Quite often their claims are hilarious, such as the invention of some sort of leftwing blogger cabal out to get the "Three B's" (Bush, Blair and Berlusconi, although "Two-and-a-Quarter B's" would be more apt.) Or Giornale's rigmarole that postulates a vast conspiracy of evil-doers in cahoots such as Henry Waxman, Lyndon LaRouche, Vincent Cannistraro, Jay Rockefeller and others garnished with a shaker full of A Q Kahn à la Fleming comfortably lodged at the Niamey Ritz.
But this boils down to the usual spin routine.
Disinformation is far more effective when it's a mainlined through the established press, a paper with clout and tradition behind it, such as the New York Times, the Sunday Times and the Telegraph, or the Financial Times. It's even better if the source is a reporter or a politician on the other side of the fence.
Bogus information is all the more marketable if it has bipartisan support. When it comes to Sismi's interest in fleecing public opinion, buttering up to public opposition figures is the ground rule. Outflank the "enemy" with crossfire in their own lines. The Berlusconi press often reminded their readers that the scoops by D'Avanzo and Bonini were debunked by politicians and reporters on the left, such as Luigi Malabarba, a Refoundation Communist member of the Copaco who has yet to make a reasonable argument worth discussing on the forgeries case, or the Riformista, a non-existent daily that functioned more as the king's loyal opposition during the Berlusconi reign.
Andrea Purgatori is of particular interest for our story. He's a reporter with l'Unità, a reality-based leftist daily that obsessed Berlusconi. He was a crack investigative reporter who took apart the Ustica tragedy cover-up in the 80's. His work led to the incrimination of several top military brass who had destroyed evidence about the downing of the Itavia 870 flight that killed 81 people. They were eventually condemned for high treason. The sentence was overturned after the Berlusconi government amended the law on "sabatoge against the state." 26 years later the trial against them has once again been appealed by the Prodi State Advocate.
Now Andrea Purgatori does get information from his Sismi sources. He now covers Iraq, such tragedies as the Nassariya bombings and the death of Nicola Calipari. And what he writes on Iraq based on his sources appears solid and reasonable. But he's never cased the abduction of Abu Omar. It appears he was fed some bogus information on the PM Stefano Dambruoso, the magistrate previously in charge of the Abu Omar case before he was promoted to a top United Nations' position as an anti-terrorism expert in 2004. It's to his credit Andrea didn't fall for it.
However he once wrote an in-depth article on the Niger forgeries on November 1, 2005.
Let's put his piece in context.
In the month of October 2005, D'Avanzo and Bonini wrote several stunning scoops that immediately jumped the Atlantic, first picked up and translated by the blog community and quickly followed up by the LA Times, the Washington Post, and Knight-Ridder. It was revealed that Italy had had a key on-the-ground role in the preparation of the Iraq War. And a high ranking DGSE agent, Alain Chouet, finally went public and denied the role of the French services in pushing the Niger forgeries. On the contrary, the French services had long since warned the Americans and the Germans against them.
The Berlusconi government was in an uproar. His press went on red alert and churned out counter-scoops and derisive insults. General Nicolò Pollari once again offered to resign as head of the Sismi and insisted he be heard by the so-called Parliamentary "Control" Committee (the Copaco- I'll discuss the effective powers of the Copaco in a follow-up article). General Pollari along with Gianni Letta would trot into the Committee room with all their dossiers on November 2, 2005, and actually spoon-feed their dossiers to Committee members for a full five hours, a record by Italian standards. The Copaco has no investigative powers whatsoever nor the authority to convoke anybody without prior consent by the Council President (Berlusconi at the time) or his delegate (Gianni Letta at the time). Copaco members eventually released a series of circumstantial and contradictory statements of no use beyond making spun headlines.
But Andrea had published his article the day before and revealed for the first time, before Pollari would pull it out of his magic bag during the Copaco meet, that Robert S.Mueller III, director of the FBI, had written a letter of appreciation to the Sismi for their collaboration in the Niger forgeries case, dated July 20, 2005. Never mind the progress the FBI made in two years on their SSCI mandated investigations with or without the help of the Sismi (also here).
But along with this great scoop that sort of sets the tone of trust, Andrea made two false claims based on his sources.
He claimed that Rocco Martino, the small time pusher of the Niger forgeries, had asked for severance pay from his alleged French employers. This allegation had first appeared in an article by Pino Buongiorno in Panorama in the August 19, 2004, edition.
The last contact he had was in mid-July. "Ok, fine. We cut off all relations, but at least give me my back pay for the information I've given you." In the last days he's desperate, Rocco Martino, 66 years old, from Tropea in Calabria... He knew he had his days counted with his new bosses, la Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE), the French version of the CIA and the Sismi. To be precise, his contact worked undercover inside the French embassy in Brussels, 65 rue Ducale. Out of this diplomatic representation, for five years, from 1999 to July 2004, on order from the central in Paris, Martino received a fixed salary, which in the last period reached 4000 Euro, reimbursements plus extra funds to pay for his network of informers as well as bonuses. "Nothing. We're cutting you off and that's it. We've paid all we owe," the French agent snapped back.
Pino Buongiorno, chief Panorama investigative reporter, had overseen Panorama's 2002 prewar spin campaign, writing many of its major "scoops" based on Sismi and neocon sources, actively confirmed by General Pollari. His article, Rocco lo Spione, is mostly based on Sismi documents and a healthy dose of spin. One may draw some very disturbing conclusions from this article and its companion piece written by Renato Farina for Libero several days before. But I'll save that for later.
Did Andrea actually lift that claim out of a disputable Buongiorno or was the claim simply recycled by Andrea's Sismi source?
The second false claim comes closer to home. It involves Booman Tribune and one of their front-paged articles which, through journalistic carelessness, offered the Sismi a golden opportunity to take several birds out with one stone.
"In 2003 the Sismi had already put together a lot of material on him [Rocco Martino] and turned it over to the magistrates. Films, interceptions, photographs. They follow and film him in Brussels, as he meets up with the station chief of the French secret services and exchanges documents. And again as he tries to sell his dossier to Mi6, not in London but in the British embassy, again in Brussels. They follow and film him in Rome while he encounters the American reporter Laura Rozen of the Washington Monthly and collaborator of the CBS, who in an article by Patrick Lang [sic] on October 26 says she had interviewed Pollari but who, according to Sismi sources, would be putting words in the mouth of the general that he could never have said because he never met her..."
Now I don't know what photos Andrea is looking at but the lady couldn't have been Laura Rozen. She has declared that she never met Rocco Martino much less in Rome. Nor has she ever met Pollari or interviewed him, contrary to Richard Sale's article.
Laura had simply reported an interview that had been conducted by Carlo Bonini.
Thanks to a distracted Richard Sale and an eager Andrea Purgatori the Sismi managed to taint her reputation in Italy and slant those bloggers who had been loudly lumped into a lefty cabal along with her by the Berlusconi press. Purgatori may have been rehashing information on Rocco that had been known since August 2004 when the Sismi leaked it to Renato Farina and Pino Buongiorno, but his take on Rozen was new and false.
And of course Sismi also made it clear that they like to put together dossiers on just about anybody, foreign reporters included.
It is strange though that Andrea asserted that these sort of dossiers had already been turned over to the magistracy. A month later the Sismi declared they were going to send a voluminous dossier to the Roman Procura, something the Procura found hilarious. And if that's not enough the Italian government invented an imaginary Sismi-FBI investigation. One wonders what the FBI would do with the Sismi's dossiers. Yet the right wing press continues to feed the line that the Sismi is going to turn over the dossiers. But when a statement is systematically repeated without following through on it, it very much appears a menace, a toothless one at that, much as the barking dog that doesn't bite.
What's going on these past days indicates that the crime is elsewhere. And since the Sismi effectively never got around to turning over their dossiers to the magistrates, the Milan Procura just thought they'd drop by with a warrant to pick up the whole lot. It looks like the Roman procura could get those voluminous dossiers after all.
(Note: Many of the links are in Italian and may have been translated into English. I will seek to change them where possible. For articles published mainly by the Italian rightwing press, a good source is Free Republic. Most articles by Giuseppe D'Avanzo and Carlo Bonini have been translated by Nur al-Cubicle or myself. Some articles referred to and translated here are not freely available on the web.)