Sunday, December 04, 2005
FBI Is Taking Another Look at Forged Prewar Intelligence
By Peter Wallsten, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer, Times Staff Writers
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.
But President Bush referred to the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address in making the case for the invasion. Bush's speech, Wilson's trip and the role Wilson's wife played in sending him have created a political storm that still envelops the White House.
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.
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.
Recent accounts in the Italian press said that Martino, a businessman and former freelance spy who was fired from the Italian military intelligence agency, obtained the documents from a female friend who worked at Niger's embassy in Rome. Martino has said he was working with a more senior Italian intelligence agent, Col. Antonio Nucero, and peddled the documents to French intelligence and eventually, in 2002, to Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba.
Burba, a reporter for the magazine Panorama, later told The Times that she was angry that the fraudulent documents "had been used to justify a war." The magazine is owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close U.S. ally and supporter of the Iraq invasion.
Last month, Martino was further implicated when Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italian military intelligence, denied that his agency was involved in fabricating the documents. Instead, Pollari told the parliamentary intelligence committee that the dossier came from Martino.
The agency soon realized the documents were fake, Pollari said, according to legislators who were at the meeting. Although Martino's role has long been known, it remains unclear whom he was working with and whether the entire scheme was his idea alone.
After the Pollari testimony, Martino was quoted in an Italian newspaper as saying that he was working for the intelligence agency and not on his own. He acknowledged his role of "postman," as he put it, but said that his instructions were coming from Nucero.
"I did not make this thing up," he was quoted as saying in the newspaper Il Giornale. "I didn't even know where Niger was."
GOI: I'm waiting for the Bush sycophants to now come out and say that the FBI is part of the alleged "liberal witch hunts."
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