Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What Fitzgerald is really after...THE BEGINING OF THE CRIME!


Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times

December 3, 2005 Saturday
Home Edition

SECTION: MAIN NEWS; National Desk; Part A; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 1172 words

HEADLINE: FBI Is Taking Another Look at Forged Prewar
Intelligence

BYLINE: Peter Wallsten, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer,
Times Staff Writers

DATELINE: WASHINGTON

BODY:

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.

"This is such a high-profile issue for a lot of
reasons, and we think it's important to make sure
there aren't lingering questions," said an aide to
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman
of the Intelligence Committee. "There's always a
chance that you do a little more investigating and you
uncover something you hadn't seen before or you hadn't
realized."

A senior federal law enforcement official, who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the investigation, confirmed late
Friday that the bureau had reopened the inquiry.

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.

But the senior federal official said, "I don't expect
the results to be any different. I think the answer is
going to be that [Martino] wasn't acting in behalf of
any government or intelligence agency. This guy was
trying to peddle this to whoever he could."

Until now, the FBI's inquiry had been limited to
probing whether foreign governments were involved in
the forgeries, despite a broader request from
Rockefeller that the FBI look into whether the
forgeries reflected a "larger deception campaign aimed
at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy
regarding Iraq."

"I was surprised that [the FBI] ever closed it without
coming to a conclusion as to the source," said former
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was chairman of the
Intelligence Committee when the Niger uranium claims
first surfaced in the U.S. "It looks as if it's a
fairly straightforward investigation trail to who the
source was. And I'm glad the FBI has resumed the
hunt."

The claim that Iraq had obtained or was seeking
uranium in Niger was a central part of the
administration's case for war. It was mentioned
explicitly in late 2002 by British Prime Minister Tony
Blair and in January 2003 by Bush to illustrate the
threat posed by Iraq's then-president, Saddam Hussein.

In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency
concluded that the documents on which the Niger claim
was partly based were forgeries. Then-CIA Director
George J. Tenet later took responsibility for allowing
the claim into Bush's State of the Union speech.

The issue erupted in July 2003, when Wilson published
his findings in a New York Times opinion piece.
Administration officials leaked the identity of
Wilson's wife, covert CIA agent Valerie Plame,
allegedly as part of an effort to discredit Wilson --
prompting a separate investigation into the
potentially illegal unmasking of a covert agent.

The Plame case -- in which Vice President Dick
Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter"
Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice,
perjury and making false statements -- has raised
questions about the administration's use of
intelligence and how it targeted its critics.

Citing concern that the forged Niger documents might
be evidence of a "larger deception campaign,"
Rockefeller initially had requested that the FBI
determine the source of the forgeries and why the
intelligence community did not realize earlier that
the documents were fraudulent, among other questions.

A senior FBI official said the bureau's initial
investigation found no evidence of foreign government
involvement in the forgeries. But the FBI did not
interview Martino, a central figure in a parallel
drama unfolding in Rome.

In late October, Martino told the Los Angeles Times
through his lawyer that he did not realize that the
documents were forged.

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."

Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Rome contributed
to this report.

LOAD-DATE: December 3, 2005


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