10/21/2005

Niger Uranium Forgery Mystery Solved?- by Justin Raimondo

October 19, 2005
Niger Uranium Forgery
Mystery Solved?
The Fitzgerald/Plame investigation goes in a new direction
by Justin Raimondo

Amid all the brouhaha over whether I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Karl Rove, or any number of Bush administration insiders had a hand in leaking the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, the essential crime at the core of the investigation – and its probable starting point – often gets lost in the shuffle. The "outing" of Plame was not an end in itself: the outers didn't just one day decide that they were going to go after her and Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, her husband, because they were in a vindictive mood. They were out to get them because Wilson drew attention to the provenance of the infamous "16 words" uttered by President Bush in his 2003 state of the union address, in which Bush claimed that Iraq had sought out uranium in "an African country" in order to make a nuclear bomb. Perhaps without knowing it, Wilson – in taking an interest in this subject – was getting too close to the enormous fraud at the center of the War Party's propaganda campaign.

The African country Bush spoke of is Niger, where much of the world's uranium is mined under the watchful eye of a French consortium – and where it would be extremely difficult, if not close to impossible, for the Iraqis to walk off with the tons of uranium required to produce weapons-grade materials. This accountability issue was no doubt a major reason for the skepticism the Niger uranium story engendered in Ambassador Wilson, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to check out the facts – and came back with a negative report. Wilson was therefore shocked to hear the president reiterate a claim that had been previously and definitively debunked, and went public with his mission and its results – but not before the source of that claim had been brutally and publicly refuted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In early October 2002, Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, a writer for Italy's Panorama magazine, delivered some documents to the U.S. embassy in Rome: a cache of letters and other papers purporting to be correspondence between officials of the Niger government and the Iraqis relating to the acquisition of uranium "yellowcake." The documents soon found their way to Washington, D.C., where key administration officials were quick to incorporate them into their "talking points" for war with Iraq – and into Bush's Jan. 28, 2003 speech.

When the IAEA asked to see evidence of the administration's contentions, they were put off, until finally the Niger uranium documents were handed over. It took IAEA scientists just a few hours to demonstrate that the documents were not only forgeries, but were particularly crude ones at that – an amateur could have debunked them using Google. As the Washington Post reported, one administration official's response was "We fell for it."

And how! – but that wasn't the end of it, by any means. After all, someone had deliberately set up the American government with false information and badly embarrassed George W. Bush, who had taken the Niger uranium canard and run with it in a very public way. An investigation was launched just as Robert Novak's column outing Plame appeared – mid-July 2003. Whoever leaked Plame's name and CIA affiliation was trying to scare off any further inquiries into the whole Niger uranium funny business, underscoring the key question in all this: who was behind the Niger uranium forgeries?

Even as the FBI was following the trail of the forgers, the Italians were looking into the matter from their end. A parliamentary committee was charged with investigating, and they issued a heavily redacted report: now, I am told by a former CIA operations officer, the report has aroused some interest on this side of the Atlantic. According to a source in the Italian embassy, Patrick J. "Bulldog" Fitzgerald asked for and "has finally been given a full copy of the Italian parliamentary oversight report on the forged Niger uranium document," the former CIA officer tells me:

"Previous versions of the report were redacted and had all the names removed, though it was possible to guess who was involved. This version names Michael Ledeen as the conduit for the report and indicates that former CIA officers Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf were the principal forgers. All three had business interests with Chalabi."

Alan Wolf died about a year and a half ago of cancer. He served as chief of the CIA's Near East Division as well as the European Division, and was also CIA chief of station in Rome after Clarridge. According to my source, "he and Clarridge and Ledeen were all very close and also close to Chalabi." The former CIA officer says Wolf "was Clarridge's Agency godfather. Significantly, both Clarridge and Wolf also spent considerable time in the Africa division, so they both had the Africa and Rome connection and both were close to Ledeen, closing the loop."

A veteran of the Iran-Contra scandal, Ledeen played an important role in the "arms for hostages" scheme by setting up meetings between the American government and the Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Not all that unexpected coming from a self-proclaimed advocate of Machiavelli's amoralism. Today, Ledeen is among the most visible and radical neoconservative ideologues whose passion for a campaign of serial "regime-change" in the Middle East is undiminished by the Iraqi debacle. Just as the Roman senator Cato the Elder finished his perorations with the command "Carthage must be destroyed," so Michael "Creative Destruction" Ledeen closes his hopped-up warmongering essays with "Faster, please!," an exhortation presumably addressed to his confreres in the Bush administration.

Ledeen has kept the neocon faith – and the same friends – for all these years. He's still buddies with Ghorbanifar. In December 2001, he had a meeting in Rome with Ghorbanifar in the company of the Pentagon's top Iran specialist, Larry Franklin, and Harold Rhode, assigned to the Office of Net Assessment, a Pentagon think tank. Also at the Rome conclave: a number of Ghorbanifar's Iranian friends, including a former senior official of the Revolutionary Guard. Rounding out the distinguished guest list, we have the Italian delegation, consisting of SISMI head honcho Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, and Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino, a neocon favorite. Once again, Ledeen plays the middleman – but what kind of a deal was he trying to negotiate?

Franklin, we now know, was busy spying for Israel during this period, handing over classified information to AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman: he has been indicted and has turned state's evidence: the trial is set to begin in January. To this day, Franklin maintains he was just trying to get AIPAC's assistance in moving a more pro-Israel agenda in policymaking circles.

Rhode is an ideologue of a similar coloration. Together with Franklin, Rhode helped set up the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans, which stove-piped phony "intelligence" provided by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and hyped the case for war. Rhode and Franklin worked hand in hand with Chalabi, and, as United Press International intelligence correspondent Richard Sale reports, they had certain interests in common:

"According to one former senior U.S. intelligence official who maintained excellent contacts with serving U.S. intelligence officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, 'Rhode practically lived out of (Ahmed) Chalabi's office.' This same source quoted the intelligence official with the CPA as saying, 'Rhode was observed by CIA operatives as being constantly on his cell phone to Israel,' and that the information that the intelligence officials overheard him passing to Israel was 'mind-boggling,' this source said. It dealt with U.S. plans, military deployments, political projects, discussion of Iraq assets, and a host of other sensitive topics, the former senior U.S. intelligence official said."

No wonder my source tells me that "Fitzgerald asked the Italians if he could share the report with Paul McNulty," the prosecutor in the AIPAC case. There are plenty of links between the two investigations: they are, in a sense, the same investigation, since many of the same people are involved. McNulty is delving into a single aspect of the cabal's activities, while Fitzgerald seems to have broadened his probe to include not only the outing of Plame, but also the origin of the Niger uranium forgeries and other instances of classified information leakage via the vice president's office.

Niger Uranium Forgery Mystery Solved?- by Justin Raimondo

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