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Grrr...Niger...Grrr

Jonathan Last will probably accuse me of being stuck in a fit of pique, but I'm still significantly more curious about the forgeries that appear to have duped the British and American governments than about this CBS business. Sunday's Daily Telegraph follows up on a line of reporting that I believe was initiated by the Financial Times and also pursued in the Italian press and is now claiming that France was behind the forgeries. Josh Marshall tells us that "the thrust of the piece is false" because it "relies heavily on intelligence and law enforcment sources who are using disinformation to cover for Italian intelligence" but he won't tell us why, exactly, he thinks that or what his story is. I have to say that the Telegraph's story doesn't make much sense. Pulling the details out we get the following sequence:

  • Someone in the Nigerien embassy forges these documents and hands them, along with some other documents, to Rocco Martino, an Italian businessman who happens to be in the employ of French intelligence.
  • Martino hands the documents over to his bosses in France.
  • French intelligence concluded that Martino's documents were forged, but passed them on to other governments nonetheless, "trying to 'set up' Britain and America in the hope that when the mistake was revealed it would undermine the case for war, which it wanted to prevent."
  • Italian military intelligence (SISMI) had nothing to do with it.
The main thing that doesn't make sense here is that all the heavy lifting (actual forging, contacting of shady Italian businessman, etc.) is being done by our unnamed Nigerien diplomat and the "French set-up" theory of the crime doesn't provide him with any possible motive. Point number two here has to be that if Jacques Chirac (or whomever) was really behind all of this in order to embarass the US and UK it seems that he should have revealed the truth soon after the 2003 State of the Union or Blair's reference to the documents in September 2002 and not just counted on the IAEA to do his work for him in March 2003 when it was too late.

The contention that SISMI was uninvolved in all of this is hard to credit in light of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report into Iraqi WMD. The SSCI intentionally avoided looking into the source of the Niger forgeries, but it's clear from their discussion of the Intelligence Community's views on the whole subject of Niger that Italian intelligence played a role in the whole thing. Among other things, what sparked Western interest in the subject of Iraq and Niger was some kind of surveillance the Italians were doing of Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican.

September 20, 2004 | Permalink

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