White House

Spycraft 101

Laura Rozen has a tremendous piece in the American Prospect that lays out yet more details about the Italian Job via the Italian paper La Repubblica. It's a real life spy story, but it's not James Bond, it's John Le Carre, replete with "postmen" and codenames and globe-trotting spies in business suits and a very bad ending for ordinary human beings:

Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons.


The paper goes on to note the significance of that date, highlighting the appearance of a little-noticed story in Panorama a weekly magazine owned by Italian Prime Minister and Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi, that was published three days after Pollari's meeting with Hadley. The magazine's September 12, 2002, issue claimed that Iraq's intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, had acquired 500 tons of uranium from Nigeria through a Jordanian intermediary. (While this September 2002 Panorama report mentioned Nigeria, the forgeries another Panorama reporter would be proferred less than a month later purportedly concerned Niger.)

Okay, so let's break it down.
1. The White House Iraq Group, led by Cheney, needs evidence that Saddam has or wants to have WMDs.
2. Condi Rice's #2, Hadley, meets with the top Italian spy and 3 days later, Bushpal/Italian President Berlusconi's paper publishes a story about Saddam getting WMD materials from Africa (And managed to change nations mid-stream...Nigeria, Niger -- let's call the whole thing off).
3. Less than a month later, a writer from the same Presidentially owned newspaper gets the forged Niger documents, and her editor orders her to deliver them to the American Embassy for shipping not to the CIA, but to the White House -- the same place that so desperately needs them to prove their case for invasion.

Serendipity or spycraft? Rozen and La Repubblica have more about Rocco Martino, the guy who delivered the forgeries:

For the Italian middleman Rocco Martino, who acquired the documents from a Sismi mole at the Niger embassy in Rome, the motive described by La Repubblica is primarily mercenary. He wanted to be paid for the forgeries.According to the Repubblica account, Martino was a former carabinieri officer and later a Sismi operative who by 1999 was making his living based in Luxembourg, selling information to the French intelligence services for a monthly stipend. The story goes on to explain how Martino renewed his contacts with Sismi officer Antonio Nucera, an old friend and former colleague, who was a Sismi vice-captain working in the intelligence agency's eighth directorate, with responsibilities involving weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation.

So we've got a guy, Martino, who was never really a big spy, more of a jobber for the real spies. And he's been out for a while, but he's ready to come in from the cold, and they have the perfect job for him.

Precisely how Nucera, Martino, and two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome came together sometime between 1999 and 2000 to hatch the Niger forgeries plan is still somewhat mysterious. The newspaper's reports that Nucera introduced Martino to a longtime Sismi asset at the Niger embassy in Rome, a 60 year-old Italian woman described in La Repubblica only as "La Signora." Sismi chief Pollari, who granted the newspaper an interview (as he tends to do when he fears that breaking news could taint his agency), suggests that Nucera simply wanted to help out Martino, his old friend and colleague.

Ah, gotta love the codename. "There's a woman...her codename is...'The Woman.'" So who is La Signora? Does she even exist? Or did Martino simply fabricate the documents all by his lonesome? No answer on that at this point, but there are, of course, bigger pesce than Martino to fry. Rozen goes on:

But as the Italian reporters suggest, that sounds like a very convenient excuse for the chief of an agency that was engaged in promoting the bogus Niger claims from their inception, all the way to the White House. The picture that emerges of Sismi's relationship with Martino is that the agency used him as a "postman" -- a cut-out to sell the bogus intelligence to allied intelligence services. At the same time, Sismi possessed enough information about Martino to claim that he was simply a rogue agent on the French payroll.La Repubblica's noirish portrait of Martino as a convenient vehicle for plausible deniability is given further resonance by the recent news that a Roman prosecutor has ended his investigation into Martino's role in the Niger hoax without filing any charges or issuing any report.

So, let's continue breaking this down:4. Martino was a "postman" for the real players, who had a clear motive for fabricating intelligence: helping their pals at the White House Iraq Group (which included Hadley, Cheney, Libby, Rove and Rice, among others).5. The real players on the Italian side are no less than the President and the director of the spy agency.6. The question is did Deputy National Security Advisor Steven Hadley ask/order the Italians to "find" the Niger intelligence, or did they take it upon themselves to do a favor for the USA? Either way, WHIG had managed to put a nice big fat Italian buffer between themselves and their faked intelligence, and they had a "smoking gun" that they could wave about in Congress and all over TV. And off to war we went. By we, of course, I don't mean anyone in WHIG. They're all still alive. Can't say the same for these poor folk.