Here you have the bogus dossier on Saddam’s uranium

By Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo, La Repubblica, July 16, 2003

(Original article in Italian, Ecco il falso dossier sull'uranio di Saddam.)

Like a spy story not too long on imagination, the
tale began with a break-in. The apartment was on the
sixth floor at 10, Via Antonio Baiamonti, in Rome's
Mazzini district. The door was sturdy and armored,
and it protected the offices of Niger's embassy in the
capital. A gloomy corridor ran between the political
adviser's offices and the ambassador's room. On a
night between 29 December 2000 and 1 January 2001, the
usual "persons unknown" were haphazardly hunting for
something, turning the embassy upside-down: papers
strewn everywhere, drawers turned inside-out, closets
opened. When the second secretary for administrative
affairs, Arfou Mounkaila, reported the theft to the
carabinieri at the Trionfale precinct, early in the
morning of 2 January, he had, nevertheless, to admit
that the thieves had behaved in a somewhat odd manner.
Much ado, and trouble, about nothing. With the
exception of a Breil steel watch and three small
phials of perfume, the "thieves" had taken nothing.
Or so it appeared. If you knock on the embassy's
door now and ask a few questions about that odd theft,
you get a smile from a courteous lady and the
following words: "It all began there; it all began
with that theft."

The Via Baiamonti break-in was the start of the
tale that was to lead George W. Bush 24 months later,
on 28 January 2003, to utter the 16 [17 in the
original] words in the State of the Union address
("The British Government has learned that Saddam
[Husayn] has recently sought significant quantities of
uranium from Africa.") that are now holding him
dangerously poised on the edge of the "Iraqgate"
abyss, or "Nigergate," if you prefer. Either way,
the affair took shape in Italy, because it was in Rome
that four incidents that were to steer Bush in the
direction of those rash words occurred.

1. It was the SISMI [(Italian) Military
Intelligence and Security Service] that came into
contact, between October and November 2001, with an
African dimplomat who was selling forged documents
(the six pages reproduced on these pages) about a
trade in "500 tonnes of pure uranium per annum, for
delivery in two installments," between Niger and Iraq.

2. It was in Rome that MI6, the British
counterespionage service, came into possession of
those documents.

3. It was the SISMI that informed the [Italian]
prime minister (through the CESIS [Executive Committee
on the Intelligence and Security Services]) and the
Farnesina [Italian Foreign Ministry] (via the
minister's private office) of the matter, as per
routine procedure.

4. It was SISMI Director Niccolo Pollari who, in
November 2002, gave the Parliamentary Supervisory
Committee on the Intelligence Services confirmation of
the fact that "the service is in possession of
documentary evidence of the trade in pure uranium
between a central African country and Iraq."

The Via Baiamonti apartment has for years been one
of Italian military intelligence's listening posts.
This has been so since 1983, when the SISMI succeeded
in getting its hands on a bid for Niger uranium
advanced by Saddam. The eavesdropping work brought
the hot line between Niger Ambassador Adamou Chekou
(now adviser to President of Niger Tandja Mamadou) and
Iraqi diplomats in Rome, and with Wissam al-Zahawiah,
Baghdad's ambassador to the Holy See, in particular,
into focus. It was "internal" espionage work that
crossed with the reports from "R" (research) Division,
which was in charge of operations abroad. Italian
intelligence, helped by British agents, was working in
Niamey, Niger's capital, on the Iraqi WMD (weapons of
mass destruction) dossier.

The probes in question made a leap forward around
late October and early November 2001. As a SISMI
source told La Repubblica, "Around that time, a
diplomat from an African country with an embassy in
Rome got in touch with the SISMI and offered it papers
that he deemed extremely valuable to our work." The
papers contained codes, an exchange of correspondence
about a contract for the dispatch of uranium to Iraq
by sea via Lome (Togo) from Cotonou in Benin (where
all the 2,900 tonnes of pure uranium extracted from
Niger's Arlit and Akouta mines in 2000 were
stockpiled), and, most importantly, diplomatic papers:

-- a telex dated 1 February 1999 from Niger
Ambassador in Rome Chekou to the foreign minister in

-- a letter dated 30 July 1999 from the foreign
ministry to the Rome embassy;

-- a letter dated 27 July 2000 and addressed to
the president of the Republic of Niger, and

-- a "memorandum of understanding" between the
Niger and Iraqi governments on uranium supplies signed
in Niamey on 5 and 6 July 2000. Two pages headed
"Accord" were attached to the memorandum.

Italian intelligence bought the documents on
trust, or, if Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is
right ("Italian intelligence has never supplied any
documentation"), perhaps brokered their purchase on
behalf of the British from MI6. A clearsighted
perusal of the documents immediately reveals their
lack of authenticity. As Seymour Hersh wrote in The
New Yorker on 31 March 2003, "One letter, dated
October 10, 2000 (the memorandum of understanding
between Niger and Iraq -- La Repubblica editor's note)
was signed with the name of Allele Habibou, a [Niger]
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who had
been out of office since 1989. Another letter (dated
27 July 2000 -- La Repubblica editor's note) [...] had
[...] a text with inaccuracies so egregious [...] that
'they could be spotted by someone using Google on the
Internet.'" It might also be added that 500 tonnes
of pure uranium is such an enormous quantity that it
should have aroused the suspicions of anyone familiar
in any way with the country and the commodity
concerned, and also that the letter dated 30 July 1999
refers to deals struck in Niamey on 29 June 2000, and
that the 27 July 2000 letter to the president of Niger
bears his own stamp and signature.

With play halted, it is clear where the sleight of
hand lay. The diplomat who sold the documents was
perfectly well aware of the Italian intelligence wire
(phone, fax, and telex) taps on the Niger Embassy, so
the first document he slipped into the file on offer
was telex 003/99/ABNI/Rome, addressed to Niger's
foreign minister. It reads: "I beg to bring it to
your attention that the Iraqi Embassy to the Holy See
has informed me that His Excellency Wissam
al-Zahawiah, Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, will
make an official visit to our country in his capacity
as representative of Saddam, president of the Iraqi
Republic. His excellency Zahawiah will be arriving
in Niamey..."

The telex in question (which was intercepted) was
already in the "Niger file" at Forte Braschi [SISMI
headquarters in Rome]. The Italian agents took this
fact as confirmation that "it was sound stuff," or
reliable, to say the least, so the rest of the
documentation was regarded as "sound" as well, meaning
the message dated 30 July asking for "the answer on
the uranium supply," the confidential memo dated 27
July attesting to the deal (No. 381-NI 2000) on the
"supply of 500 tonnes of uranium" being struck, and,
of course, the memorandum of understanding between the
two governments that seemed to round the matter off on
a note of certainty: Baghdad had managed to procure
from Niger the uranium needed to produce weapons of
mass destruction.

So back now to the Niger Embassy in Via Baiamonti
to ask: Who fabricated the bogus file?

There are a number circumstances that might
suggest an initial answer. In the winter of 2002,
Niger's ambassador to Rome, Chekou, was recalled to
Niamey "for consultations." He was due back in
Italy, but he never set foot in the country again.
Chekou was removed from the post, and Mrs. Hadijo
Abdoulmoumine took his place on 2 December that same
year, in the capacity of charge d'affaires and head of
the consular section. Was it a routine changeover?
Or -- as an intelligence agent who agreed to answer La
Repubblica's questions hinted -- was it the
consequence of the Niger Government discovering that
something was amiss at the Rome embassy? Niamey is
convinced that the strange robbery in January 2001 was
actually just a blind to lend credence to the story
that the paperwork needed to put the bogus dossier
together had been stolen from the offices in Via

US intelligence -- quoted yesterday as well by the
ABC television network -- on the contrary, takes the
view that the Niger Embassy in Rome was behind the
forgery. "A low-ranking diplomat put the bogus
dossier together at the embassy and then sold it to
the SISMI for a few thousand dollars," the source
interviewed by the US television station stated. The
same conviction was voiced on 22 March this year by a
United Nations official interviewed by the Washington
Post: "The letters on the uraniam trafficking were
handed over to the Italians by a Niger diplomat."

Mrs. Hadijo Abdoulmouoine, who is now in charge of
the Niger diplomatic mission in Rome, says it is all
fantasy: "There is no member of the diplomatic corps
behind the forgeries: The president of Niger, Tandja
Marmadou, in person conveyed this same categorical
denial to George W. Bush last week."

Be that as it may, there is no doubt about two
facts: that "it all began with the theft," and that
not even two weeks on from the changeover at the Rome
embassy, on 21 December 2002, the government in Niamey
issued a very toughly worded communique on the
suspicions of its being at the center of a uraniam
trade with Iraq. "The American allegations are
slanderous. It has never crossed our minds to send
uranium to Iraq. There has never been any contact."

This brings us to the end of 2001 and early 2002,
two decisive months. The SISMI was familiar with the
dossier and MI6 was in possession of it: "The
British bought it without assessing it in any way,"
the man from Forte Braschi explained, "but the source
was described as 'reliable.' No one should wonder at
the events surrounding the dossier. They fall within
the sphere of routine intelligence cooperation among
allied countries. It was only to be expected that
the material in question should step up both
cooperation and intelligence exchange with the
British. There were several meetings, at the highest
level, almost all of them in London. Despite this
positive context, we do not know if it was the British
who passed the stuff on to the CIA. It is highly
likely. Custom has it that the British are under no
obligation to tell us to whom they give the
intelligence they share with us."

Confirmation that the British informed Langley
lies in a date. In February 2002, the CIA dispatched
the former US ambassador in Gabon, Joseph Wilson, to
Niger to check whether there was any foundation for
the reports on the uranium trafficking it had had from
the British. He came back with a clear-cut answer:
The tale was bogus.

These doubts were not conveyed to Italy, where the
story was still on the move, reports on trafficking
between Niamey and Baghdad emerging from the back
rooms at Forte Braschi and reaching the corridors of
power in the heart of Rome. The analysts from the
"Situation" Division (who liaise with foreign
intelligence and draft the daily bulletins for the
director) sent in their report on the Niger uranium
affair. It was a very concise memo: "No more than
a page," the source told La Repubblica. The memo,
which cited neither whys nor wherefores, but set out
the gist of the dossier (500 tonnes of pure uranium
had been purchased by Baghdad), ended up on the CESIS
desk at Palazzo Chigi [Italian prime minister's
office] and in the [foreign] minister's private office
at the Farnesina. It was the Farnesina -- they are
now explaining at Forte Braschi -- that raised "strong
objections" and "reservations" over the intelligence
service report. The strongest misgivings were voiced
by the African Countries Directorate, which was headed
by a highly reputed director, Bruno Cabras.

The Niger uranium tale seemed to have died away,
but on 24 September 2002, Tony Blair's government
announced in a 50-page dossier that Iraq had sought to
buy "significant quantities of uranium from an African
country despite having no civilian nuclear program
requiring it." Two days later, Seymour Hersh reminds
his readers, Secretary of State Colin Powell,
reporting to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee,
cited "the Iraqi attempt to obtain uranium as proof of
its persistent nuclear ambitions." This was the
statement that was to induce Congress to give
President Bush the green light for military operations
in Iraq by a crushing majority.

We are now into October, and SISMI Director
Niccolo Pollari was questioned for the first time by
the Parliamentary Supervisory Committee. He stuck to
vague terms, giving hints, but not making statements.
He explicitly kept quiet about the matter of the
"uranium dossier" purchased in Rome and in the
possession of the British. He did, however, explain:
"We have no documentary evidence, just reports that
a central African country has sold pure uranium to
Baghdad." The general had second thoughts 30 days
later and was more explicit, referring to "documentary
evidence." Addressing the Parliamentary Committee
again, he added the missing detail, saying: "We have
documentary evidence of the purchase of natural
uranium by Iraq in the central African republic. We
also have reports of the Iraqi bid to purchase
centrifuges for enriching uranium from German and,
perhaps, Italian companies." Pollari did not play
the matter up. He took a prudent line. He did not
paint a highly colored picture depicting a Baghdad
capable of building an atomic weapon. The SISMI
director maintained that, once they had got hold of
the uranium, and once they had got hold of the
centrifuges, "the Iraqis will take at best three
years, five on average, to develop a weapon of mass
destruction using the enriched uranium in question."

The SISMI was alarmed in March this year. The
IAEA [International Atomic Energy Authority] in Vienna
had at last received the documents making up the
"Niger dossier" from the Americans and examined them.
On 7 March, IAEA Director General Muhammed ElBaradei
told the UN Security Council: "My agency, with the
assistance of outside experts as well, has concluded
that the documents in question are not authentic."

The atmosphere turned nasty at Forte Braschi.
The people who had looked askance at the documents
sold by the African diplomat raised their heads after
keeping them well down for months in the face of the
success with which the reports in question were
meeting on both sides of the Atlantic. The people
who had overrated the documents' authenticity began
looking for a way out of the crisis imminent without
and the clash foreseeable within. As always happens
in such cases, a number of unconfirmed
reconstructions, which currently look very much as if
they were put together with the precise intention of
kicking up a dust storm to shield the agents from
criticism and censure by laying the blame on
politicians, were put about inside the service. The
first was about Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi's
role, the second about that of his diplomatic adviser,
Giovanni Castellaneta. Let us take a look.
According to some SISMI sources, it was the Italian
prime minister who gave George W. Bush confirmation of
the existence of a "uranium dossier" and, above all,
of its authenticity, over the phone. Berlusconi did
indeed speak to the US President on the phone at 0845
hours (Washington time) on 25 January 2003, three days
(in other words) prior to the State of the Union
address, and five days prior to the meeting in
Washington at which the President and the prime
minister agreed "on the importance of disarming
Saddam," but at which -- Italian diplomatic sources
tell La Repubblica -- "neither the uranium dossier
nor, consequently, the report's reliability or
otherwise" was mentioned. The tale going the rounds
about Giovanni Castellaneta involves more or less the
same (venomous) plot. The diplomatic adviser, who is
on good terms with the intelligence community and is
in the running for the CESIS director's post,
purportedly provided the SISMI file with "political
cover" at a number of off-the-record meetings with CIA
legworkers [previous word published in English] in

When asked by La Repubblica about this
reconstruction of the affair, the SISMI management
declined to answer any questions. The Palazzo Chigi
communique issued last Sunday (13 July) is common
knowledge: "Reports of Italy passing documents of
Niger or Iraqi origin on to other intelligence
services are entirely unfounded: The Italian
services have never supplied any documents
whatsoever." These are words that explain nothing
and which now call for a public explanation and a
shouldering of political responsibility, whatever the
level of involvement our country may have had in this


Italy: Background to Bogus Niger-Iraq Uranium Deal
Dossier Explored
EUP20030716000099 Rome La Repubblica in Italian 16 Jul
03 pp 1, 2-3
[Report by Carlo Bonini, Giuseppe D'Avanzo: "Here You
Have the Bogus Dossier on Saddam's Uranium"]

[FBIS Translated Text]

[Description of Source: Rome La Repubblica in Italian
-- moderate left-of-center daily]
Web source:

Italian Intelligence Looked Into Uranium Deal, Did Not
Forward Documents
EUP20030716000357 Rome La Repubblica (Internet
Version-WWW) in Italian 1610 GMT 16 Jul 03
[FBIS Report]
Rome La Repubblica (Internet version-WWW) in
Italian on 16 July reports that Italy's Prime
Ministeral Undersecretary Gianni Letta today said that
the military secret service SISMI did look into
Iraq's possible purchase of uranium from Niger and
discussed it with allied parts, but on the basis of
different sources and documents.

Letta is reported as denying that the SISMI ever
forwarded any forged documents on this issue to third

The web site adds that, although Letta's address
to the committee had taken place behind close doors,
statements by several MPs after the meeting
substantially confirmed the government's stance so

La Repubblica quotes the committee's chairman,
former center-left Interior Minister Enzo Bianco, as
saying that according to Letta "the documents on
Iraq's purchase of uranium from Niger were not
forwarded to the United States and the IAEA
[International Atomic Energy Agency] by our

"The SISMI had been looking into Iraq's possible
purchase of uranium by Iraq since 2001, but with other
documents and sources that cannot be revealed.
Besides, it is normal for information to be exchanged
between intelligence services of allied countries,"
Bianco quoted Letta as saying.

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