The Italian Job

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Oct. 26 2005 5:49 PM

The Italian Job

Bloggers discuss an Italian newspaper's investigation into the origins of the Iraq-Niger intelligence. They also honor civil rights leader Rosa Parks.

The Italian job:Reports that Saddam Hussein had sought to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger were passed to American and British officials by Italian intelligence officers, according to an investigation by Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The paper reports that Nicolo Pollari, head of Italy's SISMI military intelligence bureau, peddled the yellowcake story directly to the White House after the CIA had discounted his information. The disputed attempted purchase was cited by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union despite considerable dissent among intelligence officials.

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At left-of-center academic collective Crooked Timber, political scientistHenry Farrell delivers a concise summary of the Repubblica investigation. (Read his rough translation of the article here.) The paper, he reckons, is reporting that Italian intelligence officers, hoping to please American and British officials in the run-up to the war, excavated intelligence dating from before the first Gulf War that showed Iraqi interest in obtaining raw uranium. Although the Americans were skeptical, the British, claiming they had corroboratory evidence, bought the dated dossier. La Repubblica, Farrell says, further asserts that this "independent" corroboratory evidence was also Italian intelligence gathered in the prewar, pre-sanction '80s. The report proves, once and for all, that the Niger intelligence wasn't doctored domestically, writesNur-al-Cubicle, a student.

Scrupulous liberal Joshua Micah Marshall, who's been tracking the story at Talking Points Memo, believes the president's infamous 16 words were chosen carefully to knowingly convey false intelligence without assuming any responsibility for its veracity. "What did the British know? They said they had good intel. The CIA didn't buy it. So what did they know?" he asks. "My assumption, and that of many others, is that the Brits are, to put it bluntly, full of it on this one." (He also writes that the forged documents are the sole source of the Niger claims, despite some apparent timeline disparities.)

At the Washington Monthly, liberal Political Animal Kevin Drum agrees. "If I'm reading this right, La Repubblica's story is that the document regarding the sale of uranium yellowcake was actually genuine—except that it was from the 1980s. That certainly explains why the names and dates didn't check out," he writes. "In other words, nobody, not the British and not the Americans, had any serious evidence that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Africa," he later adds. "The only evidence in the whole affair was disinformation cooked up by Italian intelligence and their partners."

"Meanwhile, there's the all-important question of where the memos came from in the first place," says progressive Bradford Plumer at MoJo Blog. "Did [Italian intelligence officers] really push them on the White House in order to make themselves 'relevant,' and did the middleman who acquired the memos from a mole in Niger, Rocco Martino, really do it for 'mercenary reasons,' as is alleged?"

"One of the things that comes through strongly in the Repubblica series this week … is how patterns that emerged in Washington, including unconventional intelligence channels that bypassed the CIA, were mirrored across the Atlantic," notes Laura Rozen, who's been covering the story for the American Prospect, at War and Piece. "What's so striking to me having investigated this story both in Washington and in Italy is that—just like our own Senate Intel committee, the Italian parliamentarians haven't exactly been very aggressive in getting to the bottom of this story that has been under their noses for over a year."

Read more about the story.

Rosa Parks, 1913-2005: Civil rights champion Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92. Parks, considered by many the mother of the civil rights movement, is best known for her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, thereby inspiring the landmark Montgomery bus boycott. Bloggers are lining up in virtual memoriam.

"If you doubt the power of one individual, simply look at the life of Rosa Parks," encourages the Heritage Foundation's Mark Tapscott, at his Copy Desk. "She said no on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus one day in 1955 and sparked the long-overdue Civil Rights Movement in America. A lifetime of courage was concentrated in that one word spoken to power." At MY Vast Ring Wing Conspiracy, Jody compares Parks' principled refusal to the opening salvos of the American Revolution.