I argued yesterday that Richard Armitage said the following to Robert Novak in their conversation the week of July 7:
Wilson's mission was created after an early 2002 report by the Italian intelligence service about attempted uranium purchases from Niger, derived from forged documents prepared by what the CIA calls a "con man." This misinformation, peddled by Italian journalists, spread through the U.S. government. Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. [Bush's SOTU] attributed reports of attempted uranium purchases to the British government ... the British relied on forged documents.
Actually, I don't think Armitage used the term operative, but these sentences all come directly from Novak's column, so I'll just leave it there.
Reconstructing Armitage's probable conversation with Novak is interesting for its impact on the Plame Affair. But it also reveals some important things about the Niger forgeries. Consider: if I'm right about Armitage's conversation, in July 2003, a top government official knew that the Niger forgeries were peddled by a con man (which suggests he knew they were peddled by Rocco Martino). But we've never heard from the government that it knows this.
In the rest of this post, I'll show that this news probably does not appear in the SSCI and the INR memo--though it seems to appear in documents that have never been declassified. As I'll show, by bracketing questions about the Niger forgery source for the illusive FBI investigation to handle and by refusing to declassify documents, the Administration has eliminated all mention of the assessment--an assessment that apparently Richard Armitage knew of by July 2003--that Rocco Martino was a "con man." They're hiding one big piece of evidence that the Intelligence Community should have known not to treat the forgeries as credible.
Now, before I look at individual documents, I should point out Armitage's assumptions. He appears to assume or know that the intelligence received in 2001 and February 2002 derived from the forgeries that the US later received in October 2002. And therefore, he appears to assume that Martino produced these documents, which may or may not be the case. In other words, Armitage may be making an incorrect assumption about Martino, but he clearly appears to have known about him. But, as I suggest below, the government doesn't seem to want to admit that this was known.
The SSCI Report
Now, I can't be certain, but it appears that no discussion of Rocco Martino (or even just a "con man") appears in the SSCI report. The description of the first report from Fall 2001 doesn't include any details about provenance (and no redactions of sufficient length to do so); rather, the report is debunked because Niger would be unlikely to do what the intelligence alleged.
Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as "highly suspect," primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction
The SSCI makes no mention of the questions CIA asked of SISMI after receiving this intelligence, nor does it mention SISMI Director Nicolo Pollari's response, sent on October 18 2001. In it, Pollari apparently vouched for the credibility of La Signora, the Niger embassy employee who sold the documents to Martino.
The SISMI director admits – and he even did so before Italian Parliament – that on 18 October 2001 he forwards "information" to US intelligence confirming the “credibility of a source named La Signora", who in the past had already delivered “the genuine article” filched from inside the Embassy of Niger in Rome, located at via Antonio Baiamonti No. 10.
Presumably, he would have had to address Rocco Martino's role in the process, but it's not clear what Pollari said about Martino.
In the treatment of the February 5 2002 intelligence, there is a discussion of the provenance of the Niger intelligence.
Because of these doubts, an INR analyst asked the CIA whether the source of the report could submit to a polygraph. SENTENCE DELETED A CIA analyst also inquired about the source and says he was told by the CIA's DO that the report was from a "very credible source."
An INR analyst asks about the possibility of doing a polygraph. The following full sentence, presumably describing the reasons why that wouldn't be possible, is redacted. This sentence might name Rocco Martino or describe him as a "con man." But I doubt it. The following sentence uses the noun "the source" again rather than just a pronoun "him," which would have been likely had he been named or described in the redacted sentence. Further, it makes no sense that they would have placed a sentence asserting the source was credible after one describing him as a "con man." In fact, this passage suggests DO knew something about the ultimate source for this intelligence, but was either misrepresenting it, or honestly believed it was credible.
That contradicts the SSCI's discussion about the provenance of the March 25 2002 intelligence from Italy. That discussion suggests that DO didn't know about SISMI's source.
The foreign government service did not provide the DO with information about its source and the DO, to date, remains uncertain as to how the foreign government service collected the information in the three intelligence reports.
So either the discussion about polygraphs and "very credible sources" just related to SISMI, or they're just confused--and remained confused all the way until 2003 or 2004 when DO presumably told SSCI they they still didn't know where the intelligence came from. Remember--the SSCI inquiry began in June 2003, so there is just a small chance that DO made this statement before Armitage apparently leaked details about the source of the intelligence to Novak.
Later in the SSCI Report, in the discussion on the forgeries themselves, there is a redacted paragraph that might describe Martino as the source of the documents--but I doubt it. The paragraph appears on pages 57 and 58. The previous paragraph describes how Elisabetta Burba received and passed on the documents.
On October 9, 2002, an Italian journalist from the magazine Panorama provided U.S. Embassy Rome with copies of documents8 pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. The journalist had acquired the documents from a source who had requested 15,000 Euros in return for their publication, and wanted the embassy to authenticate the documents. Embassy officers provided copies of the documents to the CIA's because the embassy, which did collect the information, was sending copies of the documents back to the State Department headquaters.
And the following paragraph also describes how the US Embassy in Rome handled the documents.
Also on October 11, 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Rome reported to State Department headquarters that it had acquired photocopies of documents on a purported uranium deal between Iraq and Niger from an Italian journalist. The cable said that the embassy had passed the documents to the CIA's SENTENCE DELETED . The embassy faxed the documents to the State Department's Bureau of Nonproliferation (NP) on October 15, 2002, which passed a copy of the documents to INR.
It has been suggested that the CIA didn't pass on the forgeries because they already knew that Rocco Martino was untrustworthy or because they suspected the forgeries were part of a SISMI counter-intelligence operation, so the paragraph between these two might describe just that--why the CIA didn't find the forgeries worthy of further study. Like I said, I doubt it, because the SSCI pretty much indicates they didn't treat the source of these documents at all. The footnote to the first paragraph reads:
The documents from the Italian journalist are those that were later passed to the IAEA and discovered to have been forged. In March 2003, the Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Rockefeller, requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigate the source of the documents, ,the motivation of those responsible for the forgeries, and the extent to which the forgeries were part of a disinformation campaign. Because of the FBI's investigation into this matter, the Committee did not examine these issues.
How convenient, huh? We're not going to investigate the really burning question here because the FBI is
pretending to investigate already investigating the forgeries. If I were wearing tinfoil, I'd suggest that the FBI non-investigation investigation may have been an attempt to prevent other agencies in the government from learning where the Niger documents came from. In any case, it's clear that some in the Intelligence Community already knew that Rocco Martino, the source for the forgeries, was a con man. But that detail--which should have discredited the forgeries--didn't get considered at all in the Senate's assessment of whether or not the Intelligence Community adequately vetted the intelligence that made the case for war.
The rest of the SSCI discussion of the forgeries describes the textual reasons for their debunking--the funky stamp, the inconsistencies. There is just one more place where the SSCI might have mentioned Rocco Martino in the context of the forgeries' unreliability--in its discussion of the French assessments of the forgeries.
On March 4, 2003, the U.S. Government learned that the French had based their initial assessment that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger on the same documents that the U.S. had provided to the INVO. SENTENCE DELETED
Martino apparently tried to sell the forgeries to the French, in June 2002. But they realized they were crap. (Thanks to KM for the link.)
[Martino's documents and the CIA intelligence] were identical. We decided Rocco was the source of all the bullshit passed off to the Americans. The very same bullshit which had been going around since the summer 2001. We decided that Rocco was the source that, in those same days, was trying to pass off those same documents to the Germans of the Bundesnachrichtendiens (Bnd, federal intelligence service). The Germans asked for advice and we warned them it was all rubbish. We met the Italian a second time around the end of July 2002. We told him his stuff was a trashy forgery. In the meantime we checked up on Rocco Martino and discovered he was an ex agent of the Italian Intelligence
Given this comment, the French may have told the CIA that they considered Martino untrustworthy.
While I can't be sure, it appears that the SSCI report didn't mention Rocco Martino--or the characterization of him as a "con man"--at all. Perhaps the FBI investigation really presented a legitimate reason to avoid reporting what appears to be an acknowledgment within the Intelligence Community that Martino was a questionable source. More likely, it provided a convenient excuse for Pat Roberts to avoid admitting that nothing from Rocco Martino should have been treated with the credulity the CIA treated it with.
The INR Memo
The funny thing is, it appears the INR memo also avoids any mention of Rocco Martino, too. There are two redacted passages that might discuss the provenance of the Niger forgeries. The first--the second half of the third paragraph, appears to relate to internal State doubts about the Niger intelligence, based on their knowledge of the country (indeed--that's the point of the report described in that paragraph). Furthermore, the fifth paragraph introduces the Niger documents, so it is unlikely this earlier passage mentions Rocco Martino.
The other redacted passage long enough to contain a discussion of Martino appears at the beginning of the sixth paragraph. But this paragraph discusses State's treatment of the forgeries after they arrived in the US.
Assuming neither of these redactions relates to Rocco Martino, then the sole description of the forgeries is:
In October 2002, an Italian journalist passed purported copies of a Niger-Iraq agreement of July 2000 for the purchase of uranium to Embassy Rome. These documents, which were sent to Washington via [redacted] Department channels, were not adequately analyzed until much later and were judged to be fraudulent.
Nothing about the source being a "con man."
The exclusion of any Martino mention in the INR memo is not necessarily suspicious--the focus was primarily on State, not on the forgeries. Although the memo does ignore at least one email and may ignore much more about State's treatment of the forgeries, which is why I suspect someone tried to downplay the evidence that State knew the forgeries to be bunk in Fall 2002.
At the very least, the apparent absence of any mention of Martino in the INR memo tends to support the description offered in this LAT article.
One former State Department official, who because of the sensitive nature of the case asked not to be named, said that the information on Plame in the memo was sparse, but that her identity was known through other means in much of the intelligence community, suggesting that the memo might not have been the way her name spread among government officials — and the media. As the former State Department official recalled, the memo identified Plame only as "Wilson's wife" — it did not give her first or last name, and it did not mention her undercover status.
"The Niger uranium issue was a huge argument within the intelligence community for over a year before the Novak column," the former official said. "So all the ins and outs of Niger uranium were the subject of endless meetings and discussions and food fights among people in the intelligence community and all the details of it were well-known."
Once Wilson's July 6, 2003, article appeared, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage arranged for a copy of the memo, which had been drafted earlier detailing the Niger matter, to be forwarded to Powell, who was on his way to Africa with Bush.
"There was never any feedback from anyone on the memo," the former State Department official said. "The memo itself was basically repeating common knowledge in the community." [my emphasis]
That is, Armitage's presumed leak of details that don't appear in the INR memo suggest he was using other sources of information (which, of course, increases the chances that he learned Plame was covert). It also suggests that, during these "food fights," information about Martino (and possibly an admission that the Niger forgeries were the source of the CIA intelligence) had to have come up. The SSCI apparently avoided all investigation into these "food fights," but there appears to have been fairly accessible information about Martino.
There is one more piece of evidence that suggests the intelligence community knew of Rocco Martino's role in the Niger forgeries. Last Fall, Josh Marshall described a joint CIA-State IG report on the Niger intelligence that apparently provides lots of details on the production of the forgeries.
I also learned of the existence of a Joint State Department-CIA Inspectors General report on the �16 words� and the Niger forgeries which was produced in the fall of 2003. Much of the report detailed information later revealed in the Senate intelligence committee report. But there were other briefly noted but intriguing details.
For instance, the State-CIA IG report briefly noted a murky story about contacts between SISMI and the CIA in the summer of 2002. That summer SISMI had approached the CIA about an operation they intended to run against the Station Chief of Iraqi intelligence in Rome. The plan was to send disinformation about the Iraqi Station Chief back to Baghdad via a third country. And the subject of the disinformation was to be trade between Iraq and Niger. (The Americans did not object but declined to participate.)
That was certainly interesting.
Later, from other US government sources, I learned another detail. When the forgeries arrived at the US Embassy in Rome in October 2002, the first reaction of the CIA Station chief was to wonder whether this wasn�t the same story the Italians had suggested using against the Iraqi only months before.
As you can see, quite a lot of information seemed to suggest that the Italian government played a large role in the story of the Niger forgeries, even if it might be an innocent or unwitting one. Yet neither the CIA nor the FBI, a knowledgeable source told me, seemed intent on getting to the bottom of what had happened.
The report remains classified so there's no way to tell whether this report mentions Martino directly. But it's hard to imagine that such a detailed report wouldn't include details on Martino, too. Which suggests by Fall of 2003, a few months after Armitage apparently leaked details about Martino, CIA and State's Inspectors General knew of Martino's role in the forgeries.
This report, needless to say, does not appear in the SSCI.
There are at least three pieces of evidence that the Intelligence Community knew of Rocco Martino's role in the Niger forgeries:
- Pollari's response to the CIA (October 2001)
- Armitage's leak to Novak (July 2003)
- Joint CIA-State Inspectors General report (Fall 2003)
Yet the government has effectively hidden any evidence of that awareness. It appears that Armitage was trying to leak the news that the Intelligence Community ignored a source's unreliable reputation when they treated the Niger forgeries as credible. But no one ever noticed that leak. And thus far, the government seems to have hidden the other evidence of the fact.