Italy denies role in “Nigergate”

What we gringos call the “Valerie Plame scandal” is in Italy being called “Nigergate,” and Berlusconi’s government is doing somersaults to dis-associate itself with the sleazy episode of forged documents that helped embroil the Italians in Bush’s war. From the Italian news agency AGI Nov. 3:

“The Italian government and SISMI have denied any involvement in the creation of the dossier intended to show how Iraq was in possession of materials in order to build arms of mass destruction” claims Enzo Bianco, president of the Parliamentary Committee for the Control of the Secret Services, at the end of a hearing that lasted five hours involving the under secretary Gianni Letta and SISMI director Nicolo Pollari, dedicated to Nigergate. In substance, it emerged from the hearing that Sismi is completely unconnected to the dossier put together by Rocco Martin, an ex-service worker. During the course of the hearing Pollari recalled however that there was proof that pointed to the export of uranium from Niger at the end of the ‘nineties. It was also Pollari who emphasised how, before the war, SISMI had said that Iraq would not be in a position to arm itself with nuclear weapons in the short to medium term. Going on to speak about the dossier, the SISMI head referred to having been in contact with other secret services but did not speak of the fake dossier.

But this would appear to be a “black op” that was farmed out to “privatized” agents with “plausible deniability” in the best tradition of Contragate. It was even timed right down to Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, in which the lies were publicly disseminated. Why the Italians decided to play sucker for Bush is beyond us, however. From Newsday Nov. 4:

According to one Italian lawmaker who briefed reporters on the four-hour closed hearing, SISMI informed Washington in January 2003 that the documents were fake. Sen. Massimo Brutti, the lawmaker and a key member of Italy’s center-left opposition, said yesterday evening that SISMI had notified Washington “at about the same time as the State of the Union address,” but could not say whether the warning came before or after. He retracted the statement later, telling the Reuters news agency that SISMI could not have evaluated the documents since the agency never had them in the first place.

Brutti said the documents first surfaced in October 2002, when the U.S. Embassy in Rome received the forgeries from journalists at Panorama, an Italian news weekly owned by Berlusconi. La Repubblica reported last week that Panorama got the documents from Rocco Martino, a former SISMI operative, who initially produced the forgeries from letterhead and stamps he purloined from Niger’s embassy in Rome in 2000.

Brutti identified Martino on Monday as a former SISMI operative but indicated he was not active in the agency at the time the forgeries officially surfaced.

According to La Repubblica, SISMI’s earliest attempts to disseminate the false documents occurred in late 2001, when forgeries personally corroborated by Pollari were sent to the CIA station chief in Rome after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“SISMI purported the truth of documents it knew to be false,” prompting the CIA to dispatch former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger in 2002 on a fact-finding mission that came up empty, La Repubblica reported.

See our last reports on Italy and the Plame affair.