American who advised Pentagon says he wrote for magazine that found forged Niger documents
January 17, 2006
controversial neoconservative who occasionally consulted for the Bush
Defense Department has confirmed that he was a contributor to the
Italian magazine Panorama, whose reporter first came across forged
documents which purported that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from
The bogus documents became the basis for the infamous sixteen words
in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address, in which he
detailed his case for war. Their origin has been one of the most
persistent mysteries in how American intelligence on Iraq was so wrong.
In an email to RAW STORY,
occasional Bush foreign affairs advisor Michael Ledeen confirmed that
he was, "several years ago," a regular contributor to Panorama. Leeden
would not provide more specificity.
While most Americans have yet to hear of Ledeen or Panorama, the
confirmation of his work with the publication adds yet another
dimension to the Niger forgeries scandal and possible U.S. government
involvement in pre-war intelligence manipulation.
Ledeen denies that he was involved in the Niger forgeries. He says
he has no knowledge of the documents or how they came to be provided to
the U.S. government.
"I've said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the
Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared
in the press," Ledeen said in an email. "I have not discussed it with
any government person in any country."
But Ledeen confirmed that he wrote for Panorama and worked with the publication's Editor-in-Chief, Carlo Rossella.
"I have no current relationship with Panorama," Ledeen said. "For a
year or two I wrote an occasional column for Panorama, I would guess on
average twice a month."
"That ended when the editor, Carlo Rossella, became a TV star," he added.
A closer look at the series of overlapping relationships and events,
however, suggests that Ledeen may have been connected, even if
inadvertently, to the Niger forgeries.
Panorama has been in the crosshairs since late 2002, when one of its
journalists, Elisabetta Burba, was handed a set of documents --
including contracts -- purporting to show that Saddam Hussein had
purchased 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from the African nation of
Niger. These documents were critical in supporting the administration's
claims that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.
The documents were later debunked as forgeries, though not before
their content had been referenced in the President's State of the Union
Address. Questions remain over whether the Administration knew they
were forgeries, since it took the International Atomic Energy Agency
just a few hours to discredit them in March 2003, shortly after which
the U.S. invaded Iraq.
"The thing that was so embarrassing about the episode was not simply
that the documents were forgeries, but that they were clumsy forgeries,
as was so quickly determined by the IAEA," Pike said. "It is one thing
to be taken in, but to be so easily taken in suggests either
bewildering incompetence or intentional deception, or possibly both."
While Ledeen admits to writing for Panorama, he explained that the
work had been in the past, saying, "That would be a couple of years
But "a couple of years ago" would be right around the time when the
forgeries were delivered to Burba or sent from the U.S. embassy in Rome
via backchannels to the U.S. State Department, bypassing the CIA and
other intelligence agencies.
Burba says she got the documents from former Italian intelligence
asset Rocco Martino. Martino handed the documents off to Burba in the
fall of 2002, initially demanding money and then simply providing them.
After investigating the documents for an article and finding them to
be suspect, Burba suggested to her editor, Carlo Rossella, that she
take a trip to Niger to investigate further. Rossella diverted her to
the U.S. embassy in Rome instead. She never ran the article. Burba
dropped off the forgeries to the US embassy on Oct. 9, 2002.
But as Burba was investigating the veracity of the documents, head of Italian intelligence Nicolo Pollari
was meeting with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
The meeting, which took place in September 2002, is alleged to be
brokered by Ledeen, although the only U.S. official Pollari claims to
have met is George Tenet, whom he also met in October 2001. Questioned
about the meeting, Hadley has said
no one involved in the meeting had "any recollection of a discussion of
natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed."
Burba delivered the forgeries to the U.S. embassy a month after the
Pollari and Hadley meeting.
Questions also surround Burba's attempts to authenticate the documents.
Speaking to RAW STORY,
foreign intelligence sources say they wonder why she delivered
documents she felt to be bogus to the U.S. embassy. These sources say
there are two questions surrounding Burba's account: If she did indeed
find the documents to be forgeries, why did she did take them to an
embassy as opposed to her own authorities -- and why did she deliver
them to the U.S. embassy specifically?
It was Burba's editor at Panorama, Carlo Rossella, who allegedly told her to take the documents to the U.S. embassy, despite her own requests to travel to Niger to further investigate the claims.
It was also Rosella who intervened when Burba requested to contact the White House after hearing the infamous "16 words" in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, dissuading her from contacting U.S. officials.
Rosella, intelligence sources say, could have been acting on the
orders of Panorama's owner, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's equivalent of
Rupert Murdoch. Berlusconi -- who also happens to be the current Prime
Minister -ľ was a supporter of President Bush leading up to the war.
Berlusconi was not immediately available for comment.
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