* * *
November 1, 2005
"All roads lead to Rome," and it seems that
Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame Affair, and
more broadly the lies used to hoodwink the American people into
supporting a criminal war on Iraq, will also trudge down the
Appian Way lined this Halloween with the ghosts of crucified
The Italian newspaper La
Repubblica has recently published an exposé alleging
in essence that the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI
(Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare)
at the specific behest of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi provided
bogus intelligence to the Bush neocons in order to curry favor
with the U.S. and to abet the relentless drive for war between
9-11 and the March 2003 invasion. This follows an Italian parliamentary
report released in part to the public in July concerning the
forged Niger uranium documents at the heart of the Plame Affair.
These, which purport to show a deal between Baghdad and Niger
for the purchase of huge quantities of yellowcake, were it seems
produced in the Italian capital.
The report names four men as
the likely forgers of the documents (Michael Ledeen, Dewey Clarridge,
Ahmed Chalabi and Francis Brookes) and suggests that the forgeries
may have been planned at December 2001 gathering in Rome involving
Ledeen and SISMI chief Nicolò Pollari. Also in attendance
at that meeting: Larry Franklin, Harold Rhode, Manucher Ghorbanifar,
Antonio Martino and others including a former senior official
of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. Here is a true rogues' gallery.
Michael Ledeen: neocon columnist, National Review
Online contributing editor, specialist on the thought of Machiavelli
and on Italian fascism, former employee of the Pentagon, the
State Department and the National Security Council, was involved
in the transfer of arms to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair.
Active in the American Enterprise Institute, Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and Center for Democracy
in Iran (CDI). Advocates regime change by force in Iran and Syria.
Nicolò Pollari: Author of many publications on legal
and economic matters, investigation techniques and intelligence.
Tax law Professor at the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria.
SISMI head since October 2001.
Dewey Clarridge: former CIA operative, famous in mid-1980s
for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair. Head of CIA's Latin America
division 1981-84, directed the mining of Nicaragua's harbors
and helped organize the Contras. Indicted in November 1991 on
seven counts of perjury and false statements, pardoned by first
president Bush Christmas Eve 1992.
Ahmad Chalabi: convicted swindler, leader of U.S.-funded
Iraqi National Congress, neocon ally, presently one of two deputy
prime ministers in Iraqi government.
Francis Brookes: member of the "Rendon Group,"
a "public relations" body formed by the Pentagon engaged
to promote Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress.
Larry Franklin: colonel in USAF reserve, subordinate
to Douglas Feith in Defense Department, Middle East specialist,
under arrest for espionage for Israel.
Harold Rhode: Pentagon official, Middle East specialist,
Ledeen protégé, American Enterprise Institute,
Manucher Ghorbanifar: Iranian exile, arms dealer, one-time
CIA operative distrusted by CIA since 1980s. Key figure in the
Antonio Martino: Founding member of Forza Italiano
(Berlusconi's political party), Professor of Economics, adjunct
scholar with the Heritage Foundation, Italian Defense Minister.
Let's add to the list Rocco
Martino, a former intelligence officer and carabinieri,
who has admitted (in interviews with the Sunday Times
and Financial Times in August 2004) to involvement in
the break-in into the Niger Embassy in Rome in January 2001 which
procured the letterhead stationary used for the forgeries. He
also acknowledges a role in circulating the fake documents, which
he first passed to French intelligence, the French being sensitive
to any possibility of yellowcake uranium from the French-owned
mines in Niger. His motive was apparently mercenary. The French
quickly realized the material was bogus, but SISMI, either in
possession of the documents or aware of their content, elected
to share them with Washington after 9-11.
On October 15, 2001, Berlusconi
and newly appointed SISMI chief Pollari made an official visit
to Washington. Berlusconi signaled his willingness to support
the U.S. effort to implicate Saddam Hussein in 9/11, and in that
connection Pollari provided CIA officials with a dossier indicating
that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger. This was followed
by the Rome meeting organized by Ledeen, by discussions between
Pollari and CIA director George Tenet in February 2002, and a
report from Italy detailing a meeting between the Iraqi ambassador
to the Vatican and the Nigerien head of state in 1999. (In the
latter meeting, the Iraqi wanted to discuss trade, and given
that Niger's principal export is uranium, the report suggested
that Baghdad was seeking to purchase yellowcake for a nuclear
By all accounts the CIA was
concerned about and opposed to Ledeen's dealings, which were
unauthorized. In December 2001 the agency reported the matter
to Condoleezza Rice's chief deputy on the National Security Council,
Stephen J. Hadley, who in February 2002 instructed Douglas Feith's
office to terminate Ledeen's rogue operation. But Feith himself
was of course up to his eyeballs in spreading disinformation
to promote war on Iraq.
The report about documents
proving Iraqi attempts to revive a nuclear program didn't die,
and in February there were discussions in Vice President Richard
Cheney's office (involving among others Libby and fellow neocon
John Hannah) about Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.
Cheney either requested a CIA investigation, or was believed
by the CIA to have done so, and therefore later that month the
CIA sent Joseph Wilson on his fateful fact-finding mission to
Wilson's report, accepted and
positively evaluated by the CIA in March, had as we know no bearing
on the decision to go to war or to prepare public opinion for
war through a concerted disinformation campaign. Over the summer
the Office of Special Plans under Feith, staffed by such Machiavellians
as Abram Shulsky, William Luti, David Wurmer and Larry Franklin,
systematically cherrypicked and stovepiped "intelligence"
to an ignorant president who thinks he's on a mission from God.
Meanwhile the White House Iraq Group under Libby, Karl Rove,
Andrew Card and Karen Hughs built the public case, apparently
suggesting such talking points as, "We don't want the smoking
gun to be a mushroom cloud."
In July Ledeen informed the
U.S. ambassador in Rome that he planned to return to the city
to "continue his work" in September. On September 9,
according to the recent account in the Italian newspaper La
Repubblica, Ledeen arranged a secret meeting in Washington
between Pollari and Hadley, in which they discussed the Niger
uranium documents. On September 24, the British government, having
received "intelligence" about the same cache of bogus
documents, reported that "there is intelligence that Iraq
has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from
Africa. Iraq has no active civil nuclear power programme or nuclear
power plants, and therefore has no legitimate reason to acquire
uranium." (This was in the same report that alleged Iraq
had chemical and biological weapons "deployable within 45
minutes of an order to use them," and had "constructed
a new engine test stand for the development of missiles capable
of reaching the UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus and NATO members
[Greece and Turkey], as well as all Iraq's Gulf neighbours and
The CIA, sidelined by the neocons
and their Office of Special Plans, sought to strike back throughout
September and October. They informed the Senate Intelligence
Committee and the White House that they disagreed with the British
report. CIA director Tenet effectively prevented Bush from including
in a speech given on October 7 any reference to an Africa uranium
purchase. But two days later, the documents the contents of which
had only been summarized in communications between intelligence
agencies to date were handed over by the above-mentioned Rocco
Martino to Elisabetta Burba, a journalist with Panorama.
This Italian magazine happens to be owned by Berlusconi, and
had it published them would have further abetted the neocon-driven
war cause. But Burba, question the documents' authenticity, does
not write about them but rather turns them over to the U.S. embassy.
Distributed among U.S. intelligence
agencies, the documents are understood to be fraudulent, and
since they are the basis for claims about Iraqi efforts to obtained
African yellowcake, the CIA continues to oppose use of the Niger
connection in building the case for war. Even so, Bush in his
state of the union address in January 2003 asserts that "the
British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Over CIA
protests, National Security Council staff member and Stephen
Hadley subordinate Robert Joseph approved their inclusion, no
doubt reasoning that if the report were attributed to British
intelligence it would not be technically dishonest.
Turned out to be a bit embarrassing.
When IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei asked to see the documentation
for the president's allegation, he was allowed to do so, concluding
almost immediately that they were "crude forgeries"
and expressing amazement that the U.S. government could have
taken them seriously. Colin Powell on NBC's "Meet the Press"
had to deny "any falsification activities" by U.S.
government and state, "It was the information that we had.
We provided it. If that information is inaccurate, fine."
But too late to stop the train now.
That was just days before the
beginning of the Iraq invasion. Afterwards, when it became clear
for the world to see that there were no bottles of anthrax much
less a developed nuclear weapons program in Iraq, Citizen Wilson
came forward, had his say, and suffered in some small degree
the viciousness that characterizes the neocon project. Since
then Chalabi's been discredited as a liar and spy, Franklin arrested
for espionage on behalf of Israel, Libby indicted for charges
related to Plame's outing, Rove under suspicion. Feith has left
government. But it's too soon to speak of the "twilight
of the neocons" while Hannah, Hadley, Luti, Wurmser, Elliott
Abrams, John Bolton, John Negroponte and other neocons remain
in power, with Ledeen and Shulsky still skulking about.
The Italian parliamentary report
on the Niger documents, along with the Repubblica investigative
reporting, might just prove to be a low-smoldering Roman candle
that will soon light up the sky and shower down shock and awe
on these ghouls. Berlusconi's Halloween trip to the White House
occurs as the Italian president facing political difficulties
seeks to back away from the war he so enthusiastically facilitated.
Former Bush advisor and "Axis of Evil" speechwriter,
neocon David Frum, says Bush feels he can "no longer trust"
Berlusconi following his statement to Italian television, "It
would have been better to avoid military action [in Iraq]. I
tried several times to convince the American president to not
go to war."
That's the statement of a man who, having seen the war going
badly, is not only withdrawing some of his troops from Iraq but
dissociating himself from the whole buildup to the war. He knows
that Fitzgerald has received a copy of the Italian parliamentary
report and will quite likely ask to question Italian nationals
as well as Ledeen about how the Niger uranium myth Libby was
so eager to promulgate and then protect was spun in the Eternal
City in the first place. Italy should figure centrally in his
Huddling in their creepy conclave
this Halloween, Bush and Berlusconi must've discerned the presence
of ghosts of scandals past (Watergate, Iran-Contra) based on
"noble lies" and noble cover-ups hovering below the
White House ceiling. From under the floorboards the hissing of
the vengeful spirits of tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, and
over 2000 Americans and 27 Italians sacrificed. Far in the distance
the rattling of chains and the bit of the executioner axe scraping
on the sharpening stone. The screams echoing from the torture
chambers. How scared they must be as Fitzgerald's special-prosecuting
craft threatens to uncover a trans-Atlantic masque so macabre
that once exposed will shake off the spell of even those most
The benumbed, smitten with
the charm of the flight-suited conqueror. Those paralyzed by
fear, by the color-coded terror advisories. Those hypnotized
by the eerie omnipresence of red-white-and blue on their TV screens.
What if they see the trolls exposed, naked in the daylight,
cowering before charges of crimes against peace? What if those
red-white-and-blue scales fall from their eyes, showing a world
filled with complex patterns and colors? What if hearing returns
to the bewitched masses and they hear the munchkins' song rising
over Oz: "Ding dong, the witch is dead, the witch o witch,
the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead"?
Just thinking cheerfully here, whistling in the dark, amidst
the spooks, this Halloween.
Libby's hero Niccolo Machiavelli
praised his contemporary, Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) as a
master of deception. In The Prince he writes:
a prudent Prince neither can
nor ought to keep his word when to keep it is hurtful to him
and the causes which led him to pledge it are removed. . . It
is necessary, indeed. . .to be skilful in simulating and dissembling.
But men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present
needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding
willing dupes. One recent example I will not omit. Pope Alexander
VI had no care or thought but how to deceive, and always found
material to work on. No man ever had a more effective manner
of asseverating, or made promises with more solemn protestations,
or observed them less. And yet, because he understood this side
of human nature, his frauds always succeeded.
Libby's Pope Alexander is George
W. Bush, whom when asked about his historical legacy once scoffed,
"History? We'll all be dead!" Pope Alexander is gone
indeed, reviled even by the Catholic Church which at one time
revered him as the Vicar of Christ. "Most offensive and
scandalous" wrote eighteenth century Church historian Joseph
de Maistre. Will the History he so dismisses deal the Christian
right's hero, once or even before he's dead, a similar verdict?
Ding dong ding dong.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University,
and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author
Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan;
Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan;
Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.
He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle
of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org