This article originally appeared in


     
07 November, 2005
   
 
Italian spy defends bogus Iraq uranium claim

ISN SECURITY WATCH (07/11/05) - An Italian spy who passed on the documents that
became the basis for the US’ case to invade Iraq in 2003 said on Monday he was
unaware the information had been forged and did not know the documents were a key
source cited in US President George Bush’s case for war.

Rocco Martino, a one-time spy with Italian military intelligence agency Servizio per le
Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), told La 7 television on Monday that when he
unveiled the information that seemed to indicate that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
had tried to acquire uranium in Nigeria, it appeared to be accurate.

Enzo Bianco, chairman of an oversight committee on Italy’s secret services, said on 3
November that SISMI had played no role in passing on the bogus information.

But Martino - known in the Italian media by his intelligence code name “Giacomo” - has
not been shy to confirm that he was the man who picked up the information from the
Nigerian embassy in Rome.

Once he had the information in hand, he turned to Italian news magazine Panorama to
publish an article based on part of it, and then he sold the entire dossier to US
intelligence officials after first shopping it to Italy, Britain, France, and a US television
network.

He said he had no inkling the dossier had been forged.

“There was no indication that the information [in the documents] was false, or that it
was not corroborated by other sources,” Martino said.

In October, it was first revealed publicly that the documents were forged, though that
had been rumored for more than a year.

It is still unclear who forged them, though the Italian media has alleged that the French
themselves may forged them as a way to undermine Washington, and that part of the
plan was for Martino to pass them on. Martino has denied that charge.

The information in the documents was at the heart of Bush’s 2003 state of the union
claim that Hussein was seeking to “procure bomb-grade uranium” from sources “in an
African nation”. The risk associated with that claim was used to bolster the case for
war with Iraq.

Martino’s role in the acquisition and distribution of the forged documents has turned a
spotlight on Italy, which has been among Washington’s most faithful allies since the
invasion of Iraq.

Italy’s 3,500-troop contingent - which is scheduled to be withdrawn before the end of
the year - is the third largest in Iraq, behind only the US and Britain. And Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been quick to support Bush when many other European
leaders turned their backs on him.

Italian officials have gone out of their way to deny any role in the use of the forged
documents. Bianco made his comments after two days of talks with Italian intelligence
director Nicolo Pollari, Berlusconi aide Gianni Letta, and, at one point, even Berlusconi
himself. Bianco was unequivocal in his denial.

“SISMI never had a role in the dossier that was alleged to have demonstrated that Iraq
was in an advanced stage of developing weapons based on enriched uranium,”
Bianco said.

Martino has been vague and sometimes contradictory in explaining his role in the affair.

In 2003, he reportedly indicated he was under contract with SISMI. Then, in October
2004, he did not contradict reports that he was working with French intelligence,
allegedly to help build a case that could discredit US plans to invade Iraq - which was
based on Hussein’s reported capacity to build a nuclear bomb.

However, on Monday, he said he was working as a freelancer and that he simply
sought to sell the information he had to the highest bidder.

(By Eric J. Lyman in Rome)