Monday, July 25, 2005

Meanwhile, a parallel investigation is under way into who forged the Niger documents.

Second Track

Meanwhile, a parallel investigation is under way into who forged the Niger documents. They are known to have been passed to an Italian journalist by a former Italian defence intelligence officer, Rocco Martino, in October 2002, but their origins have remained a mystery. Mr Martino has insisted to the Italian press that he was "a tool used by someone for games much bigger than me", but has not specified who that might be.

A source familiar with the inquiry said investigators were examining whether former US intelligence agents may have been involved in possible collaboration with Iraqi exiles determined to prove that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear programme.

Well now. That would be something, wouldn't it?

Josh Marshall, who was once hot on the trail of this forgery story, wrote this a couple of weeks ago, the night O'Donnell revealed Rove's name on the McLaughlin report:

One other note along these lines.

I've gotten hints or suggestions from several sources over the last month that new information is bubbling to the surface, not about who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, but who was behind the underlying caper that started the whole drama afoot in the first place: those phoney Niger uranium documents.

As longtime readers of this site know, last year colleagues of mine and I were able to trace the documents back to a former Italian intelligence agent named Rocco Martino. Martino was the 'Italian businessman' who tried to sell the documents to Elizabetta Burba, the journalist who eventually brought them to the US Embassy in Rome.

We were able determine that the documents had been put into Martino's hands by a then-serving member of SISMI -- Italian military intelligence. And this SISMI colonel had done so using a women working in the Niger embassy in Rome, an Italian national, as a cut-out.

This was, as you might imagine, more than enough to make us want to know a lot more. But we were never able to develop any conclusive proof about who or what was behind the SISMI colonel or what the backstory was within SISMI.

Suspicions, we had plenty. But in terms of hard facts, we hit a wall just inside SISMI.

Just who forged the documents? And, more significantly, who put the whole process in motion? And why had SISMI or elements within it involved themselves?

This story and Plame ar running on different tracks, but they come to the same station eventually. And, once again, the spectre of Judith Miller hangs over it --- she's the Zelig of the iraq operation.

I don't have enough information to speculate about this, but I think it is significant that information is leaking out about this case as well. It's hard to know whether it's because people are fed up or because the white house is weak or some combination of both. But the veil is lifting on this administration's shenanigans, for sure. It's going to be a very interesting time.

Here's the immediate political result for Dear Leader:

Across the board, those stellar character ratings which supposedly meant Bush could weather any political storm have become mediocre to poor. And he's lost the most ground among independents, only 38 percent of whom now believe Bush is trustworthy or cares about people like them. Even more amazing, less than half (48 percent) of indepedents now think Bush is a strong leader, which is a massive 24 point decline since Pew's previous measurement.

And how about this: in February of this year, the two leading one word description of Bush were "honest" and "good", cited by 38 percent and 20 percent of the public, respectively. Today, honest has declined to 31 percent, closely followed by "incompetent" (26 percent, up from 14 percent) and "arrogant" (24 percent, up from 15 percent).

Reality bites.

Update: Just to be clear, what's new about the Guardian story isn't that the FBI suspects Iraqi exiles of being involved, it the part about retired US intelligence being involved that I was unaware of.

Seymour Hersh has speculated that it was a sort of reverse sting by appalled ex-CIA operatives, but this would indicate a less byzantine explanation. People with common interests helping each other out.

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