Rocco Martino: ‘I am the Source of the False Niger/Iraq Uranium Story’
The Sunday Times on Sunday and the Financial Times on Monday report that an Italian businessman and fraudster named Rocco Martino has said that he was the source of the false stories and documents related to Iraq’s alleged attempts to buy uranium from Niger. He explained that in 1999, French intelligence sought information about business dealings in Niger. He has met with French intelligence officials in Brussels ever since 1999 on a regular basis and knew about the situation in Niamey.
Highly placed European officials admit that Martino provided the French with documents showing that Iraq may have been planning to expand trade with Niger. In fact, the documents did not refer to uranium, and the trade plans were probably the typical sort of relationship Arab oil states had with a whole range of third world countries.
Martino was surprised when he saw that the French immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion and thought that the documents indicated an Iraqi interest in uranium. (We now know that Iraq had no nuclear program and so it is hard to see what it would have done with the uranium, anyway). The FT continues:
It was then that Mr Martino first became aware of the value of documents relating to Niger’s uranium exports. He was then asked by French officials to provide more information, which led to a flourishing “market” in documents. He subsequently provided France with more documents, which turned out to have been forged when they were handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency by US diplomats.
Martino may well be the “independent” source that British intelligence maintains it had, apart from the forged documents, for the story of Iraq attempts to purchase Niger uranium. If so, it turns out that his “reports” are no more genuine than his documents. Martino alleged that the forgeries were produced by Italian intelligence, SISMI, and were given to their agent in the Niger embassy in Rome to be passed on to Martino from there. They knew Martino, who had once worked for SISMI, would immediately sell the documents to Western intelligence agencies. The question of why SISMI would produce such bad forgeries, which were falsified within a day of their receipt by the IAEA in early March of 2003, remains a mystery unresolved in Martino’s account.
The Financial Times concludes:
One western intelligence official said: “This issue shows how vulnerable intelligence services and the media are to tricksters like Martino. He responded to a legitimate . . . demand from the French, who needed the information on Niger. And now he is responding to a new demand in the market, which is being dictated by the political importance this issue has in the US. He is shaping his story to that demand.”
Martino’s confession bolsters the case made by Josh Marshall in The Hill recently that conservative attacks on the credibility of Ambassador Joseph Wilson have been misplaced. Marshall has been following the Niger story closely for over a year.
Actually, whether Iraq made inquiries into Niger uranium is irrelevant to the current investigation of the Bush White House over the leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press. Plame is Wilson’s wife and the leak was done in revenge on him for going public with the news that he had investigated and falsified the Niger story for the CIA in spring of 2002. It is illegal for a government official to blow the cover of a CIA operative.
Plame’s specialty? Fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Her close contacts and friends in the 3rd world for the last 20 years? Likely mostly dead, now, thanks to some politico in the Bush White House.