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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

More slow-lane investigations?

This from the Wall Street Journal ...

As Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi arrives this week in Washington for talks, there is little sign of progress in a federal investigation of allegations that he once leaked U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran.

More than 17 months after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly promised a full criminal inquiry, the Federal Bureau of Investigation hasn't interviewed Mr. Chalabi himself or many current and former U.S. government officials thought likely to have information related to the matter, according to lawyers for several of these individuals and others close to the case. The investigation of Mr. Chalabi, who had been a confidant of senior Defense Department officials before the war in Iraq, remains in the hands of the FBI, with little active interest from local federal prosecutors or the Justice Department, these people said. There also has been no grand-jury involvement in the case.


It's been suggested that the accusations that Chalabi leaked US secrets to the Iranians were no more than a bureaucratic power-play against him by his opponents in the US government. The fact that he and his supporters have used this excuse to explain various other bad acts of which he was certainly guilty does not inspire a lot of confidence. But on this issue of his ties with Iran I don't know much more than what I read in the papers. So anything is possible.

But even that wouldn't seem a good reason to have yet another phantom FBI investigation in which no attempt has been made to speak to principals in the case.

Here's a snippet from an Isikoff and Hosenball Newsweek update on the Niger-Uranium story and the FBI's curiously unthorough investigation.

The FBI ended a two-and-a-half-year probe into the Niger uranium documents without resolving a key mystery: who forged papers used to bolster President Bush's case for war in Iraq? The bureau announced that the documents, purportedly showing attempts by Saddam Hussein's government to purchase yellowcake uranium, were concocted for financial gain rather than to influence U.S. foreign policy ... But a senior bureau official, requesting anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, told NEWSWEEK the FBI never interviewed Rocco Martino, the Italian businessman who provided the documents to SISMI. Because there was no apparent violation of U.S. law, the bureau couldn't compel him to talk—even though he twice visited the United States last year to be interviewed by CBS's "60 Minutes."


Is that really how it is? Please.

As those of you who are following my on-going series of installments on this story know, I spent time with Martino during both of those visits to the US. And this line about not being able to compel him to testify is a crock.

I don't know what the Bureau's authority would have been in such a case. But whether they had any power to compel Martino to talk is irrelevant because they didn't even try to contact him while he was here.

When Martino came to the US the first time last year, it was in early summer. His identity was then still a secret. At least it hadn't yet been published anywhere. So there's no way to know whether the FBI investigators would have known that this sixty-something Italian man flying into New York was a central player in the forgeries drama.

The second time he came, however, was in early August. And by that time his name had been splashed across papers in several European countries, as well as in the Financial Times, which of course you can find on newsstands in most large US cities.

He flew to New York under his own name. And no FBI, law enforcement or intelligence officials made any attempt to contact him during the several days he remained in the US.

There have now been a number of press reports about the alleged FBI investigation into the forgeries story. The Bureau has stated publicly that they have closed the investigation and that they did so after determining that there were no political motives behind the hoax, only a desire to make money. They made that determination without figuring out who forged them or even talking to the guy at the center of the story. And the reasons they're giving for not talking to him are, frankly, bogus.

None of that adds up.

Something's wrong.

We're starting another one of our collaborative timeline projects -- this one about the Niger uranium canard saga. We follow the story from the first reports in from Italian intelligence in October 2001 through the Joe Wilson imbroglio up to the arraignment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby just last week.

Like our Katrina Timeline from September, the Niger Uranium timeline we've posted today is really just a rough draft, a skeleton outline with the basic details and events.

Now we need you.

Take a look at the timeline. If you find errors, let us know. If you see things we've left out, let us know that too. Whatever ways you can find to help us make the timeline more complete, accurate and thorough, drop us a line.

As always, we're looking for definable, factual information -- not opinions or events that can't be pinned down in time and location with some detail. Whereever possible, we want specific dates and citations to legitimate publications, reports or websites. Instructions for emailing are at the top of the timeline page.

Indictments in the Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham case "coming soon"? So says the hometown paper.

More on the Silberman-Robb Report. As we noted below, the SR Report begins by stating that the commissioners were not authorized to investigate the use which policy-makers made of Iraq WMD intelligence.

At other points, however, they say things that sound rather different. For instance, at any point in the report, the commissioners state that they "found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs."

The issue here, I think, is an extremely finely cut distinction. The commissioners say they found no analysts who would tell them they faced any political pressure to alter their analyses. At the same time, the commissioners say they did not investigate what policy-makers did with those analyses.

A good illustration of this distinction, in practice, is the Niger canard. If you look closely at what the analyses were inside the Intelligence Community, they were at best mixed. Some were certain that the documents were forgeries and the earlier reports were fraudulent. Others didn't put much credence in the reports but weren't willing to rule them out completely either. When push came to shove in October 2002 and January 2003, the CIA fought strenuously to keep the president from publicizing the allegation.

What did the administration do? They tried to air the charge every chance they got and gave no indication whatsoever that there was any doubt about its credibility.

There's your distinction.

Bill Kristol, 11/14/2005: "After all, the bipartisan Silberman-Robb commission found no evidence of political manufacture and manipulation of intelligence."

Silberman-Robb Commission Report, 3/31/05: "[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community. Accordingly, while we interviewed a host of current and former policymakers during the course of our investigation, the purpose of those interviews was to learn about how the Intelligence Community reached and communicated its judgments about Iraq's weapons programs--not to review how policymakers subsequently used that information."

Bill ... Bill, Bill, Bill ...

Late Update: On the basis of many TPM Reader emails it seems that this canard is now part of the official talking points being churned out at 'winger central command, with various folks spouting this line about the Robb-Silberman report on the airwaves over the last couple days. So, a couple requests. First, does anyone know of any reason not to take the report's own words at face value? That is, that they were simpy not authorized to examine potential political manipulation of intelligence, only mistakes within the IC itself? Secondly, if you've seen someone in print or on the airwaves spouting this line and you have a link or a transcript, let us know. Send it in to the comments email address and we'll put together a list.

"SISMI was involved in this; there is no doubt."

That's what "a U.S. intelligence official who's closely followed the matter" told Knight-Ridder newspapers' Jonathan Landay for this article out this evening about the Niger forgeries.

Italian intelligence officials and parliamentarians put on a dog and pony show yesterday in Rome claiming that the Italian intelligence agency SISMI had no connection to the forgeries and did not pass on any of the bogus information contained in them to any other countries, including the United States.

But that's simply not true. Landay confirms what we first reported more than a year ago: that in late 2001 and early 2002 Italian intelligence sent reports to the US alleging that Niger was selling yellowcake uranium to Iraq. Those reports were based on the notorious forged documents, in some cases they were text transcriptions of the documents.

What does that mean? That the whole Niger-Iraq uranium fairy tale started with bogus intelligence from Italy.

The Italian governmnet is spinning like crazy on this one. But the real story seems ready to bubble out.

WaPo: "President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe."

Add your own joke, stir, etc.

Yesterday, we brought you the news that in a closed-door Italian parliamentary hearing into whether Italian intelligence officials were involved in the Niger forgeries hoax, intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari brandished a letter from FBI Director Robert Mueller, which provided him and the Italian government with a full and complete exoneration of any role in the affair.

Today the FBI publicly confirmed the story. The FBI closed its investigation in July and concluded that the production and dissemination of the forgeries were not part of an attempt to influence US foreign policy but only a money-making scheme.

FBI spokesperson John Miller told the AP that the investigation "confirmed the documents to be fraudulent and concluded they were more likely part of a criminal scheme for financial gain."

The AP writes that "Miller did not say what led the FBI to its conclusion or identify the perpetrators of the hoax."

At least until late in 2004 the FBI had never interviewed the man who tried to sell the documents, Rocco Martino -- despite the fact that he came to the United States twice in the summer of 2004.

The FBI now says it concluded its investigation in July of this year. So did the FBI interview Martino before making its determination?

Also, did the FBI interview the two other people Martino identified as playing a central role in moving the documents into the circulation? Those would be the female Italian national who works in the Niger Embassy in Rome and SISMI Col. Antonio Nucera?

(ed.note: It is worth noting that the very definitive headline running with the AP story actually does not match the quote from the FBI spokesman, who seems merely to say that it seems likely the scheme was a money-making scheme rather than an effort to influence foreign policy.)

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