Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Let me suggest a few other questions to be posed in response to the new story the Italian government rolled out today to explain their involvement with the Niger uranium hoax.

The current story, detailed in this updated report from the Associated Press is that Rocco Martino forged the documents, that no one at SISMI (Italian military intelligence) was involved in any way and that at some point in January 2003, the Italians warned the United States that the documents were forged.

For the sake of discussion, let's stipulate to those facts.

So these questions.

1. If Martino forged the documents with no involvement by SISMI personnel, how did SISMI end up distributing transcriptions of the forgeries to the United States and other countries?

2. The Italian government now says they warned the Americans that the documents were forgeries in January 2003. But what exactly did they warn them about? According to the current story, the documents that the Americans had went from Martino to Elisabetta Burba to the US Embassy in Rome to the State Department. When exactly did the Italian government come into the picture in that chain of custody and how did they know we had the documents?

What Italian intelligence had done is give us reports in 2001 and early 2002 that were summaries and transcriptions of the documents. Was it their own earlier reports that they told us were based on forgeries? And if so, when did they learn that the information they gave us was based on forgeries?

3. If it is certain that Martino is the forger, and that he was acting on his own account, why has no action ever been taken against him?

The AP story we noted earlier is now up on the web ...

Italian secret services warned the United States months before it invaded Iraq that a dossier about a purported Saddam Hussein effort to buy uranium in Africa was fake, a lawmaker said Thursday after a briefing by the nation's intelligence chief.

"At about the same time as the State of the Union address, they (Italy's SISMI secret services) said that the dossier doesn't correspond to the truth," Sen. Massimo Brutti told journalists after the parliamentary commission was briefed.

Brutti said the warning was given in January 2003, but he did not know whether it was made before or after President Bush's speech.

The United States and Britain used the claim that Saddam was seeking to buy uranium in Niger to bolster their case for the invasion, which started in March 2003. The intelligence supporting the claim later was deemed unreliable.

So that's the new story.

The problem is that this puts Italian intelligence in the odd, though not impossible, position of being both the purveyor and the debunker of the Niger uranium hoax.

Remember, the original reports about a Niger-Iraq uranium sale came in from Italy in late 2001 and early 2002. Those were the reports that caught Cheney's attention and subsequently sent Wilson on his trip. But, as we've noted here many times, those reports, which Wilson was briefed on before he left for Niger, were later determined to have been based on the forgeries.

If you don't want to take my word for it, listen to the conclusion which the president's own WMD commission came to ...

"The October 2002 NIE included the statement that Iraq was “trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” and that “a foreign government service” had reported that “Niger planned to send several tons” of yellowcake to Iraq. The statement about Niger was based primarily on three reports provided by a liaison intelligence service to CIA in late 2001 and early 2002 ... When it finally got around to reviewing the documents during the same time period, the CIA agreed that they were not authentic. Moreover, the CIA concluded that the original reporting was based on the forged documents and was thus itself unreliable." -- Robb-Silberman Commission Report, page 78.

If the Italians gave this warning to the US in January 2003, who'd the warning go to?

Something does not add up.

We're hiring. The job announcement is here and I've reprinted it below ...

TPM Media LLC, owner of Talking Points Memo (talkingpointsmemo.com) and TPMCafe (tpmcafe.com), is hiring its first reporter-blogger. Primary responsibility will be reporting and posting for a new TPM Media blog focusing on Capitol Hill, Congressional Corruption, the 2006 Elections and Everything in Between. Applicants should be able to write well and write fast, as well as have a knack for distilling complex stories into clear and meticulously factual prose.

Reporting experience is a definite plus, as is experience blogging. But other relevant qualifications will be considered.

Interested applicants should send a cover letter and resume to talk@talkingpointsmemo.com.

No deadline for applications. We'll hire when we've found the right person.

Hours: Endless. Salary: Decent. Opportunity: Priceless

More news to come on our new project.

Their hands may be dirty, but they don't want to get stuck with the blame.

Just off the AP Wire ...

Italian secret services warned the United States months before it invaded Iraq that a dossier about a purported Saddam Hussein effort to buy uranium in Africa was fake, a lawmaker said Thursday after a briefing by the nation's intelligence chief.

More to follow ...

Two can play that game.

Just out from the Austin American-Statesman: "Earle challenges Republican judge. DA wants DeLay judge Schraub out and new judge to name replacement. More to come."

Newsweek: "President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts."

Raleigh News & Observer, Oct. 29th: "President Bush's approval rating in North Carolina continues to decline, according to a poll released Friday by Elon University. The poll found that 41 percent of those questioned approve of Bush's handling of the job of president. That is down from 45 percent in a poll Elon did in April and 52 percent from a poll the university did in March."

Steve Hadley Niger Uranium Mumbojumbo update.

At his press briefing today, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was asked about his meeting on September 9th 2002 with Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari. And his answers were close to non-responsive if you look closely at what he said. Note that, like Scott McClellan earlier in the day, he seemed to go out of his way to deny allegations that no one is actually making -- namely, that he himself received the forged dossier on that day (emphasis added) ...

Q On September 9th, 2002, you met in Washington with Nicolo Pollari, the head of the Italian Intelligence Agency, SISMI. According to the Italian daily, La Republica, Mr. Pollari came to the meeting to discuss an alleged attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger. Is that claim false?

MR. HADLEY: We'd looked at this issue. We had both looked at our documentary record -- I have -- we have talked -- I've searched my own recollection; we have also talked to other people on the NSC staff at the time who might have a recollection of that meeting. I can tell you what that canvassing has unearthed. There was a meeting in Washington on that date. I did attend a meeting with him. It was, so far as we can tell from our records, about less than 15 minutes. It was a courtesy call. Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed. And that's also my recollection. I have very little recollection of the meeting, but I have no recollection there was any of that discussion, or that there was any passing of documents. Nor does anybody else who may have participated in that meeting. That's where we are.

Q Can you say what you did discuss with Mr. Pollari?

MR. HADLEY: I told you I have very little recollection of the meeting, and it was in the order of a courtesy call, getting to know a person who is going to be a colleague going forward. And you can tell that from the relative briefness of the meeting. And I think what the Italian authorities have said is very consistent with what I just said.

Now, I know I'm giving these comments pretty tight scrutiny. But consider these points.

First, no one ever said that Hadley got the documents during that meeting. It is a matter of public record that they appeared in Rome a month later and made their way back to Washington via the State Department.

Second, it is also a matter of public record that the Niger/Uranium story was a matter of intense interest and discussion at the White House at precisely that time. Remember, Hadley and colleagues at the NSC were trying to get the claim inserted into the president's upcoming speech in Cincinnati.

Hadley also knew -- then and now -- that the foreign intelligence service reports which had started the suspicion about the Niger/Iraq claims had come from Italy -- from Pollari's own agency, SISMI.

Given all that, it strains credulity to believe that we have to make do with 'searchings of recollections' or the like. Given the time and the topic, if this came up it would have been a big deal. People would remember. It would have been noted in minutes, etc.

It's certainly accepted practice for a president's national security advisor not to discuss what he or she discusses in meetings with foreign intelligence chiefs. Those sorts of exchanges are seldom fair game for public comment. But Hadley is talking. And maybe nothing to do with Niger or Iraq came up at all. But his answers sound supiciously vague.

It is well worth pushing for a clearer, less dodgy answer.