The Niger connection

Britain insists it did not rely on forgeries for its case against Iraq. But its own 'evidence' came from the same shady Italian intelligence broker. Andrew Buncombe, John Phillips and Raymond Whitaker report

Silvio Berlusconi's government has admitted that agents of Sismi, the Italian military intelligence service, tracked the movements in London of Rocco Martino, an ex-informer, in the autumn of 2001. It did not say whether the British authorities were informed, but admitted that Mr Martino was also followed by Sismi in the US, without the knowledge of the FBI.

According to Italian press reports, however, Mr Martino had a meeting with the Secret Intelligence Service in London. A year later, the 66-year-old, who made a living peddling information to intelligence services and journalists, was the source of forged documents purporting to show that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium for nuclear weapons from the west African state of Niger.

The documents were used by the US to make its case for war. President George Bush cited the uranium claim in his State of the Union address in January 2003. But as soon as the US passed the documents to the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, it denounced them as obvious fakes. The ensuing controversy in America has now resulted in charges against a top former White House official, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and a continuing investigation into Karl Rove, Mr Bush's closest aide.

But while the US has admitted the uranium claim should never have been made, Tony Blair's government, which first made the allegation public in its September 2002 dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, still insists it was supported by "separate intelligence".

Britain has always refused to disclose the nature of this information, even to the IAEA, because it was provided by a "foreign service".

In October 2001, Sismi sent its British and American counterparts a dossier on alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger. Whether Rocco Martino delivered it to MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall Cross, as some Italian reports claim, is not clear.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a senior former official with the CIA, told The Independent on Sunday that "some of the text of the 2001 report showed up in the later [forged] documents.

"There seems to be a common source ... it seems that the [separate] British intelligence came from the same false and discredited source."

A public row in Italy involving the head of Sismi, General Nicolo Pollari, has brought to light much information on the Niger uranium claims. Sismi has acknowledged informing other intelligence services, including the CIA, in a letter on 15 October 2001, of "evidence of intelligence" on Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from Niger.

The information came from a woman who worked at the Niger embassy in Rome, given the code name of La Signora by Sismi. She also provided Niger's cryptographic codes and other internal documents.

The CIA questioned the report, and General Pollari says he also recorded his doubts in writing at the time. But he does not appear to have told his counterparts in other countries, where La Signora was still "a reliable source".

Sismi says it was next involved in 2002, when Mr Martino began offering the fake Niger documents to anyone willing to buy them. His first client is reported to have been the French intelligence service, but in October 2002 they were given to the American embassy in Rome by Panorama, a Berlusconi-owned magazine he had approached.

What happened next is the subject of furious argument in Italy. General Pollari says he warned other countries about the forgeries, including Britain.

In spring 2003, according to his account, Mr Martino approached the British embassy in Brussels, saying an "associate" could provide information on Iraq, Niger and uranium. The British asked Sismi to identify the man from CCTV images, and the Italians asked them to string him along in order to uncover the associate. Eventually Mr Martino admitted there was no one else involved.

The Sismi chief identified Mr Martino as the source of the forged documents in a closed Italian parliamentary committee meeting last week. He described Mr Martino as a former intelligence informer who had been "kicked out of the agency". Both men have claimed that at the time he was hawking around the documents, Mr Martino was working for the French, a possible source of Britain's "separate intelligence". A senior French intelligence official declined to say whether Mr Martino had been a paid agent of France, The New York Times reported last week, but called General Pollari's assertions that France disseminated the false documents "scandalous".

General Pollari's critics in Italy claim he worked closely with American neo-conservatives to spread the Niger uranium claims to the highest levels of the US administration, bypassing the CIA. He is said to have had a meeting in Rome in December 2001 with a group of neo-cons led by Michael Ledeen, an influential hawk close to Israel and involved in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

The same critics see Mr Martino as a useful pawn. In an Italian newspaper yesterday, he repeated that he had not forged the documents nor known them to be forged. He is unlikely tohave imagined their impact.

Revelations in Italy support the Butler inquiry's statement that British intelligence had not seen the forged documents when Mr Blair's WMD dossier was published in September 2002. But the inquiry's conclusion that Britain's "separate intelligence" was "credible" has been widely criticised.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform