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   Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis

Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

5 August 2004

GENEVA - Welcome to the `Italian Job.' In his 2003 State of the Union address, President George Bush claimed Iraq had secretly imported uranium ore from Niger to make nuclear weapons. Bush's claims were based on crude forgeries previously rejected by CIA.

Now, new information from European intelligence sources is detailing how the forgeries made their way from the Niger Embassy in Rome to the White House. An FBI investigation of this outrageous scandal is said to be `at a critical phase.'

In a classic example of what intelligence professionals term `disinformation,' a shady Italian intermediary, `Giacomo,' was told a lady at the Niger embassy had `a gift' for him. He was given a sheaf of documents purporting to show Iraq had sought yellow-cake uranium ore from Niger, a mineral used for nuclear fuel and weapons. `Giacomo' then sold them to American agents in Rome,

The Niger documents were apparently concocted and passed to `Giacomo' by SISMI, Italy's military intelligence service.

SISMI has long been notorious for far right, even neo-fascist, leanings. According to Italian judicial investigators, SISMI was deeply involved in numerous plots against Italy's democratic government, including the 1980 Bologna train station terrorist bombing that left 85 dead and 200 injured.

Senior SISMI officers were in cahoots with celebrated swindler Roberto Calvi, the neo-fascist P2 Masonic Lodge, other extreme rightist groups trying to destabilize Italy, the Washington neocon operative, Michael Ledeen, and the Iran-Contra conspirators.

SISMI works hand in glove with US, British and Israeli intelligence. In the 1960's and 70's, SISMI reportedly carried out numerous operations for CIA, including bugging the Vatican, the Italian president's palace, and foreign embassies. Italy's civilian intelligence service, SISDE, associated with Italy's political center-left, has long been a bitter rival of SISMI.

After CIA rejected the Niger file, it was eagerly snapped up by VP Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, who were urgently seeking any reason, no matter how specious, to invade Iraq.

Cheney passed the phony data to Bush, who used it in his January, 2003 address to the nation in spite of warnings from CIA. A 2002 investigation by former US Ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson, found the documents forgeries, but he was also ignored by the White House. Wilson is now being smeared by Republicans.

Amazingly, Bush, Cheney, the neo-conservatives, and the media, all of whom kept beating the war drums over the alleged Iraqi nuclear threat, never seem to have understood that yellow-cake uranium ore is no more lethal than plain dirt.

To make nuclear weapons, uranium ore must be laboriously enriched by gaseous separation or centrifuge. Both processes require enormous plants and huge amounts of electric power - easily observable by satellite. Iraq had no nuclear industrial infrastructure to enrich uranium, as everyone knew. What would it do with raw ore?

Iraq had no means to deliver nuclear warheads. Its Scud-series missiles could not carry a heavy nuclear warhead; their paltry range of 300-500 km was 15,000 km short of Washington. The only way Iraq could get a nuclear warhead to the US was by Fedex.

Who was behind the Italian Job? Likely Italy's rightwing PM Silvio Berlusconi, an ideological soul-mate of George Bush, whose antipathy for Muslims is well known. This was SISMI's contribution to the cascade of lies that led to war. Britain's MI6 and Israel provided other disinformation.

Britain's respected `Scotsman' newspaper just revealed that Tony Blair's intelligence chief, John Scarlett, sent a secret message to British arms inspectors in Iraq demanding they confirm ten charges made by Blair - which had already been disproved - about Saddam's nefarious weapons of mass destruction. These claims were the centerpiece of a key government report on the Iraqi threat justifying war. All, it turned out, were bogus.

Instead of being sacked, Scarlett was promoted head of MI6 by the shameless Blair, as a reward for defrauding Britons and protecting his mendacious master from investigation.

Completing this Italian farce, we learn an astounding 15,000 kilos of highly enriched uranium the US sent around the world since the 1950's for various research projects remain missing and unaccounted for. It takes 10 kg to build a basic nuclear weapon.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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