What does a petty robbery of Niger’s embassy in Rome in January, 2001 have to do with us? Plenty it seems:
The case is a simple one: Thieves broke into the apartment-sized
embassy of Niger, located on the northern cusp of Rome’s historical
center, while the staff was away the day after New Year’s in 2001. The
intruders made off with a few seemingly unimportant items that included
a few sheets of stationary and a stamp with the country’s official seal.
More than two years later, the case for taking the US-named War on
Terror to Iraq was made based on forged documents made from those items
– the falsified information behind US President George W Bush’s now
famous 16-word State of the Union claim that "The British government
has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities
of uranium from Africa."
That Iraq never sought uranium from Africa is now well known. But
the tale of how the claim came to be made still offers new and relevant
The case is detailed in a new 250-page book – "Collusion:
International Espionage and the War on Terror" – written by Italian
investigative journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo. The book
points a finger at disgraced former Italian secret agent Rocco Martino
who allegedly forged the documents and sold them for cash to his former
bosses with the Italian intelligence agency SISME, with no idea how
important they would become.
Also to blame is Silvio Berlusconi, who in 2001 was Italy’s newly
elected prime minister eager to curry favor with Washington and its
allies. Berlusconi’s government passed the information on to London and
from there it made it to the White House. It was not thoroughly checked
out at either stop.
It seems the information wasn’t thoroughly checked out at its destination either. You know, if this was a movie no one would believe it because they’d assume that there’s no way that three governments could bumble so badly. I think one of the byproducts of growing up in Washington is that I absolutely find it believable. One rubber stamp, plus one moronic ex-spy, plus three western governments equals the death of tens of thousands? If you’ve been in Washington for more than 10 minutes you know that it’s more than possible, it’s probable.