Politics & Policy

The French Connection

Getting to the bottom of the prewar-intelligence mystery.

You never know with ouija boards, especially mine, which I bought in one of those kinda ratty antiques-and-esoterica shops in the French Quarter before New Orleans got blown away. I suppose I should be grateful that it works at all, but I had been trying for several days–intermittently, of course–to get to the late James Jesus Angleton, onetime chief of CIA’s Counterintelligence Division, and it just wasn’t working. So I wasn’t even annoyed when, in the middle of the night, it started sparking and flashing, and there he was. Or at least there his voice was, that gravelly near-whisper I knew so well.

JJA: I have voice mail from you.

ML: Yeah, thanks for returning my calls. Have you seen these stories about the “Italian Connection” to the Niger Documents?

JJA: The ones that say you forged them? I didn’t know your French was good enough (odd sound here, couldn’t really tell if it was the usual cough or a spectral laugh)…

ML: No, no, not those. Anyway hardly anybody said that, mostly they accused me of schlepping them, not forging them. But I’m talking about a different lot: The ones that say that the Italian intelligence service never transmitted the documents to us.

JJA: Yes, I saw some of that here and there. Both an Italian parliamentary oversight commission and the FBI concluded that the Italian secret service didn’t provide the United States with the infamous forged documents. They came through the State Department, do I have that right?

ML: A typical CIA fiasco, it seems. The documents were taken to the U.S. embassy by an Italian journalist (funny how there’s always a journalist, isn’t it?). One of the Lefties (who has a different version of the story almost every day) thinks the documents were brought to the Embassy by the guy who was peddling them all over the place. CIA people in Rome saw them, but didn’t transmit them to Langley, and the agency didn’t properly evaluate them until they were exposed as forgeries by the U.N.

JJA: That’s the guy whose name sounds like a professional wrestler? Rocco or something?

ML: Yes, Rocco Martino. You’re thinking of Antonino Rocca, who was the wrestling champion before WWF was invented. Skinny guy who bounced all over the ring.

JJA: Right. Good memory for a man your age.

ML: So you read the stories?

JJA: Yes I did, and there’s something in there that really tickled me, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

ML: Yeah, the French connection.

JJA: The French connection is right. Rocco Martino wasn’t working for the Italians at all. He had, in the past, but they’d ditched him, and in this little caper he was paid by French intelligence. He got them the contact inside the Nigerien embassy in Rome, and he peddled them all around, to the Brits, to our government, even to CBS News. He swears he didn’t forge them. Nobody seems to know who forged them.

ML: And your question is?

JJA: My question is whether the French were running one of their little disinformation stings on the United States.

ML: Well the moonbat Lefties–from Italy to the U.S., often working in tandem–have been saying for months that it was an Italian forgery designed to help President Bush justify the invasion of Iraq, and secondarily to curry favor in Washington for Berlusconi.

JJA: No way. I spent a lot of time in Italy, and believe me if they had decided to forge documents, they’d have fooled most of the world. Instead, the people at the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency figured it out in a day. No, if the documents were forged badly, it’s because whoever did it, wanted them to be seen to be forgeries.

ML: Huh? What sense does that make?

JJA: Think like a counterintelligence analyst for once. It’s an old-fashioned sting operation. You’re Jacques Chirac, okay? You want to embarrass the Americans and protect your buddy Saddam Hussein, right? The Americans are running around trying to find evidence of a covert Iraqi nuclear program. So, first you feed them some crappy information along those lines, hoping that they’ll buy it, and then you arrange–through Rocco in Italy–to have these documents surface. The documents “confirm” the disinformation and of course also what the Americans want to believe anyway. The Americans launch their accusations, then it turns out that the documents are forgeries, and bad forgeries at that, and so the Americans look like idiots and the causus belli disappears. In one move, you’ve helped your friend Saddam and hurt the Americans. Terrific. Chapeau, and all that.

ML: But it didn’t stop the war, did it?

JJA: No, and it wasn’t originally designed to stop Bush. It was designed to stop Clinton.

ML: You’re kidding, the documents surfaced in the fall of 2002, just a few months before Bush’s State of the Union speech.

JJA: True, and I’ll get to that in a second. But the documents were forged earlier, almost certainly by 2000.

ML: Why didn’t they surface earlier?

JJA: Because they weren’t needed. Clinton looked like he might have been on the verge of going to war, but he didn’t, so the documents got filed away. They were used later, as part of an effort to deny Bush that U.N. vote.

ML: But you think the French were trying to convince us to bite on a Saddam-wanted-uranium-from-Niger scam?

JJA: Look at page 76 of the Silberman-Robb Report. CIA had received three reports from “a liaison intelligence service” in late ‘01 and early 2002. “One of these reports explained that…during meetings on July 5-6, 2000, Niger and Iraq had signed an agreement for the sale of 500 tons of uranium.” And the “liaison service” provided a “verbatim text” of the agreement. Got that? Not the document, but a text. They were keeping the documents to themselves, and they wouldn’t tell us the source, because, they said, they were afraid of leaks.

ML: Right, that text is supposed to be the text of one of the forged documents.

JJA: Silberman-Robb doesn’t say that, actually, although that’s probably true. Everyone has assumed that the “liaison service” was Italian, but since the Italians did not have those documents in early 2002-nobody except the French and Rocco, the French agent, had them at that time-it wasn’t them.

ML: So they weren’t the “liaison service.” It was…the FRENCH???

JJA: Voila! Or should I say, Ecco!?

ML: In fact, the New York Times on Saturday quotes the head of the Italian service accusing the French of being behind Rocco and the documents.

JJA: Yeah, and what do the French say? They say the guy’s remarks are “scandalous,” but they don’t deny it. Hah! God, I wish they let us have cigarettes here, I’d blow some smoke rings…

ML: Has Bloomberg taken over there too?

JJA: You can’t imagine the prissiness of this place.

ML: I’ve got one more question, if you’ve got the time.

JJA: Haha. I’ve got eternity, what a ridiculous thing to say. What’s the question?

ML: I never understood all the excitement over the forgeries. The president didn’t refer to them in the State of the Union, after all. He talked about “British intelligence.”

JJA: Bravo! The Brits issued a white paper in September, 2002-remember the documents arrive at the U.S. embassy in Rome a month later–talking about Saddam’s quest for uranium in Africa. And they have said repeatedly that their information had nothing to do with the forgeries.

ML: Yes they do. And they also say–and the Butler Commission supports them, and Bush, on this–that the information was good, and the conclusion was, and is, “well founded.”

JJA: So now you’re going to ask why the whole world believes that we went to war at least in part because we fell for the phony documents.

ML: Precisely.

The damn ouija board was sparking and I was starting to get a lot of static.

JJA: It’s because the big-time media keep saying it–it’s a textbook case of The Big Lie. Say it often enough and eventually a lot of people will believe it–and the White House, amazingly, unaccountably, incredibly, confessed to something they had not done, namely accept the documents as legit, and base policy on them.

ML: But they hadn’t.

JJA: No. In fact, the information the president cited–the British intelligence–was probably accurate. If I had to bet, I’d lay pretty decent odds that the story of Saddam trying to buy uranium in Africa was true. But Ari Fleisher and Steven Hadley confessed that they had swallowed the sting. Hadley even publicly humiliated himself, although if I remember it right, it was about a speech in Cincinnati that Bush had given, not the State of the Union.

ML: Why didn’t they just tell the truth?

JJA: I think they thought they were protecting CIA in some weird way. Who knows? Ask them, why don’t you?

I could barely make it out, and the smell of burning insulation was really bad. And I was only getting Angletonian fragments.

JJA: …Idiots…should have fired Tenet on September 12th…damned French…

And that was it. That’s just the way his mind works. Remember that he really hated the French, ever since he caught them breaking into some offices in Washington. Or was it they who caught him breaking into their offices? I can never remember.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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