Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Salon snagged a videotape of the half-hour 60 Minutes report on the Niger forgeries -- the segment that was postponed in favor of Dan Rather's notorious TXANG "scoop," then spiked by CBS after the ensuing memo scandal. And yes, the story is worth subscribing or sitting through ads or doing whatever you have to do to read Salon premium content:
A source close to CBS said [Ed] Bradley was furious with the decision to spike the report and angry that the reputation of the "60 Minutes" Sunday program has suffered because of the missteps of the Wednesday version of the show. Bradley did not return phone calls seeking comment. On Tuesday, his assistant said the correspondent was "swamped" after returning from a trip to the Middle East.A scene-by-scene account of the segment follows. You'll have to read it with a few thousand Salon subscribers as opposed to watching it with millions of CBS viewers, because network president Andrew Heyward decided it would be "inappropriate" to run such damaging material in the midst of the president's re-election campaign.
The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently and credibly reported. It features the first on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who received the fake Niger documents in 2002 and passed them on to the U.S. embassy in Rome. Burba tells how she traveled to Niger and concluded that Iraq could not have purchased uranium from the tightly controlled French-run mines in Niger and that therefore the documents must have been faked.
According to Newsweek, CBS also interviewed Burba's source for the documents, a shadowy Roman businessman named Rocco Martino with reputed connections to European intelligence agencies, especially Sismi, the Italian intelligence service. The producers flew Martino to New York for an on-camera interview, but footage of the interview was not included in the final version of the report. It is unclear why Martino was cut; perhaps it was because, as Burba told Newsweek, Martino had lied to her in the past and was not someone she considered reliable.
According to a knowledgeable source, the lead producer of the report, David Gelber, had toyed with using Martino to delve into another intriguing angle: why has the Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently done little to fulfill a request by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, for an investigation into the origins of the forged Niger documents? Martino, a central figure in the affair, should be of keen interest to the FBI. But, as of late last week, investigators had still failed to interview him. A U.S. law enforcement source told Newsweek the bureau was waiting for the Italian government to grant permission.
That strange explanation raises the question of whether the right-wing government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had helped manufacture evidence that his ally, Bush, could use to persuade Americans to support an invasion. Burba passed on the documents to the U.S. embassy in Rome at the instruction of her editor at Panorama, a news magazine owned by Berlusconi. An alternative theory, floated in corners of the conspiracy-minded European press, is that Martino was working for the antiwar French, who hoped to discredit the Bush administration by getting American officials to swallow obviously forged documents.
Whatever the case, the CBS producers apparently decided to concentrate on what could be nailed down: the Bush administration had, either intentionally or with breathtaking credulity, relied on patently false intelligence to make the case for invading Iraq.