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Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Ur-Question 

Physicist Norman Dombey, who has written extensively on Iran's nuclear capability, offers a pleasing meditation on the interconnectedness of all things:
President Bush's principal adviser Karl Rove is to be questioned again over the improper naming of a CIA official. Mohamed ElBaradei, accused by the American right of being insufficiently aggressive, wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his stalwart work at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pentagon official Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing on classified information to Israel. Just a normal week in politics. But there is a thread linking these events and it is Iraq.

Politicians tell us they acted in good faith on the road to war, and maybe they did, but that leaves a prickly question: who was so keen to prove that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat that they forged documents purporting to show that he was trying to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons? The forgery was revealed to the Security Council by ElBaradei. That was not an intelligence error. It was a straightforward lie, an invention intended to mislead public opinion and help start a war.

At the beginning of 2001, a few weeks before George Bush took office, there was a break-in at the Niger embassy in Rome. Strangely, nothing of value was taken. Months later came 9/11 and a month after that, as George Bush wondered how to get back at the terrorists, a report from the Italian security service (Sismi) reached the CIA: Iraq was seeking to buy uranium . . . .

A clue to the ancestry of these black arts can be found in 1980, when right-wing Republicans wanted Ronald Reagan elected. They publicised a story that Billy Carter, the then President Jimmy Carter's colourful brother, had received $50,000 (£28,000) from the Libyan government.

The story was always denied by the President and no evidence of the payment was found, but the story helped to elect Reagan. Its source? Sismi, and an associate of a man called Michael Ledeen.

Ledeen is an intriguing and enduring presence in the murkier parts of US foreign policy. He is an American specialist on Italy with a long-standing commitment to Israel. According to The New York Times, in December 2001, a few months after the CIA first heard the Niger claims, Ledeen flew to Rome with Manucher Ghorbanifar, a former Iranian arms dealer, and two officials from OSP [the Office of Special Plans], one of whom was Larry Franklin. In Rome they met the head of Sismi.
Ledeen has stated categorically that he had "absolutely nothing to do" with the Niger documents. "So who was it," Dombey asks, "who had been planning since before 9/11 to create a fraudulent casus belli against Saddam?"


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