News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Los Angeles Times: FBI Is Taking Another Look at Forged Prewar Intelligence

By Peter Wallsten, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer
Times Staff Writers

December 3, 2005

WASHINGTON — The FBI has reopened an inquiry into one of the most intriguing aspects of the pre-Iraq war intelligence fiasco: how the Bush administration came to rely on forged documents linking Iraq to nuclear weapons materials as part of its justification for the invasion.

The documents inspired intense U.S. interest in the buildup to the war — and they led the CIA to send a former ambassador to the African nation of Niger to investigate whether Iraq had sought the materials there. The ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, found little evidence to support such a claim, and the documents were later deemed to have been forged.

But President Bush referred to the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address in making the case for the invasion. Bush's speech, Wilson's trip and the role Wilson's wife played in sending him have created a political storm that still envelops the White House.

The documents in question included letters on Niger government letterhead and purported contracts showing sales of uranium to Iraq. They were provided in 2002 to an Italian magazine, which turned them over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

The FBI's decision to reopen the investigation reverses the agency's announcement last month that it had finished a two-year inquiry and concluded that the forgeries were part of a moneymaking scheme — and not an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

Those findings concerned some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee after published reports that the FBI had not interviewed a former Italian spy named Rocco Martino, who was identified as the original source of the documents. The committee had requested the initial investigation.

"This is such a high-profile issue for a lot of reasons, and we think it's important to make sure there aren't lingering questions," said an aide to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee. "There's always a chance that you do a little more investigating and you uncover something you hadn't seen before or you hadn't realized."

A senior federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, confirmed late Friday that the bureau had reopened the inquiry.

Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators might examine whether the forgeries were instigated by U.S. citizens who advocated an invasion of Iraq or by members of the Iraqi National Congress — the group led by Ahmad Chalabi that worked closely with Bush administration officials in the buildup to the war.

But the senior federal official said, "I don't expect the results to be any different. I think the answer is going to be that [Martino] wasn't acting in behalf of any government or intelligence agency. This guy was trying to peddle this to whoever he could."

Until now, the FBI's inquiry had been limited to probing whether foreign governments were involved in the forgeries, despite a broader request from Rockefeller that the FBI look into whether the forgeries reflected a "larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq."

"I was surprised that [the FBI] ever closed it without coming to a conclusion as to the source," said former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the Niger uranium claims first surfaced in the U.S. "It looks as if it's a fairly straightforward investigation trail to who the source was. And I'm glad the FBI has resumed the hunt."

The claim that Iraq had obtained or was seeking uranium in Niger was a central part of the administration's case for war. It was mentioned explicitly in late 2002 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and in January 2003 by Bush to illustrate the threat posed by Iraq's then-president, Saddam Hussein.

In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents on which the Niger claim was partly based were forgeries. Then-CIA Director George J. Tenet later took responsibility for allowing the claim into Bush's State of the Union speech.

The issue erupted in July 2003, when Wilson published his findings in a New York Times opinion piece. Administration officials leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, allegedly as part of an effort to discredit Wilson — prompting a separate investigation into the potentially illegal unmasking of a covert agent.

The Plame case — in which Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been charged with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements — has raised questions about the administration's use of intelligence and how it targeted its critics.

Citing concern that the forged Niger documents might be evidence of a "larger deception campaign," Rockefeller initially had requested that the FBI determine the source of the forgeries and why the intelligence community did not realize earlier that the documents were fraudulent, among other questions.

A senior FBI official said the bureau's initial investigation found no evidence of foreign government involvement in the forgeries. But the FBI did not interview Martino, a central figure in a parallel drama unfolding in Rome.

In late October, Martino told the Los Angeles Times through his lawyer that he did not realize that the documents were forged.

Recent accounts in the Italian press said that Martino, a businessman and former freelance spy who was fired from the Italian military intelligence agency, obtained the documents from a female friend who worked at Niger's embassy in Rome. Martino has said he was working with a more senior Italian intelligence agent, Col. Antonio Nucero, and peddled the documents to French intelligence and eventually, in 2002, to Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba.

Burba, a reporter for the magazine Panorama, later told The Times that she was angry that the fraudulent documents "had been used to justify a war." The magazine is owned by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close U.S. ally and supporter of the Iraq invasion.

Last month, Martino was further implicated when Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italian military intelligence, denied that his agency was involved in fabricating the documents. Instead, Pollari told the parliamentary intelligence committee that the dossier came from Martino.

The agency soon realized the documents were fake, Pollari said, according to legislators who were at the meeting. Although Martino's role has long been known, it remains unclear whom he was working with and whether the entire scheme was his idea alone.

After the Pollari testimony, Martino was quoted in an Italian newspaper as saying that he was working for the intelligence agency and not on his own. He acknowledged his role of "postman," as he put it, but said that his instructions were coming from Nucero.

"I did not make this thing up," he was quoted as saying in the newspaper Il Giornale. "I didn't even know where Niger was."

Rove Team Cites Warning From Reporter

Talk With Time's Novak Figures in Effort to Show Bush Adviser Did Not Lie

By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 3, 2005; A11

A reporter for Time magazine told Karl Rove's attorney in early 2004 that the White House deputy chief of staff might be in more legal trouble than he originally thought, according to sources familiar with the conversation. Now, Rove is relying on that casual exchange as part of a broad effort to convince a prosecutor he did not lie about his role in the CIA leak case, the sources said.

A conversation between longtime friends -- Viveca Novak, who has helped cover the case for Time, and Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney -- is at the heart of the latest legal maneuvering in the two-year-old case.

Over drinks, Novak told Luskin that Time employees were buzzing that Rove had talked to her colleague Matthew Cooper about CIA operative Valerie Plame in July 2003, sources familiar with the conversation said.

Rove, the president's top political aide, remains under investigation into whether he made false statements for initially failing to tell the FBI and the grand jury that he had spoken to Cooper for a story Cooper wrote on the case.

It is not clear why, or if, the information from Novak could help clear Rove, but Luskin used it and other information to persuade Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald to rethink indicting Rove in late October, according to a source briefed on the matter. Now, Fitzgerald is preparing to question Novak about the conversation as early as next week.

One person familiar with the case said the Novak-Luskin conversation is not what prompted Rove to change his testimony in the case. In fact, this person said, Novak told Luskin about the Rove-Cooper connection before Rove's first appearance before the grand jury in February 2004. In that appearance, Rove testified that he did not recall talking to Cooper about Plame. It was not until October 2004 that Rove told the grand jury he recalled the Cooper chat.

New details emerged yesterday of Rove's version of how and when he came to remember the Cooper conversation. Shortly before his client's second appearance before the grand jury in October, Luskin personally conducted a review of thousands of e-mails Rove had sent during the crucial weeks in 2003, including those from accounts reserved for personal and political correspondence, a source familiar with the situation said.

Amid the e-mails, Luskin found one sent from Rove to Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser, in which Rove mentioned his conversation with Cooper. The e-mail was written from Rove's government account, which investigators searched early in the inquiry. It is unclear why the e-mail was not discovered at that time.

Once found by Luskin, the e-mail was shared with Rove and then quickly turned over to Fitzgerald, the source said. Rove then testified that the e-mail "established that he had in fact had a conversation with Cooper," the source said.

Legal sources involved in the probe said Rove's timing in ultimately recalling -- or finally revealing -- his conversation with Cooper is certainly significant to Fitzgerald as he considers whether to charge the White House adviser. Rove provided the information on Oct. 15, 2004, to the grand jury. That new testimony came exactly one month after Fitzgerald issued a new subpoena to Cooper calling upon him to testify before the grand jury about Rove.

It also came two days after Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan issued a contempt citation that ordered Cooper to testify.

Fitzgerald has spent the past two years investigating whether White House officials leaked Plame's name to the media to discredit allegations made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

A grand jury indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, on Oct. 28 for lying and obstructing justice in the investigation of whether any Bush administration officials knowingly disclosed Plame's CIA identity to the media.

According to a source familiar with Novak's conversation with Luskin, the two were having a casual conversation over drinks sometime in early 2004 when Luskin insisted that his client, Rove, faced no danger in the leak investigation. Novak, described as fishing for information or trying to test Luskin's statement, begged to differ. She said she had heard at the magazine that Rove had been a key source for Cooper on information he published about Plame.

Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor, said Novak's conversation with Luskin took place as part of her normal reporting assignment to keep tabs on the Fitzgerald investigation. He said it is inaccurate to suggest that Novak revealed Cooper's source.

"There's no way that Viveca Novak knowingly, wittingly gave up a confidential source to Robert Luskin," Kelly said.

A source familiar with the exchange said the fact that Rove was Cooper's source was known by only a few at the magazine, including Cooper, his Washington bureau editor and Kelly, but it was not as closely guarded a secret as Time editors now believe it should have been.

Novak did not definitively know that Rove had spoken to Cooper about Plame, the source said, but may have heard gossip from colleagues who had reason to know. Kelly said it is unfair and premature to judge Novak's decision to discuss a colleague's possible confidential source with someone outside the news organization.

"I think to be fair to everyone involved here, we're going to wait until after Viveca testifies under oath to address all the issues presented by this new development," he said. "After that happens, we're going to fully review exactly what transpired here. We want to know exactly how this came to be."

Kelly declined to comment on when Novak notified the magazine that Luskin planned to seek her testimony before Fitzgerald.

Media ethics experts said Novak's decision to discuss Cooper's source with someone outside her news organization raises new questions about reporters' willingness to casually trade information with sources. Cooper had promised anonymity to Rove in their telephone call, and Time fought a year-long legal battle to keep him from being forced to break that promise, before ultimately giving in.

Randall Eliason, the former chief of public integrity prosecution at the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, and another former prosecutor, David Schertler, speculated that Fitzgerald would not have considered charging Rove unless he had significant evidence from other witnesses that Rove mentioned the Cooper conversation to them. Now the prosecutor must check out the Novak conversation and weigh it against his other evidence.

"If you're going to bring charges against the White House deputy chief of staff, you want to be absolutely convinced it was an intentional lie," Schertler said. "I think Fitzgerald is looking at this so at the end of the day he can say, 'I explored everything.' "

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Leak Ruling Has Mystery, 8 Blank Pages - New York Times

Published: December 3, 2005
There are eight blank pages in the public version of a decision the federal appeals court in Washington issued in February. The decision ordered two reporters to be jailed unless they agreed to testify before a grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson. What is in those pages is one of the enduring mysteries in the investigation.

In a filing yesterday, the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, told the court that he had no objection to the unsealing of parts of those pages, and he gave hints about what they say.

The pages, in a concurring opinion by Judge David S. Tatel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, analyze secret submissions by Mr. Fitzgerald. Judge Tatel suggested, in a terse and cryptic public summary of what he wrote in the withheld pages, that testimony from the reporters, Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, was needed to determine whether a government official committed a crime in identifying Ms. Wilson.

Mr. Cooper avoided jail after his source, Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, gave him permission to testify. Ms. Miller spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify after receiving permission from I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Mr. Libby resigned after he was indicted in October on charges of obstructing the investigation and related crimes.

Yesterday's filing, in response to a motion by Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, seemed at odds with Judge Tatel's summary. It made clear that the case against at least Mr. Libby had for some time concerned obstruction of justice rather than the disclosure of Ms. Wilson's identity.

Mr. Fitzgerald told the court yesterday that he did not object to the unsealing of the parts of Judge Tatel's analysis concerning Mr. Libby because most of the facts in it had become public through the indictment and statements from grand jury witnesses.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he did object to unsealing other parts of the analysis. Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Dow Jones, said, "We are hopeful we can persuade the court to release the rest."

Floyd Abrams, who represented Ms. Miller and Mr. Cooper before the appeals court, said Mr. Fitzgerald's filing was significant for the light it shed on the inquiry's progress.

"The revelation," Mr. Abrams said, "that Mr. Fitzgerald advised the court as early as the spring and fall of 2004 that his focus on Mr. Libby related not to potential threats to national security but to possible violations of perjury and related laws raises anew the question of whether the need for the testimony of Judy Miller and Matt Cooper was at all as critical as had been suggested."