It's good to see The New York Times reporting on the forged Niger yellowcake documents (even if the story is buried on page A24 in the print edition):
Italy's spymaster identified an Italian occasional spy named Rocco Martino on Thursday as the disseminator of forged documents that described efforts by Iraq to buy uranium ore from Niger for a nuclear weapons program, three lawmakers said Thursday....
The information about Iraq's desire to acquire the ore, known as yellowcake, was used by the Bush administration to help justify the invasion of Iraq, notably by President Bush in his State of the Union address in January 2003. But the information was later revealed to have been based on forgeries.
...this was the first time his role was formally disclosed by the intelligence agency....
This, of course, is the tall tale Joe Wilson was sent to debunk. It's recently been the subject of a three-part series in Italy's La Repubblica (read translations of the three parts here, here, and here).
I'm intrigued by the non-denial denial near the end of the Times story:
La Repubblica said General Pollari had held a meeting on Sept. 9, 2002, with Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser. Mr. Hadley, now the national security adviser, has said that he met General Pollari on that date, but that they did not discuss the Niger-Iraq issue.
"Nobody participating in that meeting or asked about that meeting has any recollection of a discussion of natural uranium, or any recollection of any documents being passed," Mr. Hadley told a briefing on Wednesday in Washington. "And that's also my recollection."...
Hmmmm. Why does he very carefully say "natural uranium" wasn't discussed? I'm no expert, but I see that this glossary defines "natural uranium" as "Uranium [a]s found in nature, containing .7 percent of uranium-235, 99.3 percent of uranium-238, and a trace of uranium-234," while defining "yellowcake" as "A concentrate produced during the milling process that contains 80 percent uranium oxide...." So it may be technically correct to say that "natural uranium" wasn't discussed even if yellowcake was discussed.
(Just as it may be technically correct to say that Bill Clinton never had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky.)
As for Hadley's claim that no documents were exchanged, Part II of the La Repubblica series suggests that the forged documents had already been shown to the CIA station chief in Rome and (probably more important) to the less skeptical Brits, in the person of Sir Richard Dearlove of MI6. So there might have been no need to take along an extra copy for the Hadley meeting.
(Here's the transcript of Hadley's briefing on Wednesday. The denial is no broader than what's contained in the Times quote of Hadley; he never says outright that "that they did not discuss the Niger-Iraq issue," as the Times claims.)
I should also point out that Part III of the La Repubblica series focuses on the Hadley-Pollari meeting and the fact that it took place a day after a Judith Miller story in The New York Times on Iraq's attempt to acquire aluminum tubes allegedly for nuclear purposes. It's possible that this was all that was discussed -- tubes, not yellowcake.
This, by the way, is one of the most interesting parts of the series -- the revelation that Pollari never said he knew precisely what the tubes were for, and it wasn't WMDs:
Pollari keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't reveal what he knows about the aluminum tubes, which are the source of so much concern (or even enthusiasm) within the Bush Administration. The shame is that those 7075-T6 tubes--900 millimeters long, 81 millimeters in diameter, 3.3 millimeters thick--are well-known hardware to the Italian Army. They are 81-mm rocket artillery shells used in the Medusa air-to-ground missile defense system installed on Italian Army and Navy helicopters. In reality, the Iraqis are merely attempting to reproduce weaponry with which they became familiar during the long years of economic, military and nuclear cooperation between Rome and Baghdad. (Iraq's top army and air force officers trained in Italy during the 1980's). Saddam's General Staff needs to duplicate them, so to speak, because their inventory is stockpiled outdoors and is now corroded. That was the reason behind the new anodized aluminum tube purchases.
Why does Pollari not utter a word? If you ask Greg Thielmann, ex-chief of the State Department Intelligence Service, he'll tell you: But seriously, haven't you yet understood why the chief of Italian military intelligence did not provide us with any indication that would have allowed us to definitively discard the notion that the tubes would be used in someone's nuclear program? Well, I have an idea for you. SISMI, like the CIA and the entire Anglo-Saxon intelligence community, is ready and willing to satisfy the hawks in the US Administration.