La Repubblica's scoop
A lot of attention is being given to Italalian newspaper La Repubblica's recent stories about the Niger forgeries.
As Laura Rosen explains in the American Prospect, the crux of the matter is this:
La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday.
Pollari told the newspaper that since 2001, when he became Sismi's director, the only member of the U.S. administration he has met officially is his former CIA counterpart George Tenet. But the Italian newspaper quotes a high-ranking Italian Sismi source asserting a meeting with Hadley. La Repubblica also quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."
Following the exposure of the discredited Niger allegations in the summer of 2003 by former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, White House officials at first sought to blame the CIA for the inclusion of the controversial "16 words" in the president's speech. Although then–National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Hadley eventually accepted some responsibility for the mistake, the White House undertook a covert campaign to discredit Wilson and exposed the CIA affiliation of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson.
Yet if anyone knew who was actually responsible for the White House's trumpeting of the Niger claims, it would seem from the Repubblica report that Hadley did. He also knew that the CIA, which had initially rejected the Italian claims, was not to blame. Hadley's meeting with Pollari, at precisely the time when the Niger forgeries came into the possession of the U.S. government, may explain the seemingly hysterical White House overreaction to Wilson's article almost a year later.
Although Berlusconi's government clearly sought deniability while pushing the Niger uranium claims, the Bush White House went still further by trying to blame its citation of exaggerated and discredited Iraq WMD claims on the CIA, the very same agency that consistently discounted the Niger claims. The White House's war on the CIA and on the Wilsons --the extent of which has been revealed in recent news reports emerging from the Fitzgerald investigation -- has always had an excessive and almost hysterical quality. Why was the White House so worked up over Wilson and the Niger hoax, when there was so much evidence that the administration had based its drive for war on claims that were so thoroughly discredited from top to bottom? Why did Wilson and his CIA wife become the primary targets, when Wilson was hardly alone in pointing out that the White House should have known better about the Niger claims?
For excellent analysis of this story, in a 'breaking news' style format, check out Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo (TPM).