In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.
Today's exclusive report in 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.
After meeting Pollari, Hadley later took the blame for a reference to Iraq seeking uranium in Niger that showed up in Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech, shortly before the invasion of Iraq.
A Knight Ridder review of the administration's arguments, its own reporting at the time and the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report shows that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case - often leaking classified information to receptive journalists - and dismissing information that undermined the case for war.
The State of the Union speech was one of a number of instances in which Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their aides ignored the qualms of intelligence professionals and instead relied on the claims of Iraqi defectors and other suspect sources or, in the case of Niger, the crudely forged documents.
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