Italy: No Role In WMD Doc

WMD, Italy and USA Flags and map of Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction
Italy's spy chief denied on Thursday that Italian intelligence had any hand distributing a dossier that claimed Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Niger, Italian lawmakers said.

Enzo Bianco, chairman of an oversight committee on secret services, told reporters that the intelligence chief, Nicolo Pollari, and Gianni Letta, a top aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi, briefed a dozen top lawmakers after a newspaper report alleging Italy had passed the dossier to Britain and the United States knowing that it was a fake.

Bianco said the officials denied that SISMI, Italy's secret service, "ever had a role in the dossier that was supposed to have demonstrated that Iraq was in an advanced phase of possession of enriched uranium."

The United States and Britain used the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa to bolster their case for the war. The intelligence supporting the claim was later deemed unreliable.

Commission member Sen. Massimo Brutti told reporters after the closed-door session that that the commission was told that the Italian secret services warned the United States in January 2003 that the dossier was fake.

But later, the senator called The Associated Press to retract that statement. He said that the commission was not told that the Italians had warned the Americans.

Brutti said he was confused by the barrage of reporters' questions when the lawmakers emerged from the briefing. He said when he had the opportunity later to check his briefing notes, he realized he had misspoke.

Brutti said what he meant to say was that the commission was told that a SISMI official, contacted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, about the dossier, told the U.N. agency that "those documents didn't come from Sismi, they weren't produced nor supplied by Sismi."

"Our (intelligence services) were not involved," Brutti said the briefing was told.

The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Brutti as saying that the commission was told that the U.N. agency queried Sismi about the dossier in January 2003.

President Bush included the allegation about Iraq seeking the uranium in his January 2003 State of the Union address, accusing Iraq of pursuing banned weapons of mass destruction programs.

SISMI chief Pollari had requested the hearing after Rome daily La Repubblica alleged last week that Italy had given the United States and Britain documents it knew were forged detailing a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium concentrate from Niger. The uranium, known as yellowcake, can be used to make nuclear weapons.

La Repubblica, a strong Berlusconi opponent, has alleged that after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Pollari was under pressure from Berlusconi — a firm U.S. ally — to make a strong contribution to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Berlusconi's government has denied any wrongdoing and the premier has personally defended Pollari in the face of calls for his resignation.

Italy's alleged role in the case first became known when an Italian journalist from the Panorama newsweekly revealed she had received a copy of the Niger dossier in October 2002 from a man she knew as a security consultant.

Elisabetta Burba has said she turned over a copy of the documents to the U.S. Embassy in Rome in hopes of receiving an assessment of their authenticity.

She never heard back from U.S. officials and, following an unfruitful trip to Niger, the magazine never published the documents, deeming them unreliable.

Brutti said that the commission was told that the documents were forged by an information peddler whom he described as a former Sismi collaborator.

In an interview with conservative daily Libero published on Thursday, Berlusconi said Italy hadn't passed any documents on the Niger affair to the United States. He added that La Repubblica's allegations were dangerous for Italy because "if they were believed, we would be considered the instigator" of the war in Iraq.