Monday, October 24, 2005

Whatever happened to the FBI investigation of the Niger forgeries...?

In re-reading published news articles about the Plame/Novak/Miller/Rove/Libby affair during the last two years, tiny flashes of what might be on the mind of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald began to form in my mind.

Of special interest was one article by the Washington Post in February 2004. The Post reported of a separate “parallel investigation” by the FBI into bogus intelligence used by the president during his State of the Union speech in January 2003.

At the time, President Bush breathlessly told a nation British intelligence had "learned" Iraqis were trying to buy yellowcake from Niger to enrich uranium, a process to make weapons of mass destruction.

However, the United Nations soon afterwards informed the US government that documents used by British intelligence making the link were bogus; and in the spring of 2003, the FBI “launched an investigation” to find out who was responsible for the forgeries.

Members of the White House staff were henceforth questioned; and the Post article noted that FBI counterintelligence agents had interviewed Karl Rove, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Scott McClellan; Mary Matalin; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; Adam Levine, a former White House press official; and Cathie Martin, a Cheney aide.

A couple of months before elections last year, the Washington Post once again reported on the FBI yellowcake investigation; one of the most interesting aspects of the story was how Rep. Conyers of Michigan had recommended that "either a special counsel” be appointed, or Fitzgerald, who was doing making progress in the Plame leak, take over.

Conyers said "the role of U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty [had] 'obvious political implications' in an election year" and went on to cite "anonymous allegations in a news report that McNulty had 'put the brakes on' the probe."

"While I have no reason to question Mr. McNulty's integrity," the congressman said, "he is not a career prosecutor, but instead is a political appointee whose previous employment was principally with Republican politicians."

Reports of an early 2001 Niger embassy break-in fueled talk about stolen blank forms later used to forge the yellowcake documents. At the time, the Niger embassy in Rome reported nothing was stolen.

According to The New York Times, "in December 2001, a few months after the CIA first heard the Niger claims," Michael Ledeen, "an American specialist...with a long-standing commitment to Israel...flew to Rome...and [met with] two officials" from a group set up by Cheney crony, neocon Douglas Feith, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). One of the OSP members was Larry Franklin.

Yes, the very same Lawrence A. Franklin recently indicted, convicted and then offered a plea deal by ubiquitous and busier than a bee U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty. Earlier this month, Franklin pleaded guilty for "conspiring to channel classified Defense Department secrets to an Israeli Embassy official and a pro-Israel lobbying group."

Meanwhile, the chaps in Rome made nice and met with the Italian security service, Sismi; and lo and behold, only a few months later, fake documents proving Iraq was trying to build weapons of mass destruction show up in Rome. It seems a "Roman businessman linked to Sismi" sold the concocted evidence to an Italian journalist.

Recent whispers of an expanded Fitzgerald investigation that includes the original FBI forgery inquiry may have been initially sparked because many of the players in the Plame leak are also persons of interest in the yellowcake case.

Just who "fabricated the Iraq evidence"remains unknown. But apparently McNulty did a heck of a job. President Bush announced Friday plans to nominate him for the number two spot in the Justice Department.

Where exactly the ongoing investigation that was said to be at a "critical stage" nearly one year ago is today no one knows. But maybe Fitzgerald was able to morph the two inquiries into one, and we will soon learn not only who outed a CIA operative, but also who forged documents to take the nation to war.

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