Sneak Preview: The Return of Omar. United Media Incorporated’s Children Education Series

Aruna, the paramount Chief of Ndaka, was dying. The chief had come down with what the elders2  of the village thought was a slight fever.

       As the days went by, the chief’s conditions worsened. He lay tossing and turning from one side of his bamboo bed to the other.

       Then the cough came. It was a terrible cough3  and very dry. The chief’s ribs threatened to come out of his chest with each cough.

       A new disease had come upon the land, one for which there was no cure. It looked like that disease had come upon the House of Ndaka.4 

       After the palace magicians had tried to save the chief in vain, the elders went and summoned Meiwuta, the most powerful medicine man in all of Ndaka.

       Meiwuta came, dressed in his traditional attire of chimpanzee skin. He had his powerful staff in one hand and all the amulets5  of his medicine in the other hand. The charms stretched from his wrist to the end of his arm. His black medicine bag hung from his neck.

       A very extraordinary person was Meiwuta the witch doctor. He was thin, very tall and straight as a tree. His head, shaped like the tip of an arrow, rose steeply from middle of his tiny chest. The top of the head then flattened out briefly before rising again to end in steep hill.

       What frightened many about Meiwuta were his cross-eyes.6  It was as if his left eye looked this way while his right eye looked the other way. Those crafty eyes of his, stuck out his head like fires shinning out of the evil forests7  in the night.

       Another thing about Meiwuta was that the man always smelt like a bag of bad medicine.  The villagers said that the smell of Meiwuta could go over the distant hills and reach Abafum8  in the flat land.

       Meiwuta thus came and stood by Aruna’s bed. The witch doctor immediately perceived the gravity of the malady that had come upon the chief. 

       “Go and bring more logs of wood,” Meiwuta ordered Mata Mero,9  the chief’s first wife, the one who was the mother of Omar.

       Meiwuta had a voice like the clap of thunder. His voice rose in the hut like the thump of the calabash upon the waters. Its report hit the wall on the far side and then came back again with a solid clap.

       Mero was now slow of hearing. Meiwuta had spoken like the voice of the thunder yet Mero still failed to hear him. The age was now telling on the woman.

        “What—!” Mata Mero asked in that gentle lisping voice of hers.

       “Woman…I told you to bring more firewood for this fire! Do it this minute and stop standing there opening your mouth like a sick hen!”

       Mero glared at him.

       Chief Aruna, who lay quietly in the bed, raised an eyebrow as Meiwuta scolded his first wife. Leaning on one elbow, the chief tried to get up and failed.

       Shatu, the chief’s youngest wife, did not wait for Meiwuta to thunder again. She left the chamber immediately. She returned some moments later with several of the Chief Aruna’s warriors.10  Each of them bore a huge log of wood on the shoulder.

       Danladi, the one who led the warriors, bore two of the largest logs. The logs banged upon each other as Danladi came through the main portal of the hut. The boy dropped the logs effortlessly on the near side close to where Meiwuta stood. Then he brushed the dirt from his big chest and made for the door of the hut.


“Yes Baba—”

“Please, stay—”

       Meiwuta’s voice was now gentle. The witch doctor now looked at the boy with kindness. Danladi was his first son. The villagers said that Danladi’s superhuman strength came from his father. The boy was only two months old when Meiwuta took him into the forest and boiled him in pot of special charm. The medicine did not touch Danladi’s head. 

       Danladi, however, came out of that pot as strong as a wild boar and twice as vicious. The boy was now so strong that not even the arrows from the largest bow could piece his body. His head, which was not touched by the medicine, remained vulnerable11  to danger.

       As Danladi came closer, Meiwuta indicated the logs pointing with his mouth. Danladi understood immediately. The boy lifted two of the logs, as if they were twigs, and dropped them into the fireplace. His father now reached into his handbag, pulled out a pouch containing some brown powder. He sprayed the powder upon the logs. A blue flame rose from the fireplace. Moments later a stinging smoke filled the chamber.

            Everyone in the room started coughing.

Thinking Aloud of Issues Old and New. By Vincent N. Feko. Civil Society Senior Citizen, Human Rights Defender, Group Leader

In his End of Year State of the Nation Address, 31 December 2009, President Paul BIYA, said, inter alia: “My dear Compatriots, the fiftieth anniversary of independence in 2010 is a prelude to the fiftieth anniversary of Reunification which we will be celebrating in 2011.” This sounds like the rejuvenation of Reunification in 2011. What an after thought!

Regardless of the distortion and obliteration of British Cameroons history by the word: Reunification, an inquisitive mind would like to know the circumstances of the afterthought. For example, the thirtieth independence anniversary was celebrated with fanfare on 1 January 1990. It was not celebrated as a prelude to the thirtieth anniversary of Reunification which should have been celebrated in 1991. And as if these state issues are as complex to understand as the management of the oil revenue according to ASSOUMOU, the governor, who has the monopoly of understanding in this domain and is accountable to the governed, has not considered an explanation to the latter as a necessity. That thirtieth independence anniversary celebration was closed with the issuing of commemorative postage stamps with LRC’s map at independence, when it acceded to full-fledged membership of the United Nations on 20 September 1960 as a sovereign state.

Was thirty years too short a time in the life of a Reunified Country to warrant the celebration of its Reunification with commemorative objects bearing the Reunification map? Were those running the show not convinced that their Reunification was, to use the trite, something to write home about? In other words, was the Reunification lacking justification and it is only now that it can be justified and assured? Is the BAKASSI card at play? Are we to understand that, henceforth, LRC’s independence anniversary celebration will be a prelude to the Reunification anniversary celebration the following year?

Understandably, the fiftieth anniversary of independence commemorative map of LRC will in no way be different from that on the 1 January 1990 commemorative postage stamps, will it? Is it the understanding then, that with Reunification now assured, the authentic Reunification map will be released and imprinted on the fiftieth anniversary of Reunification commemorative objects in 2011?

What will that great date in 2011 be, 1 October, the date, in 2001, that 3 of our illustrious citizens were gunned down by Gendarmes in KUMBO in the Banso upland country, for celebrating the fortieth independence anniversary of Southern Cameroons, and people in their thousands were arrested and detained in most of the principal towns of Southern Cameroons for daring similar celebrations?

Incidentally, 11 February 2010, the anniversary of the United Nations’ BRIDGE by which it is claimed, Southern Cameroons and la Republique du Cameroun were brought together, is being celebrated today. That is the United Nations PLEBISCITE date on which part of the British Cameroons, Southern Cameroons precisely, freely and overwhelmingly voted to ACHIEVE INDEPENDENCE by JOINING la Republique du Cameroun as equal partners and not to be absorbed, as it would be absurd to think that’s how they voted. The Unification which LRC deceitfully calls Reunification was predicated on the achievement of that independence. So, LRC can not claim to welcome the Reunification and deny the independence. We are faced here with another but different TWO ALTERNATIVES: either Southern Cameroons achieved Independence and went into Reunification with La Republique du Cameroun, in which case it would be the Senegambia model; Or Southern Cameroons never achieved Independence and therefore, never went into Reunification with La Republique du Cameroun. Independence of Southern Cameroons ought to have been the bridge of the Reunification if the Reunification were not a myth or a figment of the imagination. You do not cross a bridge and collapse it or pretend that you never crossed it, or that one never existed. How do you justify being where you say you are, and gathering momentum to celebrate your fiftieth anniversary in 2011, when crossing a bridge was an international conditionality you circumvented?

Not surprisingly though, the more the Reunification saga seeks to transcend myth, the more mythical the thing looks by the methods employed, and the more it gathers momentum for self-dislodgement. For example, 11 February, 20 May, and 1 October, once LRC’s officially celebrated anniversaries before 1 October was dropped, and to be reinstated in 2011; have been, and continue to be laborious and futile attempts to legitimize a conceptual Reunification. What is LRC’s business celebrating 11 February, the memorable PLEBISCITE anniversary of British Southern Cameroons, and faking it as Youth Day? Youth Day, in commemoration of what outstanding achievement of LRC’s youth on the 11 February and of which year? What is the justification? Isn’t it simply one of those insidious methods usually employed to obliterate important landmarks in the history of Southern Cameroons? 1 October and 20 May, are progressions from 11 February. And like 11 February, there is no justification for celebrating them because none of them is LRC’s independence anniversary or National Day, None of them is significant in the history of their evolution. 1 January 1960, is the date the French handed down Independence, within the French Union, to French Cameroun with the new name of La Republique du Cameroun(LRC). The Independence was ratified by the United Nations on the 20 September 1960, on the Republic’s accession to membership of the United Nations.

Southern Cameroons was neither a part of French Cameroun before 1 January 1960, nor a part of LRC on, or after 1 January 1960, up till today. That is the reason why President Paul Biya, in his end of the Year Address to the Nation on 31 December 2009, could proudly and confidently declare: “On 1 January 1960, our independence was proclaimed. As from tomorrow we will therefore be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our accession to sovereignty.” By this declaration, President Biya impliedly affirms that 1 January is the independence anniversary of La Republique du Cameroun, and as such, the nation’s National Day since National Day is a derivative or offshoot of the independence date which is unique.

For Mr Biya to make that famous Declaration and in the same breath endorse his predecessor’s 20th May as La Republique du Cameroun’s National Day on a false premise, is to undermine the solemnity of the National Day, contradict himself, confuse his people and the international community, and display dishonesty.

If Southern Cameroons had achieved independence by joining LRC on 1 October 1961, as was programmed by the United Nations, a new nation state, christened by the United Nations as, the FEDERAL UNITED CAMEROON REPUBLIC, should have been born. It is significant to note that Southern Cameroons should have taken exceptions to having its independence linked to the French Union. It is therefore the FEDERAL UNITED CAMEROON REPUBLIC that should have ushered in, Unification. The word: Unification has its origin from the word: United, found in the new name: Federal United Cameroon Republic. Even after modifying the name to the: FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF CAMEROON by dropping UNITED, the first President, Mr Ahidjo picked it up again in the second REPUBLIC he called: UNITED REPUBLIC OF CAMEROON, which Mr Biya inherited but by nostalgia deleted to retain, REPUBLIC OF CAMEROUN or LRC. By the deletion of the word: United, Mr Biya destroyed all traces of Unification and Reunification which he has awakened too late to celebrate. What is the raison d’etre for President Biya contemplating on commemorating what he hated and destroyed, 25 years ago? Is he now conceding that he is a victim of his own imprudence?

If the United Nations wanted Reunification, they would have said so by the appellation: FEDERAL REUNITED CAMEROON REPUBLIC. That way, the second Republic, by Ahidjo’s formula, should have been called: REUNITED REPUBLIC OF CAMEROON which his successor should have inherited, and from which Reunification could logically have been derived. You do not inherit something, then reject it, and turn around and show the world quite a different thing you have chosen to inherit.

By inheritance, Unification was a “reality” that was ephemeral. Reunification is a phantom. It would be deceitful though, to celebrate Unification because, by empirical analysis, it has never existed; and celebrating Reunification would be compounding the deceit.

The building of a nation on falsehood, as the track record of la Republique du Cameroun shows every passing minute, is like the Biblical building of a house on a sandy foundation, and that house did not last; it collapsed.

For example, every one knows, as an open secret, that from the year 2003, Southern Cameroons representatives, SCNC/SCAPO, filed lawsuits against the government of LRC at the United Nations Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) by the medium of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation(UNPO), at the Hague; and at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights(ACHPR) in Banjul, The Gambia; for various offences committed against the people of Southern Cameroons and their territory. The offences range from Human Rights abuse, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture, economic rape, extra-judicial killings, forceful colonization, etc. The Verdict of the ACHPR’s Communication 266/2003 came out in May 2009 and was published in October 2009. The Commission, in their Recommendations, called for a Constructive Dialogue between the Complainants and the Respondent State to resolve Constitutional issues and grievances, under the auspices of the ACHPR; and each party was given 180 days to inform the Commission of its action. Whereas the Complainants have signaled the Commission on their preparedness for the Dialogue, and expected a similar response from the State party, LRC has not only unleashed a campaign of terror and witch –hunt against their adversary, President Biya has, in his end of Year Address on 31 December 2009, promised them mayhem.

President Biya has mentioned neither names of individuals nor organizations. But the message leaves no one in doubt that his target is SCNC/SCAPO, and Southern Cameroonians in the country and the Diaspora. Here is his stern warning: “I take this opportunity to denounce systematic contestation by a minority of our compatriots who readily resort to lie-telling and slander. Undoubtedly, they would rather our country plunged into all forms of chaos for them to achieve their aims.”

Isn’t it ironical that Mr Biya is now convinced of the chaos he has undoubtedly, been engineering since the year 1993? Has Mr Biya so soon forgotten that between 1993 and 2000, the Standing Committee of the ALL ANGLOPHONE CONFERENCE(AAC 1&11) and the SCNC of the SOUTHERN CAMEROONS PEOPLES CONFERENCE(SCPC) sent him not less than forty memoranda requesting him to create a forum for a Constructive Dialogue between his Government and representatives of the Southern Cameroons people, in a bid to resolving the Constitutional problem and subsequent return to the two states Federation of equal status that was unconstitutionally abolished in 1972; that shortly after the take over of Radio BUEA on 30/31 December 1999 by Rtd. Justice Frederick EBONG and five others including Chief Ette Otun AYAMBA, Chair of the SCNC, and broadcasting the Proclamation of the restoration of Southern Cameroons independence; Kofi Annan, the eminent emeritus Secretary-General of the United Nations, rushed in here, following the arrests and underground detention of Justice EBONG and his team, to request His Excellency to Dialogue with Southern Cameroons representatives; and, finally that, eighteen years later, the ACHPR, in their Verdict of Communication 266/2003, has made a similar Recommendation, among others? Has the President budged? Why not?

President Biya should be informed that it is this intransigence that is engendering the”systematic contestation,” and the only way to disprove their “lie-telling and slander,” is to open up to the Dialogue and let the Dialogue vindicate him. You don’t counteract “lie-telling and slander” by another lie-telling and slander of outrageous proportions. His adversary possess the truth, hence the systematic contestation. The only way Mr President can expose the lie-telling and slander of his adversary is at the Dialogue forum not by using the big stick to silence them. No one without a skeleton in his cupboard would resort to such Machiavellian tactics.

How can the Government hide the ACHPR’s Communication 266/2003 proceedings, and the President makes a turn a round to accuse their adversary of “lie-telling and slander,” and claims to be speaking on behalf of the people he expects to vindicate him, but from whom his Government has hidden the material on which they are expected to base their judgment? So, from a kindergarten arithmetical process of substitution and elimination, whose stock- in- trade is “lie-telling and slander”?

If the people who were arrested and detained in BAMENDA, for example, for no other offence than the distribution of the ACHPR’s Verdict in Communication 266/2003 (Southern Cameroons Vs Republic of Cameroun ), have by now been released, then it is thanks, to the whole gamut of international Human Rights Organisations that mounted continuous pressure on the regime for their release.

Perhaps it has not occurred to Government that hiding the Verdict amounts to its non recognition, as well as questioning the authority of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), and the African Union (AU) of which the Commission is an Organ. This is strange because, LRC is an accredited member of the AU and has pledged to uphold the Union’s Constitutive Act and Charter, and its other regulatory instruments. To put up an afterthought posture of repulsion in circumstances as those of the Verdict, can be likened to: desperately wanting back your cake after eating it. You can not, in one instant, submit yourself to the jurisdiction of a court, and in another, question the same jurisdiction.

By his stern warning, Mr Biya seems to be getting a message across that, irrespective of any outcome from any international Tribunal, he and his government will resort to the law of the jungle and use the big stick. In case Mr President has lost sight that his warning is an open declaration of WAR against Southern Cameroonians and their territory, he should be so acquainted so that he does not shy away from his responsibility when his fomentation reaches its critical mass.

America, Britain, and France who are arming LRC every passing day in exchange for oil for which Southern Cameroonians are paying with their blood, are called upon to reexamine their consciences and come to the realization that it is an inherent contradiction to preach justice and practice injustice for the love of oil, and to sacrifice the Rule of Law on the altar of jungle Law for the sake of oil.

The foresighted statesman, Fon GORJI DINKA, QC, perceived the approach of this calamity way back in 1985 when he made his famous address in which he called on LRC’s Army to: DIFFUSE THE TIME BOMB. GORJI DINKA suffered persecution, then he escaped, and now living in asylum in London; but the TB still needs to be diffused. The prescription: the Army should call on President Biya to divert the energy and resources he is using to foment war, to organize the Constructive Dialogue recommended by the ACHPR between the Respondent State and the Complainants, under the auspices of the African Commission. The Army should take their responsibility because, if they must fight a war, they should do so with clean and clear consciences that they are fighting and killing one another for a defendable and just cause and not for the sheer display of means and might to the glory of a Fuhrer.

The War They Wanted, the Lies They Needed By Craig Unger Vanity Fair

Tuesday 06 June 2006

BushThe Bush administration invaded Iraq claiming Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. As much of Washington knew, and the world soon learned, the charge was false. Worse, it appears to have been the cornerstone of a highly successful “black propaganda” campaign with links to the White House.

It’s a crisp, clear winter morning in Rome. In the neighborhood between the Vatican and the Olympic Stadium, a phalanx of motor scooters is parked outside a graffiti-scarred 10-story apartment building. No. 10 Via Antonio Baiamonte is home to scores of middle-class families, and to the embassy for the Republic of Niger, the impoverished West African nation that was once a French colony.

Though it may be unprepossessing, the Niger Embassy is the site of one of the great mysteries of our times. On January 2, 2001, an embassy official returned there after New Year’s Day and discovered that the offices had been robbed. Little of value was missing – a wristwatch, perfume, worthless documents, embassy stationery, and some official stamps bearing the seal of the Republic of Niger. Nevertheless, the consequences of the robbery were so great that the Watergate break-in pales by comparison.

A few months after the robbery, Western intelligence analysts began hearing that Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake – a concentrated form of uranium which, if enriched, can be used in nuclear weapons – from Niger. Next came a dossier purporting to document the attempted purchase of hundreds of tons of uranium by Iraq. Information from the dossier and, later, the papers themselves made their way from Italian intelligence to, at various times, the C.I.A., other Western intelligence agencies, the U.S. Embassy in Rome, the State Department, and the White House, as well as several media outlets. Finally, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush told the world, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Two months later, the United States invaded Iraq, starting a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and has irrevocably de-stabilized the strategically vital Middle East. Since then, the world has learned not just that Bush’s 16-word casus belli was apparently based on the Niger documents but also that the documents were forged.

In Italy, a source with intimate knowledge of the Niger affair has warned me that powerful people are watching. Phones may be tapped. Jobs are in jeopardy, and people are scared.

On the sixth floor at Via Baiamonte, a receptionist finally comes to the door of the nondescript embassy office. She is of medium height, has dark-brown hair, wears a handsome blue suit, and appears to be in her 50s. She declines to give her full name. A look of concern and fear crosses her face. “Don’t believe what you read in the papers,” she cautions in French. “Ce n’est pas la vérité.” It is not the truth.

But who was behind the forgeries? Italian intelligence? American operatives? The woman tilts her head toward one of the closed doors to indicate that there are people there who can hear. She can’t talk. “C’est interdit,” she says. It is forbidden.

“A Classic Psy-Ops Campaign”

For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success – specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain’s M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.

The Bush administration made other false charges about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) – that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes suitable for centrifuges, that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda, that he had mobile weapons labs, and so forth. But the Niger claim, unlike other allegations, can’t be dismissed as an innocent error or blamed on ambiguous data. “This wasn’t an accident,” says Milt Bearden, a 30-year C.I.A. veteran who was a station chief in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and Germany, and the head of the Soviet-East European division. “This wasn’t 15 monkeys in a room with typewriters.”

In recent months, it has emerged that the forged Niger documents went through the hands of the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI (Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare), or operatives close to it, and that neoconservative policymakers helped bring them to the attention of the White House. Even after information in the Niger documents was repeatedly rejected by the C.I.A. and the State Department, hawkish neocons managed to circumvent seasoned intelligence analysts and insert the Niger claims into Bush’s State of the Union address.

By the time the U.S. invaded Iraq, in March 2003, this apparent black-propaganda operation had helped convince more than 90 percent of the American people that a brutal dictator was developing W.M.D. – and had led us into war.

To trace the path of the documents from their fabrication to their inclusion in Bush’s infamous speech, Vanity Fair has interviewed a number of former intelligence and military analysts who have served in the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.), and the Pentagon. Some of them refer to the Niger documents as “a disinformation operation,” others as “black propaganda,” “black ops,” or “a classic psy-ops [psychological-operations] campaign.” But whatever term they use, at least nine of these officials believe that the Niger documents were part of a covert operation to deliberately mislead the American public.

The officials are Bearden; Colonel W. Patrick Lang, who served as the D.I.A.’s defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and terrorism; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Melvin Goodman, a former division chief and senior analyst at the C.I.A. and the State Department; Ray McGovern, a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years; Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia division in 2002 and 2003; Larry C. Johnson, a former C.I.A. officer who was deputy director of the State Department Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993; former C.I.A. official Philip Giraldi; and Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of operations of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.

In addition, Vanity Fair has found at least 14 instances prior to the 2003 State of the Union in which analysts at the C.I.A., the State Department, or other government agencies who had examined the Niger documents or reports about them raised serious doubts about their legitimacy – only to be rebuffed by Bush-administration officials who wanted to use the material. “They were just relentless,” says Wilkerson, who later prepared Colin Powell’s presentation before the United Nations General Assembly. “You would take it out and they would stick it back in. That was their favorite bureaucratic technique – ruthless relentlessness.”

All of which flies in the face of a campaign by senior Republicans including Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to blame the C.I.A. for the faulty pre-war intelligence on W.M.D. Indeed, the accounts put forth by Wilkerson and his colleagues strongly suggest that the C.I.A. is under siege not because it was wrong but because it was right. Agency analysts were not serving the White House’s agenda.

What followed was not just the catastrophic foreign-policy blunder in Iraq but also an ongoing battle for the future of U.S. intelligence. Top officials have been leaving the C.I.A. in droves – including Porter Goss, who mysteriously resigned in May, just 18 months after he had been handpicked by Bush to be the director of Central Intelligence. Whatever the reason for his sudden departure, anyone at the top of the C.I.A., Goss’s replacement included, ultimately must worry about serving two masters: a White House that desperately wants intelligence it can use to remake the Middle East and a spy agency that is acutely sensitive to having its intelligence politicized.

Cui Bono?

Unraveling a disinformation campaign is no easy task. It means entering a kingdom of shadows peopled by would-be Machiavellis who are practiced in the art of deception. “In the world of fabrication, you don’t just drop something and let someone pick it up,” says Bearden. “Your first goal is to make sure it doesn’t find its way back to you, so you do several things. You may start out with a document that is a forgery, that is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, which makes it hard to track down. You go through cutouts so that the person who puts it out doesn’t know where it came from. And you build in subtle, nuanced errors so you can say, ‘We would never misspell that.’ If it’s very cleverly done, it’s a chess game, not checkers.”

Reporters who have entered this labyrinth often emerge so perplexed that they choose not to write about it. “The chances of being manipulated are very high,” says Claudio Gatti, a New York-based investigative reporter at Il Sole, the Italian business daily. “That’s why I decided to stay out of it.”

Despite such obstacles, a handful of independent journalists and bloggers on both sides of the Atlantic have been pursuing the story. “Most of the people you are dealing with are professional liars, which really leaves you with your work cut out for you as a reporter,” says Joshua Micah Marshall, who has written about the documents on his blog, Talking Points Memo.

So far, no one has figured out all the answers. There is even disagreement about why the documents were fabricated. In a story by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, a source suggested that retired and embittered C.I.A. operatives had intentionally put together a lousy forgery in hopes of embarrassing Cheney’s hawkish followers. But no evidence has emerged to support this theory, and many intelligence officers embrace a simpler explanation. “They needed this for the case to go to war,” says Melvin Goodman, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. “It serves no other purpose.”

By and large, knowledgeable government officials in the U.S., Italy, France, and Great Britain are mum. Official government investigations in Italy, the U.K., and the U.S. – including a two-year probe into pre-war intelligence failures by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – have been so highly politicized as to be completely unsatisfying.

Only the ongoing investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the Plamegate scandal bears promise. However, it is focused not on the forgeries but on the leaks that were apparently designed to discredit former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson and that outed his wife, former C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, after Wilson revealed that the Niger story was false. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, has already been charged in the case, and President Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, has been Fitzgerald’s other principal target. But, with the dubious exception of an ongoing F.B.I. inquiry, there is no official probe into who forged the Niger documents, who disseminated them, and why, after they had been repeatedly discredited, they kept resurfacing.

Meanwhile, from Rome to Washington, and countless points in between, journalists, bloggers, politicians, and intelligence agents are pondering the same question: Cui bono? Who benefits? Who wanted to start the war?

The Stuff of Conspiracy Fantasies

If Italy seems like an unlikely setting for a black-propaganda plot to start the Iraq war, it is worth remembering that Et tu, Brute is part of the local idiom, and Machiavelli was a native son. Accordingly, one can’t probe Nigergate without examining the rich tapestry of intrigue that is Italian intelligence.

Because Italy emerged from World War II with a strong Communist Party, domestic politics had elements of a civil war, explains Guido Moltedo, editor of Europa, a center-left daily in Italy. That meant ultra-conservative Cold Warriors battled the Communists not just electorally but through undercover operations in the intelligence world. “In addition to the secret service, SISMI, there was another, informal, parallel secret service,” Moltedo says. “It was known as Propaganda Due.”

Led by a neo-Fascist named Licio Gelli, Propaganda Due, with its penchant for exotic covert operations, was the stuff of conspiracy fantasies – except that it was real. According to The Sunday Times of London, until 1986 members agreed to have their throats slit and tongues cut out if they broke their oaths. Subversive, authoritarian, and right-wing, the group was sometimes referred to as the P-2 Masonic Lodge because of its ties to the secret society of Masons, and it served as the covert intelligence agency for militant anti-Communists. It was also linked to Operation Gladio, a secret paramilitary wing in NATO that supported far-right military coups in Greece and Turkey during the Cold War.

In 1981 the Italian Parliament banned Propaganda Due, and all secret organizations in Italy, after an investigation concluded that it had infiltrated the highest levels of Italy’s judiciary, parliament, military, and press, and was tied to assassinations, kidnappings, and arms deals around the world. But before it was banned, P-2 members and their allies participated in two ideologically driven international black-propaganda schemes that foreshadowed the Niger Embassy job 20 years later. The first took place in 1980, when Francesco Pazienza, a charming and sophisticated Propaganda Due operative at the highest levels of SISMI, allegedly teamed up with an American named Michael Ledeen, a Rome correspondent for The New Republic. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pazienza said he first met Ledeen that summer, through a SISMI agent in New York who was working under the cover of a U.N. job.

The end result of their collaboration was a widely publicized story that helped Ronald Reagan unseat President Jimmy Carter, whom they considered too timid in his approach to winning the Cold War. The target was Carter’s younger brother, Billy, a hard-drinking “good ol’ boy” from Georgia who repeatedly embarrassed his sibling in the White House.

It began after Billy mortified the president in 1979 by going to Tripoli at a time when Libya’s leader, Muammar Qaddafi, was reviled as a radical Arab dictator who supported terrorism. Coupled with Billy’s later admission that he had received a $220,000 loan from Qaddafi’s regime, the ensuing “Billygate” scandal made headlines across America and led to a Senate investigation. But it had died down as the November 1980 elections approached.

Then, in the last week of October 1980, just two weeks before the election, The New Republic in Washington and Now magazine in Great Britain published a story co-authored by Michael Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave, now an editor-at-large at The Washington Times and United Press International. According to the story, headlined “Qaddafi, Arafat and Billy Carter,” the president’s brother had been given an additional $50,000 by Qaddafi, on top of the loan, and had met secretly with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. The story had come dramatically back to life. The new charges were disputed by Billy Carter and many others, and were never corroborated.

A 1985 investigation by Jonathan Kwitny in The Wall Street Journal reported that the New Republic article was part of a larger disinformation scam run by Ledeen and SISMI to tilt the election, and that “Billy Carter wasn’t the only one allegedly getting money from a foreign government.” According to Pazienza, Kwitny reported, Michael Ledeen had received at least $120,000 from SISMI in 1980 or 1981 for his work on Billygate and other projects. Ledeen even had a coded identity, Z-3, and had money sent to him in a Bermuda bank account, Pazienza said.

Ledeen told the Journal that a consulting firm he owned, I.S.I., worked for SISMI and may have received the money. He said he did not recall whether he had a coded identity.

Pazienza was subsequently convicted in absentia on multiple charges, including having used extortion and fraud to obtain embarrassing facts about Billy Carter. Ledeen was never charged with any crime, but he was cited in Pazienza’s indictment, which read, “With the illicit support of the SISMI and in collaboration with the well-known American ‘Italianist’ Michael Ledeen, Pazienza succeeded in extorting, also using fraudulent means, information … on the Libyan business of Billy Carter, the brother of the then President of the United States.”

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ledeen denied having worked with Pazienza or Propaganda Due as part of a disinformation scheme. “I knew Pazienza,” he explained. “I didn’t think P-2 existed. I thought it was all nonsense – typical Italian fantasy.”

He added, “I’m not aware that anything in [the Billygate] story turned out to be false.”

Asked if he had worked with SISMI, Ledeen told Vanity Fair, “No,” then added, “I had a project with SISMI – one project.” He described it as a simple “desktop” exercise in 1979 or 1980, in which he taught Italian intelligence how to deal with U.S. officials on extradition matters. His fee, he said, was about $10,000.

The Bulgarian Connection

In 1981, Ledeen played a role in what has been widely characterized as another disinformation operation. Once again his alleged ties to SISMI were front and center. The episode began after Mehmet Ali Agca, the right-wing terrorist who shot Pope John Paul II that May, told authorities that he had been taking orders from the Soviet Union’s K.G.B. and Bulgaria’s secret service. With Ronald Reagan newly installed in the White House, the so-called Bulgarian Connection made perfect Cold War propaganda. Michael Ledeen was one of its most vocal proponents, promoting it on TV and in newspapers all over the world. In light of the ascendancy of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the Pope’s homeland, the Bulgarian Connection played a role in the demise of Communism in 1989.

There was just one problem – it probably wasn’t true. “It just doesn’t pass the giggle test,” says Frank Brodhead, co-author of The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection. “Agca, the shooter, had been deeply embedded in a Turkish youth group of the Fascist National Action Party known as the Gray Wolves. It seemed illogical that a Turkish Fascist would work with Bulgarian Communists.”

The only real source for the Bulgarian Connection theory was Agca himself, a pathological liar given to delusional proclamations such as his insistence that he was Jesus Christ. When eight men were later tried in Italian courts as part of the Bulgarian Connection case, all were acquitted for lack of evidence. One reason was that Agca had changed his story repeatedly. On the witness stand, he said he had put forth the Bulgarian Connection theory after Francesco Pazienza offered him freedom in exchange for the testimony. He subsequently changed that story as well.

Years later, Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who had initially believed the theory, wrote that “I became convinced … that the Bulgarian connection was invented by Agca with the hope of winning his release from prison. … He was aided and abetted in this scheme by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the United States and William Casey’s Central Intelligence Agency, which became a victim of its own disinformation campaign.”

Exactly which Americans might have been behind such a campaign? According to a 1987 article in The Nation, Francesco Pazienza said Ledeen “was the person responsible for dreaming up the ‘Bulgarian connection’ behind the plot to kill the Pope.” Similarly, according to The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection, Pazienza claimed that Ledeen had worked closely with the SISMI team that coached Agca on his testimony.

But Ledeen angrily denies the charges. “It’s all a lie,” he says. He adds that he protested to The Wall Street Journal when it first reported on his alleged relationship with Pazienza: “If one-tenth of it were true, I would not have security clearances, but I do.”

Not long before his death, in 2005, Pope John Paul II announced that he did not believe the Bulgarian Connection theory. But that wasn’t the end of it. In March 2006 an Italian commission run by Paolo Guzzanti, a senator in the right-wing Forza Italia Party, reopened the case and concluded that the Bulgarian Connection was real. According to Frank Brodhead, however, the new conclusions are based on the same old information, which is “bogus at best and at worst deliberately misleading.”

In the wake of Billygate and the Bulgarian Connection, Ledeen allegedly began to play a role as a behind-the-scenes operative with the ascendant Reagan-Bush team. According to Mission Italy, by former ambassador to Italy Richard Gardner, after Reagan’s victory, but while Jimmy Carter was still president, “Ledeen and Pazienza set themselves up as the preferred channel between Italian political leaders and members of the new administration.” Ledeen responds, “Gardner was wrong. And, by the way, he had every opportunity to raise it with me and never did.”

When Reagan took office, Ledeen was made special assistant to Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state. Ledeen later took a staff position on Reagan’s National Security Council and played a key role in initiating the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran that became known as the Iran-contra scandal.

The Italian Job

In 1981, P-2 was outlawed and police raided the home of its leader, Licio Gelli. Authorities found a list of nearly a thousand prominent public figures in Italy who were believed to be members. Among them was a billionaire media mogul who had not yet entered politics – Silvio Berlusconi.

In 1994, Berlusconi was elected prime minister. Rather than distancing himself from the criminal organization, he told a reporter that “P-2 had brought together the best men in the country,” and he began to execute policies very much aligned with it.

Among those Berlusconi appointed to powerful national-security positions were two men known to Ledeen. A founding member of Forza Italia, Minister of Defense Antonio Martino was a well-known figure in Washington neocon circles and had been close friends with Michael Ledeen since the 1970s. Ledeen also occasionally played bridge with the head of SISMI under Berlusconi, Nicolò Pollari. “Michael Ledeen is connected to all the players,” says Philip Giraldi, who was stationed in Italy with the C.I.A. in the 1980s and has been a keen observer of Ledeen over the years.

Enter Rocco Martino. An elegantly attired man in his 60s with white hair and a neatly trimmed mustache, Martino (no relation to Antonio Martino) had served in SISMI until 1999 and had a long history of peddling information to other intelligence services in Europe, including France’s Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (D.G.S.E.).

By 2000, however, Martino had fallen on hard times financially. It was then that a longtime colleague named Antonio Nucera offered him a lucrative proposition. A SISMI colonel specializing in counter-proliferation and W.M.D., Nucera told Martino that Italian intelligence had long had an “asset” in the Niger Embassy in Rome: a woman who was about 60 years old, had a low-level job, and occasionally sold off embassy documents to SISMI. But now SISMI had no more use for the woman – who is known in the Italian press as “La Signora” and has recently been identified as the ambassador’s assistant, Laura Montini. Perhaps, Nucera suggested, Martino could use La Signora as Italian intelligence had, paying her to pass on documents she copied or stole from the embassy.

Shortly after New Year’s 2001, the break-in took place at the Niger Embassy. Martino denies any participation. There are many conflicting accounts of the episode. According to La Repubblica, a left-of-center daily which has published an investigative series on Nigergate, documents stolen from the embassy ultimately were combined with other papers that were already in SISMI archives. In addition, the embassy stationery was apparently used to forge records about a phony uranium deal between Niger and Iraq. The Sunday Times of London recently reported that the papers had been forged for profit by two embassy employees: Adam Maiga Zakariaou, the consul, and Montini. But many believe that they, wittingly or not, were merely pawns in a larger game.

According to Martino, the documents were not given to him all at once. First, he explained, SISMI had La Signora give him documents that had come from the robbery: “I was told that a woman in the Niger Embassy in Rome had a gift for me. I met her and she gave me documents.” Later, he said, SISMI dug into its archives and added new papers. There was a codebook, then a dossier with a mixture of fake and genuine documents. Among them was an authentic telex dated February 1, 1999, in which Adamou Chékou, the ambassador from Niger, wrote another official about a forthcoming visit from Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican.

The last one Martino says he received, and the most important one, was not genuine, however. Dated July 27, 2000, it was a two-page memo purportedly sent to the president of Niger concerning the sale of 500 tons of pure uranium per year by Niger to Iraq.

The forged documents were full of errors. A letter dated October 10, 2000, was signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Allele Elhadj Habibou – even though he had been out of office for more than a decade. Its September 28 postmark indicated that somehow the letter had been received nearly two weeks before it was sent. In another letter, President Tandja Mamadou’s signature appeared to be phony. The accord signed by him referred to the Niger constitution of May 12, 1965, when a new constitution had been enacted in 1999. One of the letters was dated July 30, 1999, but referred to agreements that were not made until a year later. Finally, the agreement called for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters – a spectacularly difficult feat.

Martino, however, says he was unaware that they were forgeries. He was merely interested in a payday. “He was not looking for great amounts of money – $10,000, $20,000, maybe $40,000,” says Carlo Bonini, who co-authored the Nigergate stories for La Repubblica.

SISMI director Nicolò Pollari acknowledges that Martino has worked for Italian intelligence. But, beyond that, he claims that Italian intelligence played no role in the Niger operation. “[Nucera] offered [Martino] the use of an intelligence asset [La Signora] – no big deal, you understand – one who was still on the books but inactive – to give a hand to Martino,” Pollari told a reporter.

Rocco Martino, however, said SISMI had another agenda: “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents, but they didn’t want anyone to know they had been involved.”

The Cutout

Whom should we believe? Characterized by La Repubblica as “a failed carabiniere and dishonest spy,” a “double-dealer” who “plays every side of the fence,” Martino has reportedly been arrested for extortion and for possession of stolen checks, and was fired by SISMI in 1999 for “conduct unbecoming.” Elsewhere he has been described as “a trickster” and “a rogue.” He is a man who traffics in deception.

On the other hand, operatives like Martino are highly valued precisely because they can be discredited so easily. “If there were a deep-cover unit of SISMI, it would make sense to use someone like Rocco,” says Patrick Lang. “His flakiness gives SISMI plausible deniability. It’s their cover story. That’s standard tradecraft with the agencies.”

In other words, Rocco Martino may well have been the cutout for SISMI, a postman who, if he dared to go public, could be disavowed.

Martino, who is the subject of a recently reopened investigation by the public prosecutor in Rome, has declined to talk to the press in recent months. But before going silent, he gave interviews to Italian, British, and American journalists characterizing himself as a pawn who distributed the documents on behalf of SISMI and believed that they were authentic. “I sell information, I admit,” Martino told The Sunday Times of London, using his pseudonym, Giacomo. “But I sell only good information.”

Over the next two years, the Niger documents and reports based on them made at least three journeys to the C.I.A. They also found their way to the U.S. Embassy in Rome, to the White House, to British intelligence, to French intelligence, and to Elisabetta Burba, a journalist at Panorama, the Milan-based newsmagazine. Each of these recipients in turn shared the documents or their contents with others, in effect creating an echo chamber that gave the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.

“It was the Italians and Americans together who were behind it. It was all a disinformation operation,” Martino told a reporter at England’s Guardian newspaper. He called himself “a tool used by someone for games much bigger than me.”

What exactly might those games have been? Berlusconi defined his role on the world stage largely in terms of his relationship with the U.S., and he jumped at the chance to forge closer ties with the White House when Bush took office, in 2001. In its three-part series on Nigergate, La Repubblica charges that Berlusconi was so eager to win Bush’s favor that he “instructed Italian Military Intelligence to plant the evidence implicating Saddam in a bogus uranium deal with Niger.” (The Berlusconi government, which lost power in April, denied the charge.)

Because the Niger break-in happened before Bush took office, La Repubblica and many others assume that the robbery was initiated as a small-time job. “When the story began, they were not thinking about Iraq,” says La Repubblica’s Bonini. “They were just trying to gather something that could be sold on the black market to the intelligence community.”

But it is also possible that from its very inception the Niger operation was aimed at starting an invasion of Iraq. As early as 1992, neoconservative hawks in the administration of George H. W. Bush, under the aegis of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, unsuccessfully lobbied for regime change in Iraq as part of a grandiose vision for American supremacy in the next century.

During the Clinton era, the neocons persisted with their policy goals, and in early 1998 they twice lobbied President Clinton to bring down Saddam. The second attempt came in the form of “An Open Letter to the President” by leading neoconservatives, many of whom later played key roles in the Bush administration, where they became known as the Vulcans. Among those who signed were Michael Ledeen, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and David Wurmser.

According to Patrick Lang, the initial Niger Embassy robbery could have been aimed at starting the war even though Bush had yet to be inaugurated. The scenario, he cautions, is merely speculation on his part. But he says that the neocons wouldn’t have hesitated to reach out to SISMI even before Bush took office. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq,” he says. “This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.”

In Lang’s view, SISMI would also have wanted to ingratiate itself with the incoming administration. “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire I.O.U.’s is a powerful incentive by itself,” he says. “It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them, or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian Embassy, talk to them.”

Lang’s scenario rings true to Frank Brodhead. “When I read that the Niger break-in took place before Bush took office, I immediately thought back to the Bulgarian Connection,” he says. “That job was done during the transition as well. [Michael] Ledeen … saw himself as making a serious contribution to the Cold War through the Bulgarian Connection. Now, it was possible, 20 years later, that he was doing the same to start the war in Iraq.”

Brodhead is not alone. Several press outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle, United Press International, and The American Conservative, as well as a chorus of bloggers – Daily Kos, the Left Coaster, and Raw Story among them – have raised the question of whether Ledeen was involved with the Niger documents. But none have found any hard evidence.

An Absurd Idea

Early in the summer of 2001, about six months after the break-in, information from the forged documents was given to U.S. intelligence for the first time. Details about the transfer are extremely sketchy, but it is highly probable that the reports were summaries of the documents. It is standard practice for intelligence services, in the interests of protecting sources, to share reports, rather than original documents, with allies.

To many W.M.D. analysts in the C.I.A. and the military, the initial reports sounded ridiculous. “The idea that you could get that much yellowcake out of Niger without the French knowing, that you could have a train big enough to carry it, much less a ship, is absurd,” says Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.

“The reports made no sense on the face of it,” says Ray McGovern, the former C.I.A. analyst, who challenged Rumsfeld about the war at a public event this spring. “Most of us knew the Iraqis already had yellowcake. It is a sophisticated process to change it into a very refined state and they didn’t have the technology.”

“Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore,” explains Karen Kwiatkowski, who has written extensively about the intelligence fiasco that led to the war. “If Saddam wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?”

“When it comes to raw reports, all manner of crap comes out of the field,” McGovern adds. “The C.I.A. traditionally has had experienced officers…. They are qualified to see if these reports make sense. For some reason, perhaps out of cowardice, these reports were judged to be of such potential significance that no one wanted to sit on it.”

Since Niger was a former French colony, French intelligence was the logical choice to vet the allegations. “The French were managing partners of the international consortium in Niger,” explains Joseph Wilson, who eventually traveled to Niger to investigate the uranium claim. “The French did the actual mining and shipping of it.”

So Alain Chouet, then head of security intelligence for France’s D.G.S.E., was tasked with checking out the first Niger report for the C.I.A. He recalls that much of the information he received from Langley was vague, with the exception of one striking detail. The agency had heard that in 1999 the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, had made an unusual visit to four African countries, including Niger. Analysts feared that the trip may have been a prelude to a uranium deal.

Chouet soon found that the al-Zahawie visit was no secret. It had been covered by the local press in Niger at the time, and reports had surfaced in French, British, and American intelligence. Chouet had a 700-man unit at his command, and he ordered an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Niger.

“In France, we’ve always been very careful about both problems of uranium production in Niger and Iraqi attempts to get uranium,” Chouet told the Los Angeles Times last December. Having concluded that nothing had come of al-Zahawie’s visit and that there was no evidence of a uranium deal, French intelligence forwarded its assessment to the C.I.A. But the Niger affair had just begun.

Into Overdrive

A few weeks later, on September 11, 2001, terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The neocons had long said that they needed another Pearl Harbor in order to realize their dreams of regime change in Iraq. Now it had taken place. According to Bob Woodward’s Bush at War, C.I.A. director George Tenet reported to the White House within hours that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack. But by midday Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had already raised the question of attacking Saddam. Likewise, four days later, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz advised President Bush not to bother going after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan but to train American guns on Iraq instead.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush’s approval ratings soared to 90 percent, the all-time high for any U.S. president. This was the perfect opportunity to go after Saddam, except for one thing: the available intelligence did not support the action. Ten days after the attacks, Bush was told in a classified briefing that there was no credible evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.

Now the Niger operation went into overdrive. The details of how this happened are murky. Accounts from usually reputable newspapers, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee, and other sources are wildly at variance with one another. In October 2001, SISMI, which had already sent reports about the alleged Niger deal to French intelligence, finally had them forwarded to British and U.S. intelligence. The exact dates of the distribution are unclear, but, according to the British daily The Independent, SISMI sent the dossier to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of M.I.6, in South London. The delivery might have been made, Italian reports say, by Rocco Martino. At roughly the same time, in early October, according to La Repubblica, SISMI also gave a report about the Niger deal to Jeff Castelli, the C.I.A. station chief in Rome. According to a recent broadcast by CBS’s 60 Minutes, C.I.A. analysts who saw the material were skeptical.

In addition, on October 15, 2001, Nicolò Pollari, the newly appointed chief of SISMI, made his first visit to his counterparts at the C.I.A. Under pressure from Berlusconi to turn over information that would be useful for America’s Iraq-war policy, Pollari met “with top C.I.A. officials to provide a SISMI dossier indicating that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger,” according to an article by Philip Giraldi in The American Conservative.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the analysts saw Pollari’s report as “very limited and lacking needed detail.” Nevertheless, the State Department had the U.S. Embassy in Niger check out the alleged uranium deal. On November 20, 2001, the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, the capital of Niger, sent a cable reporting that the director general of Niger’s French-led consortium had told the American ambassador that “there was no possibility” that the African nation had diverted any yellowcake to Iraq.

In December 2001, Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviewed Iraq’s W.M.D. program for Colin Powell. As for the Niger report, Thielmann said, “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.”

“Faster, Please”

Michael Ledeen waves an unlit cigar as he welcomes me into his 11th-floor office at the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington. Home to Irving Kristol, Lynne Cheney, Richard Perle, and countless other stars in the neocon firmament, the A.E.I. is one of the most powerful think tanks in the country. It has sent more than two dozen of its alumni to the Bush administration.

After 17 years at the A.E.I., Ledeen is the institute’s Freedom Scholar and rates a corner office decorated with prints of the Colosseum in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, and other mementos of his days in Italy. Having served as a consultant at the Pentagon and the State Department and on the National Security Council, Ledeen relishes playing the role of the intriguer. In the Iran-contra scandal, Ledeen won notoriety for introducing Oliver North to his friend the Iranian arms dealer and con man Manucher Ghorbanifar, who was labeled “an intelligence fabricator” by the C.I.A. Ledeen has made his share of enemies along the way, especially at the C.I.A. According to Larry Johnson, “The C.I.A. viewed Ledeen as a meddlesome troublemaker who usually got it wrong and was allied with people who were dangerous to the U.S., such as Ghorbanifar.”

Apprised of such views, Ledeen, no fan of the C.I.A., responds, “Oh, that’s a shock. Ghorbanifar over the years has been one of the most accurate sources of understanding what is going on in Iran. … I have always thought the C.I.A. made a big mistake.”

Bearded and balding, the 65-year-old Ledeen makes for an unlikely 007. On the one hand, he can be self-deprecating, describing himself as “powerless … and, well, schlumpy.” On the other, one of his bios grandiosely proclaims that he has executed “the most sensitive and dangerous missions in recent American history.”

Ledeen props his feet up on his desk next to an icon of villainy – a mask of Darth Vader. “I’m tired of being described as someone who likes Fascism and is a warmonger,” he says. “I’ve said it over and over again. I’m not the person you think you are looking for. … I think it’s obvious I have no clout in the administration. I haven’t had a role. I don’t have a role.” He barely knows Karl Rove, he says. He has “very occasionally” had discussions with Cheney’s office. And he denies reports that he was a consultant for Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans, the division of the Pentagon that was famous for cherry-picking and “stovepiping” intelligence that suited its policy of invading Iraq. “I have had no professional relationship with any agency of the federal government during the Bush Administration,” Ledeen later clarifies via e-mail. “That includes the Pentagon.”

However, there is considerable evidence that Ledeen has had far more access than he lets on to the highest levels of the Bush administration. Even before Bush took office, Rove asked Ledeen to funnel ideas to the White House. According to The Washington Post, some of Ledeen’s ideas became “official policy or rhetoric.” As for Ledeen’s role in the Office of Special Plans, Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the Pentagon during the run-up to the Iraq war, has described Ledeen as Feith’s collaborator and said in an e-mail that he “was in and out of there (OSP) all the time.”

Through his ties to Rove and Deputy National-Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Michael Ledeen was also wired into the White House Iraq Group, which was charged with marketing an invasion of Iraq.

Ledeen claims, as he told the Web site Raw Story, that he had strongly advised against the plan, saying that the invasion of Iraq was the “wrong war, wrong time, wrong way, wrong place.” But the truth is somewhat more complicated. Ledeen had urged regime change in Iraq since 1998, and just four hours after the 9/11 attacks he posted an article on the National Review Web site urging Bush to take “the fight directly to Saddam on his own territory.”

But to Ledeen, Iraq was just one part of a larger war. As he later told a seminar, “All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq … that is entirely the wrong way to go about it.” He urged Americans not to try to “piece together clever diplomatic solutions to this thing, but just wage a total war against these tyrants.”

In January 2003, two months before the war started, he wrote, “If we were serious about waging this war, we would, at an absolute minimum, support the Iranian people’s brave campaign against their tyrants … and recognize an Iraqi government in exile in the ‘no fly’ zones we control. … If we don’t, we may well find ourselves facing a far bigger problem than Saddam alone.”

Ledeen repeatedly urged war or destabilization not just in Iraq but also in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, even Saudi Arabia. “One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please,” he wrote. “Faster, please” became his mantra, repeated incessantly in his National Review columns.

Rhapsodizing about war week after week, Ledeen became chief rhetorician for neoconservative visionaries who wanted to remake the Middle East. “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad,” he wrote after the attacks. “We must destroy [our enemies] to advance our historic mission.”

The U.S. must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless,” he argued, until there has been “total surrender” by the Muslim world. “We must keep our fangs bared,” he wrote, “we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our dead, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”

“An Old Friend of Italy”

As 2001 drew to a close, such positions seemed decidedly outside the mainstream. Career military and intelligence professionals saw the relatively moderate Colin Powell and George Tenet, a Clinton appointee, reassuringly ensconced as secretary of state and director of central intelligence, respectively. “George Tenet had been there for a number of years,” says Larry Wilkerson. “He knew what he was doing. He was a professional. What did he have to do with Douglas Feith? It didn’t seem possible that someone like Douglas Feith could exercise such influence.” But a schism was growing between the cautious realism of analysts in the C.I.A. and the State Department, on one side, and the hawkish ambitions of Dick Cheney and the Pentagon, on the other.

As for Ledeen, how much clout he carried with the administration is a matter of debate. But one measure of his influence may be a series of secret meetings he set up – with Hadley’s approval, he claims – in Rome in the second week of December 2001. During these meetings, Ghorbanifar introduced American officials to other Iranians who passed on information about their government’s plans to target U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Among those in attendance were Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin of the Office of Special Plans. (In a separate matter, Franklin has since pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Israel and been sentenced to 12 years in prison.) “That information saved American lives in Afghanistan,” Ledeen asserts.

But other accounts suggest that Ledeen may have used his time in Italy to reactivate old friendships that played a role in the Niger affair.

According to La Repubblica, Nicolò Pollari had become frustrated by the C.I.A.’s refusal to let SISMI deliver a smoking gun that would justify an invasion of Iraq. At an unspecified date, he discussed the issue with Ledeen’s longtime friend Minister of Defense Antonio Martino. Martino, the paper reported, told Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” namely Ledeen. Soon afterward, according to La Repubblica, Pollari allegedly took up the Niger matter with Ledeen when he was in Rome. Ledeen denies having had any such conversations. Pollari declined to be interviewed by Vanity Fair, and has denied playing any role in the Niger affair. Martino has declined to comment.

By early 2002, career military and intelligence professionals had seen the Niger reports repeatedly discredited, and assumed that the issue was dead. But that was not the case.

“These guys in the Office of Special Plans delighted in telling people, ‘You don’t understand your own data,'” says Patrick Lang. “‘We know that Saddam is evil and deceptive, and if you see this piece of data, to say just because it is not well supported it’s not true is to be politically naïve.'”

Not everybody in the C.I.A. was of one mind with regard to the alleged Niger deal. As the Senate Intelligence Committee report points out, some analysts at the C.I.A. and other agencies considered the Niger deal to be “possible.” In the fall of 2002, the C.I.A. approved language referring to the Niger deal in one speech by the president but vetoed it in another. And in December 2002, analysts at WINPAC, the C.I.A.’s center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, produced a paper that chided Iraq for not acknowledging its “efforts to procure uranium from Niger.”

Nevertheless, the C.I.A. had enough doubts about the Niger claims to initially leave them out of the President’s Daily Brief (P.D.B.), the intelligence updates given each morning to President Bush. On February 5, 2002, however, for reasons that remain unclear, the C.I.A. issued a new report on the alleged Niger deal, one that provided significantly more detail, including what was said to be “verbatim text” of the accord between Niger and Iraq. In the State Department, analysts were still suspicious of the reports. But in the Pentagon, the Vulcans pounced on the new material. On February 12, the D.I.A. issued “a finished intelligence product,” titled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” and passed it to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney gave the Niger claims new life. “The [C.I.A.] briefer came in. Cheney said, ‘What about this?,’ and the briefer hadn’t heard one word, because no one in the agency thought it was of any significance,” says Ray McGovern, whose job at the C.I.A. included preparing and delivering the P.D.B. in the Reagan era. “But when a briefer gets a request from the vice president of the United States, he goes back and leaves no stone unturned.”

The C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations, the branch responsible for the clandestine collection of foreign intelligence, immediately tasked its Counterproliferation Division (CPD) with getting more information. According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, just hours after Dick Cheney had gotten the Niger report, Valerie Plame, who worked in the CPD, wrote a memo to the division’s deputy chief that read, “My husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.”

Her husband, as the world now knows, was Joseph Wilson, who had served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and as ambassador to Gabon under George H. W. Bush. Wilson approached the task with a healthy skepticism. “The office of the vice president had asked me to check this out,” Wilson told Vanity Fair. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day.”

He arrived in Niger on February 26, 2002. “Niger has a simplistic government structure,” he says. “Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium. The French mining company actually had its hands on the product. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.”

In addition, Wilson personally knew Wissam al-Zahawie, the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, whose visit to Niger had raised suspicions. “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome,” says Wilson. “He was not in the Ba’thist inner circle. He was not in Saddam’s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with this super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.”

On March 1, the State Department weighed in with another cable, headed “Sale of Niger Uranium to Iraq Unlikely.” Citing “unequivocal” control of the mines, the cable asserted that President Tandja of Niger would not want to risk good relations with the U.S. by trading with Iraq, and cited the prohibitive logistical problems in such a transaction.

A few days later, Wilson returned from Niger and told C.I.A. officials that he had found no evidence to support the uranium charges. By now the Niger reports had been discredited more than half a dozen times – by the French in 2001, by the C.I.A. in Rome and in Langley, by the State Department’s INR, by some analysts in the Pentagon, by the ambassador to Niger, by Wilson, and yet again by State.

But the top brass at the C.I.A. knew what Cheney wanted. They went back to French intelligence again – twice. According to the Los Angeles Times, the second request that year, in mid-2002, “was more urgent and more specific.” The C.I.A. sought confirmation of the alleged agreement by Niger to sell 500 tons of yellowcake to Iraq. Alain Chouet reportedly sent five or six men to Niger and again found the charges to be false. Then his staff noticed that the allegations matched those brought to him by Rocco Martino. “We told the Americans, ‘Bullshit. It doesn’t make any sense.'”

The Marketing Campaign

Until this point, the American people had been largely oblivious to the Bush administration’s emerging policy toward Iraq. But in August 2002, just as Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans formally set up shop in the Pentagon, White House chief of staff Andrew Card launched the White House Iraq Group to sell the war through the media. The plan was to open a full-fledged marketing campaign after Labor Day, featuring images of nuclear devastation and threats of biological and chemical weapons. A key piece of the evidence was the Niger dossier.

Test-marketing began in August, with Cheney and his surrogates asserting repeatedly that “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” Making Cheney seem moderate by comparison, a piece by Ledeen appeared in The Wall Street Journal on September 4, suggesting that, in addition to Iraq, the governments of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia should be overthrown.

But the real push was delayed until the second week of September. As Card famously put it, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was perfect.

The opening salvo was fired on Sunday, September 8, 2002, when National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN, “There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

The smoking-gun-mushroom-cloud catchphrase was such a hit that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all picked it up in one form or another, sending it out repeatedly to the entire country.

Meanwhile, the C.I.A. had finally penetrated Saddam’s inner sanctum by “turning” Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. Tenet delivered the news personally to Bush, Cheney, and other top officials in September 2002. Initially, the White House was ecstatic about this coup.

But, according to Tyler Drumheller, the C.I.A.’s chief of operations in Europe until he retired last year, that reaction changed dramatically when they heard what Sabri had to say. “He told us that they had no active weapons-of-mass-destruction program,” Drumheller told 60 Minutes. “The [White House] group that was dealing with the preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said, ‘Well, what about the intel?’ And they said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'”

At roughly the same time, highly placed White House sources such as Scooter Libby leaked exclusive “scoops” to credulous reporters as part of the campaign to make Saddam’s nuclear threat seem real. On the same day the “mushroom cloud” slogan made its debut, The New York Times printed a front-page story by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller citing administration officials who said that Saddam had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” Specifically, the article contended that Iraq “has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.”

The next day, September 9, the White House received a visitor who should have known exactly what the tubes were for – Nicolò Pollari. As it happens, the Italians used the same tubes Iraq was seeking in their Medusa air-to-ground missile systems, so Pollari presumably knew that Iraq was not trying to enrich uranium but merely attempting to reproduce weaponry dating back to an era of military trade between Rome and Baghdad. As La Repubblica pointed out, however, he did not set the record straight.

Pollari met with Stephen Hadley, an understated but resolute hawk who has since replaced Condoleezza Rice as national-security adviser. Hadley has confirmed that he met Pollari, but declined to say what was discussed. “It was a courtesy call,” Hadley told reporters. “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.”

But there was no need to pass documents. It was significant enough for Pollari to have met with Hadley, a White House official allied with Cheney’s hard-liners, rather than with Pollari’s American counterpart, George Tenet. “It is completely out of protocol for the head of a foreign intelligence service to circumvent the C.I.A.,” says former C.I.A. officer Philip Giraldi. “It is uniquely unusual. In spite of lots of people having seen these documents, and having said they were not right, they went around them.”

“To me there is no benign interpretation of this,” says Melvin Goodman, the former C.I.A. and State Department analyst. “At the highest level it was known the documents were forgeries. Stephen Hadley knew it. Condi Rice knew it. Everyone at the highest level knew.” Both Rice and Hadley have declined to comment.

Michael Ledeen, who had access to both Pollari and Hadley, categorically denies setting up the meeting: “I had nothing to do with it.” A former senior intelligence official close to Tenet says that the former C.I.A. chief had no information suggesting that Pollari or elements of SISMI may have been trying to circumvent the C.I.A. and go directly to the White House.

But the Niger documents had been resurrected once again. Two days later, on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Hadley’s office asked the C.I.A. to clear language so that President Bush could issue a statement saying, “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake. … The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.”

In addition, in a new paper that month, the D.I.A. issued an assessment claiming that “Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake.”

Later that month, the British published a 50-page, 14-point report on Iraq’s pursuit of weapons that said, “There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

“When you are playing a disinformation operation,” says Milt Bearden, “you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.'”

On September 24, Prime Minister Tony Blair cited that “dossier of death” and asserted again that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Africa. “The reports in [the Niger file] were going around the world, and Bush and Blair were talking about the documents without actually mentioning them,” Rocco Martino told Milan’s Il Giornale. “I turned the television on and I did not believe my ears.”

Now it was time for the international media to chime in with independent corroboration. In early October 2002, Martino approached Elisabetta Burba, a journalist at Panorama, the Milan-based newsmagazine. Burba and Martino had worked together in the past, but there may have been other reasons he went to her again. Owned by Silvio Berlusconi, Panorama was edited by Carlo Rossella, a close ally of the prime minister’s. It also counted among its contributors Michael Ledeen.

Martino told Burba he had something truly explosive – documents that proved Saddam was buying yellowcake from Niger. Burba was intrigued, but skeptical. She agreed to pay just over 10,000 euros – about $12,500 – on one condition: Martino would get paid only after his dossier had been corroborated by independent authorities. Martino gave her the documents.

When Burba told Rossella of her concerns about the authenticity of the Niger documents, he sent her to Africa to investigate. But he also insisted that she give copies to the U.S. Embassy. “I think the Americans are very interested in this problem of unconventional weapons,” Rossella told her.

On October 17, Burba flew to Niger. Once there, she discovered for herself how difficult it would be to ship 500 tons of uranium out of Africa. By the time she returned, she believed the real story was not about Saddam’s secret nuclear-weapons program at all, but about whether someone had forged the documents to fabricate a rationale for invading Iraq. But when she reported her findings to Rossella, he called her off. “I told her to forget the documents,” he told Vanity Fair. “From my point of view, the story was over.”

Now, however, thanks to Panorama, the U.S. had received copies of the Niger documents. They were quickly disseminated to the C.I.A. station chief in Rome, who recognized them as the same old story the Italians had been pushing months before, and to nuclear experts at the D.I.A., the Energy Department, and the N.S.A.

The State Department had already twice cast doubt on the reports of the sale of uranium to Iraq. In the fall, Wayne White, who served as the deputy director of the State Department’s intelligence unit and was the principal Iraq analyst, reviewed the papers themselves. According to The Boston Globe, he said that after a 15-minute review he doubted their authenticity.

“Stick That Baby in There”

In early October, Bush was scheduled to give a major address on Iraq in Cincinnati. A few days earlier, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the N.S.C. sent the C.I.A. a draft which asserted that Saddam “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa – an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.”

The C.I.A. faxed a memo to Hadley and the speechwriters telling them to delete the sentence on uranium, “because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” Iraq’s supply of yellowcake dated back to the 1980s, when it had imported hundreds of tons of uranium ore from Niger and mined the rest itself. The C.I.A. felt that if Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program he would be more likely to use his own stockpile than risk exposure in an illegal international deal.

But the White House refused to let go. Later that day, Hadley’s staff sent over another draft of the Cincinnati speech, which stated, “The regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.”

This time, George Tenet himself interceded to keep the president from making false statements. According to his Senate testimony, he told Hadley that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue,” because the “reporting was weak.” The C.I.A. even put it in writing and faxed it to the N.S.C.

The neocons were not done yet, however. “That was their favorite technique,” says Larry Wilkerson, “stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it will stay. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your ax out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.”

For the next two months, December 2002 and January 2003, references to the uranium deal resurfaced again and again in “fact sheets,” talking-point memos, and speeches. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice all declared publicly that Iraq had been caught trying to buy uranium from Niger. On December 19, the claim reappeared on a fact sheet published by the State Department. The bureaucratic battle was unending. In light of the many differing viewpoints, the Pentagon asked the National Intelligence Council, the body that oversees the 15 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, to resolve the matter. According to The Washington Post, in a January 2003 memo the council replied unequivocally that “the Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest.” The memo went immediately to Bush and his advisers.

Nevertheless, on January 20, with war imminent, President Bush submitted a report to Congress citing Iraq’s attempts “to acquire uranium and the means to enrich it.”

At an N.S.C. meeting on January 27, 2003, George Tenet was given a hard-copy draft of the State of the Union address. Bush was to deliver it the next day. Acutely aware of the ongoing intelligence wars, Tenet was caught between the hard-liners in the White House, to whom he reported, and the C.I.A., whose integrity he was duty-bound to uphold. That day, he returned to C.I.A. headquarters and, without even reading the speech, gave a copy to an assistant who was told to deliver it to the deputy director for intelligence. But, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, no one in the D.D.I.’s office recalls receiving the speech.

A State of the Union address that was a call for war, that desperately needed to be vetted, had been misplaced and gone unread. “It is inconceivable to me that George Tenet didn’t read that speech,” says Milt Bearden. “At that point, he was effectively no longer D.C.I. [director of central intelligence]. He was part of that cabal, and no longer able to carry an honest message.”

In an e-mail, a former intelligence official close to Tenet said the charge that Tenet was “part of a ‘cabal’ is absurd.” The official added, “Mr. Tenet was unaware of attempts to put the Niger information in the State of the Union speech. Had he been aware, he would have vigorously tried to have it removed.”

The next day, despite countless objections from the C.I.A. and other agencies, Bush cited the charges from the fraudulent Niger documents in his speech. Later that year, Stephen Hadley accepted responsibility for allowing the sentence to remain in the speech. He said he had failed to remember the warnings he’d received about the allegations.

Blaming the CIA

In last-minute negotiations between the White House and the C.I.A., a decision was made to attribute the alleged Niger uranium deal to British intelligence. The official reason was that it was preferable to cite British intelligence, which Blair had championed in his 50-page report, rather than classified American intelligence. But the C.I.A. had told the White House again and again that it didn’t trust the British reports.

The British, meanwhile, have repeatedly claimed to have other sources, but they have refused to identify them. According to Joseph Wilson, that refusal is a violation of the U.N. resolution stipulating that member states must share with the International Atomic Energy Agency all information they have on prohibited nuclear programs in Iraq. “The British say they cannot share the information, because it comes from a third-country intelligence source,” says Wilson. “But that third country is presumably a member of the United Nations, and it too should comply with Article 10 of United Nations Resolution 1441.” So far, Wilson says, no evidence of a third country has come to light.

A week after Bush’s speech, on February 4, the Bush administration finally forwarded electronic copies of the Niger documents to the I.A.E.A. Astonishingly, a note was attached to the documents which said, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.”

On March 7, the I.A.E.A. publicly exposed the Niger documents as forgeries. Not long afterward, Cheney was asked about it on Meet the Press. He said that the I.A.E.A. was wrong, that it had “consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing.” He added, “We know [Saddam] has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

On March 14, Senator Jay Rockefeller IV, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote a letter to F.B.I. chief Robert Mueller asking for an investigation because “the fabrication of these documents may be part of a larger deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign policy regarding Iraq.” But Senator Pat Roberts, of Kansas, the Republican chair of the committee, declined to co-sign the letter.

Then, on March 19, 2003, the war in Iraq began.

On July 11, 2003, faced with public pressure to investigate the forgeries, Roberts issued a statement blaming the C.I.A. and defending the White House. “So far, I am very disturbed by what appears to be extremely sloppy handling of the issue from the outset by the C.I.A.,” he said.

Under Roberts’s aegis, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the Niger affair and came to some extraordinary conclusions. “At the time the President delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech,” read the report. It added that “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts … told Committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa.”

In November 2005, Rockefeller and Democratic senator Harry Reid staged a dramatic shutdown of the Senate and challenged Roberts to get to the bottom of the forgeries. “The fact is that at any time the Senate Intelligence Committee pursued a line of questioning that brought us close to the White House, our efforts were thwarted,” Rockefeller said.

So far, the Republican-controlled Senate committee has failed to produce a more extensive report.

An Even Bigger Mistake

For his part, Michael Ledeen thinks all the interest in the Niger documents and Bush’s famous 16 words is overblown. “I don’t want my government’s decisions based on falsehoods,” he says. “But the president referred to British intelligence. So far as I’ve read about it, that statement is true.”

Ledeen categorically asserts that he couldn’t have orchestrated the Niger operation, because he disagreed so strongly with the administration’s policy. “I thought it was wrong to do Iraq militarily,” he says. “Before we went into Iraq, I said that anyone who thinks we can march into Iraq, overthrow Saddam, and then have peace is crazy. I thought it was a mistake at the time, and the way they did it.” He adds, “Let’s get real. This is politics. People in office do not like people who criticize them.”

It is unclear how these assertions square with the widespread reports that Ledeen was tightly wired into the neocons in the administration; with his long history of ties to SISMI, as reported by The Wall Street Journal and the court records from the trial of Francesco Pazienza; and with Ledeen’s own pro-war writings.

Despite all the speculation, there are no fingerprints connecting Ledeen to the Niger documents. Even his fiercest adversaries will concede this. “In talking to hundreds of people, no one has given us a hint linking Ledeen to the Niger documents,” says Carlo Bonini of La Repubblica, which is facing a defamation suit by Ledeen in Italy.

It is also unclear what, if anything, the Italians may have received for their alleged participation in Nigergate. In 2005, a consortium led by Finmeccanica, the Italian arms company, and Lockheed Martin unexpectedly beat out U.S.-owned Sikorsky to win a contract to build presidential helicopters. Some saw the contract, worth as much as $6.1 billion, as a reward to Berlusconi for helping Bush on Iraq.

Regardless of who fabricated the Niger documents, it is difficult to overstate the impact of the war they helped ignite. By May 18, 2006, the number of American fatalities was 2,448, while various methods of tracking American casualties put the number of wounded at between 18,000 and 48,000. At least 35,000 Iraqis have been killed. A new study by Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001, and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes concludes that the total costs of the Iraq war could top $2 trillion. That figure includes the long-term health-care costs for injured soldiers, the cost of higher oil prices, and a bigger U.S. budget deficit.

But the most important consequence of the Iraq war is its destabilization of the Middle East. If neoconservatives such as Ledeen and their critics agree on anything, it is that so far there has been only one real winner in the Iraq conflict: the fundamentalist mullahs in Iran. For decades, the two big threats in the Middle East – Iran and Iraq – had counterbalanced each other in a standoff that neutralized both. Yet the Bush administration, despite having declared Iran a member of the Axis of Evil, proceeded to attack its two biggest enemies, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Iran is unquestionably the biggest beneficiary of the war in Iraq,” says Milt Bearden.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the Bush administration is now rattling its sabers against Iran, which has been flexing its muscles with a new nuclear program. As a result, according to a Zogby poll in May, 66 percent of Americans now see Iran as a threat to the U.S. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national-security adviser to President Carter, has argued that starting the Iraq war was a catastrophic strategic blunder, and that taking military action against Iran may be an even bigger mistake. “I think of war with Iran as the ending of America’s present role in the world,” he told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it’s still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we’ll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.”

To Michael Ledeen, however, Iran’s ascendancy is just one more reason to expand the Iraq war to the “terror masters” of the Middle East. “I keep saying it over and over again to the point where I myself am bored,” he says. “I have been screaming ‘Iran, Iran, Iran, Iran’ for five years. [Those in the Bush administration] don’t have an Iran policy. Still don’t have one. They haven’t done fuck-all.”


This is Craig Unger’s third article for Vanity Fair. He is currently working on a book based on his article “American Rapture,” which appeared in the December 2005 issue.


Introducing Peasant Economists, PEECAS, and its Dream: From Us, For Us and By Us

Critical question. Where will Cameroon be in 50 years time? What future are we preparing for our children, and the children of our children? Who shall build us schools and hospitals, build bridges over our rivers, electrify our towns and villages, tar our roads, and supply clean drinking water to our poor villages? So many questions, but very few answers. Unfortunately. We believe that Peasant Economists is the answer. In fact, we believe every one of us is the answer to these questions. We, the Peasant Economists, believe the future of our country lies in our hands. The marginalisation, isolation and neglect we face in our own country today is not, must not and can not be accepted as an explanation of and a justification of indifference. The hard times should instead be seen as a challenge and a call to immediate action. The solutions to our numerous problems can only come from us, for us, by us. Politicians, claiming to have answers have led us down, again and again. They have lied again and again; cheated us, stolen from us, broken many promises while we stand by, arms folded, and watch our degenerate. Cameroon has gone from failing to a near-failed state. So much so that many citizens given up hope and fled, never to return. In the midst of all the misery we face today a lot of talking is going on, some are talking of a revolution, some talk of war, while others talk of independence. We, the peasant economists, hate talking. We are nation builders. We believe that the time has come for concrete action on issues concerning the future and development of our country. On 20th January 1961 John Kennedy, during his inauguration as president of the United States challenged his fellow citizens when he said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ President Barack Obama on the day of his inauguration as president reminded Americans, that it will take everyone’s involvement to solve the huge financial crisis facing his country. That means even in the richest countries on earth, the governments cannot do it alone. The happenings of recent times remind us clearly that the will of man is the strongest force on earth. We have seen a black man tell Americans ‘Yes we can’ and become the president of that county. We have seen militia groups, either defeat or survive the onslaught of one of the most modern and ruthless armies in the world. The Peasant Economists do believe its time for us, to believe in ourselves, organise ourselves, put our hands together to build and to develop our country. Our government has not, cannot and will not do it for us. After crying, grumbling and complaining and blaming each other for many years, the time for us to come together is now, not tomorrow. The great Chinese leader Mao Tse Tsung once said, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.’ JFK also said ‘Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions.” The question we must ask ourselves is, ‘Have we taken that first step yet?’ We need schools, we need roads, we need hospitals; playgrounds we need electricity, we need water, we need intellectuals and experts, we need food, we need jobs, we need industries, we need banks and we need a beautiful country. We, the peasant economists, strongly believe that from us, by us and for us, together we could make our country a better place. All this will not be finished in one day, nor will it be finished in the first one year, maybe not in our generation, nor even perhaps in our lifetime. But let us begin.

Geovic Mining Resolves Geovic Cameroon Accounting Disagreement

Geovic Mining Corp. (“Geovic” or “the Company”) (TSX: GMC)(OTCBB: GVCM) is pleased to announce it has resolved the previously disclosed accounting disagreement with Societe Nationale d’Investissement du Cameroun (“SNI”). Geovic indirectly owns 60.5% of Geovic Cameroon plc (“Geovic Cameroon”), the entity that owns the Nkamouna cobalt/nickel/manganese project, while SNI owns or represents 39.5%.

As discussed in Press Releases dated June 24th and June 26th, 2009, the two parties previously disagreed on the accounting treatment of foreign exchange gains applicable to capital contributions made by Geovic Mining to Geovic Cameroon prior to 2007. SNI had also initiated litigation for the removal of Deloitte & Touche Afrique Centrale Sarl (“Deloitte”) as Geovic Cameroon’s statutory auditor.

Both parties have agreed to settle the disagreement as follows:

– Any exchange rate gain registered in Geovic Cameroon’s accounts will be shared by all Geovic Cameroon shareholders on a proportionate basis.

– Deloitte will remain as Geovic Cameroon’s statutory auditor.

– Pending litigation between SNI and Geovic Cameroon will be withdrawn.

Notably, the settlement is expected to have no material impact on the financial statements of Geovic Mining.

Geovic Mining CEO John E. (“Jack”) Sherborne stated: “Amicable resolution of this disagreement is another positive milestone in the Company’s efforts to commence financing and construction of Nkamouna in the second half of 2010. Geovic and SNI look forward to continued co-operation in our mutual target of building the world’s largest primary cobalt mine.”

About Geovic

Geovic is a U.S.-based corporation whose principal asset is 60.5% of a significant cobalt-nickel-manganese deposit in the Republic of Cameroon, Africa. Additional Company initiatives and Project information may be found on the websites,, and For more information, please go to

The Concept of Peasant Economists: An Innovative Approach to Community Development By Ntemfac Nchwete Ofege

Could it just be that by bringing people together to poll all their financial and intellectual wealth together, community projects like the provision potable water, the maintenance of roads, the construction of schools, the invention and sustenance of electricity, the improved of health services and innovative agriculture could be handled better and faster than by governments?

This is what PEECAS or the Peasant Economists Association, code named PEECAS,  is all about. PEECAS was initiated by its founding fathers, who are based in Cameroon and abroad, to underscore the importance of any do-it-yourself projects to local communities.

Its was founded on the premise that individuals, groups and communities could and shoule be catalysts of their own development initiatives without exclusive dependence on the government for support.

As a spillover, the provision of basic infrastructure and community services could curb rural-urban exodus.  As a compliment,  asylum seekers searching for the ever-elusive Golden Fleece in seeming greener pastures in Europe and elsewhere can be lured back to their villages thanks to improved services and basic infrastructure.

Objectives of PEECAS:

-To identify existing socio-cultural and economic development structures as well as vulnerable groups in target communities.

-To discuss socio-economic and development initiatives with target populations.

-To strengthen the capacity of target communities and vulnerable groups thereby making them agents of  self-growth and socio-economic development.

-To mobilise concerned target groups and populations towards directed self reliant  growth and socio-economic development.

Activities of PEECAS:

– Carry out and inventory of existing socio-cultural and development associations and vulnerable groups in targeted communities to discuss socio-economic and development concerns of common interest.

– Organise sensitisation and mobilisation meetings with target groups and communities.

– Appeal for support from local , national and external elites of target groups and communities.

– Make regular reports to stakeholders and partners on activities and achievements.

– Organise workshops to train community team leaders and representatives .

PEECAS was created as a development association in January 2009 at Mankon Bamenda to address these challenges. It was officially registered and acknowledged by the Senior Divisional Officer for Mezam Division by Authorisation Ref. N° 083/E.29/1111/Vol.8/APPB of 29th December, 2009.

PEECAS is apolitical and non discriminative on the basis of age, sex, colour, creed, ethnicity, nationality, etc.. Branches shall be gradually established in other regions of Cameroon depending on availability of resources. PEECAS has the intention of establishing external branches depending on the interest of the elites abroad who subscribe to values, goal and objectives of the association


PEECAS Logo portrays its development priorities such as roads, electricity, water and community groups anchored on such attainable goals like good health


From us, For us, By us

Target Population:

Disadvantaged communities and vulnerable groups

Prioritiy Areas of Intervention:

Rural road network, bridges (culverts), rural electrification, pipe borne water, wells, sanitation, health infrastructure/equipment, educational infrastructure/equipment and assistance to farmers.


Accessibility by all to the fruits of development.

Mission statement:

PEECAS intends to promote the  socio-cultural and development of vulnerable groups as well as disadvantaged communities thanks to support from local, national and external elites.


The goal of PEECAS is to alleviate poverty through directed and sustainable self development efforts.

Management Structure:

PEECAS is managed by an executive comity made up of : a president and vice, secretary general, treasurer, financial secretary, public relations officer and two advisers.

Divisional Structure:

Divisional outreach or branches are managed by a project committee of 5 members : a chairman, a secretary, treasurer, financial secretary, a public relation officer and two members.

Their role is to mobilise the target communities and vulnerable groups towards the realisation of  priority projects. Divisional outreach or branches are the critical focal points for project conception and execution.


Branch executives table reports of local project and development activities to the head office for exploitation and concrete action.

The head office staff are charged with synthesizing branch reports for the Annual  General Assembly of PEECAS These reports are also ventilted to development partners and other stakeholders.

NB: Our values:

–         Accountability

–          Record keeping

–          Service to the needy

Head Office:

PEECAS’s head office is located at Alamatu – Mankon, Bamenda, North West Region of Cameroon where its first Constituent Assembly was held.

Contact Address:

All contacts can be made to the following addresses;

The Peasant Economists Association

National Head Office

Alamatu, Mankon

P. O Box 1080,


Tel: (+237) 77719121

Tel: (+237) 77660859


The Peasant Economists Association

International Office


Apartment 22

47475 Kamp-Lintfort


Doctoring the Spin Doctors. By Ntemfac Nchwete Ofege


In June this year, a French and Catholic outfit, CCFD, published a disquieting document to the effect that Mr. Paul Biya, erstwhile president of La Republique du Cameroun, may have stolen 46 billion FCFA from the country. Since that publication, the Biya regime has wheeled out militants, universitydons, sociologists, political thugs, political touts, pseudo-intellectuals, medical doctors, witch doctors, etc, to demonize and exorcise all who talkabout the issue. Now comes another report that Mr. Biya incinerated circa in three weeks of vacation, bringing the tally to 47 billion! Out come the militants, university dons, sociologists, political thugs, political touts, pseudo-intellectuals, medical doctors, witch doctors, etc, again. Media Strategist, Ntemfac Nchwete Ofege starts telling these tatterdemalion hellcats what is who… Curioser and curioser. A French newspaper says that for his latest ‘private stay’ at the Hermitage and Royal hotels in La Baule, France, Mr. Paul BIYA, President of Cameroun, and his retinue of some 43 happy-go-lucky souls, incinerated 27.000.000fcfa a day on choice items like lodging, feeding, shopping, manicure, pedicure, massage, what have you. The newspaper report, taken up by two other major French newspapers, stated clearly that for his circa three week stay in France, Paul Biya and his merry men used up some 600.000.000fcfa! The Biya government itself announced that Mr. Biya actually spent only for his vacation, but that part of the bill was picked up by ‘friends’likethe very French Bolloré Group. Now Bolloré is this offending French offender (investigated and actually found guilty in France for scams) to whom Mr. Biya traded off Cameroun’s railway Corporation, REGIFERCAM, the container terminal of the Douala Port, investments in agro-industries, etc. for a token sum. If these officials of Mr Biya’s entourage are correct, Bolloré picked up the tab as a matter of saying, thank you, Mr. President for the gift of key portions of Cameroun’s economy. Some local newspapers even refer to Bolloré as the vice president of Cameroon. Incidentally, while Mr. Biya and Co. were winning and dinning on Bolloré ‘s money, some Regifercam staff, protesting years of slave labour under the new slave drive Bolloré, pulled out rails in Yaounde and its environs. The result was a series of train accidents in which at least 05 Camerounians lost their lives and over 300 were wounded. Actually, the French Journalists who leaked out the figures of Mr. Biya’s expenses at La Baule were off the mark. They forgot the price tag of a private jet waiting for Mr. Biya at the nearest airport. An airline expert has just revealed to me that that plane was leased at the astronomical 300.000.000fcfa a day! That means that for his current private trip abroad Mr. Biya could have squandered anything between and! Work out the figure of all previous private visits abroad by this gentleman since 1982 and you only just begin to get the sorry picture. Mr. Biya blew away 1 billion in three weeks and now his administration has just obtained a 50 billion FCFA loan from the IMF. One tends not to be sympathetic with the screams from French newspapers that Mr. Biya had incinerated circa 1 billion FCFA whereas the French government had pledged aid of 350 billion FCFA to Cameroon over 05 years. The French have maintained Mr. Biya in power anyway and French hotels benefited from the steal. This leads me kindly to Issa Bakary Tchiroma. Mr. Biya’s latest spin doctor. Now another term for spin doctor is shit-shiner. Never in the life of me did I imagine that a man, one of God’s creatures would opt to be a shit shiner. Except, of course, Mr. Tchiroma is of his father….. Mr. Bakary told the BBC’s Focus on Africa prgramme the reports were an attempt to “destabilise” the country. “Isn’t he free to make a good use of his money?” the minister asked. “Does he have to give the account of the way that he’s using this money to journalists in Paris or here?” Whaaaat!!!!!! His money? And, I fail to see the correlation between denouncing a spendthrift president and the stability of Cameroon. Yet another minister, Biyiti bi Essam defended Mr, Biya’s right to his vacation in two newspapers (Cameroon Tribune and Le Jour) as if that right was at issue. Now let us work out the implication of the cash as squandered by Mr. Biya. The government of Cameroun constructs a classroom for 10.000.000fcfa. Given that Mr. Biya’s latest vacation costs according to the presidency the government could have constructed 1000 classrooms with this loot. At ten classrooms (plus offices) per school, government could have erected 100 schools. I bet that government could have erected at least 300 schools with the total amount wasted by Mr. Biya in his latest extravaganza. It is a fine irony that while the president squandered state funds a mud block wall in an equally makeshift government school in Balepipi, West region collapsed killing two children one four the other five-year old. When the CCFD, a French cum Catholic watchdog, published a document suggesting that Mr. Biya may have stolen some from Cameroon Mr. Tchiroma, the shit-shiner, shouted from the rooftop that those who publishing this information were characters trying to destabilize Cameroun and steal the country’s vast mineral wealth, especially the newly discovered diamond fields. I fail to see the correlation between a high official accused of swiping public money and Cameroon’s mineral wealth. The ruling party then wheeled out a whole kyrie of pseudo-intellectuals, psychologists, sociologists, political thugs, etc to defend Mr. Biya. CDPM Secretary General, Rene Sadi, expressed the indignation of his militants. Mr. Sadi said the CPDM condemned the insidious manœuvres and disinformation which were intended to distract the Camerounese people from their forward march to economic, social and cultural development which march had recorded precious achievements in stability,, unity, democracy social justice and international expansion !” That bombast failed to address the critical issue. Did Mr. Biya spoil the Camerounese state by stealing money from SCB? Did he institute a procedure to skim away percentages from public and private companies? Ha Paul Biya swiped 46 billion from the state of Cameroon? At least of this 46 billion can be accounted for. Messi Messi told us that Mr. Biya (via his defunct wife, Jeane Irene Biya) took out from the now dead SCB Bank (as a loan) to build for himself a country house in Mvomeka. That house was designed by Tunisian architect Cacoub, the very one who designed the current presidency. Did Mr. Biya pay back this ‘loan?’ If he did, where did he get the money to pay back? Name one civil servant who can obtain a 3.2 billion loan? So what is this Mullah, Tchiroma talking about? Learning from Mr. Biya’s example, all sort of government officials moved forcefully into SCB and other banks to offer themselves huge loans. Local newspapers have published the various swindlers lists of all regime couriers who dry-cleaned the banks. These people stole 150 billion from SCB alone. Have they paid back the money? Ngang. No sooner had the news about Mr. Biya’s extravaganza in France became public than Mr. Biya’s spin doctor, Tchiroma summoned the national press. Among other things, Mr. Biya told the press to be ‘patriotic’ by not publishing the facts. Mr. Biya should have thought about that before his wanton hussying. Secondly, who is the true patriot? The magnificent reporter who points out that in three weeks a president just incinerated enough to construct 100 schools or the president whose irresponsibility is so shouting? Who is the patriot between the reporter and the shit shiner who hands out gag orders? Mr. Tchiroma has no business telling the press not to go to town about Mr. Biya’s waste. Gregoire Owona, Mr Biya’s minister in charge of relations with the assemblies (yes, assemblies – West and East Cameroun Houses of Assembly) brings another sordid spin into this mess. Remember that Gregoire Owona’s name figures prominently on the 58-member strong swindlers list published by Kroll Associates. This list concerns people suspected of stealing public money. Grégoire Owona is number 48 on the list. Gregoire Owona said Mr. Biya had the right to spend all that money because he was not quite on vacation but he was actually working on very important files for the Camerounese people. Owona exhorted local newspapers not to join the French papers in destroying “our beautiful country. » Messrs Owona and Tchroma claim that newspapers that publish the Mr. Biya’s latest foible are tarnishing Cameroon’s image. Really? Who has greatly tarnished the country’s image between a spendthrift globe-trotting president and a minister who shuts down radio stations? Mr. Tchiroma also says that there is hope for Cameroun after the discovery of the largest diamond field in Mobilong, Yokaduma. Rubbish! There is enough selective amnesia here. The Korean company accredited with the Mobilong find thoroughly snookered the government of Cameroon by awarding itself 80% of the find leaving the government of Cameroun with only 10% and 10% to some private investors. As usual some Yaounde bureaucrats took bribes and let the Koreans off with murder. Citizen Journalist, Innocent Chia has just published the pitiful details about how exactly corrupt bureaucracts in Yaounde took bribes and traded off all the new mineral finds in Cameroon for a small fee. Chia writes, “Unfortunately, due to the failure of the Cameroon government to effectively streamline the mining code with other fiscal laws, foreign investors have successfully navigated the heavy and complex bureau-cratic machinery with the following scorecard: • Aluminum-Bauxite-Alumina Project: Hydromine Global Minerals GMBH Ltd, British Virgin Island (90%) – U.S Tax Shelter – “Build-Operate-Transfer” (BOT) government of Cameroon (10%)* • Cobalt-manganese-nickel Project: Geovic Ltd, Cayman Island (U.S tax shelter) – (60.5%) government of Cameroon (20%) four individuals (19.5%) • Diamond (CAPAM) Project: CNK Korea (80%) government of Cameroon (20%) • Gold (CAMINCO) Project: African Aura Resources, South Africa (90%) government of Cameroon (10%)* • Iron (Cam Iron) Project: Sundance Australia (90%) government of Cameroon (10%) • Uranium Project: Mega Uranium Canada*” The long and short of this wahala is simple. Listen, enough is enough. A warning to all these investors who are ripping off Cameroun though. These thieving contracts will be reviewed by the next administration.

Children of a Lesser God. By Ntemfac Ofege

Children of a lesser god: In 2007, five trigger-happy American-Blackwater mass murderers sprayed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians in Bagdad, including a wife and child whose heads were blown away, under the excuse that a top American demon was riding by in a motorcade. In 2009, breaking 2010, mass murderers freed by a Republican? Judge defending the insanity of American legal systems and functions, the same dubious system that made George Bush president. Children of a lesser god, the will of their father would they do.