Committee to Protect Journalist Demands Untainted Investigation into the Ngota Ngota Affair

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS

330 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001 | Phone: (212) 465-1004 | Fax: (212) 465-9568 | Web: http://www.cpj.org

CPJ seeks untainted Cameroon investigation of Ngota death

May 6, 2010

H.E. Paul Biya

President of the Republic of Cameroon

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Via facsimile: (237) 22 20 33 06

Dear President Biya,

The Rio del Rey. the Boat for which Ngota Ngota died

We are alarmed by investigations that appear to be flawed and marred with political interference into the April 22 death in prison of journalist Germain Cyrille Ngota. We hold Cameroon’s government responsible for Ngota’s death and the well-being of three other journalists in the custody of the administration. We call on you to address these concerns, along with allegations of torture of journalists by a security agency accountable to your office.

Mr. President, we were heartened by an April 26 statement issued from your office stating that “with a concern of objectivity and impartiality, the President of the Republic has wanted to assign this case to a body independent of the Executive and its parties, namely the judicial power, in view of the establishment of the truth.”

However, the same statement asserted that Ngota’s case was “not a matter of restriction of freedom of the press but of submission of every citizen to the rule of law.” In fact, agents of the Cameroon intelligence agency DGRE first arrested Ngota—while he was receiving home medical care for high blood pressure—with three other journalists investigating a document that implicated presidential adviser Laurent Esso in corruption. The administration has not addressed allegations that DGRE agents used psychological and physical torture to force the journalists to reveal sources for the document. 

The president’s statement further asserted that Ngota died only of poor health and not because of poor medical care at Nkondengui prison. However, in an interview with weekly La Météo, Ngota’s mother, Georgette Edima Ngoulou, said her son had complained of being trampled while sleeping on the floor of his cell and of exposure to rainwater. She said the prison warden “categorically rejected” a written plea for his medical evacuation, which his mother said had been endorsed by the prison doctor.

We are troubled that on April 28, the minister publicly disclosed that Ngota had been tested positive for HIV and died from infections arising from this condition—a claim refuted by Ngota’s widow. Local anti-AIDS activists and Cameroon’s national medical association have condemned the public disclosure of Ngota’s HIV status, raising concerns of violation of privacy and medical confidentiality rights enshrined in Cameroonian laws and the U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS. The minister’s statement was based on an autopsy he said would be held “in the presence of independent personalities” and Ngota’s family, according to Agence France-Presse. However, Ngota’s younger brother, Bruno Ntede, and Félix Cyriaque Ebolé Bola, a local journalist who was invited by the minister to represent the independent press at the autopsy, said they were not present, according to press reports.

Mr. President, you tasked Cameroon’s judiciary with independently investigating this matter. Yet, we are troubled that the integrity of the probe may have already been compromised by a series of assertions from the administration that are at odds with claims made by family and friends of Ngota. In the interest of transparency and safeguarding the integrity of any judicial investigations, we call on your leadership to address these concerns, including allegations that DGRE intelligence agents used physical and psychological torture to force four journalists to reveal sources of the document at the basis of their arrests. We finally ask that you release all journalists held in Cameroonian prisons.

Thank for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

URL > http://cpj.org/2010/05/cpj-seeks-untainted-cameroon-investigation-of-ngot.php

CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org.

Cameroon Media in the Loop. By Fon Achobang

In flames?World Press Freedom day celebrations are dedicated to reflections on what the role of the media should be in society. On the eve of the 2010 manifestations, the Cameroon media was bereaved as one of its members, Bibi Ngota, was allegedly tortured and abandoned to die in pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison. Cameroon media was also shocked beyond rationale when the Minister of Communication, government regulator of the sector, Issa Tchiroma Bakary went out of his way to make a public statement that Bibi Ngota was HIV positive and died from opportunistic infections. Against this background, Cameroon media is in mourning and reflection on the challenges that face the sector.

Citizens cannot make sound decisions on issues put before them without the free flow of information and public opinion. This information and opinion helps them to make informed decisions during elections and on which projects to support. 2011 is a critical year in Cameroon and the media cannot allow itself to fail. They must create the atmosphere for debate and free flow of information to educate and sensitize voters.

Cameroonian voters should be given a limitless supply of information sources; newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books, mailed communications and pamphlets. Hundreds of newspapers are reported as registered in Cameroon, and according to government that is an alibi for press freedom. How does the Cameroonian press provide coverage of all important local, regional, national and international developments?

The Prime Minister of Cameroon, Yang Philemon just completed an economic and image charming trip in the United States of America. The Cameroonian people are left to consume only the coverage of Cameroon Radio Television and Cameroon Tribune, both government public media. A vast majority of the bourgeoning press was left out of the trip. Of course, government media concerns are limited and will fail to report the all important trip from all perspectives. By the end of the trip few Cameroonians will be informed of the necessity of such a trip and the its fallouts.

As a committed sector to impartial and unbiased reporting of facts, the mass media, as an ideal should enable voters to make intelligent decisions. As such the media should analyze the meaning of developments, and in clearly identified columns and broadcasts, express editorial opinions supporting or opposing the decisions of public officials. In the current dispensation, the Cameroon private media has been seen as weakening government action in acting for the public good. This is because the private media has been the one reporting the various allegations on Biya’s Ill-gotten Wealth and the suits against the Head of State in the diaspora.

As to the choice between the media and the government, let us remember what Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence in America said. In 1787 he declared:

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Over 200 years ago, that is what one of the founders of the American modern nation thought of the media. As a source of informed opinion, it should occupy the priority position. The Cameroon media should offer debates on public issues and interviews with persons who support or oppose specific actions. The Cameroon government has indicated, perhaps it has become its hallmark, that it is opposed to any opinion opposing its actions. In the 1980s when the economic crises started biting the country, lots of journalists of the English expression tried to debate issues in the country. They were whisked off the news programme, Cameroon Report and taken straight to the Kondengui Central Prison. The name of the programme had since been changed to Cameroon Calling but each time the spirit of Cameroon report reared its ugly head, the anchor was taken off. As such the Cameroon media lost some of its best practitioners in the English language.

Today, the Cameroon media is confronted with all sorts of problems caused by amateurs and people who barely have the tools for reporting. The 1990 communication regulations try to define what a journalist was. According to this profile, a journalist was somebody who went through a school of journalism; somebody with a postsecondary education and should have spent at least a year practicing in a media house; and thirdly if the practitioner does not have a postsecondary certificate, he should have spent at least four years in a media house. These criteria notwithstanding, there is no watchdog to screen those currently on the field.

Some government institutions and authorities have, therefore, taken advantage of this lack of regulation to impose their personal stamp on what they imagine to be against them in the media. It is in this light that the very powerful Minister of State, Secretary General at the Presidency, Laurent Esso used his position to bypass all judicial procedures to get Bibi Ngota detained. Recently, I was dragged to the Kumba High Court to answer charges proffered against me by the powerful Judge of the court. He felt defamed when I publicized one of the swindling sagas he is involved in. if I had been found within his jurisdiction, he would have detained me. My belonging to a different jurisdiction did not prevent him from crossing his judicial boundary to accost me with a summons, which I of course used as evidence of his abuse of power to petition the President of the Republic, Chair of the Higher Judicial Council.

Reporters are expected to know their rights and responsibilities and operate within the ambit of such rights. If I didn’t know my legal rights, and knew how to analyze the data collected from the Meme High Court, that legal jurisdiction would have messed me up like Bibi Ngota. Today, it is the judge running away from his shadow and resorting to arson to erase damaging evidence against him.

The treatment of information by those who gather such information leaves much to be desired. An uncle of the Cameroon media, Sam Nuvala Fonkem observed that there were lots of assumptions in the columns of our newspapers and broadcasts. His advice was never to assume, but to elucidate and clarify a news story as if the reader knows nothing at all about it. Here publishers and news editors fail to do justice to reports as they transform themselves into butchers, cutting chunks of valuable information indiscriminately. This might be an overstatement because the cutting of valuable information is premeditated.

Some publishers have personalities to protect. Every time such personalities are highlighted negatively, the story is either killed or edited in such a way that the news is killed. Sometime in 2009, a seminar on corruption held in Buea. The participant from the American embassy declared that he was ashamed to call the Honourable Rose Abunaw such because she was a disgrace. This was because she was behind the many visa scams for which Dr Fonkam Azu Simon was accused on the private media.  Even though there was enough evidence to pin down Rose Abunaw as the culprit, this newspaper publisher decided that the story be censored.  What about the publishers/editors who will call the culprits reported in an article to come and buy off the story?

Selling of stories to culprits might even be more profitable than selling papers on the streets. No Cameroonian paper sells 3,000 copies per edition. Cameroonians prefer to save their money for beer and other mundane concerns than buy a paper which does not articulate their anxieties and propose solutions. Government too has censored the papers by making them unaffordable to the common man. At FCFA 400 for 16 pages, most folks find it a waste of scarce resources buying a paper. Publishers, therefore, resort to unpalatable strategies to make money; smear campaigns, selling stories and blackmail.

Some news organs have simply transformed themselves into griots or praise singersfor some powerful elite. You cannot blame them as most are unable to put food on their tables nor keep their issues in school. You need to see how some news gatherers fight over food at conferences to which their news organs were never invited. such events provide them the unique opportunity to have a balance meal. They will heap food on their plates till you cannot see their faces from across the table. With many months of unpaid wages, it is enough to turn them in any direction with as little as FCFA 5,000.

Government can reverse this negative trend by throwing its weight behind the media and supporting them in every material way possible. This though runs the risk of transforming some publishers into band boys of the government dimabola chorus. In this election season, more seminars should be organized to drill reporters on reporting and the media laws. Government should be lobbied to support media house financially. This may help check some of the abuses noticed with private media corporations. The public services should also avail media houses of information. 

 
Fon Christopher Achobang
Department of Linguistics
Faculty of Arts
University of Buea
P.O. Box 63 Buea

(Senior Translator),
English-French- English
Expertise; International Business Translation; Literary Translation, Medical Translation; Editing; Proofreading.

(Senior Reporter)
P.O. Box 1095 Limbe
The Cameroons

Tel, 237 99365954

Death of Cameroonian Journalist: Local Unit of Commonwealth Journalists Reacts

Death of Germain “Bibi” Ngota.  CACOJ Statement

  The Cameroon Association of Commonwealth Journalists (CACOJ) hereby condemns in very strong terms the diversion and manipulation that Communications Minister Issa Bakery Tchiroma has been carrying out following the death in detention of Journalist Germain “Bibi” Ngota.

Despite the creation of a commission of inquiry to examine the cause of his death, Minister Issa Tchiroma disregarded all medical ethics and released suspicious results of an autopsy carried out on the body of the late journalist.

This CACOJ considers, is a total disregard of the rules of decency and the well established respect of the death that is a hallmark in African culture. By releasing Bibi Ngota’s suspicious medical records, Minister Issa Tchiroma showed how insensitive he and the government he represents are and what lengths he will go to defend a regime that will hang onto power at any cost.

A family has just lost a husband, father, son, uncle and brother in the most atrocious circumstances and instead of giving them some solace, Minister Tchiroma goes ahead to rub salt into injury by releasing his medical results without consulting his family. CACOJ considers this a violation of the rights of Bibi Ngota’s basic human rights and that of his family.

CACOJ is now calling on Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma to use the same medium he earlier used to apologize to the family of the late journalist. The minister should also apologize to the press family in Cameroon for being so insensitive and provocative. The Minister should be reminded he does not need to be this impolite to prove Bibi Ngota died from natural causes in detention. The simple truth is he died in preventive detention without getting a fair trial and there is evidence he was tortured in detention. A high profile member of the government Laurent Esso, Secretary General at the presidency of the Republic ordered  their arrests and the commission of inquiry should also examine if the allegations against him were true.

CACOJ hereby calls on the Minister to desist from further provocative and manipulative statements concerning the death of Bibi Ngota and to wait like all like minded Cameroonians for the Commission of inquiry to release its findings.

CACOJ also calls on the government to release the two other journalist who were arrested in connection with the case

CACOJ supports the call for a demonstration by journalists and all like minded Cameroonians in front of the Prime Ministers office

CACOJ finally appeals that the government takes its responsibility and pays compensation to the family of the bereaved journalist

Our hearts and prayers are with the bereaved family at this difficult time. We extend our heartfelt condolences to them

3rd May 2010

Francis Ngwa Niba

For and on behalf of CACOJ.

Flashback: Election Fraud in Cameroon Washington Times

Biya’s Democracy, or an Exercise in Fraud? 

Some criticize the ’04 Cameroon vote. Several on a regime-funded U.S. team call it free and fair. 

By Ken Silverstein 

February 14, 2005 

President Paul Biya of Cameroon

 

WASHINGTON — When the strongman who has ruled the West African country of Cameroon for more than 20 years swept to another election victory last fall, a number of observers quickly questioned the process. 

International monitors led by a former Canadian prime minister said they had no confidence in the voter registration lists. Roman Catholic Cardinal Christian Tumi of Cameroon said the election, like all others in his country, was “surrounded by fraud.” 

But former members of the U.S. Congress on the scene were more upbeat about President Paul Biya’s 71% landslide. “In general, the process was free,” Ronnie Shows, one of six observers from the Washington-based U.S. Assn. of Former Members of Congress, told reporters in Cameroon. “This is what democracy is about.” 

The American mission was different in another way: It had been organized by an association member who also was a lobbyist for Biya’s government. The lobbyist served as the mission’s chief staffer and billed Cameroon for his work. 

Biya’s government also picked up the $80,000 tab for the Americans’ visit. And a month after the group left, one of the six observers signed his own lobbying contract with Cameroon, promising to show that the country was making great strides in human rights and democracy, according to federal lobby disclosure records. 

Association Executive Director Peter Weichlein defended the mission, saying it met all ethical standards and that a written report a week after the election included serious criticisms of the process. Five of the observers said in interviews that they had no problem with the lobbyist, former Rep. Greg Laughlin, playing such a key role in the mission. 

But three experienced election monitoring groups contacted by The Times said their standards would bar a variety of the association’s procedures in Cameroon. 

David Carroll, director of democracy programs at the Carter Center, which has monitored dozens of foreign elections, said his group did not accept funding from the government of a country where it was observing an election. 

“That’s a clear conflict of interest,” he said. “So is the involvement of anyone on the delegation who has a clear financial or political interest at stake.” 

A spokesman at Cameroon’s embassy in Washington said he was surprised that former members of Congress had allowed his government to pay for their trip. “It’s not normal practice,” said Richard Nyamboli. “I would think they would want to be autonomous.” 

The association of former lawmakers was chartered by Congress in 1970 to educate the public on “the crucial importance of representative democracy” at home and abroad. Its budget last year was about $750,000, mainly from dues paid by nearly 600 members, grants and an annual fundraiser. Of the association’s 24 board members, at least 18 work or have worked as lobbyists, four of them for foreign countries. 

In addition to its educational programs, the association’s activities include advising parliaments in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine. 

Last year it delved into election monitoring, sending a mission to Ukraine that was funded by the Washington-based U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, an organization co-founded by the wife of newly elected President Viktor Yushchenko. 

Four delegations sent July through October reported that the election process favored then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, Yushchenko’s presidential opponent. Yanukovich claimed victory in a November runoff election, but after protests in Kiev, the capital, the runoff was repeated, and Yushchenko won. 

(A different group of retired members of Congress also monitored the Ukrainian election and reported that the first round in October was essentially free and fair. That group, which was not affiliated with the association, was organized and funded by three businessmen close to Yanukovich.) 

In July, the Washington law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs inked a $400,000 deal to help improve ties between the U.S. and Cameroon, including on “issues relating” to the October election, federal disclosure forms show. Three Patton Boggs lobbyists, including Laughlin, traveled to Cameroon in August. Laughlin said in an interview that government officials told him they wanted Americans to monitor the vote so they could see how much progress Cameroon had made in building a democracy. 

Laughlin contacted Weichlein about sending an observer mission. Weichlein told The Times that the Biya government agreed to cover expenses and that the delegation members donated their time. Association officials also met with Laughlin to discuss their concerns about a possible conflict of interest, Weichlein said. 

“We sat down with him and said the mission had to be independent,” Weichlein said. “He said that was fine, the government felt it had made great strides and wanted the international community to be aware of that.” 

Cameroon was formed by a 1961 merger between two former territories controlled by France and Britain, but the country didn’t legalize opposition parties until three decades later. Biya, who took power in 1982, won multiparty presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. Those votes were “marred by severe irregularities,” according to a U.S. State Department report issued this year. 

And a separate State Department report, an annual human rights survey, says that the country’s security forces “committed numerous unlawful killings and were responsible for torture, beatings and other abuses,” and that the government “continued to arrest and detain arbitrarily various opposition politicians, local human rights monitors and other citizens.” 

In the current annual survey on corruption by Berlin-based Transparency International, Cameroon is tied for 129th place out of 146 countries. 

Yet for a number of years, the U.S. has maintained friendly ties with Cameroon and other energy-rich West African countries, which have become a growing source of oil imports. The U.S. bought more than $225 million in goods from Cameroon last year, mostly oil, and is one of the country’s major trading partners. 

Cameroon has held one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council since 2002, and it backed Washington’s attempt to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Biya made his first visit to the White House on March 20, 2003, the day of the U.S.-led invasion against Saddam Hussein. 

The official observer team of the former lawmakers association arrived in Cameroon on Oct. 8, three days before the vote. In addition to Shows (D-Miss.), it consisted of former Reps. Michael Forbes (D-N.Y.), Webb Franklin (R-Miss.), Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.), Richard Schulze (R-Pa.) and Joe Wyatt Jr. (D-Texas). 

Laughlin, a Texas Democrat who lost his 1996 reelection bid after switching to the Republican Party, and fellow association staffer Rebecca Zylberman arrived two days earlier. 

Laughlin arranged the group’s hotels and transportation and set up interviews with government officials and a briefing at the U.S. Embassy. 

“We relied on Greg 100% to put the trip together,” Weichlein said. 

The observers split into three groups and visited the country’s two biggest cities, Douala and Yaounde, as well as a few towns. They also met with representatives of opposition parties, interviewed election officials and visited polling stations. Laughlin did not go with the delegates to observe the actual vote. 

On Oct. 12, as votes were being counted, association members spoke to the media. Even though Laughlin was not an official member of the delegation, he was identified in Cameroonian and foreign news accounts as its leader. He praised the transparency of the vote, with media accounts quoting him as saying, “The elections were conducted fairly.” 

A postelection statement issued by U.S. Ambassador R. Niels Marquardt said the balloting marked “a positive step forward for this country’s evolving democracy.” 

Cameroon’s pro-government media outlets gave the U.S. delegation prominent coverage. 

“Voting Conduct Impresses American Observers,” the headline in the state-owned Cameroon Tribune said. According to the article, the Americans had “exalted” Cameroon’s democratic process. It quoted an unidentified team member as saying, “Cameroon is well on its way in the democratic process.” 

The British Broadcasting Corp. and the Agence France-Presse news agency reported that government denials of election fraud had been backed up by former members of Congress. 

The association issued a report a week after the vote that was more critical than the comments the delegation members had made in Cameroon. It includes complaints from opposition parties and reports a “significant number of irregularities,” including the media’s pro-government slant. It says that “many potential voters” had been unable to register because of their “assumed political sympathies.” 

The report also says that the irregularities were not enough for the association to “disapprove of the balloting process itself.” It calls for the strengthening of the new National Elections Observatory, and says its involvement in the vote marked “an important degree of progress against the background of past elections that were not well-supervised nor widely accepted as open, free and fair.” 

The report, which disclosed the Cameroon government’s funding of the monitoring mission but did not mention Laughlin’s role, acknowledged that government staffers had accompanied two of the three groups of delegates on election day. Although the officials did not limit the observers’ activities, they “did have a large role in outlining the agenda for the day,” it said. 

For one team, the government staffers helped determine which polling stations would be visited. That team, in which Franklin said he was paired with Schulze, reported “no instances of complaints from individuals regarding the denial of voting rights.” 

Weichlein and Laughlin both said that Laughlin had no input into the report. 

“When you get funding from one side, the other side is always going to accuse you of bias, but our report was not a whitewash,” Weichlein said. 

Schulze said he considered the final report too critical of Cameroon. “It now has freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and a good measure of toleration,” he said in an e-mail to The Times. “There was no violence and no coercion.” 

A group of observers from Commonwealth countries, led by former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark, began arriving in Cameroon about six weeks before the election. They deployed 24 monitors on the day of the vote and visited 263 polling stations across all of Cameroon’s provinces. 

In contrast to the association members’ remarks to the media, the Commonwealth group released a statement when it left Cameroon that said that “in a number of key areas, the electoral process lacked the necessary credibility.” 

It issued a 50-page report that also covered Cameroon’s poor human rights record and the government’s history of political violence against the opposition, topics not addressed in the 11-page American report. 

In its report, the Commonwealth group said that the registration process might have “missed a considerable portion of the voting-age population of Cameroon” and that the group had no confidence in the list of those who did register. Its teams encountered complaints from people who said they had registered but whose names did not appear on the lists. Some teams reported that the complaints were “numerous and vociferous.” 

“We ran into swarms of people who had been declared ineligible to vote,” Clark said. 

The report added that the National Elections Observatory lacked credibility and suffered from a “lack of financial resources, staff and enforcement powers.” 

Carroll said the Carter Center did not accept government help with logistics, agenda or escort. 

“A prerequisite for us to accept an invitation is to have unimpeded access,” he said. “The whole idea is to be independent and your movements unknown. If officials know where you are going, they have more ability to manipulate the process.” 

Clark, a member of the Assn. of Former Parliamentarians of Canada, said he had discussed the American mission with his board so “we can take steps to ensure that we don’t slip into the same type of practices” on election missions. 

In November, just more than a month after the election, delegation member Schulze — a member of the association’s board and a lobbyist at Valis Associates — signed up a new client: the Biya government. In exchange for an initial retainer of $149,972, he and two other company lobbyists are to help “maximize the impact of Cameroon’s political and economic reforms on agencies and departments of the U.S. government,” according to disclosure forms. 

Schulze said that after returning to the United States, he contacted some of the people he had met in Cameroon. It “was these discussions, along with our firm’s background and experience, which led to our being placed on retainer,” he said. 

That same month, former Rep. Maguire wrote a sharply critical opinion piece in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger calling the Cameroon election an example of how “dictators masquerade as democrats.” In a subsequent interview with The Times, he defended the association’s observer mission but said that he thought it was impossible to have a free election in Cameroon. 

Two other delegation members, Wyatt and Franklin, swiftly reacted to Maguire’s column. Franklin said they had worked with lobbyists Laughlin and Schulze to craft a letter to the editor that declared the election “free, fair and transparent.” 

Weichlein said the association hoped to expand its election observer program in the years ahead. 

“We have a unique pool of experienced legislators,” he said. “If asked, we can lend our knowledge and be extremely helpful to emerging democracies.” 

Times Staff Writer

Changing the System or the Incarnator

Changing the System or the Incarnator

By Ntemfac Ofege

In reply to Ateba Eyene and the Taliban of Communications aka Comical Ali.

Comical Ali

Several things: Point one. The fact about the matter is that Bibi Ngota hails from Mr. Biya’s Bulu-South province, Laurent Esso is from Deido- Douala…hence, per Ateba Eyene, the Bulus would want the Duala-Deido to account. This is preposterous! It shades the trees from the forest. I find Abeba Eyene subtle tendency to methodically tribalize, if not localize+regionalize: and hence trivialize, political issues parochial, suspect in very bad taste.

Now a certain cynicism would even demand most folks (like me) abstain from taking sides in this matter…after all, a CPDM Minster-Secretary General by decree has (mis)used the much decried instruments of torture and repression inherent in every quasi failed state cum dictatorship to murder a member of the ‘Pays organisateur’ in Ateba Eyenespeak. Dog eat dog. After all, Mr Biya’s tribesmen (even journalists from the South Region especially those at Cameroon Tribune and CRTV) and their political accomplices from the Centre and the East have always formed a bulwark whenever Camerounians have shouted from the rooftop that the system is wrong. Members of Bibi Ngota’s home region are not only supporters but the systematically vote for; they defend their frère de président and the monstrous system he incarnates. These often parochial cum ego-centric folks have often confused the ardent desire to modernize and democratize Cameroon with the case of changing Mr. Biya for foibles more real than imagined.

The problem, dear excellent colleague, is about terminating a dictatorial, clientelist, gulag created by one man for the benefit of one patron and his clients. This is a system wherein so-called top civil servants invented by clientelist presidential decrees no longer perceive themselves as ordinary. They are now omnipotent yet the lack omniscience or basic wisdom. These persons now confuse respect for constituted authority with fear of constituted authority. In this system government is not defined as the provision of services but the display of power and authority. M’as tu vu? This is unfortunate.

Were I to use your own imagery, Mr. Ateba Eyene, I would have said that we are in a restaurant and the time has come to pay the bill. You are also now paying for what you consumed and knowing what other Cameroonians have known before. After savaging and murdering Cameroonians of other strains and ideals, the ‘revolution’ is now turning its own homicidal rage on its own supporters of yore with equally murderous vengeance.

But no! No, my dear excellent young colleague, Ateba Eyene! The furore within other Camerounians about the Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota murder is not motivated by ethno- regional (hence tribal and trivial) considerations. In fact, Bibi Ngota’s origin is irrelevant. The fact about the matter is that like many others in the far–off and recent past, the murderous system in Cameroun has claimed yet another victim – one too many perhaps. That other journalists, members of the Beti Supremacists who hold sway in the government-controlled media (crtv and Cameroun tribune), have even voted with their feet and are keeping mum in the wake of the inane and cold blooded murder of one of theirs is not a deterrent. It will not deter us simply because tyranny anywhere is tyranny everywhere.

Point two. Like Mathias Owona Nguini, I also openly denounce Ateba Eyene’s sophistry and hypocrisy. This young man, who has tribal affinity to Mr. Biya’s home province and allegiance to Mr. Biya himself – an unmistakable supporter – systematically vomits the hackneyed ‘Biya has nothing to do with it’ ad infinitum ad nauseam. Per Atebe Eyene, everybody and everything else is wrong while Mr Biya is right. Rubbish ! Mr Biya is the problem…he created the contemptible system and he incarnates the system, he sustains the system and he defends the system. What was Mr. Biya’s take on the fact that his Secretary General was directly involved in the murder of a Camerounian? The president’s stand was that Bibi Ngota was not arrested for a press crime or delit the presse. In other words this young man was a common criminal, arrested, tried, sentenced and murdered for an ordinary crime like theft, forgery etc. Lord have mercy! Defending the system, right? Obstructing justice, right? Whereas on March 2, 2010, the local press reported that Mr. Biya had suspended Mr Esso’s signature on official documents. 

Who will receive the copy of the so-called Commission of Inquiry instituted by Mr. Biya to look into the murder of Ngota Ngota? Who will read its findings for his boss? Laurent Esso, the very one indicted by popular verdict for murder most vile. Mr Biya must think we are all fools! And, in every political system, Commissions of Inquiry were invented to sweep scandals under the carpet. Ask the Americans and the British.

Mr Ateba Eyene’s tendency to denounce all around Mr Biya while proclaiming that the president is a saint is illogical and suspect. This is the prototypal vintage Area Eyene – His Master’s Voice and a notorious two-timer.  At best, this is base native and tribal all over again. Mr. Biya is either the greatest thing that ever happened to Cameroun is he is the most unfortunate thing to have happened to Cameroun. Take your pick Mr. Ateba Eyene.

The Ngota Ngota Murder in Kinescope

Let’s survey the facts and the issues again.   

  • Mr Biya’s Secretary General, as Board Chairman of the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH is involved in a dyadic network of Jacob Zuma style kickbacks and graft following the purchase of a luxury ‘Hotel-ship’ for SNH. Whatsoever SNH wanted a ‘hotel-ship’ for is irrelevant but since the taxpayers are paying for the stuff who cares.  Mr Biya himself attempted to siphon SNH money to a dubious Camair account (far away from the eyes of the World Bank+IMF) to wards the purchase of an airplane – the Albatross. That this other nebulous deal was mismanaged and Cameroun lost anything between circa 31 and 71 million dollars is neither here nor there. Atangana Mebara etc are sitting smug in jail over this other heist.
  • Word about this unorthodox transaction, plus a list of beneficiaries of the cuts and takes, was leaked to a collective of Yaounde publishers with Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota among them. Serge Sabouang (La Nation) and Robert Mintsa (Le Devoir) also had the documents. Whosoever leaked this document is also immaterial. As Mr Biya’s reign ir-recoverably grinds towards the inevitable end, and as rumours of another cabinet shake-up looms, the crocodiles are eating the dogs. That too is understandable in all dictatorships.
  • Like any good journalist Ngota Ngota tabled a questionnaire to the omnipotent Secretary General in the presidency Laurent Esso, who is also Board Chairman of SNH. Crime de lese majeste! How dare a mere journalist question the Sec Gen in the presidency about anything let alone rackets and kickbacks! The Secretary General owes his allegiance and accountability to one man, you see. The one who appointed him, period! What Ngota Ngota forgot was that while the Sec. Gen may have no direct control over the police and the gendarmes, this man is a super magistrate (magistrate hors hierarchie) who has titular control over the DGRE…direction general de la recherché exterieur – the country’s counter terrorism+espionage outfit. In an obtuse case of abuse and misuse of power and authority, Laurent Esso caused the Directorate-General of External Intelligence (DGRE), to arrest Ngota Ngota, Harrys Robert Mintya of Le Devoir and Serge Sabouang of La Nation.
  • It has now filtered that Ngota Ngota did not even have the 100.000FCFA demanded by the source to acquire the indicted document!
  • During their February 5-12 detention at the DGRE, the journalists “were submitted to a number of barbarous acts of torture.’ And indicated by Cameroon’s Syndicate of Journalists. They were tied up and beaten nightly with metal bars, deprived of sleep and food and held naked in icy cells.
  • Ngota, a sickling (asthma+hypertension+hernia) was thus savaged tortured…not because of the authenticity of the document, but to state his source! By law, a journalist can only release his source in chambers before a judge. If this was a common law crime, like Mr. Biya says, why was this poor boy not arrested by the police or the gendarmes? Why the DGRE? Was Ngota a dangerous terrorist or a spy?
  • Having discovered his error of mis-using the DGRE to arrest and torture Ngota the first time, Laurent Esso now causes the Judicial police at Elig-Essono to re-arrest Ngota and prepare a case file against him based on statements and documents tortured out of Ngota.
  • Ngota Ngota’s wife, Mrs Colette Angèle Ngota told a local Radio station, TBC on the programme ‘’ Dans la ligne de mire’’ that she was one and a half months pregnant when the DGRE came for her husband. She says that she was punched in the stomach occasioning a miscarriage some days later. She says the she was bleeding profusely when the judicial police came to arrest her husband who was also on treatment.
  • Under duress, magistrates of the Mfoundi Court now expedite the trial of Ngota Ngota and the boy was despatched to the Yaoundé Kondengui gulag and thrown into a hellion unit called Kosovo.
  • Per Ngota’s wife, her husband was subjected to several tests before being thrown into jail by a certain Dr. Ndi. The HV test was among them. Ngota’s wife, who says she actually saw the medical record, says Ngota was positively diagnosed for hypertension and hernia but he was not HIV positive.
  • Issa Tchroma, Cameroon’s Minister of Communications; a man whose pronouncements border on the fringes of lunacy, a man who has a Taliban’s views to free speech, governance and government communications, a man who in his more mercurial moments is spokesman for the regime, says the DGRE intervened because by attacking the Secretary General in the presidency, the journalists wanted to bring down the government and the  state! Tchiroma says it was not Laurent Esso who was being questioned but a major institution of the state called the President’s General Secretariat – PGS!
  • In violation of every decency know to all cultures, especially the African culture of respect for the dead, no matter the circumstances, Tchiroma now goes public to say Ngota died of AIDS. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Mixing grapes and oranges. Let’s just reason with this revolting persona. What if Bibi Ngota was actually HIV positive .Was he arrested for being HIV positive? Was he tortured occasioning death for being HIV positive? Is Tchiroma now saying that government policy is to torture HIV infected persons to death? This is what the government of Cameroon now has as spokesman! Comical Ali!
  • After a brief release by the DGRE following which Ngota checked into the Yaounde Biyemassi Hospital for treatment Laurent Esso caused Ngota to be pulled off a sick bed on February 25. He was dragged to court and accused of forgery and using forged documents. Mr Esso’s accomplices and compradors in the magistracy unleashed expedite and thus jungle justice on the boy. He was despatched to Kondengui – speedily! I defy anyone to prove that Ngota actually forged these documents. Remember that the boy did not even have the 100.000FCFA needed to acquire the documents when they were leaked!
  • In Kondengui, Ngota was heaved into the section for common criminals amid the filth and the stench.
  • Ngota’s ailing (hypertensive) poor mother, Ngoulou née Edima Geogette, did bribe an official of the Kondengui prison (30.000FCFA) to get the boy move to better quarters. The official received the money but refused to move the boy.
  • Mrs Ngoulou Edima Geogette pleaded with the prison registrar for her son to be hospitalised. For fear of incurring the wrath of the man above, the registrar refused.
  • Mrs Edima managed to get 150.000FCFA for the boy to be hospitalised an operated upon. That failed and Ngota died April 22, 2010. This boy’s body would not even be given decent treatment after death. Issa Tchiroma, the Taliban, Minister of Communications told some lies, Tchiroma caused journalists to attend a fake autopsy, etc etc.
  • The press has just leaked a segment of a letter written by Bibi Ngota to Laurent Esso stating clearly that he never forged nor did he use the document… « (…) En toute franchise, je n’ai ni fabriqué, ni exploité le document, Je mets quiconque au défit de me prouver le contraire (…)»Mr Ngota wrote before his death. 
  • Consequent upon the death of Ngota Ngota, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the Cameroonian Syndicate of Journalists, the French Foreign Ministry, etc etc, roundly denounced the Biya regime….and note, Ateba Eyene, not Laurent Esso. If Mr Esso was such a liability why has he not been fired! Birds of a feather…
  • On April 25, 2010, the Committee to protect journalists sent this missive to Mr Biya. Your Excellency, we hold the government of Cameroon responsible for the well-being of the three newspaper editors currently held in state detention facilities, namely Mintya, Sabouang and Lewis Medjo of the defunct weekly La Détente Libre. Imprisoned since September 2008 at New Bell prison in the commercial city of Douala, Medjo’s health has deteriorated while in custody. He lost hearing in his right ear as a result of a severe ear infection while serving a three-year sentence over his coverage of a presidential decree, his brother Michée Medjo Gatheu told CPJ.

But this is my grouse with Ateba Eyene. The Camerounian problem is not a quarrel with individuals. It is a quarrel over political systems, their structures and functions. Any undemocratic, clientelist, dictatorial system with entrenched patron-client structures, networks and one based on the personalization of power, one man rule, etc., would show all the tractions, transgressions and contradictions that led to the death of Ngota Ngota.  

See the system (1) A Biya decree invented the-full-of-it Laurent Esso, an ordinary man and a dubious magistrate. Because of that decree Mr Esso now sees himself as omnipotent. He Who Not Only Cannot Be Questioned By The Press But He Who Must Be Obeyed. (2) To add insult to injury, Mr Biya made Esso Board Chairman of SNH…when all the country’s money or most of it emanates (3) the Sec Gen controls the DGRE (4) public contracts within this system are never transparent; the SNH is runned like a Ngumbah house one in with zero transparency (5) the courts and magistrates are avenues for clientelist networks and the magistrates can be influenced by the executive. The magistrates not only recognise know their own and one of there is Sec Gen in the presidency and this position is the president’s ears. This Sec Gen holds the key to upward mobility in the profession (6) these journalists were kidnapped and tortured and these practise remain a given in Cameroon especially for those suspected of attacking politicians (7) Cameroun’s magistrates still use evidence obtained via torture as evidence (8) Cameroon’s prisons are hell on earth. (9) the system operates on fear from above hence the prison authorities are zombies (10) the system does not have a Freedom of Information Act or an Official Secrets (11) Every idiot created by decree is accountable to none save the president. (12) Only the system would do itself the kind of disservice of appointing an Issa Tchiroma into government as spokesman. (13) etc. etc.

All of that as Mr Biya presides. Ateba Eyene’s suggestion for journalists to jump-start a massive inquiry into the management of their petroleum and its spill-overs is a non-starter. Without revisiting the inane pronouncement of a Biyarite, the late Jean Assoumou Avebe, that petroleum matters are too sophisticated for the common man to understand, democratic systems with even a modicum of transparency operate under the FREEDOM of Information Acts and Charters. Such systems volunteer information to the press and by inference the public. In such systems, journalists are not killed because the send interview protocols to the president’s secretariat. What makes Ateba Eyene think that as a matter of causality – the same causes producing the same effects – and given the stakes, another journalist would not be killed for proceeding with this kind of investigation?

One thing is clear. Camerounians of every creed, tribe and colour wish for their country to become a modern, democratic, transparent country, with checks and balances, free and unfettered press, etc. Mr Biya and his regime have neither the will, nor the savvy or even the ability to change their ways, their system and reach for these ideals. In fact, Mr Biya and his regime are in the way of a modern Cameroun. At best, Mr Biya owes Camerounians one favour – clean the Augean stable he created before he leaves – a Herculean and exalting and interesting task.

Consequently, Mr Ateba Eyene, dear young and excellent colleague, you cannot eat your cake and have it. We cannot have any more deaths. So, between changing the system and/or the incarnator, the choice is not Hobsonian. The choice is clear.

 

Committee to Protect Journalists Write to Mr. Biya

April 25, 2010

H.E. Paul Biya
President of the Republic of Cameroon
Yaoundé , Cameroon

Via facsimile: (237) 22 20 33 06

Dear President Biya,

Following Thursday’s death of newspaper editor Germain S. Ngota Ngota, whose health deteriorated while he was incarcerated in Kondengui Prison in the capital, Yaoundé, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on you to launch a public, thorough, and transparent inquiry into the circumstances of his death. We urge you to provide guarantees for the well-being of three other journalists held in Cameroonian prisons and address ongoing abuses—including allegations of state torture—against independent journalists who raise questions about the administration’s performance.

Ngota, editor of the private bimonthly Cameroon Express, died from “abandonment, improper care” and “failure to render assistance,” according to a prison death certificate that his family shared with journalists. Ngota, known by his nickname Bibi, suffered from high blood pressure and a hernia. Daily Le Jour quoted Ngota’s father as saying that his son’s medical conditions were diagnosed by a prison doctor identified as Dr. Ndi.

Ngota was arrested on February 25, along with editors Harrys Robert Mintya of Le Devoir and Serge Sabouang of La Nation, in connection with a criminal complaint from top presidential aide Laurent Esso in response to their investigation of corruption allegations involving Esso and the state oil company, National Hydrocarbons Company (SNH). The journalists were transferred to Kondengui prison in March under terms of pre-trial detention—which can lasts up to six months and can be extended twice, lawyer Jean-Marie Nouga told CPJ.

Three weeks before his arrest by police, Ngota was picked up by agents of the Cameroon intelligence agency (DGRE) while being treated for high blood pressure at Biyem-Assi district hospital in Yaoundé, Ngota’s father told Le Jour. He was held incommunicado without charge with Mintya, Sabouang and reporter Simon Hervé Nko’o of Bebela. The government has not publicly addressed Nko’o’s claims that security agents used psychological and physical torture to force the journalists to reveal their source for a document on which the allegations were based. Nko’o has since fled into hiding.

Your Excellency, we hold the government of Cameroon responsible for the well-being of the three newspaper editors currently held in state detention facilities, namely Mintya, Sabouang and Lewis Medjo of the defunct weekly La Détente Libre. Imprisoned since September 2008 at New Bell prison in the commercial city of Douala , Medjo’s health has deteriorated while in custody. He lost hearing in his right ear as a result of a severe ear infection while serving a three-year sentence over his coverage of a presidential decree, his brother Michée Medjo Gatheu told CPJ.

Accordingly, we exhort you to urgently take all the necessary steps to ensure that transparent investigations into Ngota’s death and allegations of torture against Nko’o are conducted, and that the results be made public. We ask you to hold to account all officials involved in abuses against their critics in the press and we urge you to initiate media reforms, particularly the decriminalization of press offenses, so that the press is able to raise questions about the management of public finances and cover the news without fear of reprisals.

Thank for your attention to these very important matters. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC:

H.E. Bienvenue Joseph Charles Foe Atangana, Ambassador of Cameroon to the United States

Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Hon. Jean-Jacques Ekindi, Member of National Assembly of Cameroon
Sen. Russ Feingold, Ranking Majority Member, Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs

Sen. Richard Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader , United States Senate

Benoît Sossou, UNESCO Representative in Cameroon

Ekue G. Kpodar, International Monetary Fund Representative in Cameroon
Mary Barton Dock, World Bank Cameroon Director of Operations
Faith Pansy Tlakula , African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

Manfred Nowak, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment
United Nations Committee against Torture

International Federation for Human Rights

H.E. Janet Garvey, Ambassador of the United States to Cameroon
Michelle Gavin, Africa Director, U.S. National Security Council

Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor , U.S. Department of State

H.E. Bruno Gain, Ambassador of France to Cameroon

H.E. Raul Mateus Paula, Head of the European Union Delegation to Cameroon

International Federation of Journalists
Freedom of Expression and Democracy Unit, UNESCO
Freedom House

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

The Pied Piper of Exotic Southern Cameroons upon Ambas. Translation by Ntemfac Ofege

Southern Cameroons upon Ambas,
Below the soaring Fako Mountain;
The Atlantic Ocean, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Forty years and nine  this day,
To see the people suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.

Frogs!

They swarmed the land by daylight,

And sneaked in by moonlight,

Conned Old Man Foncha with sweet talks of unification,

And took over the government,

And spread their nature of infamy, fraud and corruption,

Split up the land into provinces, divisions and districts,

And became the occupier,

Named vile tyrants or pro-consults in charge.

Brought in gendarmes by the truckloads,

To spread terror and mayhem,

Murdered the trusting citizens at Santa and Ebubu,

Slaughtered the country’s strong democratic culture and institutions,

Fired Augustine Ngom Jua who protested,

And named two-face Solomon Tandeng Muna in his stead

Corrupted the entire civil service with paper money,

And savaged the territory’s once buoyant economy,

They took over CDC and killed POWERCAM.

Buried the thriving Victoria Seaport underwater,

And tossed the Tiko Wharf into the Muck,

Erased the Bali, Tiko, Besonabang airports.

And turned our towns into ghost towns, when not war zones,

They stole the oil by the tanker-loads,

And lapped up minerals from the mines at lowly Bafaka,

And ate of the proceeds until they dripped with fats,

They placed a bomb within agreeable Lake Nyos

Causing horrendous deaths in the thousands.
Wasted a nation’s education organization,

And roared in mirth as the children to foreign lands escaped.

Gave the themselves choice spots in the administration,

Turned the good natives into beggars,

And called then fools or enemies in the fold when they protested,

And even spoiled the people’s open chats,
By drowning their speaking
With Merde! and croaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

At last the people in a body
To the Mount Mary Maternity came flocking:

Led thereto by Munzu, Elad and Anyangwe,
“‘Tis clear,” cried they, “our leaders are noddies;

Yawning when not snoring!
And as for the stooge of a Prime Minister —shocking
To think we make regular complaints,
To dolts that can’t or won’t determine
What’s best to rid us of frogs!
You hope, because you’re old and rheumatic,
To find in your cricket coats ease?
Rouse up, Sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the leaders of the people,

Pa Foncha and Solomon Tandeng Muna twain,
Quaked with a mighty consternation.

At having been found out.

Three days they sat in council,
At length, Pa Foncha broke silence:
“For the old British Southern Cameroons crown I’d my robe of office sell;

Grand Chancellor availeth me naught.

These people do have short memories,

They forget so soon,

That I was from my lofty positions as Vice President dumped,

Er yes, and as perpetual Vice Chairman of the Party too,

These people are like elephants,

They do not see my mighty efforts.
I wish I were a mile hence!
It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain— 
I’m sure my poor old head aches again
I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh for some guns, some guns, some guns!”
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,” cried Pa Foncha and Muna in unism, “what’s that?”
(With the Council as he sat,
Looking old and as skinny as a lath;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his appetite grew mutinous
For a plate of achu and goat-meat)
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a frog gendarme
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”

“Come in!”—Old Foncha cried, looking bigger:

Ay yes, and taller too!
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of Human and half of Peoples Rights;
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in— 
There was no guessing his kith and kin!

But like a dispenser of justice he looked!
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire:
Quoth one: “It’s as Old Abendong!
Starting up at the Ntamulung grave
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”

To wreak justice upon they that murdered him.

 

To be Continued…

A translation can stir all of the senses, and the subject matter of a translation can range from being funny to being sad. We hope that you liked this translation and the sentiments in the words of The Pied Piper Of  Exotic Southern Cameroons Upon Ambas by Ntemfac Ofege you will find other works by the translator on google.

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.

 “Danladi—”

“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.”

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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.

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