- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 5, 2004

BRUSSELS — Italy is blaming France’s intelligence service for circulating forged documents that showed Iraq trying to buy uranium from Niger in an elaborate ruse to embarrass Britain and the United States.

Italian diplomats say privately that France was behind the forged documents that at first appeared to prove Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger — evidence used by Britain and the United States to press the case for war with Iraq.

They say that France’s intelligence services used an Italian-born middleman to circulate a mixture of genuine and bogus documents to “trap” the two leading proponents of war with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein into making unsupportable claims.

The French intelligence service, asked to comment publicly on the charges, has yet to respond.

The Italian diplomats have given the Sunday Telegraph a photograph they claim shows the Italian go-between, sometimes known as “Giacomo” — who cannot be identified for legal reasons — meeting a senior French intelligence officer based in Brussels.

“The French hoped that the bulk of the documents would be exposed as false, since many of them obviously were,” an Italian official said.

“Their aim was to make the allies look ridiculous in order to undermine their case for war.”

According to an account given to the Sunday Telegraph, France was driven by “a cold desire to protect their privileged, dominant trading relationship with Saddam, which in the case of war would have been at risk.”

French officials angrily deny the account.

Last month, reports first surfaced that Giacomo claimed to have been unwittingly used by Sismi, Italy’s foreign intelligence service, to circulate the false documents.

The papers found their way to the CIA and to MI6, Britain’s foreign spy agency, and in September 2002 Prime Minister Tony Blair accused Saddam of seeking “significant quantities” of uranium from an undisclosed African country — in fact, Niger.

President Bush made a similar claim in his State of the Union address to Congress four months later, using information passed to him by MI6.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency expressed doubts over the documents’ authenticity, however, and in March 2003 declared them false.

The suggestion that Italy, driven by its government’s support for the United States , had forged the documents to help to justify the war in Iraq, caused a furor and has now led to the revelation of new information about Giacomo.

The Sunday Telegraph has been told that the man has a criminal record for extortion and fraud, but draws a monthly salary of about $5,000 from the DGSE — the French equivalent of the CIA — for which he is said to have worked for the past five years.

Giacomo could not be reached for comment on the claims last week at either his home in Formello, a suburb on the northern edge of Rome, or at his second home in Luxembourg.

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