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From the Associated Press


Italian Faces Pre-War Intelligence Probe

Tuesday October 25, 2005 9:46 PM

AP Photo MIL110


Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) - The head of Italy's military secret services will be questioned by a parliamentary commission next week over allegations that his organization gave the United States and Britain disputed documents suggesting that Saddam Hussein had been seeking uranium in Africa, officials said Tuesday.

Nicolo Pollari, director of the SISMI intelligence agency, will be questioned on Nov. 3 by members of the commission overseeing secret services, said Micaela Panella, a commission spokeswoman.

She said Pollari asked to be questioned after reports Monday and Tuesday in the Rome daily La Repubblica claiming SISMI passed on to the CIA, U.S. government officials and Britain's MI6 intelligence services a dossier it knew was forged.

The documents detailed a purported Iraqi deal to buy 500 tons of uranium yellowcake from Niger, a claim the United States and Britain used to try to prove Saddam Hussein was seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction and justify the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Italian government - a staunch U.S. ally - repeatedly has denied reports that SISMI passed on documents about the Niger affair.

Some of the intelligence supporting the claim was later deemed unreliable and the political fight that ensued is at the center of a U.S. federal grand jury probe into the disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA officer.

Pollari's hearing will not be open to the public, but the commission's president, Enzo Bianco, was expected to brief reporters after the meeting, Panella said.

La Repubblica claimed that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Pollari was under pressure from Premier Silvio Berlusconi to make a strong contribution to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The newspaper is a strong opponent of Berlusconi.

To satisfy the request, Pollari used a dossier that originally had been fabricated in early 2001 with material stolen from Niger's embassy in Rome, La Repubblica reported.

Between the end of 2001 and 2002, Pollari allegedly used official and unofficial channels to pass on the forged documents about the uranium deal to CIA officers in Rome and to the British intelligence agency.

When foreign intelligence agencies met the documents with skepticism, Pollari used his own contacts in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and an aide to the president's national security adviser to promote the dossier, La Repubblica said, without elaborating.

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

Elisabetta Burba, of Panorama magazine, said she turned over a copy of the documents to the U.S. Embassy in Rome hoping to receive an assessment of their authenticity.

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

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