Updated with reply from Michael Ledeen: Who forged the Niger Yellowcake documents? From a radio interview with Vincent Cannistaro, former CIA head of counterterrorism operations and intelligence director at the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan:
Q. Well, Ambassador Wilson publicly refuted the claims — particularly the 16 words in the President’s State of the Union address that the Iraqis were trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Niger. That document, I understand, was fabricated ... it originally came out of Italian intelligence, I think SISME, or SISDE—I’m not sure which one.
A. It was SISME, yeah. ...
[D]uring the two-thousands when we’re talking about acquiring information on Iraq. It isn’t that anyone had a good source on Iraq—there weren’t any good sources. The Italian intelligence service, the military intelligence service, was acquiring information that was really being hand-fed to them by very dubious sources. The Niger documents, for example, which apparently were produced in the United States, yet were funneled through the Italians.
Q. Do we know who produced those documents? Because there’s some suspicion ...
A. I think I do, but I’d rather not speak about it right now, because I don’t think it’s a proven case ...
Q. If I said “Michael Ledeen” ?
A. You’d be very close . . .
Update: Michael Ledeen emails:
This is total nonsense. I have nothing at all to do with the "Niger documents," I have not ever seen them, let alone create them or transmit them.
I have left Cannistraro a voice mail asking him to quickly retract and apologize. I don't know if somebody fed this to him, or whether he just invented it, but it's false...
I was quite struck by Ledeen's email address. I won't give out the whole thing but the first six letters are "Benito" as in, well, you know who...
Michael is such a tease. His email says "No,", but his email address says, well, exactly what does choosing "BenitoXXX" as his email address say about a man often rumored to have covert connections to unsavory far right elements within the Italian intelligence services? Perhaps it just says that he likes his International Man of Mystery reputation.
Up-Update: Ledeen writes:
Don't get excited, it's benito garozzo, world's greatest bridge player.
Obviously, it never occurred to Ledeen, the author of Universal Fascism, that anyone would think "benito" referred to another Benito.
As I said, he's such a tease.
So, will Ledeen use his extensive contacts within the Italian spy services to vow, like OJ, to Search for the Real Forgers?
Here's an excerpt from a profile of Ledeen from when he was involved in Iran-Contra that appeared in the Washington Post on Feb. 2, 1987 (only on Nexis):
At different times [Ledeen] has been a world-class bridge player who toured with actor Omar Sharif, a teacher of Italian history who was denied tenure at Washington University of St. Louis after charges of plagiarism, a journalist who has written several biting attacks on the press, and a self-described terrorism expert who has done consulting work for the Italian military intelligence service and the Reagan administration. ...
Several of Ledeen's former colleagues at Washington University said they were surprised to learn he had played such a sensitive role in a momentous foreign policy gamble [Iran-Contra], because Reagan administration officials knew about the plagiarism allegations that cost Ledeen a tenured position 15 years ago.
Ledeen said, "Any suggestion that my scholarship was less than professional is nonsense." He said Rowland Berthoff, head of the history department at the time, told him the allegations didn't play a role in the vote.
But Berthoff disagreed. "He seemed to have used the work of somebody else without proper credit. There was no other reason to vote against him."
Richard Walter, the current head of the department, said, "Serious questions were raised about the quality of his scholarship and the research that went into it." He said government background investigators were told about the tenure issue before Ledeen was hired as a special adviser to Haig in 1981. "I think the people who appointed him showed bad judgment," Walter said.
Robert C. Williams, now dean of the faculty at Davidson College in North Carolina, said the charges "involved deceptive use of prime sources . . . . Some would call it plagiarism, some wouldn't."
Solon Beinfeld, a professor who said he is a friend of Ledeen who voted in his favor in the tenure dispute, said, "It seems unfair that people raise this now as some sort of proof he's been a shady guy all along." He said Ledeen was popular with students at the university and the "quasi-irregularity" at issue didn't warrant the negative vote on tenure for Ledeen. "I would just tell him not to do it again."