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Saturday, October 29, 2005

UN's Mehlis Report Discredited

International Espionage Over Syria?

The Bush and Blair governments have rallied together on the back of the new UN report, released last Friday, into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, drumming up international pressure on Syria. President Bush and Secretary of State Rice, along with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, called for urgent Security Council action in response to the report’s findings that Syrian military intelligence officials were behind the plot.

Man behind the report

But the background of the UN report’s author, Detlev Mehlis - Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the Hariri assassination – raises disturbing questions about the integrity of the UN investigation, and indeed about the wider role and motives of the US and British governments.

Mehlis is currently Senior Public Prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General in Berlin, and has prosecuted numerous terrorism and organized crime cases including most prominently the 1982 bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin. That terrorist attack was promptly blamed by the Reagan administration on Libya, justifying the US bombing of the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, killing at least 30 civilians including children.

Concocting evidence

The immediate evidence used to blame Libya consisted of alleged National Security Agency intercepts of coded exchanges between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan Peoples Bureau saying “We have something that will make you happy”, and another after the bombing: “An event occurred. You will be pleased with the result.” But according to former Israeli intelligence colonel Victor Ostrovsky in his sworn testimony for the Lockerbie trial, Mossad commandos had set up the transmitter in Tripoli generating false telex signals about the “success” of the Berlin bomb. The intercepts had been concocted by Mossad, he said.

German TV reveals all

An investigation by German public television’s Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) broadcast on 25th August 1998 reported that several leading suspects in the Berlin disco bombing were being protected from prosecution by western intelligence services. These included a group of terrorists led by “Mahmoud” Abu Jaber, a man “particularly involved in the preparation of the La Belle attack.” The group lived in East Berlin and met almost daily with the official suspects who were defendants in the court proceedings. According to Russian and East German intelligence services, the group worked for western intelligence.

KGB and Stassi files

KGB files reviewed by reporter John Goetz in the Spring 1996 edition of Covert Action Quarterly revealed that Abu Jaber was a CIA informer. Indeed, one KGB report documented a meeting between Abu Jaber and his CIA handler two days before the La Belle bombing. Abu Jaber apparently told his handler that the price of the bombing would be $30,000. Colonel Frank Weigand, who defected from the Stassi (East German police), recounted a conversation between a Berlin official involved in the La Belle investigation and a high-ranking West German intelligence officer. The Berlin investigator told his West German colleague: “Well, when I add it all up, I think the Yanks did this thing themselves.” Even the German role is questionable. According to the German Law Journal, two of the defendants charged as conspirators in the bombing, Ali Chanaa and Verene Chanaa, were agents of the East German Ministry of State Security since 1982, responsible for gathering intelligence on Arabs in West Berlin.

Mehlis: covering up US and Israeli espionage

One man in particular, Mohammed Amairi - Abu Jaber’s right-hand man - was according to his own laywer Odd Drevland an agent for the Israeli Mossad, revealed the German TV documentary. After fleeing to Norway, Amairi was arrested and investigated. According to Drevland, however, Mossad quickly got involved and “everything changed” – Amairi was granted asylum. Detlev Mehlis as Berlin public prosecutor lifted the German police warrant against him.

The ZDF broadcast also found that the lead suspect in the 1986 Berlin disco bombing, Yasser Chraidi – found guilty by a German court in June 2004 – was scapegoated by American and German authorities. Former public prosecutor Mounif Oueidat and his deputy Mrad Azoury independently confirmed that German authorities had fabricated evidence to secure Chraidi’s extradition from Lebanon in May 1996. On 9th September, a Berlin judge concluded the prosecution’s case was so weak that Chraidi ought to be released in the absence of further evidence.

On the same day, Berlin public prosecutor Detlev Mehlis teamed up with Berlin police inspector Uwe Wilhelms and an official from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in Malta, where they met with another key terrorist suspect Musbah Eter, who had worked for the Libyan embassy in East Berlin at the time of the bombing. According to German interrogation transcripts, Eter confessed to having delivered the bomb’s operating instructions to another defendant.

Eter, who was already wanted by the Germans on a charge of murder, reportedly ran an international business as cover for regional CIA intelligence collection operations. Mehlis and his colleagues struck a deal for Eter at the meeting. If he testified against Chraidi for the La Belle bombing, the Germans would grant him immunity. On 10th September, Eter testified to the German embassy in Malta and Mehlis deleted his warrant, allowing him to travel to Germany. Eventually, however, Mehlis went back on his word. Eter was convicted for 12 years as an accomplice in the bombing.

Whitewashing the Hariri assassination?

Detlev Mehlis’ role in the investigation into the La Belle bombing raises disturbing questions about his role in the investigation of the assassination of Hariri. As Berlin public prosecutor, Mehlis inadvertently but consistently covered up the dubious involvement of US, Israeli and German intelligence interests in the 1986 terrorist attack; actively built a selective politically-motivated case against suspects without objective material proof; while ignoring and protecting a group of suspects with documented connections to western secret services. This background fundamentally challenges the credibility of his investigation of the Hariri assassination.

An electronic version of Mehlis’ report for the UN commission sent to various media outlets identifies Maher Assad, brother of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and their brother-in-law Asef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence, along with three others, as the key alleged conspirators behind the plot. Yet Mehlis cites as his source for these officials’ names – the crux of his report’s allegations - a single anonymous Syrian living in Lebanon purportedly in contact with Syrian officers posted there. Explaining why the names were removed in the version transmitted to the Security Council, Mehlis noted the importance of the “presumption of innocence,” since the entire accusation of Syrian government culpability boiled down to only one anonymous source. “It could give the wrong impression that this was an established fact”, he cautioned.

Indeed, UN sources cited by the respected German newsmagazine Der Spiegel on 22nd October identified Mehlis’ central source as Zuheir al-Siddiq, a criminal convicted of fraud and embezzlement, who had clearly lied in his testimony, contradicting himself several times. At first, sources said, he claimed to have left Beirut in the month prior to the assassination of Hariri. In late September, however, he went so far as to admit involvement in the assassination. According to his brother, al-Siddiq was paid a substantial amount by an unidentified third party for his testimony for the Mehlis report. Sources within the UN Commission investigating the Hariri assassination also said that Mehlis had made contact with al-Siddiq through Syrian dissident Riffat al-Assad, an uncle of the incumbent president opposed to the current regime.

Broader strategy: regime-change

As early as 1996, before their current government posts, David Wurmser, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser; Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defence for Policy; and Richard Perle, former Defence Policy Board Chairman, co-authored a report for then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a plan to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” Israel’s rivals. Among its recommendations were “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq” along with “striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.”

In 2000, Wurmser, Feith and Perle joined up with Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs; Elliot Abrams, National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East; and Michael Rubin, Pentagon adviser on Iraq; to sign a report by the Middle East Forum advocating “the use of force” against Syria to disarm its weapons of mass destruction and withdraw its troops from Lebanon. “If there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than later.”

Such grand designs are very much alive in current administration policy. In her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 19th October, Condoleeza Rice confirmed that the administration’s strategy after 9/11 had always been to redesign the Middle East. Iraq was merely the first step in that broader strategy.

According to Syria expert Joshua Landis, an assistant professor in Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in Damascus, informed sources confirmed that “Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to ask if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria.” Regime change, the end-goal of US policy in Syria, has been lent a new lease of life by the politics of the Hariri assassination.

In this context, the Mehlis report provides the Bush and Sharon administrations the ammunition needed to galvanise support for the neoconservative plan for military action against Syria. Given his role in the 1986 La Belle bombing, the possibility remains that his investigation has firstly concealed the role of US and Israeli intelligence interests in relation to the Hariri assassination, and secondly been politicized to support US and Israeli grand regional designs.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, London, United Kingdom. He teaches courses in political theory, international relations and contemporary history at the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom. He is the author of "The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001" and "Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq". His latest book is "The War On Truth: 9/11, Disinformation And The Anatomy Of Terrorism".http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article10818.htm

Forging the Case for War

Who was behind the Niger uranium documents?

From the beginning, there has been little doubt in the intelligence community that the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame was part of a bigger story. That she was exposed in an attempt to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is clear, but the drive to demonize Wilson cannot reasonably be attributed only to revenge. Rather, her identification likely grew out of an attempt to cover up the forging of documents alleging that Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger.

...recent revelations in the Italian press, most notably in the pages of La Repubblica, along with information already on the public record, suggest a plausible scenario for the evolution of Plamegate.

Information developed by Italian investigators indicates that the documents were produced in Italy with the connivance of the Italian intelligence service. It also reveals that the introduction of the documents into the American intelligence stream was facilitated by Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans (OSP), a parallel intelligence center set up in the Pentagon to develop alternative sources of information in support of war against Iraq.

The first suggestion that Iraq was seeking yellowcake uranium to construct a nuclear weapon came on Oct. 15, 2001, shortly after 9/11, when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his newly appointed chief of the Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), Nicolo Pollari, made an official visit to Washington. Berlusconi was eager to make a good impression and signaled his willingness to support the American effort to implicate Saddam Hussein in 9/11. Pollari, in his position for less than three weeks, was likewise keen to establish himself with his American counterparts and was under pressure from Berlusconi to present the U.S. with information that would be vital to the rapidly accelerating War on Terror. Well aware of the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq, Pollari used his meeting with top CIA officials to provide a SISMI dossier indicating that Iraq had sought to buy uranium in Niger. The same intelligence was passed simultaneously to Britain’s MI-6.

But the Italian information was inconclusive and old, some of it dating from the 1980s. The British, the CIA, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research analyzed the intelligence and declared that it was “lacking in detail” and “very limited” in scope.

In February 2002, Pollari and Berlusconi resubmitted their report to Washington with some embellishments, resulting in Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger. Wilson visited Niamey in February 2002 and subsequently reported to the CIA that the information could not be confirmed.

Enter Michael Ledeen, the Office of Special Plans’ man in Rome. Ledeen was paid $30,000 by the Italian Ministry of the Interior in 1978 for a report on terrorism and was well known to senior SISMI officials. Italian sources indicate that Pollari was eager to engage with the Pentagon hardliners, knowing they were at odds with the CIA and the State Department officials who had slighted him. He turned to Ledeen, who quickly established himself as the liaison between SISMI and Feith’s OSP, where he was a consultant. Ledeen, who had personal access to the National Security Council’s Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley and was also a confidant of Vice President Cheney, was well placed to circumvent the obstruction coming from the CIA and State.

The timing, August 2002, was also propitious as the administration was intensifying its efforts to make the case for war. In the same month, the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) was set up to market the war by providing information to friends in the media. It has subsequently been alleged that false information generated by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress was given to Judith Miller and other journalists through WHIG.

On Sept. 9, 2002, Ledeen set up a secret meeting between Pollari and Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley. Two weeks before the meeting, a group of documents had been offered to journalist Elisabetta Burba of the Italian magazine Panorama for $10,000, but the demand for money was soon dropped and the papers were handed over. The man offering the documents was Rocco Martino, a former SISMI officer who delivered the first WMD dossier to London in October 2002. That Martino quickly dropped his request for money suggests that the approach was a set-up primarily intended to surface the documents.

Panorama, perhaps not coincidentally, is owned by Prime Minister Berlusconi. On Oct. 9, the documents were taken from the magazine to the U.S. Embassy, where they were apparently expected. Instead of going to the CIA Station, which would have been the normal procedure, they were sent straight to Washington where they bypassed the agency’s analysts and went directly to the NSC and the Vice President’s Office.

On Jan. 28, 2003, over the objections of the CIA and State, the famous 16 words about Niger’s uranium were used in President Bush’s State of the Union address justifying an attack on Iraq: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Both the British and American governments had actually obtained the report from the Italians, who had asked that they not be identified as the source. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency also looked at the documents shortly after Bush spoke and pronounced them crude forgeries.

President Bush soon stopped referring to the Niger uranium, but Vice President Cheney continued to insist that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.

The question remains: who forged the documents? The available evidence suggests that two candidates had access and motive: SISMI and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans.

In January 2001, there was a break-in at the Niger Embassy in Rome. Documents were stolen but no valuables. The break-in was subsequently connected to, among others, Rocco Martino, who later provided the dossier to Panorama. Italian investigators now believe that Martino, with SISMI acquiescence, originally created a Niger dossier in an attempt to sell it to the French, who were managing the uranium concession in Niger and were concerned about unauthorized mining. Martino has since admitted to the Financial Times that both the Italian and American governments were behind the eventual forgery of the full Niger dossier as part of a disinformation operation. The authentic documents that were stolen were bunched with the Niger uranium forgeries, using authentic letterhead and Niger Embassy stamps. By mixing the papers, the stolen documents were intended to establish the authenticity of the forgeries.

At this point, any American connection to the actual forgeries remains unsubstantiated, though the OSP at a minimum connived to circumvent established procedures to present the information directly to receptive policy makers in the White House. But if the OSP is more deeply involved, Michael Ledeen, who denies any connection with the Niger documents, would have been a logical intermediary in co-ordinating the falsification of the documents and their surfacing, as he was both a Pentagon contractor and was frequently in Italy. He could have easily been assisted by ex-CIA friends from Iran-Contra days, including a former Chief of Station from Rome, who, like Ledeen, was also a consultant for the Pentagon and the Iraqi National Congress.

It would have been extremely convenient for the administration, struggling to explain why Iraq was a threat, to be able to produce information from an unimpeachable “foreign intelligence source” to confirm the Iraqi worst-case.

The possible forgery of the information by Defense Department employees would explain the viciousness of the attack on Valerie Plame and her husband. Wilson, when he denounced the forgeries in the New York Times in July 2003, turned an issue in which there was little public interest into something much bigger. The investigation continues, but the campaign against this lone detractor suggests that the administration was concerned about something far weightier than his critical op-ed.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy