Rocco Martino

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Rocco Martino is an Italian security consultant and information peddler. Martino was formerly a member of Italy's foreign intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI). Sometime after February of 1999, Martino provides French officials with documents suggesting that Iraq intends to expand its “trade” with Niger. The French assume the trade being discussed would be in uranium, Niger's main export. At French intelligence's request, Martino continues supplying them with documents.

In early 2000, Martino, is approached by a former colleague at SISMI, who tips him off to a former SISMI source working at the Nigerien Embassy in Rome who can provide Martino with information in exchange for a monthly retainer fee. Martino pursues the lead, and agrees to pay her 500 euros/month.

The source, however, remains on SISMI's payroll providing the agency with a way to distribute information to the public while concealing its role. Most of the documents he will receive from the lady will be related to immigration into Italy and Islamist activities in North and Central Africa.

On January 2, 2001, the Italian police discover that the Niger Embassy in Rome has been ransacked. It appears that the people involved in the break-in searched through the embassy's documents and files. In 2003, Italian investigators will suspect that this incident is related to a collection of forged documents obtained by an Italian journalist in October 2002 which play a significant role in US allegations that Saddam Hussein attempted to obtain uranium oxide from Niger between 1999 and 2001.

The Italian government reportedly obtains half a dozen letters and other documents from a source in Rome alleged to be correspondence between Niger and Iraqi officials negotiating a sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide. The Italians share the intelligence with their counterparts in both Britain and the US.

Martino receives a telephone call sometime in late 2001 from a former colleague at SISMI, who informs him that his source at the Nigerien embassy is in possession of documents that might be of interest to him. “I met her and she gave me documents,” Martino later tells the Sunday Times. “SISMI wanted me to pass on the documents but they didn't want anyone to know they had been involved.”

These documents consisting of a series of letters purported to have been exchanged between the Niger government and an Iraqi diplomat to Martino. According to these letters, Iraq had attempted to obtain 500 tons of uranium oxide, or “yellowcake,” from Niger.

The Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, provides the CIA with a report on a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican. The report suggests that the trip's mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, known as “yellowcake.” According to sources later interviewed by New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the report is “dismissed as amateurish and unsubstantiated” by US intelligence.

The CIA briefs Vice President Dick Cheney on intelligence that was provided by the Italians suggesting that Iraq is attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. Cheney asks about the implications of the report and is reportedly dissatisfied with the initial response. He asks the agency to take another look.

This prompts the CIA to send Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country, in late February 2002.


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