ROME – A journalist for an Italian news magazine has come forward, saying it was she who turned over to U.S. diplomats some documents purportedly showing that Iraq wanted to buy uranium from Niger. The documents turned out to be forgeries.
In an interview published Saturday, Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily, quoted Elisabetta Burba as saying her source "in the past proved to be reliable." The journalist, who writes for the weekly Panorama, refused to reveal her source.
"I realized that this could be a worldwide scoop, but that's exactly why I was very worried," Burba was quoted as saying. "If it turned out to be a hoax, and I published it, I would have ended my career."
The documents, later declared by experts to be forgeries, served as part of the basis for President Bush's assertion in his State of Union address in January that Saddam Hussein was trying to get hold of material that could be used for nuclear weapons.
Bush attributed the information to the British government. Both the Bush administration and that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair have been under growing fire for using flawed intelligence to justify going to war against Iraq.
It has been previously reported that the U.S. Embassy in Rome received the documents from a journalist. The documents were shown to CIA personnel in Rome and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington.
Corriere della Sera quoted the journalist as saying she went to Niger to try to check out the authenticity of the documents. Burba told the paper she was suspicious because the documents spoke of such a large amount of uranium -- 500 tons -- and were short on details on how the uranium would be transported and arrangements for final delivery.
After her return from Africa, she said she told Panorama's top editor "the story seemed fake to me." After discussions at the magazine, one of the publications in Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's media empire, Burba brought the documents to the U.S. Embassy.
"I went by myself and give them the dossier. No one said anything more to me and in any case the decision not to publish it was already taken -- with no further way to check out the reliability of those papers, we chose not to risk. I informed my source that I wasn't going to write anything and for me that affair was forgotten," Burba was quoted as saying.
There was no answer at Burba's home Saturday. Offices of Panorama were closed for the weekend.