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FBI looking into forged Iraq-Niger documents

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry into forged documents alleging Iraq wanted to buy uranium from Niger in an effort to find out who forged the documents and why, and whether anyone tried to influence U.S. foreign policy on Iraq, bureau officials told CNN Wednesday.

The FBI is not looking into any possible wrongdoing by the Bush administration, the officials said.

In an interview on CNN Tuesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, who had been pushing for an FBI inquiry, disclosed that the probe had begun. Details of the probe were first reported by Newsweek.

FBI agents in the counterintelligence unit are interviewing officials from the CIA and the State Department. There are plans to dispatch agents overseas, but none have left yet.

The documents, according to officials, were first provided to Italian intelligence in late 2001. The United States did not gain possession of them until nearly a year later, in October 2002, when a journalist turned them over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome, U.S. officials said.

Sources told CNN the embassy passed them on to the CIA station chief in Rome and to officials at the State Department. A senior State Department official and another senior administration official told CNN the department did its own reporting on the documents and offered the documents to all the relevant agencies.

Government officials say CIA headquarters received the documents in February 2003, which was after the January State of the Union address in which President Bush claimed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sought to buy uranium from Africa.

In Rome Wednesday, the head of a parliamentary committee overseeing Italian intelligence services said Italy did not produce documents. Purported Italian intelligence documents making the connection between Iraq and Niger were printed Wednesday in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

Committee Chief Enzo Bianco told reporters that the Italian government regularly exchanges information with allied countries, including the United States and Britain, but that the alleged intelligence documents definitely did not come from the Italian government.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini have both denied allegations that Italian intelligence services provided the United States and Britain with the documents.

--CNN correspondent Kelli Arena and producers Elise Labotte and Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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