October 21, 2005

Plame Game

"We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. (Applause)
Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.

--George H.W. Bush, Dedication Ceremony for the George Bush Center for Intelligence, 26 April 1999


"I will restore honor and integrity to the White House."

-- George W. Bush, 2000 Presidential Campaign.


Q On the Robert Novak-Joseph Wilson situation, Novak reported earlier this year -- quoting -- "anonymous government sources" telling him that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Now, this is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover a CIA operative. Wilson now believes that the person who did this was Karl Rove. . . . Did Karl Rove tell that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.
Q But did Karl Rove do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I said, it's totally ridiculous.

--Press briefing by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Sept. 16, 2003


"The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it [leaking the CIA agent's name], they would no longer be in this administration."

--Press briefing by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Sept. 29, 2003


Q Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?
THE PRESIDENT: That's up to --
Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

--June 10, 2004 Press Conference of the President following G-8 Summit, National Media Center, Savannah, GA


Q Mr. President, you said you don't want to talk about an ongoing investigation, so I'd like to ask you, regardless of whether a crime was committed, do you still intend to fire anyone found to be involved in the CIA leak case? And are you displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the Agency on WMD issues?
PRESIDENT BUSH: We have a serious ongoing investigation here. (Laughter.) And it's being played out in the press. . . . I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.

--July 18, 2005 White House Press Conference with President Bush and Prime Minister Singh of India


Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to act any day now in the CIA leak case. He may indict White House aides Karl Rove, President Bush's senior advisor, chief political strategist, and Deputy White House Chief of Staff in charge of policy, or Irve Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and Assistant for national security affairs. However, White House defenders are now arguing that, even if White House aides leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative, they did not commit a crime, due to the arcane laws governing such leaks (for example, the leaker must know that the CIA agent is undercover). But surely, the standard in the White House should be higher than "we don't commit crimes." For example, lots of folks criticized President Clinton vehemently, and rightfully so, for having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, even though it was not a crime for him to do so.

Therefore, it is worth looking at what was done here, even if legal, to determine whether it reflects proper behavior by the men in the White House. It is also worth looking at how government officials and others use the media to further their objectives, since, in this case, those objectives were to go to war, a decision which impacts us every day. Thanks largely to nonpartisan Factcheck.org, here's a timeline of what most everyone agrees has happened thus far:

1988-1997 Joseph Wilson serves, respectively, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Iraq, Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador to the African nations of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe stationed in Germany, and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council.

1999 – Wilson travels to Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate uranium-related matters separate from Iraq.

October 15, 2001 – US intelligence agencies learn of reports from Italy of a supposed agreement between Iraq and Niger for the sale of uranium yellowcake. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research considers the report “highly suspect.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 36, July 2004).

February 12, 2002 – The Defense Intelligence Agency writes a report concluding “Iraq is probably searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” Vice President Cheney reads this report and asks for the CIA’s analysis. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 38-39, July 2004). Responding to inquiries from Vice President Cheney’s office, the State Department and the Defense Department, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations’ Counterproliferation Division (CPD) sends Wilson to Niger again to investigate. One of Valerie Wilson’s colleagues later tells Senate investigators she “offered up his name” for the trip. Wilson says that her agency made the decision and she only later approached her husband on the CIA’s behalf. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 39, July 2004).

February 26, 2002 – Wilson arrives in Niger. He concludes, after a few days of interviews, that “it was highly unlikely that anything was going on.” (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 42, July 2004).

March 8-9, 2002 – A CIA intelligence report of Wilson ’s trip is sent through routine channels. (Senate Intelligence Cmte., Iraq 43-44, July 2004). The government does not report to the public about the trip or Wilson's findings.

July 23, 2002 - Downing Street Memo in Britain states that the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service had met with Bush Administration officials, and "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC [National Security Council] had no patience with the UN route . . . ."

August 2002 - White House Iraq Group is created. It includes Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Presidential Counselor Karen Hughes, Cheney stategist Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson (Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications for Planning), Nicholas E. Calio (Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Stephen J. Hadley (Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor). "The group...worked on setting strategy for selling the war in Iraq to the public in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion." ("Focus of CIA Leak Probe Appears to Widen," Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2005, p. A3).

2002-2003 - Cheney makes multiple trips to CIA headquarters and speaks to analysts regarding Iraq. Some analysts report that they felt pressure to come up with intelligence that served the White House view that Iraq was such a danger that war was necessary. (Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, "Some Iraq Analysts Felt Pressure from Cheney Visits," Washington Post, June 5, 2003, p. A1).

September 8, 2002 - Condoleeza Rice states on CNN that "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

September 24, 2002The British government issues a public dossier saying, “[T]here is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa .” ( British Govt. Report 25, Sept. 2002). The Washington Post reports later that the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get the British to omit these claims. (" Bush, Rice blame CIA ,” July 2003).

October 2001-April 2003 - The New York Times publishes at least 6 sensational stories written or co-written by Judith Miller, detailing the high likelihood that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. According to the September 8, 2002 story "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts" by Miller and Michael R. Gordon, "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." Many stories quote an "unnamed Iraqi defector." He is Ahmad Chalabi, exiled former leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress and favorite of Dick Cheney and neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense) and Richard Perle. Chalabi wants the U.S. to overthrow Saddam, and he and his tales of WMD are subsequently discredited. In June 2004, the U.S. accuses Chalabi tipping off Iran that the U.S. had broken Iran's secret codes.

October 7, 2002 - President Bush states that "Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." In a virtual word for word repetition of Condoleeza Rice's statement 30 days earlier, he then states "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

January 28, 2003 – Bush’s State of the Union Address includes this 16-word sentence: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

March 7, 2003 – The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the international body that monitors nuclear proliferation – tells the UN Security Council that, after a “thorough analysis” with “concurrence of outside experts,” that the Italian documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are forgeries. ( Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq... , March 2003).

March 19, 2003 – U.S. invades Iraq.

June 23, 2003 - Libby has first of 3 conversations with Judy Miller regarding Wilson's trip. Miller says "I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called 'selective leaking' by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a 'perverted war' over the war in Iraq." "Mr. Libby was angry about reports suggesting that senior administration officials, including Mr. Cheney, had embraced skimpy intelligence about Iraq's alleged efforts to buy uranium in Africa while ignoring evidence to the contrary." "Soon afterward Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time." (Judith Miller, "My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room," New York Times, Oct. 16, 2005).

July 6, 2003 – Wilson publishes " What I didn’t find in Africa" in The New York Times, identifying himself for the first time as the unnamed “envoy.” He writes, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq 's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson does not claim that Cheney sent him on the Niger trip, only that he was sent to answer questions from Cheney’s “office.” (Wilson, " What I didn’t find, New York Times July 6, 2003).

July 7, 2003Secretary of State Colin Powell, aboard Air Force One, reportedly receives a copy of a State Department memo prepared in June about the purported Niger-Iraq uranium deal, which mentions Valerie Wilson’s role in her husband’s trip, according to media reports. ("Memo Underscored … Shielding Plame’s Identity ,” Wall Street Journal , July 2005).

July 7, 2003White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer retracts the 16-word yellowcake claim from the State of the Union address, calling the President's statement “incorrect.” ( White House Press Gaggle, July 7 2003) .

July 8, 2003 – Columnist Robert Novak tells Karl Rove he had heard that Joseph Wilson’s wife, who worked for the CIA, played a role in Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger. Rove confirms the story to Novak. ( Rove ... Talk on C.I.A. Officer, NY Times, July 2003). Novak later writes that he originally acquired the information from another official, who has not yet been named. (Novak, " CIA Leak" Chicago Sun-Times, Oct 2003).

July 8, 2003 - Judith Miller agrees to identify Lewis Libby as a "former Hill staffer" rather than the usual "senior administration official" in order not to have White House fingerprints on Libby's statements criticizing Wilson and the CIA in Miller's articles. (Miller, NYT, Oct. 16, 2005).

July 11, 2003 –Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper calls Rove, who cautions him to be careful of Wilson’s story. Rove tells Cooper that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA on “WMD” (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and that she, not Cheney or the CIA director, was responsible for sending Wilson to Africa. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

July 11, 2003Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet concedes in a statement that the State of the Union claims about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa were a mistake and that the “16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.” ( Tenet Statement, July 2003).

July 12, 2003 – Cooper says he “asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson 's wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, ‘Yeah, I've heard that too,’ or words to that effect. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

July 14, 2003Robert Novak’s " Mission to Niger" column is published in the Chicago Sun-Times and syndicated. This is the first published mention of Joseph Wilson’s wife’s name, her employment at the CIA, and her role in his trip to Niger. According to Novak, “[Wilson's] wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson 's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.”

July 17, 2003 – Time magazine publishes online “A War on Wilson?” by Cooper and others, for the first time naming Mrs. Wilson. Cooper quotes “government officials” as saying “that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger [sic] to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore.”

July 30, 2003The CIA alerts the Criminal Division of the Justice Department noting “a possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” according to a letter from the CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs.

September 30, 2003 – The Justice Department publicly announces an official criminal investigation.

May 26, 2004 - The New York Times publishes an extraordinary Editor's Note stating that much of its previous coverage of Iraq WMD was inaccurate. The Times points to 5 articles written or co-written by Judith Miller. The note mentions that some of these articles' discussion of Iraq's aluminum tubes was imprudent, and did not explain that the tubes could well be used for purposes other than nuclear weapons, and that in fact the U.S. intelligence agencies were debating this point.

July 1, 2005 – Over Cooper’s objections, Time Inc. turns over subpoenaed material. ("Time Magazine ...” CNN.com, June 30, 2005 ).

July 6, 2005 – Miller, still refusing to testify before the grand jury, is jailed for contempt of court. Cooper says he receives last-minute permission from his confident.ial source, Karl Rove, to testify. (Matthew Cooper, " What I told the Grand Jury, ” Time, July 2005).

September 29, 2005 - Judith Miller is released from jail after naming Lewis Libby as her confidential source for her discussions regarding Valerie Plame in 2003.

So what does this all mean? Several things.

1. As the above information and many other reports confirm, there was a "perverted war" going on between the White House, led by Dick Cheney's office, and the CIA over the WMD in Iraq. This battle was being fought because the White House wanted to sell a war against Iraq to the American people, and the prospect of Saddam Hussein's nuclear "mushroom cloud" was the clincher for many.

2. Part of the White House effort was to attack Joe Wilson for criticizing the White House's use of the Niger uranium yellowcake story. But Wilson's central claim -- that the uranium yellowcake story was false -- was accurate. No one was dispatched on a second trip to Niger to investigate the claim again, as would logically happen if Wilson's report was inaccurate or slanted. On the contrary, both CIA chief George Tenet and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer confirmed his findings, and both said therefore that Bush's 16 words in his State of the Union Address were a mistake. Instead, White House officials went after Wilson and his wife personally, implying that Wilson's motives in going to Niger were impure. Moreover, White House officials did not attack Wilson directly. They hid behind newspaper reporters and let those reporters make their arguments for them. As a result, a covert CIA operative's identity was disclosed. Valerie Wilson's CIA career is over. Her life, those of her colleagues, and U.S. national security may all have been jeopardized as a result.

3. The Bush-Rove White House resorted to its familiar strategy of attacking the messenger personally whenever the message runs counter to their agenda. This is the same thing Bush and Rove did to Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism advisor on the U.S. National Security Council, after Clarke testified at the 9/11 Commission hearings that Bush and Condoleeza Rice were asleep at the switch on 9/11. It's the same thing Bush and Rove did to Georgia Senator Max Cleland, triple amputee from the Vietnam War, during the 2002 congressional elections. It's the same thing Bush and Rove did to John McCain during the 2000 presidential primary. And it's the same thing the GOP did to Bill Clinton when he ran for president in 1992, and each day thereafter for the next eight years. There is no evidence that the White House premise -- that Wilson and his wife colluded to send Wilson to Niger to bring back a biased, inaccurate report -- is correct. If Valerie Wilson suggested that her husband go to Niger, so what? She worked on WMD. He was well-versed in the subject matter, and the CIA had sent him on a similar mission to Niger previously. If he wasn't qualified, then Plame's superiors should not have sent Wilson, but the fact that they did isn't Plame's or Wilson's fault. Wilson's finding that the yellowcake story was bogus has not been refuted, and the White House and CIA have both since admitted that Bush's 16 words on the subject should never have been uttered. Unfortunately, by then the U.S. had invaded Iraq, and it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

4. The New York Times was used by both sides. They published Joe Wilson's op-ed piece attacking the Bush Administration. But they also published Judith Miller's articles leading up to the war, and in so doing became a principal cheerleader for the war. Lewis Libby trusted Miller enough to trash Joe Wilson and hope that she would print his attacks and attribute them to a "former Hill staffer." So much for the myth of the liberal media. It would appear that the New York Times' offense wasn't liberalism, it was a lack of independence and control. Some serious soul-searching and house-cleaning is in order at the Times.

Even if those in the White House who spread information about Joe Wilson's wife didn't commit a crime, is this "honor and integrity" or "the highest standards of conduct?" Is this the way we want to decide whether to go to war? Did senior Administration officials, including Bush and Cheney, purposely cherry-pick intelligence reports, hyping some and ignoring others, to mislead the American public into supporting a war, and purposely attack Joe Wilson because his good faith conclusions from his CIA mission did not fit their agenda? Are Joe Wilson and his wife unfortunate casualties of the White House's war against the CIA? How safe are we when the White House and the CIA are at war instead of fully cooperating with each other?

Supporters of Bush and the Iraq war say that critics "hate America." It's the opposite: critics of Bush's Iraq War love America, but they hate the policies of the administration that is temporarily running the government, and they know America can do much better. In contrast, are White House aides who expose the identity of CIA agents in the middle of a War On Terror to win political battles committing treason? If someone doesn't know if a CIA agent is undercover, shouldn't he first be required to check before revealing her name? Better yet, shouldn't it always be illegal or at least off-limits to leak a CIA agent's name? If America represents freedom, democracy, and government by the people, aren't these leakers the folks who really hate America?

2,000 brave young U.S. men and women, dutifully following orders from their Commander-In-Chief, have been killed in Iraq, and over 15,000 have been wounded. The U.S. may be stuck in Iraq for many years, during which new generations of soldiers will be sent there to add to these grisly numbers. Many of the soldiers are from poor families, who joined the military for an economic way out. They rely on a president to send them into harm's way only as a last resort. Now, these soldiers face not only insurgents who resent our occupation, but foreign terrorists who were not in Iraq before Bush invaded. How many new terrorists have been minted since Bush invaded Iraq, angry that we are occupying the country two and a half years after Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished"? Who knows how much less safe America is since Bush shifted focus from Al Queda to Iraq? Who knows whether all this makes it more likely that we will have another 9/11 on U.S. soil?


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