Who knew that a special prosecutor working to nail high government officials on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges would become a media and Democratic hero? It’s not the 1990s anymore.
CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is celebrated by the press and Bush haters everywhere. He is hailed for his no-nonsense style, his down-to-earth Brooklyn accent, his probity, his zealousness upholding the rule of law, and his willingness to hunt down lies no matter how high it takes him in the Washington food chain. “All my friends want to date him,” a young liberal woman tells me.
But the very qualities that are so endearing about a special prosecutor circa 2005 would have been damnable circa 1995. It goes to show that when you’re a special prosecutor, the quality of your work is not as important as the decade you do it in. Had Fitzgerald suffered the misfortune of being asked to investigate any of the Bill Clinton scandals, he would likely have emerged bruised and battered, with a reputation as an out-of-control fanatic.
Fitzgerald has a black-and-white view of the world. So did Clinton-era independent counsel Ken Starr. Fitzgerald is, by all counts, personally upright. So is Starr. He takes lying under oath seriously. So did Starr. He is willing to pursue perjury allegations even when there is not an underlying crime. So was Starr. The difference is that Starr was arrayed against a White House that declared war on him, his staff and his investigation.
Fitzgerald and Starr aren’t exact duplicates. Fitzgerald is an experienced prosecutor. Starr wasn’t. But this actually worked in the Clinton White House’s favor, since a hard-bitten prosecutor treating the president like any other suspect — a prosecutor like “Fitzy” in other words — might have been more effective and ruthless. Fitzgerald’s prosecution has also been leak-proof. Starr’s wasn’t, although many of the leaks attributed to his office came from Clinton spinners seeking both to get out bad news early and to discredit Starr for leaking.
In contrast to Fitzgerald, Starr’s uprightness was used against him, to prove that he was a hopeless stiff. That he tried to engage in standard prosecutorial methods — like flipping low-level witnesses against their superiors, a favored Fitzgerald tactic that liberals hope he is attempting in this case — was taken as evidence of his extremism. He was accused of being “obsessed with sex,” when he had no say in whether Clinton decided to have sex with an intern and lie about it (surely, he would have advised against it). This would be like accusing Fitzgerald of being perversely “obsessed with secrecy,” since he is investigating the mishandling of classified material.
President Bush has inflicted no indignities on Fitzgerald, whose investigation he has in fact called “dignified.” The administration actively eased the prosecutor’s work by having top officials sign waivers of their confidentiality agreements with reporters. As National Review reporter Byron York has pointed out, far from assisting Starr, Clinton officials entered into joint-defense agreements, a maneuver often used by defendants in mob cases.
Of course, the politics of scandal in Washington is a movable feast of hypocrisy, shifting every decade depending on which party controls the executive branch. Liberals loved special prosecutors in the 1980s; then many conservatives adopted them in the 1990s; now the left adores the criminalization of politics once again. But it is especially unseemly to see the same people who pooh-poohed President Clinton’s repeated perjuries in 1998 suddenly worked up by a few alleged lies under oath by a vice president's chief of staff. What happened to getting on with the business of the country?
With the exception of a feint by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, which she immediately regretted, and few other wobbles, at least conservatives haven’t contradicted their core contention from the 1990s that lying under oath is a serious crime. In this, they finally have some company from liberals, who also have a strange, newfound affection for relentlessly truth-seeking prosecutors.
Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
'SCOOTER" LIBBY'S indictment was not exactly good news for the White House, but it could have been a lot worse. Feverish speculation had been building that Karl Rove would soon be "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs," as Valerie Plame's bombastic hubby, Joe Wilson, had hoped. Or even that Dick Cheney would have to resign.
But with his investigation all but over, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has found no criminal conspiracy and no violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime in some circumstances to disclose the names of undercover CIA operatives. Among other problems, Plame doesn't seem to fit the act's definition of a "covert agent" — someone who "has within the last five years served outside the United States." By 2003, Plame had apparently been working in Langley, Va., for at least six years, which means that, mystery of mysteries, the vice president's chief of staff was indicted for covering up something that wasn't a crime.
Making the best of a weak hand, Democrats argued that the case was not about petty-ante perjury but, as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid put it, "about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president." The problem here is that the one undisputed liar in this whole sordid affair doesn't work for the administration. In his attempts to turn his wife into an antiwar martyr, Joseph C. Wilson IV has retailed more whoppers than Burger King.
The least consequential of these fibs was his denial that it was his wife who got him sent to Niger in February 2002 to check out claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later stated, in a bipartisan report, that evidence indicated it was Mrs. Wilson who "had suggested his name for the trip." By leaking this fact to the news media, Libby and other White House officials were merely setting the record straight — not, as Wilson would have it, punishing his Mata Hari wife.
Much more egregious were the ways in which Wilson misrepresented his findings. In his famous New York Times Op-Ed article (July 6, 2003), Wilson gave the impression that his eight-day jaunt proved that Iraq was not trying to acquire uranium in Africa. Therefore, when administration officials nevertheless cited concerns about Hussein's nuclear ambitions, Wilson claimed that they had "twisted" evidence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." The Senate Intelligence Committee was not kind to this claim either.
The panel's report found that, far from discrediting the Iraq-Niger uranium link, Wilson actually provided fresh details about a 1999 meeting between Niger's prime minister and an Iraqi delegation. Beyond that, he had not supplied new information. According to the panel, intelligence analysts "did not think" that his findings "clarified the story on the reported Iraq-Niger uranium deal." In other words, Wilson had hardly exposed as fraudulent the "16 words" included in the 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." In fact, the British government, in its own post-invasion review of intelligence, found that this claim was "well founded."
This is not an isolated example. Pretty much all of the claims that the administration doctored evidence about Iraq have been euthanized, not only by the Senate committee but also by the equally bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission. The latest proof that intelligence was not "politicized" comes from an unlikely source — Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, who has been denouncing the hawkish "cabal" supposedly leading us toward "disaster." Yet, in between bouts of trashing the administration, Wilkerson said on Oct. 19 that "the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming" that Hussein was building illicit weapons. This view was endorsed by "the French, the Germans, the Brits." The French, of all people, even offered "proof positive" that Hussein was buying aluminum tubes "for centrifuges." Wilkerson also recalled seeing satellite photos "that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was … giving us disinformation."
So much for the lies that led to war. What we're left with is the lies that led to the antiwar movement. Good thing for Wilson and his pals that deceiving the press and the public isn't a crime.
If stealing and destroying secret documents, stuffing them into your pants and then lying about it isn't a crime worthy of jail time, why is having a different recollection of events than Tim Russert?
If the charges swirling around Scooter Libby — that he deceived those investigating a crime for which he was not charged — seem familiar, they should. Not long ago Martha Stewart was indicted and convicted, not of insider trading in a suspiciously timed stock sale, but of deceiving investigators into a crime for which she was not charged.
In both cases, is justice being served? Or are the prosecutors just trying to justify the time and money spent failing to prove that those charged committed the alleged crime?
In the Libby case, we now have a new Kafkaesque standard of justice: Merely ask someone who gets hundreds of calls a day to remember conversations with reporters years prior. Then, if they disagree with the reporter's notes — voila! — perjury and obstruction.
Lost in the reporting of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's Oct. 28 press conference was this telling admission: "We have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent." Nor could he.
"Knowingly" is the operative word. The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act requires the offender to knowingly reveal the name of a covert agent. The law was written after a former CIA employee named Philip Agee revealed the name of Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Greece, and others. Welch was subsequently murdered on Dec. 23, 1975, by a Greek terrorist organization.
There was no outrage or demand for a special prosecutor in 1995, when then-Rep. Robert Torricelli exposed a paid CIA informant, Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, in a letter to President Clinton, a copy of which Torricelli gave to The New York Times.
A real undercover agent, Fulton Armstrong, was outed by Sen. John Kerry in this year's confirmation hearings of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. Kerry mentioned Armstrong's name during questioning even after the CIA asked that his identity be kept secret.
Depends on whose ox is being gored, we guess.
Just as Caspar Weinberger's bogus indictment five days before the 1992 election was an attempt to criminalize political differences over the Reagan administration's anti-communist policies in Central America, it's reasonable to suggest the Libby indictment is a similar attempt to criminalize differences over Iraq.
Just how is national security jeopardized by having a different recollection of events than NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert? Like witnesses to a traffic accident, people see things from different perspectives. Memories fade. What you learned, where you learned it and whom you told tend to blur.
One charge against Libby stems from his testimony under oath that Russert asked him if he knew Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In fact, the indictment alleges, Russert never asked him that, and Libby already knew that. Maybe somebody else asked him. Maybe he already knew. Who cares? This is worth 30 years in jail?
Contrast the Libby charges with the slap on the wrist given Sandy Berger. He engaged in a real cover-up when he took classified documents useful to the 9-11 commission, destroyed some of them and then lied to the National Archives about it. No jail time, just a small fine. What was he hiding? Whom was he protecting?
Libby now joins Weinberger, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and others who are guilty of nothing more than being loyal and effective servants of their party and president. Like the "Borking" of judicial nominees, the ongoing criminalization of political differences will only make it harder to attract good public servants if they can go to jail for merely talking to a reporter.
In the end, Libby may be able to echo the immortal words of Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan's labor secretary. After being acquitted in 1987 of corruption charges in a similar trial by media, he wondered: "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"
Harry Reid pulled the Senate into closed session Tuesday, claiming that "The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq." But the Minority Leader's statement was as demonstrably false as his stunt was transparently political.
What Mr. Reid's pose is "really all about" is the emergence of the Clare Boothe Luce Democrats. We're referring to the 20th-century playwright, and wife of Time magazine founder Henry Luce, who was most famous for declaring that Franklin D. Roosevelt had "lied us into war" with the Nazis and Tojo. So intense was the hatred of FDR among some Republicans that they held fast to this slander for years, with many taking their paranoia to their graves.
We are now seeing the spectacle of Bush-hating Democrats adopting a similar slander against the current President regarding the Iraq War. The indictment by Patrick Fitzgerald of Vice Presidential aide I. Lewis Libby has become their latest opening to promote this fiction, notwithstanding the mountains of contrary evidence. To wit: • In July 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan 500-page report that found numerous failures of intelligence gathering and analysis. As for the Bush Administration's role, "The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," (our emphasis).
• The Butler Report, published by the British in July 2004, similarly found no evidence of "deliberate distortion," although it too found much to criticize in the quality of prewar intelligence.
• The March 2005 Robb-Silberman report on WMD intelligence was equally categorical, finding "no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. . . .analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments."
• Finally, last Friday, there was Mr. Fitzgerald: "This indictment's not about the propriety of the war, and people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who are--have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel."
In short, everyone who has looked into the question of whether the Bush Administration lied about intelligence, distorted intelligence, or pressured intelligence agencies to produce assessments that would support a supposedly pre-baked decision to invade Iraq has come up with the same answer: No, no, no and no.
Everyone, that is, except Joseph Wilson IV. He first became the Democrats' darling in July 2003, when he published an op-ed claiming he'd debunked Mr. Bush's "16 words" on Iraqi attempts to purchase African yellowcake and that the Administration had distorted the evidence about Saddam's weapons programs to fit its agenda. This Wilson tale fit the "lied us into war" narrative so well that he was adopted by the John Kerry presidential campaign.
Only to be dropped faster than a Paris Hilton boyfriend after the Senate Intelligence and Butler reports were published. Those reports clearly showed that, while Saddam had probably not purchased yellowcake from Niger, the dictator had almost certainly tried--and that Mr. Wilson's own briefing of the CIA after his mission supported that conclusion. Mr. Wilson somehow omitted that fact from his public accounts at the time.
He also omitted to explain why the CIA had sent him to Niger: His wife, who worked at the CIA, had suggested his name for the trip, a fact Mr. Wilson also denied, but which has also since been proven. In other words, the only real support there has ever been for the "Bush lied" storyline came from a man who is himself a demonstrable liar. If we were Nick Kristof and the other writers who reported Mr. Wilson's facts as gospel, we'd be apologizing to our readers.
Yet, incredibly, Mr. Wilson has once again become the Democrats' favorite mascot because they want him as a prop for their "lied us into war" revival campaign. They must think the media are stupid, because so many Democrats are themselves on the record in the pre-Iraq War period as declaring that Saddam had WMD. Here is Al Gore from September 23, 2002, amid the Congressional debate over going to war: "We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
Or Hillary Rodham Clinton, from October 10, 2002: "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. . . ."
Or Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who is now leading the "Bush lied" brigades (from October 10, 2002): "There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. . . .We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction." If Mr. Bush is a liar, what does the use of the phrase "unmistakable evidence" make Mr. Rockefeller? A fool?
The scandal here isn't what happened before the war. The scandal is that the same Democrats who saw the same intelligence that Mr. Bush saw, who drew the same conclusions, and who voted to go to war are now using the difficulties we've encountered in that conflict as an excuse to rewrite history. Are Republicans really going to let them get away with it?
It's like a spy thriller. Institutional rivalries and political loyalties have fostered an intelligence officer's resentment against the government. Suddenly, an opportunity appears for the agent to undercut the national leadership. A vital question of intelligence forms the core justification for controversial military actions by the current leaders. If this agent can get in the middle of that question, distort that information and make it public, the agent might foster regime change in the upcoming election.
But the rules on agents are clear. They can't purposely distort gathered intelligence, go public with secret information or use their position or information to manipulate domestic elections or matters without risking their job or jail.
But their spouse can!
The agent realizes her spouse can go out on behalf of the spy agency, can distort information, go public with classified information and use all this spy-agency-sponsored material and credentials to try to pull down the current government, and it is all perfectly legal.
Suppose the spouse adds just one more brilliant, well-aimed lie: claim your foremost political opponent put the spouse up to the trip. As your spouse uses your agency's name to mount attacks, your enemy may fall into your trap. Will your enemy suffer your spouse's lies or take the bait and try to clarify his non-role? If he tells the press he didn't hire your spouse, the press will demand to know, "Then who did?"
Instead of you violating secrecy laws, it is your victim who is guilty because he tried to set the record straight. Heads, you win; tails, he loses.
It sounds unbelievable, a fiction, perhaps to be called "To Sting a King." But it is no fiction. This is the story behind Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson and the Bush administration. And it appears that Plame and Wilson will get away with the biggest sting operation ever.
No one seems to care that our intelligence agency has crippled our president. Certainly not the media. They are determined to make Wilson a hero. Recall the dozens of times the Washington Post and The New York Times carried his lies on the front page, above the fold. The conclusive story discrediting Wilson was buried 6 feet deep, back by the obituaries.
To the media, it doesn't matter that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence says Wilson lied about what he did and with whom he met while investigating Iraqi attempts to purchase "yellowcake" uranium.
To the media, it doesn't matter that the CIA says what Wilson did actually find supported that Iraq was attempting to buy the uranium — a direct contradiction to Wilson's public claims.
To the media, it doesn't matter that he claimed the vice president assigned him to the uranium investigation when we all know now it was his wife.
Some absurdly claim that Plame had nothing to do with her husband's political activities against President Bush. But let it be clear. Plame could not have done what Wilson did and gotten away with it. Wilson could not have done what he did without Plame giving him a way to do it.
Something has to be done. We can't let the CIA become the domestic dirty tricks shop, with Republican and Democratic agents each trying to pull down their opposing presidents.
We need a Plame rule. Any family member of a CIA agent tapped to help out must live by the same rules regarding information disclosure and domestic political manipulations as those imposed on the agent. If the family member fails to live by those rules, the agent is terminated.
Clearly this will restrict the flexibility of the CIA. But who ever thought that the flexibility given to CIA agents would be misused to destabilize a U.S. president? No one — until Valerie Plame.
Zell Miller is a former Georgia governor and U.S. senator.
Valerie Plame hasn't had as many defenders as fervent as her old classmate from CIA case-officer training, Larry Johnson. (Full disclosure: Johnson has written for TNR Online). The leaking of Plame's identity by Bush administration apparatchiks so embittered Johnson--a former CIA and State Department counterterrorism official in Republican administrations--that he told a Senate Democratic Policy Committee hearing in October 2003 that "the partisan assault on Joe Wilson and his wife ... sickens me." These days, Johnson keeps leak obsessives updated through his blogging on Josh Marshall's online liberal conclave TPMCafe and his own blog, No Quarter, where no leak-related misdeed by the administration or the press is left untouched. ("When Judith Miller went to jail in July I rejoiced because some justice, at least in my eyes, was being visited on a media whore who helped the Bush Administration mix the kool aid that took us to war," goes one typical post.) His acrimony is rooted in his CIA background--and the scorched-earth tactics with which the Bush administration has treated his former colleagues. "It's not as if Valerie's the only example," Johnson says. "Look at [former Latin America intelligence analyst] Fulton Armstrong. [U.N. Ambassador John] Bolton tried to get Fulton fired."
As a result, if anyone is celebrating "Fitzmas"-- as liberals refer to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment last week of Scooter Libby--it's Johnson. But not many current and former CIA officials are even in an attentive mood, much less a joyous one. "I hesitate to say it, but the only word I've heard is that they've lost interest in this a long time ago," says a former Langley official. Current CIA officials are even more dismissive. "No one is focused on the Libby thing," says one.
Indeed, despite a fervent belief on the right that the CIA is determined to sabotage the Bush administration by any means necessary, Langley denizens are preoccupied with the more pressing matter of Bush's installation of loyalist Porter Goss as CIA director; his rearrangement of the intelligence community, which has left the CIA in a nebulous and insecure position; and America's unraveling fortunes in the Iraq war. While Plame still has advocates among her colleagues, even allies like Johnson see that the CIA has much bigger fish to fry at the moment. "I just had drinks with another classmate of mine and Valerie," he notes. The leak investigation took a quick backseat in their conversation: "He says, 'You know, if we had set out as our purpose to create an Iraq possessed by an insurgency that won't stop, we couldn't have done a better job.'" The administration might view Libby's indictment as a victory for Langley in an ongoing war with the intelligence community--a bunker mentality that, as Fitzgerald's indictment suggests, in no small measure triggered the Plame leak itself. But rather than considering itself triumphant, the CIA is far more concerned with mitigating the damage from having lost far more battles with this White House than it has won.
A potent mixture of contempt for, and fear of, the intelligence community has been characteristic of neoconservatives for decades before Plame ever joined the CIA. When after September 11 the agency failed to come up with evidence of Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda or an advanced Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, that hostility reached a fever pitch. As a former colleague of Libby's told me and Franklin Foer in 2003, "They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, 'We want to show these fuckers that they are wrong.'" Furthermore, it's not as if the CIA didn't hit back: Both before and after the invasion, dubious official statements about Iraq were rebutted by anonymous CIA quotes in the press attempting to reacquaint President Bush with reality. According to Fitzgerald's indictment, following publication of a TNR story about administration deception on Iraq in June 2003, Libby conferred with aide Eric Edelman to discuss a counterattack and bemoaned "selective leaks" by the CIA in a conversation with Judith Miller of The New York Times; shortly thereafter, columnist Robert Novak, citing two senior administration officials, revealed Plame's identity.
For some on the right, the indictment of Libby demonstrates the awesome power of the CIA to cripple the White House. In a piece this week suggesting that the administration is too fearful of Langley to release secret evidence vindicating its claims about Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, a former official contended to Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, "We didn't want to have a pissing match with the [Central Intelligence] Agency on the front page of the New York Times every time we put something out." That explanation may be convenient for diehard Bush loyalists and Iraq hawks, but it overlooks Bush's impressive ability to win the pissing match. As a recently declassified internal CIA study on pre-war intelligence points out, the CIA's gloomy forecast of post-Saddam Iraq, "although largely accurate ... had little or no impact on policy deliberations." Much to the disappointment of analysts, adds Johnson, "the Bush administration still ignores the intelligence analysis [on Iraq] in the community and insists things are going well."
The most potent symbol of the CIA's losing battle with the White House is the man who runs the agency: Porter Goss. "Everyone is very focused on what's going on in our own building," according to a CIA official. What's going on is an escalating bitterness between Bush loyalist Goss--who, in response to White House concerns, instructed his agency last year that its job was "to support the Administration and its policies"--and horrified CIA intelligence veterans. Over the past year several highly respected agency officials have quit in disgust with Goss, especially in the clandestine service in which Plame was employed and which Goss has said is his top priority. But Plame has been at most an afterthought in the Goss wars, which concern his dubious loyalty to the agency and his competence at rebuilding it. "These people are mostly Republicans, you realize," says one former agency official. "If anything, they'd naturally sort of like this president, but this Goss thing has been thermonuclear from day one and still is today."
But perhaps the biggest preoccupation--and cause of anxiety--in the CIA is its uncertain place in the intelligence community reorganization passed by Congress last year. With the creation of a new director of national intelligence (DNI) as the quarterback of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the CIA's spies and analysts are struggling to understand their new position in the intelligence bureaucracy. "In the intelligence community, not just the CIA, there's a hope that this whole division of labor with the DNI settles out soon because many things hinge on it--resources and so forth," says a former senior CIA analyst. "People just want clarity and are hoping they get clarity. There are an awful lot of things that are not laid out in the creation of that position." Indeed, the creation of the DNI has opened the question of whether the CIA should even exist--and some agency veterans argue that it shouldn't, as former CIA Director Stansfield Turner does in his new book Burn Before Reading. As a result, the Libby contretemps is a burdensome distraction at precisely the wrong time. Many at Langley are consumed with "how we keep this machine working, and make sure we get the mission done and don't get distracted," the ex-analyst says.
If all that wasn't enough to distance Plame from her expected allies, there's a final factor: Joe Wilson's high profile in the scandal. "The way Wilson has behaved, the natural sympathies that people in the agency would have for them has dissolved," says a former CIA official. "The Vanity Fair article really pissed them off with that photograph [of Wilson and Plame]. The p.r. campaign by the Wilsons has undermined the sympathy for her. I happen to know and like Joe Wilson a lot, but this rubs people the wrong way." Wilson, for his part, is not impressed with this line of argument. "The only reason I've been high profile is because of the attacks that have been launched about me and my family by Mr. Libby and company, and if anyone thought I was just going to roll over and play dead while these guys engaged in what was very clearly a cold and calculated effort to discredit, defame, and otherwise assassinate my character through leaking my wife's name, they were dead wrong," says Wilson. "Because of what we've done, perhaps it won't happen to other families." What the CIA wishes is that it weren't happening to anyone at all--and certainly not right now.
At his press conference last Friday, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was asked whether his indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby showed that "the administration took the country to war on false premises." "This indictment is not about the war," Fitzgerald responded. "This is simply an indictment that says ... in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person--a person, Mr. Libby--lied or not." In the narrowest sense, that may be true. But this indictment has everything to do with the war: It shows how administration officials--particularly Libby and his boss, Dick Cheney--interfered with the public's understanding of a key bit of intelligence, and how they tried to conceal that interference. Which raises one of the greatest outstanding questions about the war: To what extent did the Bush administration manipulate the public?
Libby authored many of Cheney's most incendiary prewar lines and urged them upon other officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. Cheney and Libby suggested that Saddam Hussein had conspired with Osama bin Laden to stage the September 11 attacks and that Saddam was building nuclear weapons. Of course, these claims--which constituted the primary (though not the only) rationale for the invasion--unraveled as soon as the war began. But what bothered Cheney and Libby was not simply the fact that their assertions had been wrong, but the growing speculation that they had known those assertions were wrong (or at least dubious) even as they made them.
In the late spring of 2003, several articles appeared, including a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof and a New Republic article by John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman ("The First Casualty," June 30), which charged that the administration had suppressed or ignored intelligence findings that contradicted its claims about Iraqi WMD and Saddam's ties to terrorists. As tnr reported, when, in the run-up to the war, the vice president's office didn't get the answers it wanted from the CIA, it demanded that analysts repeat their inquiry. If the results still didn't meet the expectations of Cheney and his aides, they would ignore them, while allowing the public to believe that their pronouncements were based on genuine intelligence findings.
The story of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, recounted by Kristof and tnr, was integral to this charge against the administration. The CIA sent Wilson to Niger in February 2002 after Cheney's office asked whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium from that country; Wilson said he found no evidence that it had. In other words, well before George W. Bush uttered the infamous 16 words that suggested otherwise in his January 2003 State of the Union address, the administration had ample grounds to doubt nuclear trade between Iraq and Niger. It was later discovered that the White House had ignored not only Wilson's report, but also repeated objections from the CIA and the State Department.
As the indictment makes clear, the vice president's office began seeking to discredit Wilson soon after the tnr piece appeared, attempting to conceal Cheney's role in the controversy by suggesting that Wilson's wife had conceived and arranged the trip. But this awkward ploy backfired, resulting in the administration's belated acknowledgement in July 2003 that there probably was no Niger connection--and later in Fitzgerald's investigation. The administration subsequently blamed the CIA for the false claims. But, as Fitzgerald's indictment indicates, Cheney and Libby were not mad at the CIA because it misled them. They were mad because it wouldn't support their efforts to mislead the American public.
Fitzgerald was appointed special counsel to find out whether a crime had taken place, and, if so, to prosecute it. He does not have a mandate to report on how the administration made its case for war. But the American public deserves just that report. Democrats have demanded that Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, make good on his promise to investigate how Bush officials used intelligence in the run-up to the war. But, judging from the Committee's initial report last year, which echoed the administration's line that the CIA was to blame for everything that went wrong, Democrats ought to push for an independent investigation. It should be chaired by former officials without outstanding political debts and staffed by policy experts--similar to the Tower Commission, which President Reagan appointed to investigate the Iran-Contra affair, or the 9/11 Commission. Because this is about more than whether "a person, Mr. Libby" lied or not; it's about whether an administration did.
Finally, the spotlight has started to swing away from Lewis Libby and his allegedly perjurous grand-jury testimony toward where that spotlight should have focused all along: on the CIA’s incompetent, weird – and possibly treasonous—response to Vice President Cheney’s inquiry about Iraq’s interest in purchasing yellowcake from Niger.
Perhaps an outline of how we did things at the CIA during the Reagan Administration will help to illustrate just how appalling the agency’s handling of Mr. Cheney’s query really was:
One of the first lessons you learn in the intelligence business, is that top-level officials rarely bother to ask for intelligence. They take whatever you provide – gratefully, when the intelligence is directly useful to them; sullenly, when they don’t like what you tell them – but otherwise pay no attention to you. Your job as a senior intelligence official is to develop whatever intelligence you believe the policymakers need, and then to “market” that intelligence to the policymakers whether they want it or not. (Meanwhile, you will be driven nuts by the incessant demands for intelligence from low-level officials at the Departments of State and Defense, and even at the White House. Much of what they ask for is obviously important, so you do your best to get it. But some requests are either marginal to our country’s security, or were triggered by some spy movie they watched over the weekend—in which case you do nothing, and usually they don’t ask a second time.)
Straight to the DCI
It’s quite rare for a Cabinet member to actually ask for intelligence – and even more rare for the Vice President or the President to ask – so when they do it’s a very big deal. President Reagan’s great Director of Central Intelligence, William J. Casey, made clear to all of us that when a top-level official personally asked the CIA to check into something, he was to be notified immediately. No matter what else was going on that day that demanded Casey’s total attention – a revolution in Asia, a covert action in Eastern Europe, another of Bob Woodward’s fantasies in The Washington Post—a direct query from any of the four or five top Administration officials took precedence over everything else. After all, they were our primary customers.
Casey would call a meeting of relevant intelligence officials to discuss the request, to understand what lay behind the request, and then to organize the job of developing a response. Sometimes, when the query was a simple one – “Just how many SS-20 missiles have the Russians got in Eastern Europe right now?” – we would have the answer in an hour. Other times – “That report you sent over last evening about the Soviet trade mission to Egypt is worrisome, and if you can find out whether any secret agreements were signed in Cairo I’d be grateful.” – we needed longer to respond.
Sometimes we could rely wholly on our own people to do whatever research, or snooping, had to be done. Other times, we needed help from people who didn’t work for the CIA – or even for the US government – but who for whatever reason had the access necessary to help get the information we sought. This would include former government officials, academic experts, business executives, scientists and people from the world of politics both here in the US and overseas. Bill Casey was a great CIA director for many reasons, not the least of which was his Rolodex. It was the size of a Ferris wheel. Casey seemed to know everyone on earth who had ever accomplished anything, and he had a genius for flipping through his Rolodex and plucking out the one individual in the entire world capable of helping us find out whatever we needed to know – and then talking that man or woman into lending a hand.
It was always done quietly – if a meeting was necessary, we held it away from the office—and with no paper trail whatever. And we did it all the time. There are literally scores of individuals in Washington, and elsewhere, who during those years gave their time and energy – sometimes at personal risk – to help provide information vital to our country’s security. Of course you don’t know who they are because they never, ever talked about what they did, not even to their friends and colleagues—never gave a speech about it, and never published op-ed essays about it even if they thought the resulting Reagan policies were wrong-headed. They understood that in taking on an assignment for the CIA – however brief, however informal – they were expected to keep their mouths shut.
In Person or “Eyes Only”
When we had our answer to the top official’s query – whether it took us an hour or a month – that answer went to Casey himself, who would review it personally to be sure it was an adequate response. Because the President, the Vice President, and the Secretaries of State and Defense were the CIA’s primary customers, Casey considered it his personal responsibility to oversee the agency’s responses to their queries. Usually, Casey himself would deliver the response in person. Other times it would be delivered in the form of a top-secret, “Eyes-Only” memo from him to the official.
All this raises two important questions for George Tenet, who was Director of Central Intelligence during all the time that “Plamegate” was going on:
• Why did the CIA, under your direction, treat the Vice President’s query about Iraqi efforts to purchase yellowcake in Niger so casually?
• When Joe Wilson started blabbing in public about his CIA mission to Niger – and lying about what he reported to the CIA upon his return – why didn’t you say something rather than allow the President’s credibility to be shredded?
These days George Tenet – to whom President Bush inexplicably awarded the Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor—is raking in a fortune on the lecture circuit. Perhaps someone in his next audience will take the opportunity to ask these questions and insist on answers – which is more than any of the hot-shot reporters in Washington seems interested in doing.
Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. His DVD on The Siege of Western Civilization has become an international best-seller.
In a surprise, closed-door debate, Senate Democrats last week demanded an investigation of pre-Iraq War intelligence. Here's an issue for them: Assess the validity of the claim that Valerie Plame's status was "covert," or even properly classified, given the wretched tradecraft by the Central Intelligence Agency throughout the entire episode. It was, after all, the CIA that requested the "leak" investigation, alleging that one of its agents had been outed in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column. Yet it was the CIA's bizarre conduct that led inexorably to Ms. Plame's unveiling. When the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was being negotiated, Senate Select Committee Chairman Barry Goldwater was adamant: If the CIA desired a law making it illegal to expose one of its deep cover employees, then the agency must do a much better job of protecting their cover. That is why a criterion for any prosecution under the act is that the government was taking "affirmative measures" to conceal the protected person's relationship to the intelligence agency. Two decades later, the CIA, either purposely or with gross negligence, made a series of decisions that led to Ms. Plame becoming a household name:
• The CIA sent her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a sensitive mission regarding WMD. He was to determine whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake, an essential ingredient for unconventional weapons. However, it was Ms. Plame, not Mr. Wilson, who was the WMD expert. Moreover, Mr. Wilson had no intelligence background, was never a senior person in Niger when he was in the State Department, and was opposed to the administration's Iraq policy. The assignment was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, at Ms. Plame's suggestion.
• Mr. Wilson was not required to sign a confidentiality agreement, a mandatory act for the rest of us who either carry out any similar CIA assignment or represent CIA clients.
• When he returned from Niger, Mr. Wilson was not required to write a report, but rather merely to provide an oral briefing. That information was not sent to the White House. If this mission to Niger were so important, wouldn't a competent intelligence agency want a thoughtful written assessment from the "missionary," if for no other reason than to establish a record to refute any subsequent misrepresentation of that assessment? Because it was the vice president who initially inquired about Niger and the yellowcake (although he had nothing to do with Mr. Wilson being sent), it is curious that neither his office nor the president's were privy to the fruits of Mr. Wilson's oral report.
• Although Mr. Wilson did not have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at taxpayer's expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us, writing about such an assignment would mean we'd have to bring our proposed op-ed before the CIA's Prepublication Review Board and spend countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with the thrust of Mr. Wilson's oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in his op-ed.
• More important than the inaccuracies is that, if the CIA truly, truly, truly had wanted Ms. Plame's identity to be secret, it never would have permitted her spouse to write the op-ed. Did no one at Langley think that her identity could be compromised if her spouse wrote a piece discussing a foreign mission about a volatile political issue that focused on her expertise? The obvious question a sophisticated journalist such as Mr. Novak asked after "Why did the CIA send Wilson?" was "Who is Wilson?" After being told by a still-unnamed administration source that Mr. Wilson's "wife" suggested him for the assignment, Mr. Novak went to Who's Who, which reveals "Valerie Plame" as Mr. Wilson's spouse.
• CIA incompetence did not end there. When Mr. Novak called the agency to verify Ms. Plame's employment, it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.
• Although high-ranking Justice Department officials are prohibited from political activity, the CIA had no problem permitting its deep cover or classified employee from making political contributions under the name "Wilson, Valerie E.," information publicly available at the Federal Elections Commission.
The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. It is up to Congress to decide which.
Ms. Toensing, a Washington lawyer, is a former chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration.
LAST TUESDAY, Senate Democrats fired the opening shot in the coming battle over prewar intelligence on Iraq when Minority Leader Harry Reid took the Senate into a closed session. The offensive began in earnest this weekend with a New York Times article:
A high Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda's work with illicit weapons.
The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility. Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as "credible" evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.
The article, based on declassified excerpts of the DIA report provided by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, goes on to strongly suggest that Bush administration officials simply ignored this warning to scare the public into supporting war in Iraq.
The truth, as it so often is these days, is considerably more complicated.
The Times article cites a claim George W. Bush made in a speech he gave in Cincinnati in October 2002. Bush said: "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases."
Why would Bush make such a claim when a DIA report had raised the possibility that al Libi was lying? One possibility: The CIA was saying that al Libi was credible.
On February 11, 2003--a year after the DIA report--CIA Director George Tenet testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said: "Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al Qaeda. It has also provided training in poisons and gases to two al Qaeda associates. One of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful."
In July 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee released "Phase I" of its evaluation of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The 511-page document focused on the collection and analysis of intelligence by the U.S. intelligence community. Senate Democrats are pushing now for the completion of "Phase II." They hope to use that report to demonstrate that the Bush administration, in the words of Levin, "went way beyond the intelligence, particularly as it relates to any relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
The Phase I report criticized Tenet for his failure to note that the intelligence on Iraqi training of al Qaeda had come from sources of "varying reliability." It may be a reasonable criticism. But if Levin and his colleagues want to show that statements from senior Bush administration officials went "way beyond the intelligence," this seems like an odd way to do it. The head of the U.S. intelligence community made the same claim Bush did--using almost exactly the same words--some four months after Bush's speech.
The Times article also provides Levin a platform to criticize the inclusion of al Libi's claims in Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003. From the article:
Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing "the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda."
At the time of Mr. Powell's speech, an unclassified statement by the C.I.A. described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as "credible." But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time went on to state that "the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."
Why, then, did Carl Levin endorse Phase I of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report? On pages 366-370, the committee evaluated the terrorism portion of Powell's presentation and offered its conclusions.
Conclusion 103. The information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency for the terrorism portion of Secretary Powell's speech was carefully vetted by both terrorism and regional analysts.
Conclusion 104. None of the portrayals of the intelligence reporting included in Secretary Powell's speech differed in any significant way from earlier assessments published by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Neither of these conclusions is mentioned in the Times piece.
LEVIN TOLD the Washington Post that he did not have the DIA document until after the Phase I report was completed. That's possible. But given his history on the issue, it's also possible that Levin was simply waiting until he could be sure his claims would be most politically damaging to the administration. (This is the man who released his own personal "study" of the intelligence on October 21, 2004, two weeks before the presidential election.) Whatever the truth of the matter, if history holds, Levin was almost certainly cherry-picking the intelligence, using only the information that supports his charges and ignoring the rest.
The rest is important. It provides much-needed context to the Bush administration's prewar claims. For example, we learn from the Phase I report that the CIA produced a classified analysis in September 2002 called Iraqi Support for Terrorism. The report assessed: "The general pattern that emerges is of al Qaeda's enduring interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) expertise from Iraq."
Among the conclusions of Iraqi Support for Terrorism were these:
Regarding the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, reporting from sources of varying reliability points to . . . incidents of training . . . [ellipses in original]
The most disturbing aspect of the relationship is the dozen or so reports of varying reliability mentioning the involvement of Iraq or Iraqi nationals in al Qaeda's efforts to obtain CBW training.
There is no question that al Libi's claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda on chemical and biological weapons were important. But one of the reasons that the CIA and Bush administration policymakers took them so seriously is because they fit a pattern of earlier reporting, albeit reporting from sources of "varying reliability."
These claims did not begin with the Bush administration. Senior Clinton administration officials repeatedly claimed that Iraq had provided chemical weapons expertise--at least--to al Qaeda in 1998. After al Qaeda terrorists struck two U.S. embassies in East Africa the Clinton administration retaliated by striking an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and the al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. In its defense of the al Shifa strikes, Clinton administration officials cited an al Qaeda presence at suspected chemical weapons facilities in Sudan. These facilities, according to both Clinton administration spokesmen and senior intelligence officials, were the result of a collaborative effort between Iraqi scientists, the Sudanese Military Industrial Corporation and al Qaeda terrorists. Clinton administration officials stand by those claims today.
Does Carl Levin think they are wrong?
ONE FINAL POINT: For two years Carl Levin has led the Democratic assault on the credibility of Bush administration's claim of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. It is worth moment to examine his credibility on these same issues.
In the months after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Levin repeatedly accused the Bush administration of pressuring intelligence officials to reach conclusions that supported the case for war. He provided an example in an appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on June 16, 2003, saying, "We were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between Iraq and al Qaeda."
But Levin's allegations were undermined as the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed analysts to determine whether they were pressured to change their analyses. None of the analysts supported his claim, a finding that was later confirmed in the Phase I report.
So Levin adjusted his allegation. "The intel didn't say that there is a direct connection between al Qaeda and Iraq," he said in an appearance on Fox News Channel on February 2, 2004. "That was not the intel. That's what this administration exaggerated to produce."
So which is it? Did the intelligence claim a "very strong link" or no direct connection?
At his press conference last week, Levin went even further. "The intelligence was not far off as it related to the nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
Carl Levin may believe that there was no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. But his claims are at odds with the views of the CIA.
As noted above, the CIA assessed in Iraqi Support for Terrorism that "the most disturbing aspect of the relationship is the dozen or so reports of varying reliability mentioning the involvement of Iraq or Iraqi nationals in al Qaeda's efforts to obtain CBW training." [emphasis added].
Fortunately, we are no longer reliant on Carl Levin's claims or even CIA analyses for our understanding of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. Documents uncovered in postwar Iraq allow us to test Levin's views and CIA prewar assessments against the words and deeds of the former Iraqi regime.
On June 25, 2004, the New York Times reported on an internal Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) document that discussed relations between Saddam Hussein's regime and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. The document, authenticated by the U.S. intelligence community, reports on meetings between bin Laden emissaries and Uday Hussein in 1994. The document further reports that the Iraqi regime agreed to a request from bin Laden to broadcast sermons from an anti-Saudi cleric. The IIS document advises that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement." And when bin Laden was ousted from Sudan in 1996, the document reports that Iraqis were "seeking other channels through which to handle the relationship."
All of which makes one thing clear: Carl Levin may still believe there was no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
But the Iraqis, who might have had unique insight into such matters, thought otherwise.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
ANYONE who knew the late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan has to wonder what he'd make of the CIA leak case.
The agency was one of his pet targets. Moynihan, a true Washington wise man, would get livid when he fumed about the CIA's "unbroken record of missing what's happening."
In a 1979 Newsweek essay, he accurately predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse in the '80s. The CIA, dead wrong, had no clue of the coming collapse.
At his monthly "tutorials" for New York reporters, Moynihan would recount with outrage that in 1987, just two years before the Berlin wall fell, the CIA was still claiming East Germany had a higher GDP than West Germany — when any cab driver in Berlin could have told you that was ridiculous.
CIA agents on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have done amazing, brave things. But when it comes to intelligence, the agency keeps getting the big things wrong.
It missed 9/11. The Iraq war began a day early when then-CIA chief George Tenet claimed to have "pretty darn good intelligence" on where Saddam Hussein was hiding out; it turned out to be pretty darn wrong intelligence.
And Tenet wrongly insisted to a skeptical President Bush that CIA had a "slam-dunk case" on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. (That's Bob Woodward's account in "Plan of Attack," which Tenet has never disputed.)
But the CIA also, as Moynihan noted wryly to columnist Mary McGrory, has a history of covering its butt by coming up with "revisionist rumbles" to claim it had really gotten things right somewhere, buried in a secret footnote. Would Moynihan see the leak case as a familiar tale of the agency again getting things wrong — and looking for someone else to blame?
The story began in February 2002, when CIA staffer Valerie Plame Wilson got her bosses to send her husband, ex-Ambassador Joe Wilson, to the African nation of Niger to check if Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake uranium. In her later statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mrs. Wilson left little doubt she expected him to come back with a "no" when she told him explore "this crazy report."
For over a year, Wilson and some CIA officials denied that he got the Niger gig at his wife's behest — but both the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report and the CIA leak indictment say that's that case.
The taxpayer money spent to send Wilson to Niger didn't produce much. His report "did not resolve whether Iraq was or was not seeking uranium," CIA chief Tenet would later say. If anything, CIA analysts thought Wilson's report backed up the yellowcake story that his wife had billed as "crazy."
Wilson didn't make any claim to have debunked the belief in Iraq weapons for over a year after his February 2002 trip. But in May 2003, he joined Democrat John Kerry's campaign — and instantly began blasting Bush, first through anonymous leaks, then in a New York Times op-ed and on any TV station that would have him, even posing with his wife for Vanity Fair in his jaguar.
So why did the CIA let him do it? It sent Wilson on a sensitive mission — but didn't require him to sign the usual confidentiality agreement. Even though his wife was a CIA staffer, it let him go loudly public — violating the most basic precautions, if she truly wanted to protect her identify.
The agency didn't assert a right to vet the New York Times op-ed he wrote about his trip — even though such review is standard, and even though his Times account sharply conflicted with what he'd told the CIA. It was if the agency flashed him a giant green light to blast Bush.
Indeed, the indictment that could send ex-White House aide Scooter Libby to jail for 30 years also holds clear evidence that the CIA should have stopped Wilson from going public.
The indictment notes that on June 9, 2003, Libby got CIA documents about Wilson's trip to Niger that were marked "classified" — even though "they did not mention Wilson by name" and Libby didn't yet know about the role of Wilson's wife. That indicates that the trip itself was classified — so CIA should have ordered Wilson to stop blabbing.
But then, all this came at a time when the CIA division where Wilson's wife worked had an intense need to cover its rear: Remember — they were the ones who (along with every other intel agency in the world) had insisted that Saddam had WMDs — but no WMDs were being found.
Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked — because it served to shift blame for failed "slam dunk" intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush "twisted" intelligence was to presume — falsely — that the CIA had gotten it right.
When the White House ineptly tried to counter Wilson's tall tales by revealing that he wasn't an expert and his wife set up the trip, the CIA demanded a criminal probe — and then itself broke the law by leaking that news.
It now appears the CIA's entire referral was dishonest: The agency knew Plame wasn't a covert agent under the terms of the law, since she hadn't had an overseas posting in the past five years — and obviously neither she nor the CIA was taking proper precautions to protect her identity. Call it disinformation.
That almost certainly is why no charges have been filed against the mysterious X who first leaked Mrs. Wilson's identity to columnist Robert Novak, who published it. Since Mrs. Wilson wasn't a covert agent, she couldn't be outed. And that's why Libby is accused of lying to investigators but not of outing Wilson's wife.
As Victoria Toensing, a former Senate Intelligence Committee chief counsel, put it in the Wall Street Journal: "The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft."
For her part Toensing — who was Intelligence Committee counsel when Moynihan was vice-chairman — has no doubt about the answer: "It was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half."
Spies, after all, get much better training than White House aides at double-dealing, leaks, disinformation and cover-ups. Sen. John McCain has called the CIA a "rogue agency." One can only imagine that Moynihan would agree.
You never know with ouija boards, especially mine, which I bought in one of those kinda ratty antiques-and-esoterica shops in the French Quarter before New Orleans got blown away. I suppose I should be grateful that it works at all, but I had been trying for several days — intermittently, of course — to get to the late James Jesus Angleton, onetime chief of CIA's Counterintelligence Division, and it just wasn't working. So I wasn't even annoyed when, in the middle of the night, it started sparking and flashing, and there he was. Or at least there his voice was, that gravelly near-whisper I knew so well.
JJA: I have voice mail from you.
ML: Yeah, thanks for returning my calls. Have you seen these stories about the "Italian Connection" to the Niger Documents?
JJA: The ones that say you forged them? I didn't know your French was good enough (odd sound here, couldn't really tell if it was the usual cough or a spectral laugh)...
ML: No, no, not those. Anyway hardly anybody said that, mostly they accused me of schlepping them, not forging them. But I'm talking about a different lot: The ones that say that the Italian intelligence service never transmitted the documents to us.
JJA: Yes, I saw some of that here and there. Both an Italian parliamentary oversight commission and the FBI concluded that the Italian secret service didn't provide the United States with the infamous forged documents. They came through the State Department, do I have that right?
ML: A typical CIA fiasco, it seems. The documents were taken to the U.S. embassy by an Italian journalist (funny how there's always a journalist, isn't it?). One of the Lefties (who has a different version of the story almost every day) thinks the documents were brought to the Embassy by the guy who was peddling them all over the place. CIA people in Rome saw them, but didn't transmit them to Langley, and the agency didn't properly evaluate them until they were exposed as forgeries by the U.N.
JJA: That's the guy whose name sounds like a professional wrestler? Rocco or something?
ML: Yes, Rocco Martino. You're thinking of Antonino Rocca, who was the wrestling champion before WWF was invented. Skinny guy who bounced all over the ring.
JJA: Right. Good memory for a man your age.
ML: So you read the stories?
JJA: Yes I did, and there's something in there that really tickled me, and I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
ML: Yeah, the French connection.
JJA: The French connection is right. Rocco Martino wasn't working for the Italians at all. He had, in the past, but they'd ditched him, and in this little caper he was paid by French intelligence. He got them the contact inside the Nigerien embassy in Rome, and he peddled them all around, to the Brits, to our government, even to CBS News. He swears he didn't forge them. Nobody seems to know who forged them.
ML: And your question is?
JJA: My question is whether the French were running one of their little disinformation stings on the United States.
ML: Well the moonbat Lefties — from Italy to the U.S., often working in tandem — have been saying for months that it was an Italian forgery designed to help President Bush justify the invasion of Iraq, and secondarily to curry favor in Washington for Berlusconi.
JJA: No way. I spent a lot of time in Italy, and believe me if they had decided to forge documents, they'd have fooled most of the world. Instead, the people at the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency figured it out in a day. No, if the documents were forged badly, it's because whoever did it, wanted them to be seen to be forgeries.
ML: Huh? What sense does that make?
JJA: Think like a counterintelligence analyst for once. It's an old-fashioned sting operation. You're Jacques Chirac, okay? You want to embarrass the Americans and protect your buddy Saddam Hussein, right? The Americans are running around trying to find evidence of a covert Iraqi nuclear program. So, first you feed them some crappy information along those lines, hoping that they'll buy it, and then you arrange — through Rocco in Italy — to have these documents surface. The documents "confirm" the disinformation and of course also what the Americans want to believe anyway. The Americans launch their accusations, then it turns out that the documents are forgeries, and bad forgeries at that, and so the Americans look like idiots and the causus belli disappears. In one move, you've helped your friend Saddam and hurt the Americans. Terrific. Chapeau, and all that.
ML: But it didn't stop the war, did it?
JJA: No, and it wasn't originally designed to stop Bush. It was designed to stop Clinton.
ML: You're kidding, the documents surfaced in the fall of 2002, just a few months before Bush's State of the Union speech.
JJA: True, and I'll get to that in a second. But the documents were forged earlier, almost certainly by 2000.
ML: Why didn't they surface earlier?
JJA: Because they weren't needed. Clinton looked like he might have been on the verge of going to war, but he didn't, so the documents got filed away. They were used later, as part of an effort to deny Bush that U.N. vote.
ML: But you think the French were trying to convince us to bite on a Saddam-wanted-uranium-from-Niger scam?
JJA: Look at page 76 of the Silberman-Robb Report. CIA had received three reports from "a liaison intelligence service" in late '01 and early 2002. "One of these reports explained that...during meetings on July 5-6, 2000, Niger and Iraq had signed an agreement for the sale of 500 tons of uranium." And the "liaison service" provided a "verbatim text" of the agreement. Got that? Not the document, but a text. They were keeping the documents to themselves, and they wouldn't tell us the source, because, they said, they were afraid of leaks.
ML: Right, that text is supposed to be the text of one of the forged documents.
JJA: Silberman-Robb doesn't say that, actually, although that's probably true. Everyone has assumed that the "liaison service" was Italian, but since the Italians did not have those documents in early 2002-nobody except the French and Rocco, the French agent, had them at that time-it wasn't them.
ML: So they weren't the "liaison service." It was...the FRENCH???
JJA: Voila! Or should I say, Ecco!?
ML: In fact, the New York Times on Saturday quotes the head of the Italian service accusing the French of being behind Rocco and the documents.
JJA: Yeah, and what do the French say? They say the guy's remarks are "scandalous," but they don't deny it. Hah! God, I wish they let us have cigarettes here, I'd blow some smoke rings...
ML: Has Bloomberg taken over there too?
JJA: You can't imagine the prissiness of this place.
ML: I've got one more question, if you've got the time.
JJA: Haha. I've got eternity, what a ridiculous thing to say. What's the question?
ML: I never understood all the excitement over the forgeries. The president didn't refer to them in the State of the Union, after all. He talked about "British intelligence."
JJA: Bravo! The Brits issued a white paper in September, 2002-remember the documents arrive at the U.S. embassy in Rome a month later — talking about Saddam's quest for uranium in Africa. And they have said repeatedly that their information had nothing to do with the forgeries.
ML: Yes they do. And they also say — and the Butler Commission supports them, and Bush, on this — that the information was good, and the conclusion was, and is, "well founded."
JJA: So now you're going to ask why the whole world believes that we went to war at least in part because we fell for the phony documents.
The damn ouija board was sparking and I was starting to get a lot of static.
JJA: It's because the big-time media keep saying it — it's a textbook case of The Big Lie. Say it often enough and eventually a lot of people will believe it — and the White House, amazingly, unaccountably, incredibly, confessed to something they had not done, namely accept the documents as legit, and base policy on them.
ML: But they hadn't.
JJA: No. In fact, the information the president cited — the British intelligence — was probably accurate. If I had to bet, I'd lay pretty decent odds that the story of Saddam trying to buy uranium in Africa was true. But Ari Fleisher and Steven Hadley confessed that they had swallowed the sting. Hadley even publicly humiliated himself, although if I remember it right, it was about a speech in Cincinnati that Bush had given, not the State of the Union.
ML: Why didn't they just tell the truth?
JJA: I think they thought they were protecting CIA in some weird way. Who knows? Ask them, why don't you?
I could barely make it out, and the smell of burning insulation was really bad. And I was only getting Angletonian fragments.
JJA: ...Idiots...should have fired Tenet on September 12th...damned French...
And that was it. That's just the way his mind works. Remember that he really hated the French, ever since he caught them breaking into some offices in Washington. Or was it they who caught him breaking into their offices? I can never remember.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute
There are an amazing number of French fingerprints all over the Plame-Wilson affair. While it is not easy to penetrate the dark fog of lies, there is a highly consistent pattern pointing to French government involvement with a Watergate-style assault on the American Presidency, fronted by Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
In 2002 French intelligence forged the notorious document claiming that Saddam tried to obtain Niger uranium. The Italian middle man, Rocco Martino, later confessed to French involvement in open court. Rocco Martino might sound like a small-time mafia hood from the Sopranos. Actually, he works at times for Italian military intelligence. The truth about the French connection came out when Martino confessed in court that the French had given him the forged document to peddle to various intelligence agencies. The Italians and French have had a furious war of words ever since then about who was responsible for the forgery.
The FBI just leaked a claim that Rocco did it just for the money. That is very doubtful. The French naturally deny any responsibility, but the forged document was dropped on the public at exactly the time that Dominique de Villepin, then Foreign Minister, was in New York trying to make Colin Powell believe that France was prepared to help overthrow Saddam. The French forgery was a stink bomb, designed to be exposed in public as soon as Colin Powell publicly accepted it.
At the very same time the Niger forgery showed up, France’s Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, was sand bagging Secretary Powell at the UN by pretending to support American efforts against Saddam – even as he got ready to pull out the rug in a surprise press conference. Reporter Kenneth Timmerman told Brit Hume for FoxNews that:
“Our administration thought that the French were with us, that French had dispatched their top general to Centcom, Chirac had promised the president (to support the United States against Saddam). Villepin the foreign minister had promised Powell. They said they were with us, and they weren’t. ...”
“So then de Villepin goes outside at noontime. ... Powell is actually watching Fox News… as de Villepin goes on TV … And that’s when he announces to the world that France will never ever support the use of force against Saddam Hussein. ... Powell’s jaw dropped to the floor….”
It was a carefully planned ambush. Timmerman summed it up by saying that
“Chirac lied to the president of the United States, and then he ordered his Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to do the same thing with Colin Powell.”
And then, they pulled the plug.
De Villepin’s ambush triggered a giant anti-American firestorm in Europe and around the world. Germans, French, Brits and Swedes were foaming at the mouth for months and months. France was therefore extremely successful in discrediting American policy against Saddam.
But that was not enough, because Saddam was quickly knocked over by the US-led coalition forces. Somehow the media fires had to be kept alive. The “Bush lied us into war” slogan had to be kept going in the minds of the public.
Enter our hero, Joseph C. Wilson, from stage left. The French forgery about Niger led straight to Wilson’s bogus trip to Africa. Wilson supposedly went there to find out the truth for the CIA. But every government involved already knew the truth about the bogus document, because it showed incorrect names of Niger officials. A single telephone call to Niger would have established that fact.
The reason why Wilson had to travel to Niger in person to “investigate,” while drinking mint tea with his uranium mining friends, was to establish his bona fides – to make him an instant “expert witness” on Saddam’s dealings with Niger. Did French intelligence urge Wilson to make his trip and enlist his wife Valerie to propose him? Without that trip, Joseph C. Wilson had no special claim to any expertise about Saddam’s weapons. It was Valerie Plame who was the CIA WMD expert, but it was Wilson who became the front man.
Notice that the modus operandi for the Wilson trip was much the same as for the Niger forgery: a classic con game. Find a sucker, tell him what he wants to hear, and use that credulous embrance by the mark to destroy your enemy. In the first case the sucker was Colin Powell. In the second case it was the New York Times Op-Ed page. In both cases the enemy to be shafted was George W. Bush and the administration. This is how disinformation is supposed to work.
Joseph Wilson had intimate French connections for many years before his mint tea-sipping journey to Niger. In fact, he met his first wife at the French Embassy in Washington. His second wife, Jacqueline, to whom he was still married when he took up with Valerie Plame, was a former French diplomat. There is even a report that she was a “cultural attaché” in Francophone Africa, a post often used as cover for intelligence operatives, though this remains quite a murky point, as tradecraft suggests it should.
Today Wilson claims to be a business agent for “African mining companies.” But Niger’s mines are owned by a French consortium, which operates cheek-by-jowl with the Quai d’Orsay. Niger itself is a semi-colony of France. No uranium sales go on there without the full knowledge and consent of the French government. Valerie Plame was quoted in a CIA memo as saying that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts)...” Lots of French contacts, indeed.
Wilson exploded into public view, and spent two years barnstorming around the country, giving outraged speeches to publicize the idea that he had found the smoking gun to prove Bush had lied. Moveon.org and their friends were happy to believe him.
Wilson was interviewed on PBS and NPR, and wrote a book, now thoroughly discredited, to push his anti-Bush agenda. In the process he told so many lies that he lost track of them himself. But that made no difference. The media and the Left leaped on the story like manna from heaven; or, possibly, like fine champagne from France.
Well, hypothetically just suppose for a moment that Wilson’s strings are being pulled by the French. What motivates the French government? They have been very clear about that.
Jacques Chirac and his close ally Dominique de Villepin have long proclaimed France to be the strategic enemy of American power. Paris openly yearns to lead the European Union to superpower status, in order to undermine American “hegemony,” and above all for the eternal grandeur of la belle France. De Villepin has written books vilifying the United States; he is an open French imperialist, who conceives of himself as a world-historic figure in the mold of his personal heroes Napoleon and Niccolo Machiavelli.
France’s short-term aim for the Niger forgery was to block US actions against Saddam Hussein, or at least to discredit America in the run-up to the Iraq war. The long-term strategic purpose was to drive a wedge between the US and Europe, so that the European Union – guided by France – could be persuaded to revolt against fifty years of US leadership of the West.
This strategy succeeded, but not completely. The American action in Iraq provoked massive public fury in Europe, whipped up by the government-owned media and the Left. It caused a rift in public opinion that continues today. Had Tony Blair not gone along with President Bush against Saddam, the EU might now be going on its separate way, aiming for world domination, just as de Villepin has fervently advocated. If the EU Constitution had been approved, as the media confidently predicted it would be, Jacques Chirac might now be running to be the first president of Europe.
For decades France has conducted major industrial espionage in the United States. Having Wilson as a source on Clinton’s National Security Council would be an obvious boon for that purpose. Had John Kerry won the 2004 election, Wilson might now be back in the White House, perhaps helping his good friends abroad. He was therefore a very good prospect for French intelligence to cultivate, especially given the lax security standards of the Clinton years. And if Wilson and Plame do succeed in bringing down George W. Bush, Chirac and de Villepin would be overjoyed.
French hatred of American power is the reason why France pressured Turkey (anxious to enter the EU) to block the US IV Infantry Division from crossing Iraq’s northern border to help knock over Saddam Hussein. Had the IV ID hit Saddam from the North while Tommy Franks attacked from the South, the current Iraqi insurrection might have been crushed even before it got started, the Baathist hardcore unable to flee north to the Sunni Triangle and entrench itself among the small percentage of Iraqis who benefited from Saddam’s rule. The original plan envisioned just such a pincer movement. We therefore owe many of our 2,000 soldiers’ deaths to deliberate and malicious French sabotage, with thanks to Dominique de Villepin and Jacques Chirac.
There is every reason to believe that France desperately wants this White House to be weakened or overthrown. They would be happy with Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat as president, because the Euro-socialist, non-interventionist base of that party is compatible with French policies and strategies. European emphasis on the United Nations as the forum for handling international conflicts plays to France’s strongest asset in world affairs, its veto-wielding Security Council seat, and its large number of Francophone former colonies, each with a vote in the General Assembly. A strong America wielding its mighty military force is de Villepin’s worst nightmare.
What about France and Wilson? While we do not know all the facts, there is no question that Joseph Wilson has acted precisely as we might expect from an agent provocateur. He worked fervently to undermine the Bush White House with plainly false accusations, putting the Niger forgery to very good use. Joe Wilson calls himself a business agent for unnamed “African mining companies.” We can reasonably guess that he made those contacts during his several postings in Francophone West Africa, possibly when he was Ambassador to Gabon, another former French colony, at the culmination of his State Department career.
Wilson claims credit for persuading Bill Clinton to make a heavily hyped trip to French Africa, tossing millions of US aid dollars to the local dictatorships, including, possibly, some of Wilson’s friends. So Wilson apparently works as a consultant for French-owned mining companies in Africa, which would allow him to be openly paid by those companies. None of this makes for a smoking gun, but it is certainly, at minimum, an interesting coincidence that a man with such extensive and intimate French connections should be conducting a ferocious nationwide crusade against the President of the United States, who also happens to be hated by the French government.
Was Wilson acting on his own in planting the Times Op-Ed? Were Valerie Plame and her friends at CIA pulling strings? Or was it other Democrats? There is plenty of evidence for CIA backing of Wilson and Plame, as many have previously noted. There may be nothing more to it than a failed CIA WMD intelligence group covering itself with a manufactured diversionary scandal.
But for someone with Wilson’s ego, simple flattery by the “sophisticated” French might be a powerful tool of manipulation. He has all the appearance of a wounded narcissist, someone who needs the attention of the world to make up for his inner deficiencies. When the Soviet KGB ran agents all over the Western world they rarely bothered to pay them. They were “idealists” whose vanity could be easily manipulated.
Is all that tangled enough for you? Keep in mind that the whole affair may be a classic disinformation campaign, run by the pros who make their living doing just that. Just as Watergate showed how Mark Felt learned how to make damaging leaks from J. Edgar Hoover, the modus operandi of the Plame-Wilson affair reflects professional intelligence methods.
For now, there are only questions, not answers. Maybe someone with the power to subpoena and compel testimony under oath ought to be investigating. Whoever is guiding Joseph C. Wilson IV seems to specialize in dangerous intrigue. We have not seen the end of them yet.
WATERGATE spawned its own subgenre of suspense films featuring various arms of the United States government as the hidden masterminds of evil schemes. The first of these post-Watergate films was 1975's Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA researcher (Joe Turner, codename "Condor") caught up in a dangerous plot. Turner works in a Manhattan CIA-front operation scanning books, newspapers, and magazines for the traces of agency operations. One day he sneaks out to lunch and returns to the office, only to find his colleagues have been assassinated.
Turner realizes he is in danger, phones his Agency contact, follows his directions and soon discovers that this contact is part of the plot. Turner kidnaps and hides out with his victim/love interest (Faye Dunaway) while working to unravel the plot in which he's been ensnared. He tracks down the assassin who murdered his CIA coworkers and deduces that a rogue element within the agency is undertaking covert operations. This rogue element had hired an assassin to terminate the research office with extreme prejudice because Turner had stumbled onto this rogue group's plot to invade a Middle Eastern country for oil. The crux of the plot dawns on Turner as a revelation: "Oil fields. Oil. That's it, isn't it? This whole damn thing was about oil! Wasn't it? Wasn't it?"
The Joseph Wilson affair appears to enact a postmodern variation of Three Days of the Condor, with Joe Wilson a decadent version of Robert Redford's Turner. Valerie Plame holds up the Faye Dunaway role nicely. In this variation of the plot, however, Wilson is a co-conspirator, rather than an innocent victim, of the rogue element within the CIA.
THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT on pre-war intelligence devotes 45 pages to intelligence on Saddam Hussein's possible efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger; of these, roughly 8 pages are devoted to events relating to Wilson's trip to Niger in February 2002. The report rebuts the claims Wilson peddled--first on background to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and others, in May and June of 2003, and then publicly under his own name, beginning with his Times op-ed column in July 2003.
According to Wilson, the oral report he made to the CIA discredited the evidence of any Iraq-Niger yellowcake deal and showed related documents might have been forged. Wilson to the contrary notwithstanding, the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that, "For most analysts, the information in the report [of Wilson's trip to Niger] lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal"--although the State Department disagreed.
In any event, Vice President Cheney had not been advised of Wilson's findings. As for the forged documents, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, the intelligence community didn't acquire them until October 2002, long after Wilson's oral accounting on his trip. According to the "additional views" section of the Senate report (written by Senator Pat Roberts), Wilson had baldly fabricated his alleged disclosure of the forged documents:
On at least two occasions [Wilson] admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims and that he was drawing on unrelated past experiences or no information. For example, when asked how he knew that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."
In a WEEKLY STANDARD article "A Little Literary Flair," Matthew Continetti made another interesting observation:
What's puzzling is that at times intelligence officials, quoted on background, also supported Wilson's claims. In a July 9, 2003, Newsday story by Timothy M. Phelps, for example, a "senior intelligence official" agreed with Wilson that his report "was widely disseminated" throughout the Bush administration. This wasn't the case.
Last week in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Victoria Toensing questioned whether the CIA's conduct in the Wilson matter was a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. She asked why Wilson hadn't been required to sign the agency's standard confidentiality agreement regarding his trip and noted that
Although Mr. Wilson did not have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at taxpayer's expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us, writing about such an assignment would mean we'd have to bring our proposed op-ed before the CIA's Prepublication Review Board and spend countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with the thrust of Mr. Wilson's oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in his op-ed.
LAST WEEK I contacted the CIA public information officer who fields media questions regarding Wilson. I first asked him why the Agency hadn't asked Wilson to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding his trip. He hesitated for a few seconds, then responded: "I don't know." At his suggestion, I followed up with a set of questions by e-mail:
(1) Why wasn't Wilson's February 2002 trip to Niger made subject to a confidentiality agreement?
(2) Did the Agency contemplate that Wilson would publicly discuss the trip at will upon his return?
(3) Did the agency anticipate that if he did so, it would attract attention to the employment of his wife by the agency?
(4) Why did the Agency select Wilson for the mission to Niger to check out such an important and sensitive matter given his lack of experience in intelligence or investigation?
(5) Was the Agency aware when it selected him for the mission of his hostility to the Bush administration?
The CIA responded:
Given the ongoing legal process, I don't have anything for you in response to your questions about Ambassador Wilson.
JOE WILSON was not, of course, the only CIA-related political opponent of the Bush administration who emerged during the run-up to the 2004 election. In July 2004, the same month that the Times published Wilson's notorious op-ed column, CIA analyst Michael Scheuer published his strange book Imperial Hubris (by "Anonymous"), which attacked American foreign policy related to the war on terrorism. (Scheuer was identified as the "Anonymous" author of the book by the Boston Phoenixeven before the book's official publication date.)
In the epilogue to the paperback edition, Scheuer stated that he "was never told why the CIA permitted publication." Following publication of the book, the CIA permitted Scheuer "anonymously" to criticize the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror in media interviews until his criticisms extended beyond the administration to the intelligence community. (Scheuer left the Agency last November--the week after the election.) Last week I also asked the CIA the following questions regarding Scheuer:
(1) Has the Agency ever before in its history authorized the publication of a book by a current Agency employee attacking the incumbent administration?
(2) Was Scheuer's employment status classified at any time between 1999 and the time he resigned from the Agency? If so, over what period?
(3) Can you cite any previous instances in the history of the Agency of currently employed Agency analysts attacking the incumbent administration?
The CIA responded:
[A]ll CIA employees have prepublication obligations. Beyond the obvious prohibition on releasing classified information, the outside writings and speeches of serving officers must not affect either their ability to do their jobs or the agency's ability to accomplish its mission. Because CIA is not a policy organization, its regulations discourage current employees from speaking or writing publicly on policy issues.
In light of that common-sense guidance, the chances are extremely remote--to put it mildly--that a presently serving officer would be allowed to write a book today injecting him or herself into a national policy debate. That is how things stand now.
Which raises raises the question: How did things stand before the election last year?
AT THE CONCLUSION of Three Days of the Condor, Turner stands face-to-face with Agency contact Higgins outside the offices of the New York Times as Higgins tries to bring Turner in. Turner refuses. Higgins admonishes Turner that he will be tracked down. But Turner isn't scared; he's already told the Times his story.
Higgins asks, "How do you know they'll print it?" Turner responds confidently, "They'll print it," and walks off, secure in the knowledge that the story will expose the plot. Wilson too told "it" to the Times, and the Times did indeed print "it." Yet in Joe Wilson's postmodern twist on Three Days of the Condor, "it" appears to be part of the plot itself.
The CIA's disinformation campaign against President Bush -- headlined in the Wilson/Plame affair -- is more jujitsu than karate. Instead of applying your own force to defeat your opponent, you turn his energy and momentum against him and bring him down. The CIA, as much or more than the State Department, didn't support President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. And to discredit that decision, it appears the CIA first chose an unspeakably unqualified political activist for a sham intelligence mission, structured it so that the results would be utterly public, and then -- when the activist resumed his publicity-hound activity -- demanded and achieved a high-profile criminal investigation into White House activities that resulted, so far, in the indictment of the Vice President's chief of staff. It's time for the Justice Department -- or, better yet, for the Senate Intelligence Committee -- to investigate the Wilson/Plame sham. Not only was the Wilson mission to Niger a sham, but the CIA's demand for an investigation of Robert Novak's outing of Valerie Plame may itself have been a criminal act.
Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely (USA, ret.) is one of Fox's senior military analysts. Gen. Vallely confirmed to me that nearly a year before Robert Novak's July 2003 column revealed Valerie Plame as a CIA employee, former Clinton Ambassador Joe Wilson told Vallely and his wife, Muffin, that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. This revelation, published last week on John Batchelor's ABC talk show (and repeated Monday night on John's show), blew more holes into Joe Wilson's tattered credibility and raises important questions about the CIA's actions. (Fox's Judge Andrew Napolitano had said on the air that a FNC colleague had told him of Plame's CIA employment; Vallely didn't recall being Napolitano's source.)
Wilson's reactions to Vallely's assertion bespeak panic and meltdown. After Vallely's assertion on the Batchelor show (subsequently republished on World Net Daily), Wilson's lawyer both called and e-mailed Vallely threatening legal action if he didn't withdraw the assertion. The e-mail, which Vallely sent me, included Wilson's e-mail to his lawyer. Wilson, in a message to his lawyer dated November 5 at 5:11 p.m., said, "This is slanderous. I never appeared on tv before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at Fox. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife. Joe." But the threat of legal action against Vallely isn't serious. Neither Wilson nor Plame want to testify in open court under oath.
There are just too many anomalies in the Wilson mission to Niger to believe that anyone who wasn't planning to bash the president could possibly have chosen Wilson for the task. He had no expertise in WMD, hadn't been in Niger since the 1980s, and had no intelligence training. One of the most revealing aspects of Wilson's mission, relevant to showing it was part of a disinformation campaign, was that he wasn't required to sign a CIA secrecy agreement before taking on the mission. In plainest terms, that meant his CIA bosses wanted him to go public on his return. And he did. The other point that proves Wilson's mission was anything but serious is that, in Wilson's own words, he told everyone he met that he was an agent of the U.S. government.
In his July 6, 2003 NYT op-ed, Wilson said, "The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. While the CIA paid my expenses (my time was offered pro bono), I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government." You tell everyone you're speaking to that you're in the government's employ so they can feed you whatever line of baloney they want the U.S. government to hear? Wilson's "mission," in short, was a pathetic joke and not an intelligence mission by any definition. The CIA knew this. Who in the CIA authorized, paid for and managed this mission? Why did they do it? There's no plausible explanation other than the intent to embarrass and discredit the Bush administration.
A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Valerie Plame -- who suggested her husband for the Niger mission -- was too low on the CIA totem pole to have approved and paid for the mission. The source also told me that Judith ("Jami") Miscik, then the CIA"s deputy director for intelligence, was the person who signed off on the Wilson mission. Plame's WINPAC directorate was under Miscik in the chain of command. Miscik was fired by new CIA director Porter Goss late last year during Goss's housecleaning in which Deputy Director John E. McLauglin resigned and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt retired.
The CIA, through one of its spokesmen, declined to comment on whether it was Miscik or someone else because of pending legal proceedings. And, in context with other information, it appears that Miscik would not likely have been the one. Logically the person who approved the Wilson mission would have had to be some senior person in the Operations Directorate, possibly the now-retired Pavitt.
Regardless of who started the mission, the CIA responded to the Novak column by sending a classified criminal referral -- the allegation of criminal conduct requesting a formal investigation -- to the Justice Department. When it did so, it had to have known that Plame's status was not covert (as defined in the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982) and probably knew â€“ it is an intelligence organization, after all â€“ that Wilson had blabbed his wife's identity around town. Why, then, was the criminal referral made? Who approved it? Such actions had to be approved at least by the CIA general counsel and probably by CIA Director Tenet or at least his deputy, McLauglin. Why did they do that knowing what they must have known?
The December 30, 2003 letter from Deputy Attorney General Paul Comey appointing Patrick Fitzgerald special prosecutor, says, in part: "â€¦I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identityâ€¦" What was the allegation? If it were made falsely -- say with the knowledge that Plame's identity wasn't covert or had become public -- the person who made the referral may have committed a serious crime.
The whole Wilson/Plame affair stinks to high heaven. And the smell is coming from Langley. Porter Goss should receive credit for working hard to fix the CIA. The Wilson affair isn't his problem, it's ours. Right now, the CIA's disinformation campaign has cost Scooter Libby his future, threatens other White House staffers and -- most importantly -- burdens the credibility of the president in time of war. It affects our standing in the world, our relationship with our allies, and our strength in the eyes of our enemies. In short, this damned thing needs to be unraveled, publicly, and right bloody now.
The American people need this matter investigated forthwith, and not -- God help us -- by yet another special counsel. The Senate Intelligence Committee should, immediately, investigate and cause the following questions to be answered publicly as soon as possible:
1) What precisely does the CIA criminal referral that started the Fitzgerald investigation say? It should be declassified and published;
2) Who approved the criminal referral and why?
3) Was Pavitt the person who approved the Wilson mission? Who else approved the mission and how it was to be performed?
4) Why did they choose Wilson instead of someone qualified?
5) Why wasn't Wilson required to sign a confidentiality agreement?
6) Were his various op-eds vetted at CIA?
7) Who else, beside Vallely and his wife, knew Plame was a CIA employee, when did they know it and from whom?
8) Who was Bob Novak's source? Was it Wilson? Pavitt? Someone else at CIA?
There are hundreds of other questions that should be answered publicly. Let's get ol' Joe in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, under oath and with the television cameras on. Let's see if he does as well as George Galloway did in front of Norm Coleman's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. I have no doubt he'll fail to rise to even that standard.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).