joe wilson and valerie plame
a tale of two tales
Tale #1: A ruthless Bush administration, bent on covering it tracks over deceiving the nation into war, smears a brave and honest whistleblower (Joe Wilson) and in the process ruins his wife's (Valerie Plame) spying career. A special prosecutor indicts Cheney's top aide in the scandal, thus proving the perfidy of the administration.
Tale #2: Dissident members of the CIA, unhappy about US policy, try to undermine a sitting president through leaks to friendly reporters and columnists. Because this happened during an election campaign, the administration defends itself against the leak campaign. Wilson was lying, so whoever leaked information to discredit him was a whistle blower in service of the truth.
Tale #1 is the official media version. You've heard it on 60 Minutes and in the pages of newspapers. It needs no more coverage here. Tale #2, a more intruiging story by any definition, is what this page is all about.
Zell Miller's take
"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!
Stephen Hayes has probably written the most incisive columns on this subject.
FOR TWO YEARS, THE political class in Washington has followed with intense interest the story of Joseph Wilson and the events that led to the compromising of his wife's identity and undercover status as a CIA operative. The rest of the country seems to have responded with a collective yawn. That will soon change if special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald issues indictments of senior White House aides in his investigation of the alleged leaking of Mrs. Wilson's name.
Thus begins the most comprehensive reconstruction of the scandal's timeline. It's long, but if you want to understand the big picture, read it all.
He wrote another column, One Good Leak Deserves Another, about the CIA leak campaign that cracked open the scandal:
FOR FOUR YEARS, A slow-motion war between the CIA and the Bush administration has been unfolding over America's airwaves and on its front pages. A principal weapon in this war has been the deliberate leaking of information to the media.
When the history of this damaging episode is written, two leaks will stand out as having been most consequential. One of them is famous: the alleged leak to columnist Robert Novak that led to the compromising of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
But there was another big leak that no one seems to care about: the leak of the CIA's referral to the Justice Department concerning the Plame matter. That second disclosure, perhaps even more than the initial leak, set off the chain of events that resulted in the naming of a special prosecutor and finds us now anticipating indictments of senior White House officials.
Then in A Spooked White House (great title) he shows the damage done.
AFTER A 22-MONTH investigation into the compromising of CIA operative Valerie Plame, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald handed down a five-count indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff,
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Even before that lengthy investigation reached its conclusion, critics of the Bush administration had begun to articulate the new conventional wisdom on its outcome: The Bush administration lied about Iraq before the invasion and has been lying ever since.
Frank Rich, in a column that ran on October 16, 2005, in the New York Times, wrote under the headline, "It's Bush-Cheney, Not Rove-Libby."
Now, as always, what matters most in this case is not whether Mr. Rove and Lewis Libby engaged in a petty conspiracy to seek revenge on a whistle-blower, Joseph Wilson, by unmasking his wife, Valerie, a covert C.I.A. officer. What makes Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation compelling, whatever its outcome, is its illumination of a conspiracy that was not at all petty: the one that took us on false premises into a reckless and wasteful war in Iraq. That conspiracy was instigated by Mr. Rove's boss, George W. Bush, and Mr. Libby's boss, Dick Cheney.
investigate the cia
Victoria Toensing, co-author of the law that against outing spies, suggests the Plame affair was a covert CIA action agains the president.
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.
plamegate's real liar
'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.
bill moyers and joe wilson
Remember that Joe Wilson's "explosive revelation" was that he'd been sent to investigate a report that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Niger. He claimed Cheney had sent him on the mission (a proven lie) that his wife did not recommend him for the job (a proven lie) and that his report to the CIA discredited the Niger story (another proven lie.)
So what does Joe Wilson do after watching the State of the Union address in which Bush mentions the uranium story (the famous 16 words)? Start leaking? Nope. Silence on this supposed misuse of intelligence.
In fact, Joe Wilson went on PBS's NOW with Bill Moyers, talked all about Iraq and never once brought up the Niger story. This is just weeks before the liberation. Wilson never said anything about his supposed bombshell until June, when he had joined the Kerry campaign.
the french connection
Oh, there's always a French connection, non? The American Thinker writes:
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 sixteen words were true
In the late 1980s, the Iraqi representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency—Iraq's senior public envoy for nuclear matters, in effect—was a man named Wissam al-Zahawie. After the Kuwait war in 1991, when Rolf Ekeus arrived in Baghdad to begin the inspection and disarmament work of UNSCOM, he was greeted by Zahawie, who told him in a bitter manner that "now that you have come to take away our assets," the two men could no longer be friends. (They had known each other in earlier incarnations at the United Nations in New York.)
At a later 1995 UN special session on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Zahawie was the Iraqi delegate and spoke heatedly about the urgent need to counterbalance Israel's nuclear capacity. At the time, most democratic countries did not have full diplomatic relations with Saddam's regime, and there were few fully accredited Iraqi ambassadors overseas, Iraq's interests often being represented by the genocidal Islamist government of Sudan (incidentally, yet another example of collusion between "secular" Baathists and the fundamentalists who were sheltering Osama Bin Laden). There was one exception—an Iraqi "window" into the world of open diplomacy—namely the mutual recognition between the Baathist regime and the Vatican. To this very important and sensitive post in Rome, Zahawie was appointed in 1997, holding the job of Saddam's ambassador to the Holy See until 2000. Those who knew him at that time remember a man much given to anti-Jewish tirades, with a standing ticket for Wagner performances at Bayreuth. (Actually, as a fan of Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung in particular, I find I can live with this. Hitler secretly preferred sickly kitsch like Franz Lehar.)
In February 1999, Zahawie left his Vatican office for a few days and paid an official visit to Niger, a country known for absolutely nothing except its vast deposits of uranium ore. It was from Niger that Iraq had originally acquired uranium in 1981, as confirmed in the Duelfer Report. In order to take the Joseph Wilson view of this Baathist ambassadorial initiative, you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein's long-term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious. Italian intelligence (which first noticed the Zahawie trip from Rome) found it difficult to take this view and alerted French intelligence (which has better contacts in West Africa and a stronger interest in nuclear questions). In due time, the French tipped off the British, who in their cousinly way conveyed the suggestive information to Washington. As everyone now knows, the disclosure appeared in watered-down and secondhand form in the president's State of the Union address in January 2003.
If the above was all that was known, it would surely be universally agreed that no responsible American administration could have overlooked such an amazingly sinister pattern. Given the past Iraqi record of surreptitious dealing, cheating of inspectors, concealment of sites and caches, and declared ambition to equip the technicians referred to openly in the Baathist press as "nuclear mujahideen," one could scarcely operate on the presumption of innocence.
However, the waters have since become muddied, to say the least. For a start, someone produced a fake document, dated July 6, 2000, which purports to show Zahawie's signature and diplomatic seal on an actual agreement for an Iraqi uranium transaction with Niger. Almost everything was wrong with this crude forgery—it had important dates scrambled, and it misstated the offices of Niger politicians. In consequence, IAEA Chairman Mohammed ElBaradei later reported to the U.N. Security Council that the papers alleging an Iraq-Niger uranium connection had been demonstrated to be fraudulent.
But this doesn't alter the plain set of established facts in my first three paragraphs above. The European intelligence services, and the Bush administration, only ever asserted that the Iraqi regime had apparently tried to open (or rather, reopen) a yellowcake trade "in Africa." It has never been claimed that an agreement was actually reached. What motive could there be for a forgery that could be instantly detected upon cursory examination?
There seem to be only three possibilities here. Either a) American intelligence concocted the note; b) someone in Italy did so in the hope of gain; or c) it was the product of disinformation, intended to protect Niger and discredit any attention paid to the actual, real-time Zahawie visit. The CIA is certainly incompetent enough to have fouled up this badly. (I like Edward Luttwak's formulation in the March 22 Times Literary Supplement, where he writes that "there have been only two kinds of CIA secret operations: the ones that are widely known to have failed—usually because of almost unbelievably crude errors—and the ones that are not yet widely known to have failed.") Still, it almost passes belief that any American agency would fake a document that purportedly proved far more than the administration had asked and then get every important name and date wrapped round the axle. Forgery for gain is easy to understand, especially when it is borne in mind that nobody wastes time counterfeiting a bankrupt currency. Forgery for disinformation, if that is what it was, appears at least to have worked. Almost everybody in the world now affects to believe that Saddam Hussein was framed on the Niger rap.
According to the London Sunday Times of April 9, the truth appears to be some combination of b) and c). A NATO investigation has identified two named employees of the Niger Embassy in Rome who, having sold a genuine document about Zahawie to Italian and French intelligence agents, then added a forged paper in the hope of turning a further profit. The real stuff went by one route to Washington, and the fakery, via an Italian journalist and the U.S. Embassy in Rome, by another. The upshot was—follow me closely here—that a phony paper alleging a deal was used to shoot down a genuine document suggesting a connection.
Zahawie's name and IAEA connection were never mentioned by ElBaradei in his report to the United Nations, and his past career has never surfaced in print. Looking up the press of the time causes one's jaw to slump in sheer astonishment. Here, typically, is a Time magazine "exclusive" about Zahawie, written by Hassan Fattah on Oct. 1, 2003:
The veteran diplomat has spent the eight months since President Bush's speech trying to set the record straight and clear his name. In a rare interview with Time, al-Zahawie outlined how forgery and circumstantial evidence was used to talk up Iraq's nuclear weapons threat, and leave him holding the smoking gun.
A few paragraphs later appear, the wonderful and unchallenged words from Zahawie: "Frankly, I didn't know that Niger produced uranium at all." Well, sorry for the inconvenience of the questions, then, my old IAEA and NPT "veteran" (whose nuclear qualifications go unmentioned in the Time article). Instead, we are told that Zahawie visited Niger and other West African countries to encourage them to break the embargo on flights to Baghdad, as they had broken the sanctions on Qaddafi's Libya. A bit of a lowly mission, one might think, for one of the Iraqi regime's most senior and specialized envoys.
The Duelfer Report also cites "a second contact between Iraq and Niger," which occurred in 2001, when a Niger minister visited Baghdad "to request assistance in obtaining petroleum products to alleviate Niger's economic problems." According to the deposition of Ja'far Diya' Ja'far (the head of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program), these negotiations involved no offer of uranium ore but only "cash in exchange for petroleum." West Africa is awash in petroleum, and Niger is poor in cash. Iraq in 2001 was cash-rich through the oil-for-food racket, but you may if you wish choose to believe that a near-bankrupt African delegation from a uranium-based country traveled across a continent and a half with nothing on its mind but shopping for oil.
Interagency feuding has ruined the Bush administration's capacity to make its case in public, and a high-level preference for deniable leaking has further compounded the problem. But please read my first three paragraphs again and tell me if the original story still seems innocuous to you.
joe wilson's op-ed
A week after Bush's State of the Union address, Joe Wilson wrote an oped for the LA Times. He does not say one word disputing Bush's statement about the uranium. If he knew it to be false, why not mention it?
By Joseph C. Wilson
LA Times Op-Ed
February 6 2003
Saddam Hussein is a murderous sociopath whose departure from this Earth would be welcomed everywhere.
I met with Hussein for the last time in a heavily curtained room in the Foreign Ministry late in the morning of Aug. 6, 1990, four days after his invasion of Kuwait. As the senior diplomat in charge of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad at the time, it was my responsibility to tell him to get out of Kuwait and to let the several thousand Americans, including 150 so-called "human shields," leave the region.
I knew from previous meetings that he always stacked the deck to give himself every advantage, and this session was no different.
I was accompanied by a single embassy note taker, while Hussein had eight senior foreign policy officials with him. But only Tarik Aziz, then the foreign minister, dared speak in his presence. The others were as silent as furniture.
Hussein joined me in the middle of the room with the Iraqi news cameras whirring. Typically, when it came time to shake hands, he deliberately held his low so that to take it I would have to lean over. The cameras would then capture for posterity that his visitor had bowed to the potentate. I kept my back straight.
Later in the meeting, when he turned to others in the room to elicit a reaction, the discomfort was palpable. At one point, he made a move to his ever-present gun. My immediate thought was that I had said the wrong thing. To my relief he took it off, telling me that it hurt his back when he sat. I looked at his people, who were also on edge, watching his every move. He reminded me of a big cat at a watering hole, with the zebra and antelope wondering whether he is there to drink or to eat.
During our session -- the last he had with any American official before the war -- I listened as he offered his deal through a translator: In exchange for keeping Kuwait, he would give the U.S. oil at a good price and would not invade Saudi Arabia. In a matter-of-fact manner, he dismissed the Kuwaiti government as "history" and scoffed at President Bush's condemnation of him.
He mocked American will and courage, telling me that my country would run rather than face the prospect of spilling the blood of our soldiers in the Arabian Desert.
I was never prouder than when the American response was to confront Hussein and ultimately force him from Kuwait.
Desert Storm was a just war, sanctioned by the international community and supported by a broad multilateral coalition. Today we are on the verge of another conflict with Iraq, but unlike Desert Storm, the goals are not clear -- despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's eloquent argument for war in his address Wednesday to the United Nations Security Council.
Is it a war to liberate the people of Iraq, oppressed all these years? Is it a battle in the war on terrorism? Or is it, as President Bush often says, all about disarmament?
Clarity matters, because our goals will determine how Hussein reacts.
By all indications, Hussein is clear in his own mind about our intentions: He believes we are going to war to kill him, whether he disarms or not.
This is a major problem for us. My judgment was -- and is -- that only power will make him yield, but there also has to be some incentive for him to comply.
During the Gulf War, we were always acutely aware of the need to be confrontational on the issues at hand but to leave Hussein, a proud and vain man, a way to save face.
When he released the women and children hostages, Hussein initially threatened to keep dual Kuwaiti-American citizens. I told his underling that unless all Americans were put on the evacuation flight within half an hour, I would inform the American TV networks that Hussein had again reneged on his promises and was toying with the lives of children.
Hussein relented, and our official statements acknowledged Iraqi cooperation.
There is now no incentive for Hussein to comply with the inspectors or to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction to defend himself if the United States comes after him.
And he will use them; we should be under no illusion about that.
Hussein and Aziz both told me directly that Iraq reserved the right to use every weapon in its arsenal if invaded, just as it had against Iran and later the Kurds.
The fact that thousands of men, women and children had died in these attacks fazed them not one bit. In fact, Aziz could barely be bothered to stop puffing on his Cuban cigar as he made these comments, of so little importance was the use of chemicals to kill people.
It is probably too late to change Hussein's assessment, and that will make any ensuing battle for Iraq that much more dangerous for our troops and for the Iraqis who find themselves in the battlefield.
The assertion that Hussein might share weapons of mass destruction with a terrorist group, however, is counterintuitive to everything I and others know about him. The Iraqi leader is above all a consummate survivalist.
He acts as if he expects the people around him to die for him, but he has long known that every terrorist act, and particularly a sophisticated one, raises the question of his involvement and invites blame. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose. In his mind he is Iraq, Iraq is Hussein, and as long as he survives, Iraq survives.
After then-Secretary of State Jim Baker made it clear to Aziz on the eve of the Gulf War that the United States would destroy Iraq if weapons of mass destruction were used, Hussein did not use them. He is not stupid, and for him living is better than dying in vain.
Now, however, if he feels his death is inevitable, he may well arm extremist groups in an attempt to have a last, posthumous laugh.
Along with our drive toward war, it should also be made clear to Hussein that -- in the little time remaining -- he still has a choice.
We should do everything possible to avoid the understandable temptation to send American troops to fight a war of "liberation" that can be waged only by the Iraqis themselves. The projection of power need not equate with the projection of force