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Context of 'January 17, 2007: Investigative Reporter: Armitage, Rove Colluded to Expose Plame Wilson'

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Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In his 2008 book What Happened, then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write that at this time, the covert “campaign to undermine [former ambassador] Joe Wilson’s credibility as a critic of the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster the case for war was beginning.” McClellan will write that the decision to keep President Bush “out of the loop” on the Wilson propaganda offensive was a deliberate decision made by top Bush officials—and Bush himself. McClellan will write: “The president and those around him agreed that, in Washington’s permanent campaign environment, the president was always to be shielded from the unsavory side of politics and any potential fallout. He would stay above the fray, uninvolved in the aggressive, under-the-radar counterpunching of his advisers. He purposely chose to know little of anything about the tactics they employed.” Presidential deniability, McClellan will note, is of paramount importance. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 166-167]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to notes later submitted as evidence, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, discusses an upcoming Washington Post article with Cheney. The article focuses on inquiries made by Post reporter Walter Pincus about the administration’s claims that Iraq has WMD, and a challenge to those claims by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see Early June 2003). Pincus intends to write about the doubts now being cast on the administration’s WMD claims. [US Department of Justice, 2/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Walter Pincus

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus speaks to Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, on the telephone. Libby returns Pincus’s call from earlier in the day. Pincus and Libby discuss the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and its debunking by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Libby tells Pincus he is not sure how Wilson was chosen to go to Niger to investigate the uranium claim (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). Pincus will later say Libby does not discuss Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, or Plame Wilson’s CIA status with him. Pincus is completing a story for the Post concerning questions about Iraq’s WMD programs (see June 12, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus publishes an article noting that President Bush’s claim of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, and his allegation that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), was called into question by what Pincus calls “a CIA-directed mission to the central African nation in early 2002.” The story has caused some consternation in the Office of the Vice President, which became suspicious of Pincus’s questioning of White House officials about the matter (see Early June 2003 and June 3, 2003). The “senior administration officials” Pincus quotes, likely either Vice President Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin or Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby (see March 5, 2004), told Pincus that the CIA never told the White House the details of its investigation, and Pincus uses that in his story. Pincus quotes a “senior intelligence official” as saying that the CIA’s failure to inform the White House of its doubts regarding the Iraq-Niger claim was “extremely sloppy” handling of a key piece of evidence against Iraq. The official continued: “It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more.” The failure, said a CIA analyst, “is indicative of larger problems” involving the handling of intelligence about Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and its links to al-Qaeda, which the administration cited as justification for war. “Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was [consistent] was not seriously scrutinized,” the analyst said. Pincus notes that a “retired US ambassador” went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims; Pincus is referring to the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), though he writes that his sources—current and former government officials—“spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.” Pincus’s sources told him that the CIA did not inform the White House of the details of Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002). One of Pincus’s sources, a “senior intelligence official,” said of Wilson’s trip: “This gent made a visit to the region and chatted up his friends. He relayed back to us that they said it was not true and that he believed them.” Pincus does note that the International Atomic Energy Agency reached the same conclusion as Wilson—that the Iraq-Niger uranium claims were false (see March 7, 2003). Pincus also reports that Cheney’s staff did not know about the mission until well after its conclusion, when a New York Times article alluded to it (see May 6, 2003). [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file] This claim is false (see March 5, 2002 and March 9, 2003 and After), though Pincus does not know it. Pincus’s article will later be used as a basis for questioning Libby in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Libby will claim not to remember if he was one of Pincus’s sources, though he will testify that he did not divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the reporter (see March 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Walter Pincus, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer working on the issue of WMD in the Middle East. Plame Wilson is the wife of Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Niger to determine the truth behind the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; New York Times, 8/23/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Armitage has just received the information from State Department intelligence officers, who forwarded him a memo marked “Secret” that included information about Wilson’s trip, his findings, and the fact that his wife is a CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005]
Revealing Plame Wilson's Identity - Woodward asks Armitage why the CIA would send Wilson to Niger. “It was Joe Wilson who was sent by the agency,” Woodward says, according to an audiotape Woodward plays for the court during the Lewis Libby trial (see February 12, 2007). “I mean, that’s just—” Armitage answers, “His wife works in the agency.” The two then have the following exchange:
bullet Woodward: “Why doesn’t that come out? Why does—”
bullet Armitage: “Everyone knows it.” (It is unclear who or what Armitage is referring to. Columnist Byron York will later write that Armitage is referring to Wilson being the anonymous foreign ambassador criticizing Bush in the press.)
bullet Woodward: “That have to be a big secret? Everyone knows.”
bullet Armitage: “Yeah. And I know [expletive deleted] Joe Wilson’s been calling everybody. He’s pissed off because he was designated as a low-level guy, went out to look at it. So, he’s all pissed off.”
bullet Woodward: “But why would they send him?”
bullet Armitage: “Because his wife’s a [expletive deleted] analyst at the agency.”
bullet Woodward: “It’s still weird.”
bullet Armitage: “It’s perfect. This is what she does—she is a WMD analyst out there.”
bullet Woodward: “Oh, she is.”
bullet Armitage: “Yeah.”
bullet Woodward: “Oh, I see.”
bullet Armitage: “[Expletive deleted] look at it.”
bullet Woodward: “Oh, I see. I didn’t [expletive deleted].”
bullet Armitage: “Yeah, see?”
bullet Woodward: “Oh, she’s the chief WMD?” (asking if Plame Wilson is the head of the Iraqi WMD bureau within the agency—see April 2001 and After).
bullet Armitage: “No, she isn’t the chief, no.”
bullet Woodward: “But high enough up that she can say, ‘Oh yeah, hubby will go?” (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005).
bullet Armitage: “Yeah, he knows Africa.”
bullet Woodward: “Was she out there with him?”
bullet Armitage: “No.”
bullet Woodward: “When he was an ambassador?”
bullet Armitage: “Not to my knowledge. I don’t know. I don’t know if she was out there or not. But his wife is in the agency and is a WMD analyst. How about that [expletive deleted]?” [New York Sun, 6/13/2003; Associated Press, 2/12/2007; National Review, 2/13/2007]
Woodward Does Not Report Plame Wilson's Identity - Woodward does not report this information. But Armitage’s divulgence may be the first time an administration official outs Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to a journalist. Woodward will later call the disclosure “casual and offhand,” and say the disclosure “did not appear to me to be either classified or sensitive.” He will note that “an analyst in the CIA is not normally an undercover position.” Woodward tells fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent, but Pincus will say he does not recall the conversation. Woodward will note that on June 20, he will interview a “second administration official” with a notation to ask about “Joe Wilson’s wife,” but according to the recording of their conversation, the subject never comes up. Woodward enjoys extraordinary access to the White House for preparation of his second book on the Bush administration, Plan of Attack. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; New York Times, 8/23/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of State, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Armitage, Bob Woodward, Byron York

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After the publication of a news analysis that quotes former ambassador Joseph Wilson as saying the White House knew the Iraq-Niger claims were “flat-out lie[s],” Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, and Eric Edelman, a national security adviser to Cheney, discuss the article over the telephone. Edelman asks if the details of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) can be disclosed to the public, but Libby says that “complications at the CIA” prevent that from happening. Edelman says he knows the subject should not be discussed in detail over an unsecured line. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Washington Post publishes an article about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed questioning the White House’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus report that Wilson says he was told that his mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney or his staff, and add that, according to “[a] senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA, but not at the behest of Cheney or his office. “It was not orchestrated by the vice president,” the official says. The truth of the matter is somewhat less clear, as Cheney asked his CIA briefer to have the agency send him information about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002)). It is not clear that Cheney asked for Wilson or anyone else to be sent to Niger, but Cheney did receive the CIA’s report on Wilson’s mission (see March 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/6/2003] The denial is part of a larger effort to distance Cheney from the Wilson mission to Niger and discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003).

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Leiby, Joseph C. Wilson, Walter Pincus, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A photo of the Wilson op-ed with Cheney’s notes written on it. The clipping will be presented as evidence in the Libby trial.A photo of the Wilson op-ed with Cheney’s notes written on it. The clipping will be presented as evidence in the Libby trial. [Source: National Public Radio]According to court documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney has a conversation with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, where he “expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s trip [to Niger—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was legitimate or whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Soon after the conversation, Libby discloses Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to a reporter, adding that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). White House political strategist Karl Rove gives Time columnist Robert Novak similar information (see July 8, 2003). [National Journal, 6/14/2006] On a clipped copy of Wilson’s op-ed about his Niger mission (see July 6, 2003), Cheney writes: “Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [ambassador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” [New York Times, 5/14/2006; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 pdf file] Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
bullet “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
bullet “The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
bullet “The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
bullet “The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 pdf file]
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” [White House, 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).

Entity Tags: Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

While aboard Air Force One (see July 11, 2003), White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Ari Fleischer urge reporters, including Time correspondent John Dickerson, to write about the origins of Joseph Wilson’s CIA-backed mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Dickerson will later write that when he subsequently learns Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see July 14, 2003), he then understands what he calls “the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson.” [Office of Special Counsel, 10/3/2005 pdf file; Slate, 2/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Joseph C. Wilson, John Dickerson, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Jeralyn Merritt, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 pdf file; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003; National Security Archive, 7/9/2004]
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 pdf file; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003]
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. [White House, 7/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist Robert Novak, whose earlier column outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), confirms being given information about Plame Wilson by administration sources (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me,” he says. “They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.” He does not name the individuals who provided him with the information. [Newsday, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 2006] Novak will later backtrack, claiming that the leak was less the result of White House pressure and more from his own initiative; he will also accuse Newsday’s Knut Royce, who first reports his statement, of quoting his words “out of context.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Knut Royce

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to anonymous White House sources, the Bush administration is using a two-track political strategy to counter fallout from the Plame Wilson investigation. White House officials are encouraging Republicans to attack the credibility and impartiality of Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and portray him as a partisan Democrat with a bent towards smearing the administration; the Republicans are also being encouraged to portray Democrats as politically driven scandalmongers hoping to use the investigation to influence the 2004 presidential election. Simultaneously, White House officials, in conjunction with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, are scrambling to ensure that no Congressional Republicans break ranks and call for an independent inquiry into the leak that would not fall under the direct control of the Justice Department. The White House is resisting Democratic calls for an independent special counsel to handle the investigation (see October 1, 2003). One Republican Congressional aide calls the strategy “slime and defend,” referring to the White House’s attempt to besmirch Wilson’s motivations and simultaneously shore up Republican support. The strategy seems to be working, the aide says: “So far so good. There’s nervousness on the part of the party leadership, but no defections in the sense of calling for an independent counsel.” A Republican National Committee memo distributed to Congressional Republicans gives one suggested talking point on attacking Democrats: “Lacking a positive issue agenda to offer the American people, the Democratic Party now returns to what they have long seen as their best opportunity to defeat President Bush and Republicans—scandalmongering.” House Republicans are passing out white paper bags labeled “Leak Hyperventilation Bag,” explaining that the bags are for Democrats who might be having trouble catching their breath over the subject. House Democrats have canceled a planned closed-door meeting with Wilson, fearing that they might be accused of playing politics on the investigation. The White House is closely monitoring five Congressional Republicans known for having something of an independent streak: Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John Warner (R-VA), and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL). The White House is working to keep these five, in particular, in line with its desired responses. [New York Times, 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard Lugar, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, John McCain, John W. Warner, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Republican National Committee

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald files a brief with the court that states unequivocally that the White House orchestrated an attempt to besmirch the character and integrity of former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, and October 1, 2003). The New York Times describes Wilson as “the man who emerged as the most damaging critic of the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons.”
Bush, Cheney at Heart of Smear Campaign - Fitzgerald’s court filing places President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney directly at the center of the controversy, which erupted when conservative columnist Robert Novak used information from White House sources to “out” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). According to Fitzgerald, the White House engaged in “a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” The filing concludes, “It is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to ‘punish Wilson.’” Fitzgerald’s portrait of events is at odds with the Bush administration’s narrative, which attempts to portray Wilson as a minor figure whose criticism of the Iraq invasion comes from his personal and political agenda. Fitzgerald is preparing to turn over to the defense lawyers for Lewis Libby some 1,400 pages of handwritten notes—some presumably by Libby himself—that should bolster Fitzgerald’s assertion. Fitzgerald will file papers in support of his assertion that Bush ordered the selective disclosure of parts of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) as part of the White House’s attempt to discredit Wilson.
Fitzgerald: Cheney Headed Campaign - Fitzgerald views Cheney, not Bush, as being at what the Times calls “the epicenter of concern about Mr. Wilson.” Fitzgerald notes that Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003) “was viewed in the Office of the Vice President as a direct attack on the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq.… Disclosing the belief that Mr. Wilson’s wife sent him on the Niger trip was one way for defendant to contradict the assertion that the vice president had done so, while at the same time undercutting Mr. Wilson’s credibility if Mr. Wilson were perceived to have received the assignment on account of nepotism.” Neither Bush’s then-National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, nor Rice’s deputy and eventual successor, Stephen Hadley, knew of the information declassification, Libby indicates. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2006 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2006; New York Times, 4/11/2006; National Journal, 6/14/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Bush Authorized Leak of Classified Intelligence - Fitzgerald’s filing also states that, according to Libby’s earlier testimony (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), Bush directly authorized the leak of classified intelligence to reporters as part of the Wilson smear campaign (see April 5, 2006).
Democrats Dismayed at Allegations of Bush Involvement - Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says: “After the CIA leak controversy broke three years ago, President Bush said, ‘I’d like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.’ Now we find out that the president himself was ordering leaks of classified information.… It’s time for the president to come clean with the American people.” And in a letter to Bush, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, writes in part, “Two recent revelations raise grave new questions about whether you, the vice president and your top advisors have engaged in a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Frank R. Lautenberg, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald accuses “multiple people in the White House” of engaging in a “concerted action” to smear the character of war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, and April 5, 2006), using classified information (see April 5, 2006) to do so. Fitzgerald places Vice President Dick Cheney at the heart of the smear campaign. He uses grand jury testimony from Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), to substantiate his charges. Libby’s efforts to spread false rumors via classified information include his June 2003 meeting with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 27, 2003), his two conversations with New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003 and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and his conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald says that White House officials besides Cheney, Libby, and White House political strategist Karl Rove are involved in the Wilson smear campaign. According to Fitzgerald, the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that “it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to ‘punish’ Wilson.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Conservative pundits and columnists launch a new barrage of attacks and accusations against former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). The pundits use the recent revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was apparently the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006). They claim that the new information proves that there was never a conspiracy to “out” Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), but that her status as a covert CIA agent was revealed merely as a result of harmless gossip from Armitage, who is not considered a major part of the neoconservative axis of power within the White House. [Washington Post, 9/1/2006]
Blaming Armitage and the State Department - The Wall Street Journal blames Armitage for allowing the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation to go on while he remained mute, allowing “political opportunism and internal score-settling” to drive the investigation when it never should have taken off. “The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to ‘out’ Ms. Plame [Wilson],” the editorial states. Since the prosecution of Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction during the investigation is not likely to be dropped, the editorial concludes, President Bush should end it by pardoning Libby. [Wall Street Journal, 8/30/2006] The New York Sun also chastizes Armitage for standing silent “while the president’s critics sullied the good names of Messrs. Cheney, Libby, and Rove.” [National Review, 7/19/2004; New York Sun, 8/30/2006] A similar position is advocated by neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, who also says that the Armitage revelation should result in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dropping all charges against Libby. [New York Post, 8/29/2006] Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, writing for the online political publication TownHall, accuses both Armitage and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as other senior State Department officials, of being “disloyalists” who “wage[d] war” against the Bush administration “from behind enemy lines”—from his position in the State Department, essentially functioning as a saboteur for unnamed liberal interests, and to win ground the State Department lost in conflicts with the White House. Gaffney goes further, accusing other State Department officials of intentionally sabotaging US nuclear negotiation efforts with North Korea (see September 19-20, 2005 and July 15, 2006). He accuses Armitage of “destructive and disloyal behavior” and “appeasement” towards North Korea and other US opponents. [Town Hall (.com), 9/5/2006] San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra Saunders calls the entire affair nothing more than “gossip,” and notes that an admission by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 10, 2005 and October 14, 2005) is virtually meaningless. The only “abuse of power” that has come to light during the investigation, Saunders opines, is the investigation itself. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/6/2006]
Libby 'Exonerated' by Armitage Admission - The New Hampshire Union Leader calls the investigation a “non-issue” promulgated by “conspiracy nuts” now proven wrong by the Armitage admission. [New Hampshire Union Leader, 8/30/2006] Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez says the “exculpatory” Armitage revelation exonerates Libby, and calls his prosecution “malicious” and unwarranted. [Creators Syndicate, 8/30/2006]
Wilson, 'Leftists' to Blame - Slate’s Christopher Hitchens goes further, attacking the “Joseph Wilson fantasy” that Iraq had not attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), calling the idea that the White House deliberately attempted to smear Wilson’s character a “paranoid fantasy” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and concluding that the entire Plame Wilson imbroglio was the result of a “venom[ous] interdepartmental rivalry” between Armitage’s State Department and the White House, blown entirely out of proportion by liberal critics of the Bush administration. [Slate, 8/29/2006] A National Review editorial blames the New York Times editorial board and “shrieking” “leftist adversaries” of the Bush administration for the investigation, and, like Chavez and others, calls for the immediate end of the Libby prosecution. [National Review, 8/30/2006] The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compiles a “rogues list” of “the Plamegate Hall of Shame,” including Armitage, his former boss Colin Powell, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department, Joseph Wilson, and the media. “So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby,” Barnes writes, “the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press.” And like the others, Barnes calls on Fitzgerald to immediately terminate his investigation as well as his prosecution of Libby. [Weekly Standard, 9/2/2006] And the Washington Times’s editor in chief Wesley Pruden rounds off the attacks, rather ghoulishly predicting that the next time Plame Wilson will be mentioned in the press is when “a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka” is printed. He calls Plame Wilson, who headed the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), “the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA” (see September 29, 2003), and calls the leak investigation a “fraud.” [Washington Times, 9/5/2006]
Picked Up by Mainstream Media - Many in the mainstream media echo the new line of attack, with the Washington Post’s editorial board joining the other editorials and columnists in demanding that the Libby prosecution be immediately terminated. Echoing a Wall Street Journal guest editorial from almost a year before (see November 3, 2005), the Post editorial claims that because Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with his knowledge of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), he is ultimately responsible for outing his wife. The Post writes: “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.” The allegation that Wilson had “falsely… debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger” is itself false, as Wilson’s report further proved that no such deals ever took place (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 9/1/2006] The New York Times’s conservative columnist, David Brooks, joins in the attacks, calling the exposure of Plame Wilson a “piffle” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006) blown out of proportion by a group of Congressional Democrats and the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Like the others, he blames Armitage for “keep[ing] quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer [sic].” [New York Times, 8/31/2006] Days later, the Post’s David Broder writes that Karl Rove, one of the White House officials who outed Plame (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), had been treated badly by reporters and pundits, and deserved a round of apologies. [Washington Post, 9/7/2006]
'Marvel of Wingnut Logic' - Author Jane Hamsher, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, hammers the Post editorial and its presumed author, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt, writing with some apparent outrage: “[T]o argue that somehow this [Armitage] leak—which played no part in the concerted administration effort to bully, intimidate, and punish Joe Wilson—should somehow excuse Scooter Libby and Karl Rove’s subsequent actions is a true marvel of wingnut logic. Incredibly it is somehow okay to rob the liquor store, shoot the owner, rape the cashier, and spatter the walls with blood because someone else was caught shoplifting there the week before. It is the Sistine Chapel of bad faith editorials.” [Jane Hamsher, 9/1/2006]
Comparisons to Soviet Propaganda - Plame Wilson herself is “furious” at reading the Post editorial and other, similar writings. In her 2007 book Fair Game, she will write, “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” Plame Wilson calls the allegations that her husband is responsible for outing her “flatly untrue,” and shows the writers’ “ignorance about how our clandestine service functions.” She notes that the FBI had known of the Armitage leak since October 2003, and that since “the FBI didn’t shut down the investigation” this indicated “they had good reason to believe that Libby and Rove were lying to them.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 257-260]

Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens, Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell, Frank Gaffney, Fred Barnes, Debra Saunders, David Brooks, David Broder, US Department of State, Wesley Pruden, New York Times, John Podhoretz, Richard Armitage, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Jane Hamsher, Linda Chavez, New York Sun, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, New Hampshire Union Leader, National Review

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Investigative reporter Robert Parry, writing for the progressive Web news outlet ConsortiumNews, notes that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may be far more intimately involved with the 2003 White House attempt to besmirch the credibility of former ambassador Joseph Wilson than has been previously noted (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Armitage was the first administration official to expose former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a reporter (see June 13, 2003), and later leaked it again (see July 8, 2003), that time to columnist Robert Novak, who exposed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Parry writes that conventional media wisdom paints Armitage as an outsider, not a member of the White House inner circle, and a skeptic about the Iraq war; therefore, the media argues, Armitage’s leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “inadvertent” and merely coincidental to the White House efforts to claim that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) for partisan reasons by his wife. Parry notes that, as recently as September 2006, the Washington Post joined with conservative supporters of the Bush administration to claim that the White House did not intentionally “orchestrate” the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity (see Late August-Early September, 2006), and that Armitage had no connection with whatever efforts went on inside the White House to leak her identity. However, Parry notes, the mainstream media has consistently ignored the deep connections between Armitage and White House political savant Karl Rove, who many believe did orchestrate the Plame Wilson leak. According to Parry, “a well-placed conservative source… [a]n early supporter of George W. Bush who knew both Armitage and Rove… told me that Armitage and Rove were much closer than many Washington insiders knew.” Armitage and Rove became friends during the first weeks of the Bush administration’s first term, and they cooperated with one another to pass backchannel information between the White House and State Department. The source tells Parry that it is plausible to surmise that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate reporters, not by accident, but in collusion with Rove’s strategy to besmirch Wilson by exposing his wife’s CIA identity. Novak printed his column outing Plame Wilson using two primary sources—Armitage and Rove (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). The source says that Novak’s initial claim of being given Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 21, 2003) suggests, in Parry’s words, “Armitage and Rove were collaborating on the anti-Wilson operation, not simply operating on parallel tracks without knowing what the other was doing.” The source finds the media’s assumption that Armitage “inadvertently” let Plame Wilson’s identity slip out, almost as gossip, amusing, and inaccurate. “Armitage isn’t a gossip, but he is a leaker,” the source says. “There’s a difference.” [Consortium News, 1/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage, Robert Parry, Washington Post, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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