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Context of 'April 13, 2004: Bush Refuses to Admit Possible Mistakes in Handling Post-9/11 Events'

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Valerie Plame, a young CIA case officer working in the Europe Division at the agency’s Directorate of Operations following a tour in Greece (see Fall 1985 and Fall 1989), decides on a risky career move—becoming a NOC, or Nonofficial Covered Officer. As reporter Laura Rozen will later explain: “Becoming a NOC would require Plame to erase all visible connections to the US government, while, with the help of the agency’s Office of Central Cover, developing and inhabiting a plausible new private sector career and professional identity that would serve as useful cover for her to meet and develop potential sources of intelligence value to the agency without revealing herself as an agent of the US government. It also meant giving up the protection of diplomatic status should her covert activities be discovered.” “A NOC has no overt affiliation with the US government,” Plame will later write. “If he was caught, the United States would deny any connection.” The CIA accepts her as a NOC candidate, and in order to distance herself from her former association with her former “cover” career as a junior State Department officer in Athens, Plame begins pursuing double graduate degrees in international affairs and European studies. She studies at both the London School of Economics and at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, where the entire curriculum is taught in French. By 1996 she is ensconced in an apartment in Brussels, where she begins a “career” as an energy executive and secret NOC. She has a far wider range of potential contacts within the corporate world as an apparent private citizen, and her new assignment introduces her to the world of weapons proliferation, WMD, counternarcotics, economic intelligence, technological developments, and counterterrorism. (Wilson 2007, pp. 332-333)

The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, is arrested in Brooklyn after a long stand off. The “Landmarks” plot was rolled up on June 24, 1993, and many of Abdul-Rahman’s close associates were arrested on that day (see June 24, 1993). But Abdul-Rahman moved to the Abu Bakr mosque and stayed there. His presence in a mosque and the many supporters that gathered to surround it makes his arrest difficult. But after long negotiations, on July 3, 1993, he is arrested on immigration charges and taken to prison. (Mitchell 7/3/1993) He will later be charged with a role in the “Landmarks” plot and eventually sentenced to life in prison. (Fried 1/18/1996)

Former President George H. W. Bush, a former director of the CIA, speaks at the dedication ceremony of the new intelligence center bearing his name. In the course of his speech, Bush says: “We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country.… I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.” (Central Intelligence Agency 4/26/1999) These remarks will later be unearthed in conjunction with the White House’s leaking of the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie 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), and the publication of her name and status by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003).

CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see 1997), returning to duty from maternity leave and now going by her married name, is one of two officers assigned to the Iraq desk of the counterproliferation division (CPD). Plame Wilson’s job involves extensive covert operational responsibility. She supervises and coordinates NOCs (nonofficial covered officers) in several areas of the globe, helping plan and execute operations to recruit Iraqi nationals as CIA assets, focusing on graduate students, scientists, and businessmen, hoping to find information about Iraq’s secretive quest for unconventional weapons parts and technologies. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Plame Wilson is made the chief of operations of the Iraq branch of CPD. That branch is renamed the “Joint Task Force on Iraq,” or JTFI. (Wilson 2007, pp. 365-366)

Following a number of meetings in Rome and London between SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence, and the British MI6 (Bamford 2004, pp. 303-304) , SISMI provides the British with an intelligence report on Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The report—delivered by freelance SISMI agent Rocco Martino to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of Britain’s MI6 in south London—is reportedly based on the collection of mostly forged documents put together in Italy (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). MI6 will include this information in a report it sends to Washington saying only that it was obtained from a “reliable source.” Washington treats the report as an independent confirmation of the Italian report (see October 15, 2001). (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005; Collier 10/30/2005; Buncombe, Phillips, and Whitaker 11/6/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 228-229)

Patrick J. Fitzgerald is confirmed as US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, centering in Chicago. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL—no relation to Patrick Fitzgerald) nominated Fitzgerald for the position because he felt Fitzgerald, a native New Yorker and veteran prosecutor with no ties to Chicago, would be less likely to become corrupted by what he thought to be the “Chicago Democrat machine.” Fitzgerald had come highly recommended by, among others, Louis Freeh, then the director of the FBI. White House political chief Karl Rove later says that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, though he was somewhat disturbed by Senator Fitzgerald’s insistence on the nomination. Rove will recall: “Senator Fitzgerald’s attitude was: ‘I’m not going to submit multiple names. I will take only one name, and this is all that is going to be acceptable.’ And we asked him to submit multiple names, and we also asked him to think about people from within the districts. Our predilection was to have people from within the district selected. We thought it, you know, encouraged a civic-minded attitude among lawyers. It made certain that you had some fresh blood that would flow in. If you pick people from outside the district, they tend to be career prosecutors. And Senator Fitzgerald was particularly unimpressed by this. He said that, in Chicago, the politics in Chicago were such that no US Attorney from Chicago could exist without being subverted by the political influence peddlers in Chicago, that they would be bought off by the big law firms and the Chicago Democrat machine. And so he was going to only provide us one name for each, the Northern District and the Southern District. Following my very effective telephone conversation with him, he responded by going out and announcing to the press that the president was nominating his two names from the Northern and Southern Districts.” Rove will say that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, and it would not have been proper for him to do so: “That wasn’t mine—once that conversation was over, it wasn’t mine to have an opinion. I believe the president has a right to appoint. And that means that senators have, by tradition, the right to recommend. But they are usurping a presidential right when they go out and name the nominee before the president has even had a chance to evaluate multiple names and settle on who he wants and do the necessary staff work to arrive at it. Fortunately, Senator Fitzgerald recommended two good names, and both of them worked out. But it was an unusual process that involved, in my opinion, a congressional usurpation of a presidential power.” Senator Fitzgerald will later say that Rove told him the selection of Patrick Fitzgerald “ticked off the [Illinois Republican] base,” a statement Rove will call “inaccurate.… I chalk it up to an overactive imagination.” Rove will go on to imply, without directly saying, that US Attorney Fitzgerald prosecutes Governor George Ryan (R-IL) as something of a political favor to Senator Fitzgerald, as the governor and the senator are political rivals within the Illinois Republican Party. Experienced in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases (see January 1996), Fitzgerald will go on to chair the terrorism subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) and later become special counsel for the Lewis Libby leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). (Frankel 12/11/2008; Rove 7/7/2009 pdf file)

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. (US Congress 7/7/2004) The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. (Cloud 10/17/2003) Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. (Cloud 10/17/2003)
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Wilson 2007, pp. 108-110)
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). (Wilson 2007, pp. 368)

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)). (Kristof 5/6/2003; Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 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.” (Leupp 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.” (Pincus 6/12/2003 pdf file; Landay 6/13/2003; Buncombe and Whitaker 6/29/2003; Wilson, 7/6/2003; CBS News 7/11/2003; Ward 1/2004; Wilson 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson 2007, pp. 113)

Two weeks after the CIA informed the White House and other departments that evidence of an Iraqi attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium is scanty (see March 8, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney appears on CNN to assert the opposite: that Iraq is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Cheney says that Iraq “has chemical weapons… has biological weapons… [and is] pursuing nuclear weapons.” (CNN 3/24/2002)

Defense Intelligence Agency analysts issue a “fabricator notice,” warning the intelligence community that the agency has determined (see Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002) that Iraqi defector Mohammad Harith is of questionable reliability and recommending that agencies disregard any intelligence that he has provided. It also notes that Harith had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” on what to tell US interrogators. (Jehl 2/13/2004; Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004; Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence official) The classified memo is “widely circulated within intelligence agencies, including the DIA and CIA,” Newsweek will later report, citing unnamed intelligence officials. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials, Linton Wells) Almost a year later, in a presentation to the UN, Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the claim that Iraq has mobile biological weapons labs (see February 5, 2003), and cite Harith as one of US Intelligence’s four sources. Explaining how the reference to a dubious source made its way into Powell’s speech, the State Department will say that the “fabricator notice” had not been properly cross-referenced in intelligence computers. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004)

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142) Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 250-251) Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” (Meek and Bazinet 10/19/2005) In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” (Savage 2007, pp. 357) In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 137)
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 325)

William Luti.William Luti. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)

At a meeting of the White House Iraq Group, speechwriter Michael Gerson suggests that Bush argue in his next speech that the US should not wait until there is conclusive evidence that Iraq has acquired a nuclear weapon because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a “mushroom cloud.” Gerson’s suggestion is met with enthusiastic approval. The soundbite is so well liked that the phrase is leaked to the New York Times before the speech, appearing in an article on September 8 (see September 8, 2002). (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 35) Gerson, a devout evangelical Christian, was trained by former Nixon aide Charles Colson, whom Colson’s former colleague John Dean describes as “Nixon’s hatchet man and political schemer.” (Dean 2004, pp. 62)

White House speechwriter Michael Gerson contacts John Gibson, another speechwriter, at his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room where he is putting the final touches on Bush’s upcoming speech to the UN. Gerson asks him to contact National Security Council aide Robert Joseph about some new intelligence that Gibson might be able to insert into the speech. If it’s not used in the speech, “it’s something we might leak to the New York Times,” Gerson says. Gibson calls Joseph, who tells him to write in the speech that Iraq was caught trying to purchase 500 tons of uranium from Niger. Simultaneously, the office of Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, asks the CIA to clear language so that President Bush can state: “Within the past few years, Iraq has resumed efforts to purchase large quantities of a type of uranium oxide known as yellowcake (see 1979-1982 and Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001).… The regime was caught trying to purchase 500 metric tons of this material. It takes about 10 tons to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon.” But later in the day, the CIA rescinds its approval for this passage, saying that the information for this allegation had come from a single source and was not solid enough for a presidential speech. The reference to the alleged attempt to obtain uranium is dropped. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 85-86; Unger 2007, pp. 259)

Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence.Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence. [Source: CIA]The final, published report from British intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs is released. Prepared by Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and known as the “Scarlett dossier,” it contains much the same vagaries of language that the previous draft versions contained (see September 10-11, 2002 and September 16, 2002).
Contradictory Claims about African Uranium - Chapter 3 tells the reader “what we know” about Iraqi WMD, including the statement that “Uranium has been sought from Africa.” Unfortunately, the first and second drafts’ language clearly indicated that British intelligence does not “know” anything about the uranium deal, but merely believes the claim to be true. Author Dennis Hans writes in 2003, “Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions, and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying ‘we know’ when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.” The language of the final draft contradicts the claim of established fact; later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of earlier drafts has been downgraded to merely stating, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.” The language is similar to that of the first draft, but a statement saying “we judge” is not the same as a statement saying “we know.” Hans concludes, “In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a ‘judgment’ in the executive summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague ‘there is intelligence’ claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.” Prime Minister Tony Blair uses the dossier to flatly assert that “we now know the following”: that Iraq indeed tried to purchase uranium from Africa, “though we do not know whether he has been successful” (see September 24, 2002). (Hans 8/26/2003; Hutton Inquiry 1/28/2004) Later reporting will reveal that the main source for the dossier’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that was based on the same set of forged documents that formed the basis of the US allegations. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005)
'No Definitive Intelligence' on Aluminum Tube Allegations - In the section discussing Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the dossier says there “is no definitive intelligence evidence” that the shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted by the CIA was intended for use in an Iraqi nuclear program. This assessment of the tubes contradicts the majority view at the CIA. (United Kingdom 9/24/2002)
'Echo Chamber,' 'Disinformation Campaign' - Former CIA official Milt Bearden will later say, “When you are playing a disinformation campaign, you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.’” Author Craig Unger will note that by the time the “Scarlett dossier” is released, between the various US and British claims and the array of reports in the media, it seems as if the claims of Iraq trying to buy Nigerien uranium are coming from multiple sources, “when in fact there [is] merely an echo chamger of corroboration.” (Unger 2007, pp. 259)
Claim that Iraq Can Launch WMD within 45 Minutes - Perhaps the most infamous portion of the dossier is the claim that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction against chosen targets within 45 minutes of the order being given. That particular claim was not in the drafts of the dossier, and was apparently inserted by Blair administration officials seeking to bolster the case for war with Iraq. The Blair government will later deny that assertion. (Associated Press 2/18/2008) After it is revealed early the following year that the US had relied on intelligence based on forged documents, the British will insist that they have additional evidence to support their claims (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003). (Smith 11/6/2005)

A member of the National Security Council staff speaks with a CIA analyst about the allegation that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The CIA analyst reportedly tells the NSC staff member that the claim should be removed from an upcoming speech (It is not known which speech this concerns, though it could be Bush’s speech in Cincinnati). The CIA analyst later tells a Senate investigative committee that the NSC staff member said removing the allegation would leave the British “flapping in the wind.” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59)

UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle.UNSCOM photo of an Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicle. [Source: CIA]The National Intelligence Council, a board of senior analysts that prepares reports on crucial national security issues, completes a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The purpose of an NIE is to provide policy-makers with an intelligence assessment that includes all available information on a specific issue so they can make sound policy decisions. The formal document is supposed to be the result of a collaborative effort of the entire intelligence community and is supposed to be untainted by political interests. The decision to produce the assessment on Iraq followed criticisms that the administration had already made a decision to invade Iraq without having thoroughly reviewed all available intelligence on Iraq. Congress wanted the NIE completed prior to voting on a bill authorizing the president to use force against Iraq (see September 5, 2002). NIEs such as this usually take months to prepare, however this document took a mere three weeks. The person in charge of preparing the document was weapons expert Robert Walpole. According to the Independent of London, Walpole has a track record of tailoring his work to support the biases of his superiors. “In 1998, he had come up with an estimate of the missile capabilities of various rogue states that managed to sound considerably more alarming than a previous CIA estimate issued three years earlier,” the newspaper later reports. “On that occasion, he was acting at the behest of a congressional commission anxious to make the case for a missile defense system; the commission chairman was none other than Donald Rumsfeld….” (Gumbel 11/3/2003; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004)
Summary of NIE Conclusions - The NIE says there are potentially links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but uses cautionary language and acknowledges that its sources—Iraqi defectors and captured al-Qaeda members—have provided conflicting reports. The sections dealing with weapons of mass destruction are also filled with caveats and nuanced statements. In the second paragraph of its “key judgment” section, the NIE states that US intelligence lacks “specific information” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And while the NIE says that Iraq probably has chemical and biological weapons, it also says that US intelligence analysts believe that Saddam Hussein would only launch an attack against the US if he felt a US invasion were inevitable. It also concludes that Saddam would only provide terrorists with chemical or biological agents for use against the United States as a last resort in order to “exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003; Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003)
Reconstituted nuclear weapons programs - According to the NIE, “most” of the US’ six intelligence agencies believe there is “compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” The one agency that disagrees with this conclusion is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which says in its dissenting opinion: “The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs, INR is unwilling to… project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” It is later learned that nuclear scientists in the Department of Energy’s in-house intelligence office were also opposed to the NIE’s conclusion and wanted to endorse the State’s alternative view. However, the person representing the DOE, Thomas Ryder, silenced them and inexplicably voted to support the position that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002). The DOE’s vote was seen as critical, since the department’s assessment was supposed to represent the views of the government’s nuclear experts. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003; Landay 2/10/2004; Landay 2/10/2004)
Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa - According to the NIE, Iraq is “vigorously trying” to obtain uranium and “reportedly” is working on a deal to purchase “up to 500 tons” of uranium from Niger. It reads: “A foreign government service reported that as of early 2001, Niger planned to send several tons of ‘pure uranium’ (probably yellowcake) to Iraq. As of early 2001, Niger and Iraq reportedly were still working out arrangements for this deal, which could be for up to 500 tons of yellowcake. We do not know the status of this arrangement. Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” But the alternative view—endorsed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR)—says that it is doubtful Iraq is trying to procure uranium from Africa. ”(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious,” it reads. (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002; Milbank 7/19/2003)
Iraqi attempts to obtain aluminum tubes - The NIE says that most “agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.” To support its analysis of the tubes, it includes a chart which compares the dimensions of the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq with those that would be needed for a “Zippe-type” centrifuge. The chart’s comparison of the tubes makes it appear that the tubes are similar. But the NIE neglects to say that the aluminum tubes are an exact match with those used in Iraq’s 81-millimeter rocket. The estimate also claims that the tubes are not suitable for rockets. The assertion ignores the fact that similar tubes are used in rockets from several countries, including the United States. (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 84; Barstow, Broad, and Gerth 10/3/2004) It does note however that the 900 mm tubes ordered by Iraq would have to have been cut in half to make two 400 mm rotors, and that the tubes would have needed other modifications as well in order to be used in centrifuge rotors. (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) The NIE’s conclusion about the tubes is challenged by two US intelligence agencies, the DOE’s in house intelligence agency, and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In its dissenting opinion, the DOE says, “It is well established in open sources that bare aluminum is resistant to UF6 and anodization is unnecessary for corrosion resistance, either for the aluminum rotors or for the thousands of feet of aluminum piping in a centrifuge facility. Instead, anodization would likely introduce uncertainties into the design that would need to be resolved before a centrifuge could be operated.” The DOE’s dissenting opinion—written mainly by nuclear physicist William Domke at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and nuclear physicist Jeffrey Bedell at the Los Alamos National Laboratory—also notes that anodization is a standard practice in missile construction for environmental protection. The Energy Department’s centrifuge physicists suggested more than a year before that the tubes were meant to serve as casings for conventional rockets (see May 9, 2001), but CIA analysts held fast to their theory. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003; Gellman 10/26/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) Years later a DOE intelligence analyst will tell two journalists, “[The DOE’s nuclear scientists] are the most boring people. Their whole lives revolve around nuclear technology. They can talk about gas centrifuges until you want to jump out of a window. And maybe once every ten years or longer there comes along an important question about gas centrifuges. That’s when you should really listen to these guys. If they say an aluminum tube is not for a gas centrifuge, it’s like a fish talking about water.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 40) The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, similarly writes in its dissenting footnote: “In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.” (Milbank 7/19/2003; Nichols and Diamond 7/31/2003)
Chemical and Biological Weapons - On the question of chemical and biological weapons, the NIE says: “We judge Iraq has 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.” But the document also highlights the belief that it is unlikely that Iraq has any intention to use these against the US. “… Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW [Chemical/Biological Weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington with a stronger case for making war.” Iraq would probably only use such weapons against the United States if it “feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge.” (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - Citing defectors and exiles, the NIE states that Iraq possesses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which can be used to deploy biological and chemical weapons. But the document includes a dissenting opinion by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center. The center, which controls most of the US military’s UAV fleet, says there is little evidence that Iraq’s drones are related to the country’s suspected biological weapons program. Current intelligence suggests that the drones are not capable of carrying much more than a camera and a video recorder. The Air Force believes that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are for reconnaissance, like its counterparts in the US. The dissenting opinion reads: “… The Director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, US Air Force, does not agree that Iraq is developing UAVs primarily intended to be delivery platforms for chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The small size of Iraq’s new UAV strongly suggests a primary role of reconnaissance, although CBW delivery is an inherent capability.” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003; Landay 2/10/2004) Bob Boyd, director of the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, will tell reporters in August 2003 that his department thought the allegation in the NIE “was a little odd,” noting that Air Force assessments “all along” had said that reconnaissance, not weapons delivery, was the purpose of Iraq’s drones. “Everything we discovered strengthened our conviction that the UAVs were to be used for reconnaissance,” he will explain. “What we were thinking was: Why would you purposefully design a vehicle to be an inefficient delivery means? Wouldn’t it make more sense that they were purposefully designing it to be a decent reconnaissance UAV?” (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003; Graham 9/26/2003) The NIE also says that Iraq is attempting to obtain commercially available route-planning software that contains topographic data of the United States. According to the NIE, this data could facilitate targeting of US sites. But Air Force analysts were not convinced by the argument, noting that this sort of information could easily be retrieved from the Internet and other highly accessible sources. “We saw nothing sinister about the inclusion of the US maps in route-planning software,” Boyd will tell reporters. (Graham 9/26/2003) Analysts at the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency are said to back the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s position. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Appendices - Most of the caveats and dissents in the NIE are relegated to a variety of appendices at the end of the document. (Unger 2007, pp. 266)
Aftermath - After the completion of the National Intelligence Estimate, the Bush administration will continue to make allegations concerning Iraq’s weapons capabilities and ties to militant Islamic groups, but will include none of the qualifications and nuances that are present in the classified NIE. After excerpts from the classified version of the NIE are published in the press in July of 2003 (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), administration officials will claim that neither Bush, Rice, nor other top officials were informed about the alternative views expressed by the DOE, INR, and the Air Force intelligence agency. They will also assert that the dissenting views did not significantly undermine the overall conclusion of the NIE that Iraq was continuing its banned weapons program despite UN resolutions. (Milbank 7/19/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) But this claim is later disputed in an article by the Washington Post, which reports: “One person who has worked with Rice describes as ‘inconceivable’ the claims that she was not more actively involved. Indeed, subsequent to the July 18 briefing, another senior administration official said Rice had been briefed immediately on the NIE—including the doubts about Iraq’s nuclear program—and had ‘skimmed’ the document. The official said that within a couple of weeks, Rice ‘read it all.’” (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003) The official’s account, will in fact be confirmed by Rice herself, who reportedly tells Gwen Ifill at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas on August 7, 2003: “I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.” (Daily Howler 8/11/2003)
Conclusions 'Overstated' - George Bush is also provided with a summary of the NIE’s dissenting views. According to the Robb-Silberman report, released in early 2005, the president’s summary of the NIE notes that “INR and DOE believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapon uses.” (The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission') 3/31/2005) Additionally, senior CIA analyst Stuart Cohen, the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council at this time, who helped write the document, will tell the Agence France-Presse, “Any reader would have had to read only as far as the second paragraph of the Key Judgments to know that as we said, ‘we lacked specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD program.’” The Key Judgments section is also where INR’s detailed dissent on the aluminum tubes allegation was located. (Agence France-Presse 11/30/2003) A Senate Intelligence Committee investigation will determine in July 2004 that “most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” (US Congress 7/7/2004, pp. 59) And in 2006, one of the report’s authors, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar, will admit the NIE had been written with the intent of “strengthen[ing] the case of going to war with the American public.” (Pillar 6/20/2006)
NIE 'Distorted' Due to Political Pressures, Author Claims - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write, “At the time, to virtually everyone in Congress, the NIE was still sacrosanct. It was still the last word in American intelligence. Yet it had been distorted thanks to political pressures from the neocons and the White House. If one took it seriously, the Niger documents were real. Curveball had credibility. And the aluminum tubes were part of Saddam’s nuclear program. Only one conclusion could be drawn: Saddam Hussein post an extraordinarily grave threat.” (Unger 2007, pp. 266)

Preparing for a major speech by President Bush on Iraq (see October 7, 2002), the National Security Council has sent the sixth draft of the speech to the CIA for vetting. It includes a line saying that Iraq “has been caught attempting to purchase up to 500 metric tons of uranium oxide from Africa—an essential ingredient in the enrichment process.” It is essentially the same language turned down by the CIA for an earlier speech (see September 11, 2002). In response, the CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence [ADDI] sends a four-page memo to Bush administration officials, including Bush’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and the chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, expressing doubt over claims that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium from Niger. On page three of the memo, the ADDI advises removing the allegation from the draft of Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati. “[R]emove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from the source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue (see September 24, 2002). Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory.” (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) Despite the warning, the White House refuses to make substantial changes. Draft seven of the speech, completed later in the day (see October 6, 2002), contains the passage, “[T]he regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Hadley will later claim in July 2003 that he did not brief his boss, Condoleezza Rice, on the memo. (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)

The CIA’s associate deputy director for intelligence (ADDI) receives draft seven of President Bush’s upcoming speech in Cincinnati and sees that the speechwriters have failed to remove the passage on Iraq’s alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, as the CIA had advised the day before (see October 5, 2002). The revised passage reads in part, “the regime has been caught attempting to purchase a substantial amount of uranium oxide from sources in Africa.” The ADDI contacts Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and tells him that the “president should not be a fact witness on this issue” because the agency’s analysts consider the reporting “weak” and say it is based solely on one source. Tenet then personally calls White House officials, including Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with the CIA’s concerns. The allegation is finally removed from the speech. Later in the day, to press its point even further, the CIA faxes another memo, summarizing its position on the Africa-uranium claim. The memo states: “[M]ore on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq’s nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.” (Pincus and Allen 7/13/2003; Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003; US Congress 7/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 261-262) The memo’s recipients include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Hadley. (Milbank and Pincus 7/23/2003) Bush will not use the reference in his speech—although he does repeat the “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002)—but the administration’s neoconservatives, such as Hadley, are not through with the issue. They will continue trying to insert the language into other speeches (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will later say: “That was their favorite technique. Stick that baby in there 47 times and on the 47th time it would stay. I’m serious. It was interesting to watch them do this. At every level of the decision-making process you had to have your axe out, ready to chop their fingers off. Sooner or later you would miss one and it would get in there.” (Unger 2007, pp. 261-262)

Fallujah II chemical plant.Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).

Senior Bush neoconservatives, angry at the US intelligence community’s refusal to allow the Iraq-Niger uranium deal allegations into President Bush’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), begin purging “troublesome” intelligence analysts. One such victim is Bruce Hardcastle (see Early 2002), the DIA’s intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. Hardcastle has challenged Bush officials, telling them “that the way they were handling evidence was wrong.” In retaliation, not only does Hardcastle lose his job, but his position is eliminated entirely. DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later recall: “They wanted just liaison officers who were junior. They didn’t want a senior intelligence officer who argued with them.” Lang will recall Hardcastle saying, “I couldn’t deal with these people.” Lang continues: “They are such ideologues that they know what the outcome should be.… They start with an almost psuedo-religious faith. They wanted the intelligence agencies to produce material to show a threat, particularly an imminent threat. Then they worked back to prove their case. It was the opposite of what the process should have been like, that the evidence should prove the case.” (Unger 2007, pp. 262-263)

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes to the State Department and White House to warn senior Bush administration officials that he believes the Iraq-Niger documents are forgeries (see January 12, 2003 and February 17, 2003) and should not be cited as evidence that Iraq is pursuing WMD (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). ElBaradei will later say he never received a reply despite repeated follow-up calls to the White House, the State Department, and the National Security Council. State Department officials will later say they do not know if Secretary of State Colin Powell ever saw the letter. (Leopold 1/27/2006)

White House speechwriters Michael Gerson, Matthew Scully, and John Gibson decide to include an allegation about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal in President Bush’s upcoming state of the union address. They remember that the allegation had been pulled from at least two previous speeches (see September 11, 2002, October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, and Late September 2002), but figure that if the CIA has a problem with it, the agency will ask them to remove it. They want to include it in the speech to increase the persuasiveness of Bush’s argument. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 169) Gibson later recalls that his assumption at this time is, “Maybe we had gotten better information on it.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 171)

Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, sends Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and other White House officials a memo saying Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa. The memo, intended to help Colin Powell prepare for his presentation before the UN Security Council, provides no new evidence to support the allegation. Rather it cites the National Intelligence Estimate written last September (see October 1, 2002), even though the Africa-uranium allegation was personally disavowed by CIA Director George Tenet on October 6 (see October 6, 2002). (Sanger and Miller 7/23/2003)

Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council.Robert G. Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council. [Source: CBC]Embarrassed and angered by CIA Director George Tenet’s refusal to support the use of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech (see October 5, 2002, October 6, 2002, January 27, 2003, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), the White House decides to go behind Tenet’s back to get CIA approval for publicly citing the claim in the speech. Robert Joseph, director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), telephones Alan Foley, director of the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), and mentions plans to include the Africa-uranium claim in Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. When Foley warns that the allegation has little evidence to support it, Joseph instead suggests including a statement about the British learning that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, leaving out the bit about Niger and the exact quantity of uranium that was allegedly sought. (Pincus and Priest 7/17/2003; Risen and Sanger 7/17/2003; Carney and Duffy 7/21/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 273-274) Foley apparently has no qualms about putting his bureau’s stamp of approval on the claim, having already told his staff, “If the president wants to go to war, our job is to find the intelligence to allow him to do so.” Foley rationalizes that if Bush attributes the claim to British intelligence, he can make it without having to worry whether it is actually true. The fact that the CIA has repeatedly labeled the British reports as untrustworthy does not stop Foley from vetting the claim. (Unger 2007, pp. 273-274) Joseph will claim he does not recall the discussion, and White House communications director Dan Bartlett will call Foley’s version of events a “conspiracy theory.” (Milbank and Allen 7/27/2003)

At a National Security Council meeting, CIA Director George Tenet is given a hard copy of President Bush’s State of the Union address, to be given the next evening (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), containing a direct assertion that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons (see October 6, 2002). The story of what happens next is murky. Tenet apparently does not read the speech, but sends a copy, via an assistant, to his Deputy Director of Intelligence, Jami Miscik (see January 10, 2003). But, the Senate Intelligence Committee will later report, no one in Miscik’s office recalls ever receiving the speech or if anyone was ever assigned to review it. Some find this story unbelievable: a State of the Union speech calling for war going unread and misplaced is hard to countenance. “It is inconceivable to me that George Tenet didn’t read that speech,” former CIA officer Milt Bearden will later say. “At that point, he was effectively no longer DCI [director of the CIA]. He was part of that [Bush-Cheney] cabal, and no longer able to carry an honest message.” A former intelligence officer close to Tenet will dispute Bearden’s characterization, and insist that Tenet knew nothing of the Niger uranium allegations included in the speech. “Had he been aware,” the official will state, “he would have vigorously tried to have it removed.” (Unger 2007, pp. 269)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger almost a year ago to determine the truth or falsehood of the story that Iraq attempted to secure 500 tons of uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and his wife, CIA case officer and WMD specialist Valerie Plame Wilson, both watch President Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). According to Plame Wilson’s 2007 book Fair Game, Wilson watches from a Canadian television studio, brought there to comment on the address immediately afterwards. His wife watches from their Washington, DC, home. Plame Wilson will recall being dumbstruck at Bush’s “16 words” claim that British intelligence had found a clandestine attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from an African nation. She will write: “What? Had I heard him correctly? Hadn’t Joe’s report on his trip to Niger nearly a year ago (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002), distributed throughout the intelligence community, including presumably the vice president’s office, proved the emptiness of these charges?” When Wilson returns home, he and his wife, according to Plame Wilson’s recollection, “briefly discussed what we thought the president’s claim could have meant. It seemed so odd.” The next day, Wilson asks a friend at the State Department about the claim, and notes that Bush’s assertion is not borne out by the facts. If Bush had indeed referred to Niger in the speech, then his report, along with those of the US Ambassador to Niger and General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), “had all been wrong. Or had the president misspoken? In that case, the record needed to be corrected.” Wilson’s friend replies that Bush may have been speaking of one of the other African countries that produce uranium—Gabon, South Africa, or Namibia. Wilson accepts the explanation for the time being. As a side note, Plame Wilson adds at this point in her book, “Several years later, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs told Joe, ‘You don’t think that if we had seen the State of the Union address before it was delivered, that we would have allowed that phrase to remain in it, do you?” (Wilson, 7/6/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 313-314; Wilson 2007, pp. 125-126)

Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin.Iraqi bomb allegedly containing botulism toxin. [Source: CIA]President Bush gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, making several false allegations about Iraq. (US President 2/3/2003) An empty seat is left open to symbolize the lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Author Craig Unger will later characterize Bush’s delivery as somber and effective. He will be interrupted some 70 times by thunderous applause from the assembled lawmakers in the House chambers. One of his biggest applause lines is his statement about the US’s war on “international terrorism:” “The war goes on, and we are winning.” (Unger 2007, pp. 269-270)
African Uranium - He says: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities.… He clearly has much to hide.” (US President 2/3/2003; White House 4/18/2003; Grice and Usborne 6/5/2003) The British allegation cited by Bush concerns a SISMI (Italy’s military intelligence) report (see Mid-October 2001) based on a set of forged documents. Months after the speech, with evidence mounting that the statement was completely false, the administration will retract this claim (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003).
Aluminum Tubes - Bush alleges that a shipment of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq was intended to be used in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. “Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” (US President 2/3/2003)
Biological Agents - Bush lists a parade of agents: “anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola, and plague,” many of which Iraq has never been accused of possessing, and warns against “outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and builogical weapons… blackmail, terror, and mass murder.” He then moves from the general to the specific, accusing Iraq of having enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.” (US President 2/3/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)
False Testimony from Iraqi Scientists - Bush alleges: “Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say.” (US President 2/3/2003) But Hans Blix, the chief UNMOVIC weapons inspector, tells the New York Times in an interview that he knows of no evidence supporting this claim. (Miller and Preston 1/31/2003)
Defector Allegations - Bush, citing intelligence provided by “three Iraqi defectors,” says, “We know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile weapons labs… designed to produce germ warfare agents and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors.” One of the defectors referred to by Bush is ‘Curveball,’ whom the CIA station chief in Germany warned was not reliable the day before (see January 27, 2003). German intelligence officials watching Bush’s speech are “shocked.” One official later recalls: “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven.… It was not hard intelligence.” (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) Another source for the claim was Mohammad Harith, whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had labeled a “fabricator” the previous May (see May 2002).
Torture, Murder, and 9/11 - Bush accuses Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein of routinely torturing his own people, using such techniques as “electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape.” He then connects Hussein, the torturer, murderer, and terrorist supporter, to the 9/11 attacks, saying: “[I]magine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.” He invites “all free nations” to join him in ensuring no such attack ever happens, but notes that “the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.” After another long burst of applause, Bush continues, “Whatever action is required, whatever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” (Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)
'Direct Personal Threat' - Bush states what former ambassador Joseph Wilson later writes can only be interpreted by Hussein “as a direct personal threat,” saying: “Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.” Wilson will later write: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in his recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill or capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.” (US President 2/3/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 315)
Defending America - To America’s soldiers, he says: “Many of you are assembling in or near the Middle East, and some crucial hours lay ahead. In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you. Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America, and America believes in you.” In 2007, Unger will write: “A few years earlier, Bush had confided that he thought to be a great president meant being a great commander in chief. Now George W. Bush was leading his nation into war.” (Unger 2007, pp. 270-271)

French officials are shocked by the claims Bush made in his state of the union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) concerning Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Africa. One government official will later recall in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that French experts considered Bush’s claim, which he attributed to the British, as “totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this.” Notwithstanding, the French launch another investigation (see Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002) and again, find no evidence supporting the US and British claim. (Hamburger, Wallsten, and Drogin 12/11/2005)

Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson attempts to contact the White House through his contacts in the State Department and Senate with the message that it needs to correct the record on Iraq, specifically the allegation Bush recently made that Iraq sought uranium from Africa (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson had been sent to Niger nearly a year before by the CIA to investigate these claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Both he and the current US ambassador in Niger confirmed that the country’s uranium supplies were under the complete control of a French consortium and that it would have been impossible for Niger to divert uranium to Iraq. Wilson also tells his contacts about General Carlton W. Fulford Jr’s trip (see February 24, 2002) to Niger. On that trip the four-star Marine Corps general had similarly reported to Washington that the purported uranium deal was probably not true. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 174) The White House refuses to communicate with Wilson. The only message he receives is one from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice saying that he can state his case in writing in a public forum. (Leopold 1/23/2007)

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that the Niger documents (see March 2000) are not authentic (see March 7, 2003), the US and British governments stand behind their claim that Iraq had sought uranium from an African country. The two countries maintain that they have additional evidence—from multiple sources—but do not elaborate. Pressed by journalists and inspectors to reveal their evidence, the two governments refuse. The IAEA tells Reuters that when it asked the US and Britain whether or not they have additional evidence that Iraq had tried to procure uranium, the answer was “no.” (Charbonneau 3/26/2003)
'Information Blackout' - Additionally, an informed UN official tells the Washington Post that the US and Britain were repeatedly asked for more information. Neither government, the official explains, “ever indicated that they had any information on any other country.” (Priest and DeYoung 3/22/2003) An unnamed Western diplomat tells the Independent: “Despite requests, the British Government has provided no such evidence. Senior officials at the agency think it is involved in an information black-out.” (Independent 7/17/2003)
British Stick With Story Even after US Backs Away - The British will hold to their story even after top US officials admit (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) that Bush should not have included the claim in his State of the Union speech.(see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) (Sanger 7/8/2003; Whitaker and Lashmar 7/20/2003)
Additional Evidence Initially Believed to be French Intel Reports - The London Times will later suggest that Britain’s additional evidence consisted of reports provided by the French in 1999 alleging that Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie’s visit to Niger (see February 1999) was aimed at securing a deal to purchase uranium. (Smith 11/6/2005) As one British foreign official explains to the Independent: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the president of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium…. I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003)
Actual Evidence Provided by Italian Reports Based on Forged Documents - Later reporting will reveal that the main source for Britain’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that traced back to the forged Niger documents. (Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/24/2005; Bonini and d'Avanzo 10/25/2005) “I understand that it concerned the same group of documents and the same transaction,” an unnamed Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency later tells the Daily Mail. (Agence France-Presse 7/15/2003)

While many in the Bush administration continue to insist that the claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from Niger are valid (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003), even in the face of a thorough debunking by the International Atomic Energy Agency (see March 7, 2003), some officials are quietly admitting that the administration was duped. “We fell for it,” says one unnamed State Department official who reviewed the documents. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration has “new information” suggesting that Iraq continues to try to get nuclear weapons components such as the suspicious aluminum tubes (see October 6, 2002). David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security retorts, “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes.” (Warrick 3/8/2003) Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will note that the administration “had chosen to ignore three reports that had been in their files for nearly a year: mine (see March 4-5, 2002) as well as two others—one submitted by the American ambassador to Niger, Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick (see November 20, 2001) and the other by four-star Marine Corps General Carlton Fulford (see February 24, 2002), who had also traveled there. Instead, the administration chose to give credence to forgeries so crude that even Panorama, the Italian weekly magazine that first received them, had declined to publish (see October 9, 2002). The administration had ample evidence that there was nothing to the uranium charge but went ahead and placed the inflammatory claim in the State of the Union address anyway.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 2-3)

A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).

During an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, Vice President Dick Cheney says: “[Saddam Hussein has] had years to get good at [deceiving weapons inspectors] and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong [about rejecting US claims concerning Iraq’s nuclear weapons program—see March 7, 2003] ]. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” Cheney also insists that the US invasion force will be welcomed by the Iraqis. “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators,” he says. “The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.” (Cheney 3/16/2002; Mackay 7/13/2003)

Vice President Dick Cheney’s interest in former ambassador and current Iraq whistleblower Joseph Wilson is renewed when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who went to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). When Kristof publishes the information (see May 6, 2003), according to a CIA official, “a request came in from Cheney that was passed to me that said ‘the vice president wants to know whether Joe Wilson went to Niger.’ I’m paraphrasing. But that’s more or less what I was asked to find out.” Cheney, of course, knew Wilson had gone to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The campaign to discredit and besmirch Wilson begins again (see March 9, 2003 and After), this time in a much more intensified manner. “Cheney and Libby made it clear that Wilson had to be shut down,” the CIA official will later say. “This wasn’t just about protecting the credibility of the White House. For the vice president, going after Wilson was purely personal, in my opinion.” Cheney is heavily involved in this second phase of the anti-Wilson campaign as well, pushing CIA officials to find out everything they can about Wilson. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley also pressures State Department officials to send information they have on Wilson to his attention at the NSC. It is also at this time that Cheney and at least some members of his staff learn that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a covert CIA officer. At least one meeting is held in the Office of the Vice President to discuss possible strategies to use against Wilson. According to a State Department official, Cheney is not at this particular meeting: “Libby [Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby] led the meeting. But he was just as upset about Wilson as Cheney was.” (Memmott 4/29/2004; Leopold 2/9/2006) In a 2005 interview, Wilson will tell a reporter that he believes others in the White House’s communications and public relation staffs, including Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson, all become aware of Plame Wilson’s secret CIA status, as does Hadley, his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card. “That would be the natural group because they were constituted to spin the war, so they would be naturally the ones to try to deflect criticism,” Wilson will say. (Alexandrovna 7/13/2005) In 2008, current White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will acknowledge that “Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 171)

Nicholas Kristof.Nicholas Kristof. [Source: Women's Conference]New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, citing unnamed sources, breaks the story of former US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s February 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Kristof’s source for the story is Wilson, who he recently met at a political conference in Washington that was sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (see Early May 2003). The following morning, they met for breakfast, and Wilson recounted the details of his trip. Kristof writes in part: “I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former US ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.… In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the CIA and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong, and that the documents had been forged.” (Kristof 5/6/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 282) In response to the column, Patrick Lang, the former head of the DIA’s Middle Eastern affairs bureau, tells Kristof that the office of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had pressured the US intelligence community before the war, asking analysts “to think it over again” when they filed reports skeptical of Iraq’s WMD programs. Lang also says that any intelligence warning “that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer US troops, and that the Shi’ite clergy could be a problem,” was also unwelcome at the Defense Department. (Rich 2006, pp. 97) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “Now the secret was out with regard to the Niger documents. Not only had the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] determined that they were forgeries (see February 17, 2003), but it was clear that the administration knew the Niger deal was phony even before Bush cited them in the State of the Union address” (see March 8, 2002 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Unger 2007, pp. 309) Wilson expects a certain amount of criticism and opprobrium from the White House and its allies in the media over the column, but as his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “In retrospect, if anything, he underestimated the potential for those in the administration, and their allies, to change the subject from the lies in the president’s address to lies about us.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 108)

According to the subsequent investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, calls the State Department to ask about the results of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby is particularly interested in learning who the “unnamed ambassador” was, and who sent Wilson to Niger. (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216) According to the New York Times, Libby asks an undersecretary of state, presumably Marc Grossman (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), for the information. (New York Times 2006) Grossman later testifies that Libby did indeed contact him for the information (see January 23-24, 2007). Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001), and knows Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is investigating the ring (see Summer-Autumn 2001).
Libby Contacts Bolton? - However, according to a 2005 report by the news Web site Raw Story, Libby asks Undersecretary of State John Bolton for the information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger. Bolton refers the query to Grossman, who directs the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), to prepare a report concerning Wilson and his trip (see June 10, 2003). Within days, Grossman informs Libby of Wilson’s identity. The INR memo is written as part of a work-up order orchestrated by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002). (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005; Leupp 11/9/2005)
CIA Tells Bolton of Plame Wilson's Identity - Bolton also learns that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA official. He learns this from his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, who also serves as a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control official. Bolton tells his aide David Wurmser, who is working concurrently in Cheney’s office. Wurmser passes the information along to another Cheney aide, John Hannah. Around June 11, Fleitz will inform Libby of Plame Wilson’s status (see (June 11, 2003)).
Bolton's Connections to CIA - According to Raw Story, Bolton has “his own connections to agents at the CIA who share… his political philosophy on Iraq.” Greg Thielmann, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing him with intelligence information, will later say of Bolton, “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly.” (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005)

Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. (Waas 4/6/2006) It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Condoleezza Rice defends the Bush administration’s prewar intelligence. For example, she tells host George Stephanopoulos, “Already, we’ve discovered… trailers… that look remarkably similar to what Colin Powell described in his February 5 speech (see February 5, 2003).” (Rice 6/8/2003; Sample 6/9/2003) Asked why the Africa-uranium claim was included in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even though it had been debunked by the CIA several months earlier (see October 6, 2002), Rice claims the administration had “other sources” which supported the claim that Hussein was determined to obtain uranium from somewhere in Africa. “At the time that the State of the Union address was prepared, there were also other sources that said that they were, the Iraqis were seeking yellow cake, uranium oxide from Africa.” (Rice 6/8/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004) When Stephanopoulos notes that there were several people in the US government who doubted the Africa-uranium claim, Rice responds, “The intelligence community did not know at that time or at levels that got to us that this, that there was serious questions about this report.” (Rice 6/8/2003; Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)

According to notes taken by Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, President Bush expresses an interest in his January State of the Union Address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and the subsequent article by the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof questioning the Iraq-Niger uranium claim made in that address (see May 6, 2003). Libby later testifies that he is unsure how he came to know of Bush’s interest in the article, and will deny ever discussing it with either Bush or Cheney. Libby will claim that the subject is something he may have wanted to bring to Cheney’s attention, and may have learned from a White House staffer. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file)

Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, prepares a memo about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to ascertain the truth or falsity of claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The memo refers explicitly to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official and identifies her as Wilson’s wife, using the name “Valerie Wilson.” The second paragraph of the memo is marked with an “S,” denoting that Wilson is a covert operative for the agency. (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180)
Memo Based on Information from State Department's Intelligence Bureau - Grossman prepares his memo based on information he receives from Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ford, in a paragraph marked SNF for “secret, not foreign,” cites “Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 pdf file; Pincus and VandeHei 7/21/2005)
INR: Wilson a 'Walk On' - The INR report calls Wilson a “walk on,” and goes on to note: “From what we can find in our records, Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger/Iraq uranium story. In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson (see February 19, 2002), [a] CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the department thought his trip made sense.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 pdf file; Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007)
Libby Originated Request for Information on Wilsons; Memo Contains Erroneous Material - The memo is prepared by Grossman at the request of the INR; the INR in turn responded to a request from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. The memo claims that Plame Wilson “apparently convened” the CIA meeting that resulted in her husband’s selection for the investigative journey to Niger, a claim that Plame Wilson will later note is erroneous. According to Plame Wilson, Doug Rohn, the INR official who joined the February 2002 CIA meeting about Wilson’s proposed trip (see February 13, 2002), was late to the meeting and was not sure about Plame Wilson’s role. She had already left the meeting by the time Rohn arrived. When Grossman wrote his memo in June 2003, Rohn had left Washington to become the consul general in Karachi, Pakistan. Another analyst, Neil Silver, actually writes the memo for Grossman using Rohn’s old notes. Silver states as a fact that Plame Wilson convened the meeting. Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write: “Inadvertently, Rohn’s uninformed impression was now portrayed as a hard-and-fast truth. It would soon become, in the hands of White House spinners, a political charge.” The rest of the memo is fairly accurate, Plame Wilson will observe, and notes that, as the INR memo says: “Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger-Iraq uranium story.… [H]e previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger, but said he would only go if the [State] Department thought that his trip made sense.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 261-262)

John Kiriakou, an executive assistant to the CIA’s Iraq mission manager Robert Grenier, sends out an email asking other CIA officers for information about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger concerning allegations Iraq purchased yellowcake uranium there. The e-mail is sent out in response to a request from Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin for information Vice President Dick Cheney will want at a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and is sent “on behalf of the vice president.” The questions concern Wilson’s trip, what the CIA knew of it, and President Bush’s State of the Union address that mentioned the allegations. According to journalist Laura Rozen, “The email makes clear that senior CIA officials, including Kiriakou’s boss [Grenier] and the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [McLaughlin], did not know who Valerie Wilson was at the time.” (Central Intelligence Agency 6/10/2003 pdf file; Rozen 12/21/2007) After resigning from the agency, Kiriakou will come to national attention when he makes a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007).

The Senate Intelligence Committee, under the aegis of chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), issues a report on the US intelligence community’s prewar intelligence assessments of Iraq. Contained within the report is a section on the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), a section that author Craig Unger will call “extraordinary.” The report concludes in part, “At the time the president delivered the State of the Union address (see September 11, 2002, Late September 2002, and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech” (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). It also finds, “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa” (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence 6/11/2003 pdf file; Unger 2007, pp. 312)

According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, learns from Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see June 10, 2003). Grossman tells Libby that “Joe Wilson’s wife works for the CIA,” and that State Department personnel are saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in planning Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216; Marcy Wheeler 1/23/2007) Plame Wilson was working on counterproliferation issues for the CIA, and Grossman is allegedly involved in a nuclear smuggling ring (see (1997-2002) and Summer 2001). Grossman tipped the ring off to Plame Wilson’s attempts to penetrate it in the summer of 2001 (see Summer-Autumn 2001). Libby also receives the same information from an unnamed senior CIA official. (MSNBC 2/21/2007) According to Libby’s 2005 indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.” The next day, according to the indictment, Cheney will tell Libby that Plame Wilson works for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)). (Waas 2/2/2006)

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. (Office of the Vice President 6/11/2003 pdf file; Shane 2/4/2007; MSNBC 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler 6/6/2007)
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007)
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007)

After CIA official Robert Grenier calls Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, with the news that the agency sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002), and Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), CIA spokesman Bill Harlow calls Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin. In the course of the conversation, Harlow tells Martin that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. Martin then tells Cheney and Libby about Wilson and Wilson’s wife. (Office of the Vice President 6/11/2003 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)

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). (Pincus 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).

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). (Woodward 11/16/2005; Shenon 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). (Hamburger and Efron 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; Apuzzo 2/12/2007; York 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. (Woodward 11/16/2005; Shenon 8/23/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC 2/21/2007)

According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)), with his CIA briefer, Craig Schmall. According to Schmall’s later testimony (see January 24-25, 2007), Libby is annoyed over Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216; MSNBC 2/21/2007) Libby asks Schmall why Wilson was told the trip originated from questions emanating from Cheney. Schmall’s handwritten notes indicate that Libby refers to “Joe Wilson” and “Valerie Wilson.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Shane 2/4/2007)

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. (Miller 10/16/2005; Brenner 4/2006; Unger 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC 2/21/2007)
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. (Miller 10/16/2005; van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005)
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” (van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005) She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” (Brenner 4/2006)
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. (Johnston 10/8/2005)

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” (Wilson, 7/6/2003)
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” (Dean 2004, pp. 145-146)

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. (Waas 1/12/2007)

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). (Waas 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?” (Johnston 5/14/2006; National Public Radio 3/7/2007)

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)

Hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterates talking points from Vice President Dick Cheney emphasizing the lack of knowledge that Cheney and his office had of the trip taken to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 7-8, 2003 and 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby has lunch with Fleischer. Fleischer will later testify during Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) that Libby speaks extensively of the role of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, in sending her husband to Niger. According to Fleischer’s later testimony (see January 29, 2007), Libby tells him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer will testify that Libby calls her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. “He added it was ‘hush-hush,’ and ‘on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleischer will add. (White House 7/7/2003; Grier 11/15/2005; Waas 12/23/2008; Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2009; Marcy Wheeler 10/30/2009) Fleischer will later testify that the conversation is “kind of weird” and note that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 pdf file; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 pdf file) Libby will remember the lunch meeting, and testify that he thanked Fleischer for making a statement about the Niger issue, but will deny discussing Plame Wilson. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 9/27/2004 pdf file)

The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. (BBC 7/8/2003; McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” (Fox News 7/9/2003)
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. (McClellan 2008, pp. 168-170)
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 2003).

Vice President Dick Cheney either authorizes or gives the green light to his chief of staff Lewis Libby to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby understands that the authorization for the leak comes directly from President Bush (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/5/2006 pdf file; US Department of Justice 2/2007 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler 2/18/2007)

The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons.The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. (Miller 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich 2006, pp. 183-184; Gellman and Linzer 4/9/2006) In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. (Marcy Wheeler 2/22/2007)
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. (Miller 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich 2006, pp. 183-184) Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. (Wilson 2007, pp. 361-362) Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. (van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005)

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. (Waas 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. (Waas 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. (Johnston and Stevenson 7/15/2005; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Waas 12/16/2005)

President Bush, asked about the White House’s admission that he should not have claimed during his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, and July 8, 2003), does not admit his own error, but instead justifies the US’s invasion of Iraq based on somewhat different rationales than he has used before. Bush, speaking to reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, reminds his questioners that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology before the 1991 Gulf War (see November 1986, 1989, and January 16, 1991 and After), saying: “In 1991, I will remind you, we underestimated how close he was to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine a world in which this tyrant had a nuclear weapon.… [A]fter the world had demanded he disarm, we decided to disarm him. And I’m convinced the world is a much more peaceful and secure place as a result of the actions.” (Fox News 7/9/2003) Bush’s rhetoric contains a subtle but important shift: he now refers to Iraq as having pursued a nuclear weapons “program” rather than having actual weapons themselves. (Rich 2006, pp. 99)

Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and NBC News reporter and anchor Tim Russert speak on the telephone. Libby wants to complain to Russert about an MSNBC talk show host, Chris Matthews, and Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq-Niger controversy (see July 10, 2003). Libby will later claim that, during the conversation, Russert informs him that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of war critic Joseph Wilson, is a CIA officer. “All the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer, Libby will testify that Russert says. Russert will testify that he and Libby never discuss Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003 and February 7-8, 2007), and at the time he has no knowledge of her CIA status. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file; Leonnig 1/10/2006; MSNBC 2/21/2007) It is unclear whether Libby speaks to Russert before or after his conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who tells him that he has “outed” Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak (see July 10 or 11, 2003).

Shortly after he reveals to columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove advises Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of the conversation. According to the 2005 indictment filed against Libby (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke to a senior official in the White House (Official A) who advised Libby of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with… Novak, in which [Joseph] Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.” Attorneys involved in the case will later confirm that “Official A” is Rove. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 pdf file; Waas 11/12/2005)

According to a later account by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, around this time White House chief of staff Andrew Card takes over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger uranium controversy. According to McClellan, Card “direct[s] everyone on the White House staff to provide all relevant recollections and documents tracing the genesis and handling of the uranium claim, and Dan [Bartlett, White House communications director] to organize the information and develop a clear, forthright presentation that showed how such an egregious error occurred.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 176)

While in Uganda for a presidential trip to various sites in Africa, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells two reporters that Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, according to Fleischer. He also tells the two men, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, that Plame Wilson is responsible for sending her husband to Niger to investigate claims of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Fleischer says, “If you want to know who sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger, it was his wife, she works there.” Reporter Tamara Lippert of Newsweek is present for parts of the conversation. Fleischer will recount the story as part of his testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see July 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007) Later, Dickerson will say that Fleischer does not talk about Plame Wilson in his hearing, but merely prods him to investigate the origins of Wilson’s Niger mission (see July 11, 2003). Dickerson will write: “I have a different memory. My recollection is that during a presidential trip to Africa in July 2003, Ari and another senior administration official had given me only hints. They told me to go inquire about who sent Wilson to Niger. As far as I can remember—and I am pretty sure I would remember it—neither of them ever told me that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.” (Dickerson 1/29/2007)

White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). (Cooper 7/11/2003 pdf file; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” (Cooper 7/17/2005) Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. (Waas 10/7/2005)
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. (Leopold 12/9/2005)
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” (Cooper 7/11/2003 pdf file; Stevenson 7/16/2005; Cooper 7/17/2005; Waas 10/7/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 311-312) Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. (Waas 10/7/2005)

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails his editor, Michael Duffy, about the conversation. In the e-mail to Duffy entitled “Subject: Rove/P&C” (for personal and confidential), Cooper begins, “Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation.” After noting some of the details above and making some recommendations as to how to handle the story, Cooper concludes, “please don’t source this to rove or even WH [White House].” He suggests that Duffy have another reporter check with CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. (Cooper 7/11/2003 pdf file; Isikoff 7/10/2005) Cooper will later explain the “double super secret background” reference as a joke, referring to the movie Animal House, in which the fraternity is placed on “double secret probation.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 223-224)

White House political strategist Karl Rove, upon concluding a phone conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper in which Rove divulged the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the conversation. “Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he’s got a welfare reform story coming,” Rove writes. “When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn’t this damaging? Hasn’t the president been hurt? I didn’t take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn’t get Time far out in front on this.” According to the Associated Press, this is the first indication that an intelligence official knew Rove talked to Cooper before Cooper’s Time article about Plame Wilson and the White House effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Rove will testify about the e-mail to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004 (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005), telling the jury that he never intended to leak Plame Wilson’s identity, but rather wanted to warn Cooper about some of the allegations Wilson was making about the White House’s use of intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq. Rove is aware that conservative columnist Robert Novak, whom he has already spoken to about Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003), is planning an article on the Wilsons (see July 14, 2003). He also knows that CIA Director George Tenet is planning to take responsibility for the false Iraq-Niger uranium claims made by President Bush and other White House officials (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Solomon 7/15/2005; VandeHei and Leonnig 12/3/2005) In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will note that Rove’s version of the conversation as he recounts it to Hadley is substantially different from the material Cooper records in his notes. Most notably, Rove fails to tell Hadley about his outing of a CIA official. Leopold will write, “It is unclear whether Rove was misleading Hadley about his conversation with Cooper, perhaps, because White House officials told its staff not to engage reporters in any questions posed about Wilson’s Niger claims.” (Leopold 12/9/2005)

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, and discussing the conversation with his editors at Time (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Cooper sends Martin a list of questions pertaining to their conversation. He focuses on the White House’s attempt to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, and does not ask about Plame Wilson. Martin prints the e-mail and annotates it with brief answers to some of Cooper’s questions. Cooper wants to know:
bullet “Who in the vice president’s office communicated to the CIA their interest in the Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002) and July 6, 2003)? How and when was that communication performed?”
bullet “Did the VP or a member of his staff discuss the Niger allegation in any of his personal visits to Langley [CIA headquarters]” (see 2002-Early 2003)? Martin writes “No” beside the question.
bullet “Did the VP or a member of his staff play any role in the inclusion of the allegation in the president’s SOTU [State of the Union address]?” Martin writes “No” beside the question (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003).
bullet “In addition to the VP sitting in on the president’s regular intel briefings, what other intel briefings does the VP get? Part of the answer to this, if I recall correctly from newspaper accounts, is that he often or regularly gets his own CIA briefing in the morning as he’s being driven to work.”
bullet “How many persons are employed by the veep’s national security staff?”
bullet “In previous VP stories Time has done (before my time), we’ve been told that the VP has a voracious appetite for ‘raw’ intelligence. Still true?” (White House 7/11/2003)

Time reporter John Dickerson speaks with his colleague Matthew Cooper about Cooper’s recent conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove told Cooper that war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is the CIA official who sent Wilson on his mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cooper sent an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson has just recently learned that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official from another White House source (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The two reporters agree that Cooper should pursue the story. As Dickerson will later write: “Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.” (Dickerson 2/7/2006) Six days later, Time will print a story co-authored by Cooper and Dickerson that uses Rove’s disclosure as a central element (see July 17, 2003).

Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). (CNN 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003)
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003)
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. (Waas 3/30/2006) Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. (CNN 7/11/2003; White House 7/11/2003; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99; McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” (White House 7/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172)
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 7/20/2003) For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 7/11/2003)
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” (ABC News 6/12/2003; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003)
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Leopold 7/16/2003)
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 172)
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140)

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. (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 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). (Waas 6/14/2006; Waas 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. (Waas 1/12/2007)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, returning from Africa aboard Air Force One, attacked the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, just hours before (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney has coordinated a White House strategy to discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). Fleischer tells Pincus that the White House paid no attention to the 2002 mission to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) because it was set up as a boondoggle by Wilson’s wife, whom Fleischer incorrectly identifies as an “analyst” with the agency working on WMD issues. Pincus will not reveal the Fleischer leak until October 2003. (Pincus 7/12/2003 pdf file; Pincus 7/6/2005; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) Reporter Murray Waas will later write that Fleischer outed Plame Wilson to Pincus and others “in an effort to undermine Wilson’s credibility.” (Waas 4/22/2005) Fleischer will later testify that he did not inform Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2004 and January 29, 2007). “No sir,” he will say. “I would have remembered it if it happened.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/29/2007)

Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirms to Time reporter Matthew Cooper that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Libby has been in regular communication with senior White House officials, including political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. On July 11, the two spoke privately after a staff meeting. According to later testimony from both Rove and Libby, Rove told Libby that he had spoken to columnist Robert Novak on July 9 (see July 8 or 9, 2003), and that Novak would soon write a column about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Today, Libby joins Cheney and others flying to and from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Air Force Two; on the return trip, Libby discusses with the others what he should say in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s recent column (see July 6, 2003 and July 12, 2003). After returning to Washington, Libby calls Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, who has already learned from Rove that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Libby’s 2005 indictment (see October 28, 2005), “Libby confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information, too,” that Plame Wilson was CIA. (Waas 3/30/2006) Libby speaks “on the record” to deny that Cheney had anything to do with the CIA’s decision to send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). On background, Cooper asks Libby if he knows anything about Wilson’s wife being responsible for sending him to Niger. Libby replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” (Cooper 7/12/2003 pdf file; Cooper 7/12/2003 pdf file; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 pdf file; Cooper 7/17/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 pdf file) Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin and Libby’s aide Jenny Mayfield are present for Libby’s call to Cooper. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/30/2006 pdf file) Later this afternoon, Libby phones New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discusses Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003).

New York Times reporter Judith Miller again speaks to Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in regards to the Iraqi WMD controversy and the recent op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). In Miller’s notes, she writes the words “Victoria Wilson.” Libby has twice informed Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003 and 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Miller Unsure of Details of Disclosure - In testimony about the interview two years later (see September 30, 2005), Miller will say that “before this [telephone] call, I might have called others about Mr. Wilson’s wife. In my notebook I had written the words ‘Victoria Wilson’ with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I [testified] that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.” In her testimony, Miller will say that at the time, she believed she had heard Wilson’s wife only referred to by her maiden name of Plame. When asked whether Libby gave her the name of Wilson, Miller will decline to speculate.
Criticizing Plame Wilson's Husband - During their conversation, Libby quickly turns the subject to criticism of Wilson, saying he is not sure if Wilson actually spoke to anyone who had knowledge of Iraq’s attempts to negotiate trade agreements with Niger. After Miller agrees to attribute the conversation to “an administration official,” and not Libby himself, Libby explains that the reference to the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger in President Bush’s State of the Union address—the so-called “sixteen words” (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—was the product of what Miller will call “a simple miscommunication between the White House and the CIA.”
'Newsworthy' Disclosure - Miller will later testify that at the time, she felt it “newsworthy” that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and recommended to her editors that the Times pursue the angle. She will write: “I felt that since the Times had run Mr. Wilson’s original essay, it had an obligation to explore any allegation that undercut his credibility. At the same time, I added, I also believed that the newspaper needed to pursue the possibility that the White House was unfairly attacking a critic of the administration.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 8/27/2004 pdf file; Gerstein 10/4/2005; Miller 10/16/2005; van Natta, Liptak, and Levy 10/16/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 pdf file)

The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” (Milbank and Allen 7/26/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 100) “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” (Fox News 7/13/2003)
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” (Rice 7/13/2003) On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” (Fox News 7/13/2003) On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” (CNN 7/13/2003)
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). (CNN 7/13/2003)

In his final press conference before leaving the administration, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer continues to assert the possible validity of the admittedly false Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “I think this remains an issue about did Iraq sek uranium in Africa,” he says, “an issue that very well may be true. We don’t know if it’s true (see July 8, 2003), but nobody can say it’s wrong.” (Rich 2006, pp. 100)

An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
bullet Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
bullet Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
bullet Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” (Salon 7/16/2003)

The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” (Wall Street Journal 7/17/2003) The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 2003).

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)

Michael Ramirez’s cartoon depicting President Bush being ‘shot’ due to politicization of his State of the Union address.Michael Ramirez’s cartoon depicting President Bush being ‘shot’ due to politicization of his State of the Union address. [Source: Wikimedia]Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez publishes a cartoon in the Los Angeles Times depicting a man, labeled “Politics,” pointing a gun at President Bush’s head. The background is labeled “Iraq.” The cartoon is a takeoff on the 1969 award-winning photograph of a Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong prisoner. Ramirez will later explain, “I thought it was appropriate, because I was drawing a parallel between the politicization of the Vietnam war and the current politicization that’s surrounding the Iraq war related to the Niger uranium story.” He will claim not to be advocating violence against Bush, saying, “In fact, it’s the opposite.” Ramirez will explain that he tried to show the damage Bush suffered through the criticism of his January 2003 State of the Union address, in which he falsely claimed that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “President Bush is the target, metaphorically speaking,” Ramirez will explain, “of a political assassination because of 16 words that he uttered in the State of the Union. The image, from the Vietnam era, is a very disturbing image. The political attack on the president, based strictly on sheer political motivations, also is very disturbing.” Two days after the cartoon’s publication, Ramirez is visited by Secret Service agent Peter Damos to ensure he has no violent intent towards Bush, in a visit the Secret Service will characterize as “routine.” Ramirez will note that conservative Internet reporter Matt Drudge reported that he was being investigated by the Secret Service a day before he was visited. Asked if the Secret Service should take the cartoon as a threat to Bush’s safety, Ramirez will respond, “No, I think that this [the Vietnam photo] is a pretty famous image, and I think the use of the metaphor [is justified] especially in light of the fact that it really is a cartoon that favors him and his administration.” (Los Angeles Times 7/22/2003; Krassner 11/11/2003)

White House chief of staff Andrew Card (see (July 11, 2003)) holds a late-night meeting of what press secretary Scott McClellan will call “select senior advisers”—Card, McClellan, communications director Dan Bartlett, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Rice’s deputy Stephen Hadley, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and Gonzales’s subordinate Harriet Miers. One topic of discussion is the recent report that the White House had scrubbed a claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium buy from a speech by President Bush in October 2002 (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002), months before Bush’s State of the Union address where he did make such a claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). The media reports that Hadley was warned to delete the claim by CIA Director George Tenet. Hadley confirms receiving the warning, and tells the assemblage that, three months later, he had forgotten Tenet’s warning. “Signing off on these facts is my responsibility,” he says. “And in this case, I blew it. I think the only solution is for me to resign.” Hadley is distressed that Tenet had, in McClellan’s words, “been made to look like the scapegoat, since he believed it was nobody’s fault but his own.” McClellan will call Hadley’s offer to resign “selfless .. [his attempt to] clear the name of someone he felt had taken an unfair degree of blame, and to accept his own responsibility for an honest mistake whose consequences were now playing out before a worldwide audience.” The others quickly reject Hadley’s proffered resignation, and decide, as McClellan will recall, “that an approach of openness, forthrightness, and honesty was now essential.” Bartlett and Hadley are delegated to “inform the world as to what had happened and why,” and Hadley will admit to having forgotten his conversation with Tenet” (see October 6, 2002). (McClellan 2008, pp. 177-178)

As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. (Associated Press 7/22/2003; White House 7/22/2003; Sanger and Miller 7/23/2003; Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/16/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 273; Leopold 1/23/2007; McClellan 2008, pp. 178) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 178)

Sometime between July 25 and July 28, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, calls columnist Robert Novak. Libby was not one of Novak’s sources for his column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 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, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself outed Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit to a vague recollection of the conversation between himself and Novak, but will require his notes to determine that the call took place between July 25 and 28. (US Department of Justice 3/5/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler 2/12/2007) It is unclear what Libby and Novak discuss.

Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill.Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill. [Source: PBS]After CIA Director George Tenet admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley admits the White House also erred in allowing the claim (see July 22, 2003), Hadley’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, grudgingly admits to her own responsibility in allowing the claim to be made. She tells PBS reporter Gwen Ifill: “What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director [Tenet] had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). I either didn’t see the memo, or I don’t remember seeing the memo.” When Ifill asks if she feels any “personal failure or responsibility” over allowing the false claim, Rice responds: “Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of [sic] the highest confidence of his staff.” On the same day, Rice continues to insist that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see July 30, 2003, July 30, 2003, and July 31, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 352-353)

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), is interviewed for the PBS Frontline episode, “Truth, Consequences, and War.” The interview will be broadcast in early October 2003.
Trip to Niger - Wilson confirms that the CIA sent him to Niger in February 2002 to find evidence either supporting or challenging claims that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from that nation (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson notes that the CIA officials who sent him to Iraq “said that the Office of the Vice President had raised questions about this report, and they’d asked them to look into it” (see (February 13, 2002)), but he personally had no contact with anyone in that office.
Reactions to Claims of Iraq-Niger Uranium Deal - Wilson recalls being bemused by President Bush’s assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from an African country, but accepted the possibility that he was not referring to Niger, but another African nation that also mines and sells uranium (see January 28-29, 2003). Wilson says the issue became a concern to him when the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents used for the Iraq-Niger claims were obvious forgeries (see March 7, 2003), and the State Department admitted to being gulled by them (see March 8, 2003). He says, “Now, when the State Department spokesman said that, I was moved to say on a news program that I thought that if the US government looked into its files, it would find that it had far more information on this particular subject than the State Department spokesman was letting on” (see March 8, 2003). Wilson calls the decision to allow Bush to make the claim in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) irresponsible. “You allow the president of the United States to use information that did not even pass the threshold for an Italian news magazine [Panorama—see October 9, 2002]? You allow him to use that information in the most important speech that he makes in his tenure?”
Correcting the Record - Wilson denies that his decision to write an op-ed for the New York Times exposing the falsehood of the White House claims (see July 6, 2003) was political. Instead, he says, it was “a response to what appeared to me to be a series of misstatements on the part of senior administration officials.” Wilson notes that the White House had many opportunities to set the record straight without his intervention, but chose not to. He made pleas to the White House through his friends at the State Department and friends of senior administration officials to be honest about the claims (see January 29, 2003 and March 8, 2003). Wilson reiterates his feelings that the Iraq invasion was outside the bounds of the various United Nations resolutions constraining Iraq’s behavior, and that Iraq could have been successfully contained by continuing UN efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime. There were no provable links between Iraq and Islamist terrorism, there was no provable imminent threat to the US or the Middle East from Iraq, and allegations that Iraq had committed genocide could have been addressed through the UN’s Genocide Convention.
Blowing His Wife's CIA Identity - Wilson concludes by addressing the leak of his wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003), and notes that while he won’t confirm that his wife is a CIA official, to publicly expose such an official is a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). It was an attempt to intimidate others, Wilson says: “I think it was a signal to others, that should you decide to come forward, we will do this to your family as well. It was just very sloppy.” He adds that if his wife is indeed a CIA official, “if it’s a real violation, [it will] cause a lot of pain in our national security apparatus, because at a minimum—the assertions were that she was a CIA operative working in the weapons of mass destruction programs. So if those assertions are true, what this administration has done is they’ve taken a national security asset involved in a program to which they give high priority, off the table, and to protect whose career? What political objective is so important… that you take a national security asset off—not to shut me up, but to… [shut] others up. That would be the only conclusion I could come to. If you read the story in which this assertion was made, the assertion adds absolutely nothing to the story, nothing. It is not germane, it is not relevant.” The interviewer says, “All’s fair in love and war,” and Wilson responds: “When you’re an administration that comes to office on a platform of restoring dignity and honor to the White House, and you act in such a dishonorable and undignified way, then you really do descend to that ‘all’s fair in love and war’ status. I think in that case it’s important to point out how duplicitous some in the White House are.” (PBS Frontline 10/9/2003)

In a speech to the nation commemorating the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promises that no more troops are needed in Iraq. The 130,000 currently deployed are enough to handle the mission, he says. Besides, “now some 60,000 Iraqi citizens under arms, defending the security of their own country, are now active, with more coming.” The Iraqi Governing Council, which he calls “25 leaders representing Iraq’s diverse people,” is almost ready to take over governance of their country (see September 8, 2003), Bush says. Viewership for the speech is half the number of people who watched Bush’s January State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and polls indicate that support for the Iraqi occupation is sagging among Americans. (Rich 2006, pp. 102-103)

Dick Cheney answering a question posed by Tim Russert on ‘Meet the Press.’Dick Cheney answering a question posed by Tim Russert on ‘Meet the Press.’ [Source: Life]Vice President Dick Cheney appears for an entire hour on NBC’s Meet the Press, and is interviewed by host Tim Russert. Cheney reiterates many of the administration’s claims about Iraq, including the necessity for the invasion, Iraqi WMD, the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the assertion that “most” Iraqis have greeted the US “as liberators,” and even the alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks (which White House officials quickly repudiate—see September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003). Russert broaches the subject of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Russert asks Cheney, “Were you briefed on his findings in February, March of 2002?” Cheney responds: “No.… He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.” Cheney is lying: he was given a copy of the CIA’s report on Wilson’s trip shortly after Wilson’s return from Niger (see March 5, 2002). He does admit to asking questions about the Iraq-Niger claims (see (February 13, 2002)). “And Joe Wilson—I don’t know who sent Joe Wilson,” he says. Despite this statement, Cheney is aware from the report that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger. Russert says, “The CIA did,” and Cheney responds, “Who in the CIA, I don’t know.” Cheney also states flatly that neither he nor his staff ever pressured the CIA to come up with intelligence that would bolster the administration’s rationale for war with Iraq. “I can’t think of a single instance,” he says. “I’m unaware of any where the community changed a judgment that they made because I asked questions.” Cheney is again lying: he and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, made repeated trips to CIA headquarters that resulted in CIA analysts feeling heavily pressured to produce acceptable results to the White House (see 2002-Early 2003). (Cheney 9/14/2003) In his testimonies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), Libby uses very similar language to Cheney’s in denying his knowledge of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see October 28, 2005). (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)

Time reporter Matthew Cooper publishes a brief article on the Bush administration’s attempts to reform the US welfare program. The article is in part sourced to information obtained by Cooper from White House political strategist Karl Rove, in the same conversation where Rove outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). (Cooper 9/15/2003)

According to anonymous current and former intelligence officials, the CIA has carried out an in-house investigation of the damage done to the agency by the exposure of covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003). That damage is described by the officials as “severe” and potentially far more damaging than has been previously reported, particularly to the agency’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program (see February 13, 2006). The officials say that while CIA Director Porter Goss has not submitted a formal assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure to Congressional oversight committees, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations did conduct a serious and aggressive investigation. That investigation, a “counter intelligence assessment to agency operations,” was ordered by the agency’s then-Deputy Director of the Directorate of Operations, James Pavitt. Former CIA counterintelligence officer Larry Johnson says that such an assessment would have had to have been carried out: “An exposure like that required an immediate operational and counter intelligence damage assessment. That was done. The results were written up but not in a form for submission to anyone outside of CIA.” A former counterintelligence officer says that the CIA’s reason for not submitting a report to Congress is that its top officials “made a conscious decision not to do a formal inquiry because they knew it might become public. They referred it [to the Justice Department] instead because they believed a criminal investigation was needed” (see September 16, 2003). According to that official, the assessment found the exposure of Plame Wilson caused “significant damage to operational equities.” Another counterintelligence official explains that “operational equities” includes both people and agency operations that involve the “cover mechanism,” “front companies,” and other CIA officers and assets. The assessment also shows that other CIA non-official cover (NOC) officers (see Fall 1992 - 1996) were compromised by Plame Wilson’s exposure. The officials will not say if American or foreign casualties were incurred as a result of her exposure. Several intelligence officials say it will take up to “10 years” for the agency to recover from the damage done by Plame Wilson’s exposure, and to recover its capability to adequately monitor nuclear proliferation on the level it had achieved prior to the White House’s leak of her identity. (Alexandrovna 2/13/2006)

The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). (MSNBC 2/21/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007) The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. (Ward 1/2004)
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” (Associated Press 10/2/2003; Schmitt and Chen 10/2/2003)
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003)
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003; Fox News 9/29/2003)
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. (New York Times 2006)

Eleven days after White House political strategist Karl Rove told press secretary Scott McClellan that he had not been one of the sources responsible for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 16, 2003), the Washington Post prepares to print a story that alleges “a senior administration official” is claiming two senior White House officials spoke with at least six reporters about Plame Wilson (see September 28, 2003). The Post reporters do not yet know who those two officials are. In 2008, McClellan will write: “The implication of the Post story was clear: the White House had disclosed Plame’s identity to discredit or even punish Joseph Wilson. The story would put the leak of her identity right at the White House’s doorstep… implying the possibility of concerted effort by the White House to reveal Plame’s role and her involvement in her husband’s trip to Niger.” McClellan learns from his deputy, Claire Buchan, that Rove had indeed spoken to columnist Robert Novak. According to Buchan, Rove admits that Novak called him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, but says he could not confirm it because he did not know; McClellan checks with Novak, who says the same thing to him as he told Buchan. McClellan will describe himself as “bewilder[ed]” by Rove’s contradictory statements to him and Buchan. He will write, “I felt that Rove should have disclosed this conversation to me previously, so I decided to call him.” He asks Rove, “Were you involved in this in any way?” and later writes: “I was clearly referring to the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity—information that was believed to be classified—to any reporter.” Rove replies: “No. Look, I didn’t even know about his wife.” McClellan will later note that Rove does not mention his phone discussion of Plame’s CIA identity with Time reporter Matt Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). He will write: “Rove’s categorical ‘no’ gave me the assurance I needed to defend a fellow member of the Bush team and fellow Texan I had known for more than a decade, who was invariably a prime target of our most partisan critics.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 180-181)

The Washington Post publishes an article stating that in July, two White House officials had leaked the name and CIA employment status of Valerie Plame Wilson to at least six reporters, and told the reporters that Plame Wilson had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The article is based on a leak of information by a “senior administration official.” Such an explosive leak is relatively rare from the Bush administration. Reporters Mike Allen and Dana Priest report, “It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another.” Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official says the leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “[c]learly… meant purely and simply for revenge.” The leaks were “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish [Joseph] Wilson’s credibility.” (Allen and Priest 9/28/2003; Leopold 4/14/2006) The “senior administration official” will later be revealed to be State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and October 17, 2003). (Leopold 4/14/2006)
'1x2x6' Theory - Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler, covering the Plame Wilson leak and the subsequent perjury trial of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) for the blogs The Next Hurrah and later Firedoglake, later writes that the Allen/Priest report states the “1x2x6 theory” of the leak, in which one anonymous source tells Allen and Priest that two senior White House officials called at least six Washington reporters to discuss Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Wheeler will note that one of those Washington reporters, Robert Novak, has denied being the White House’s “willing pawn” who leaked Plame Wilson’s identity when the other reporters refused (see July 14, 2003, September 29, 2003, and October 1, 2003). Wheeler will write, “Novak’s October 1 column was designed to refute the incredibly damaging quotes from the 1x2x6 source that clearly indicated the leak was planned.” She will speculate that the single anonymous source for Allen and Priest may be Secretary of State Colin Powell, but she will state that she is by no means sure, and has no proof of her speculation. (Marcy Wheeler 8/29/2006)
Poor Reasoning - Wilson will later write that he is pleased to learn that “there was at least one Bush official who believed the conduct of his colleagues was ‘wrong.’ I was disappointed to read that he or she evidently judged it so not because it was a betrayal of national security but because it was beside the point and had done nothing to damage my credibility. Would the leak have been okay if it had really impeached my character and sent me skittering into some dungeon reserved for critics of the Bush administration?”
'Smear Campaign' Readied Well before Wilson Published Op-Ed - Wilson muses over the implications of the article. He concludes that if two White House officials had conducted such a large media campaign, “there must have been a meeting to decide on the action to take” (see June 2003). And because of the timing, the officials involved must have had the information on Plame Wilson “well before the appearance of my article on Sunday, July 6” (see July 6, 2003). How did the two officials learn of his wife’s status? he wonders. Was there a breach of security? Was the revelation of his wife’s identity inadvertent or deliberate? “Whatever the answers to these questions,” he will write, “I knew for certain that the initial disclosure of her status, whether deliberate or inadvertent, was the first damaging act, before the calls to all the journalists were placed.… [A] plan to attack me had been formed well before [the publication of his editorial]. It was cocked and ready to fire as soon as I crossed the trip wire and wrote about what I hadn’t found in Niger. My [editorial] triggered the attack, but I was not the only target of it. Now my wife was in their sights, as well. What then happened was not a case of the loose lips of an overly ardent junior defender of the administration flapping to one reporter, but an organized smear campaign directed from the highest reaches of the White House. A group of supposed public servants, collecting salaries paid by American taxpayers and charged with defending the national security of the country, had taken it upon itself to attack me by exposing the identity of a member of the CIA’s clandestine service, who happened to be my wife. Revenge and intimidation had been deemed more important than America’s national security for these co-conspirators.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 385-387)

Scott McClellan and Karl Rove.Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]Newly promoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan takes part in his first truly contentious White House press briefing. He will later recall feeling “well prepared,” both from the morning’s less formal “press gaggle” and from a prebriefing preparation session with his staff. He has confirmed from President Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card that the White House had no involvement in the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan is authorized to say that anyone involved in the leak “would no longer be in this administration”; Bush has said, “I would fire anybody involved.” McClellan will later write, “I had his full, unequivocal approval.” Bush has also reminded McClellan to ask reporters to come forward if they know who the leakers are. (McClellan 2008, pp. 187-189)
Leakers 'Would No Longer Be Part of This Administration' - During the briefing, McClellan says that it is “simply not true” that White House political adviser Karl Rove is involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 26, 2003 and September 27, 2003). He says, after frequent questioning about Bush being “passive” about the possibility of criminal activities in the White House, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.” (White House 9/29/2003; New York Times 2006)
Denying Rove's Involvement - McClellan denies again and again that Rove or any other White House official leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “[T]hat is not the way this White House operates,” he says. “The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there—I’ve seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who ‘anonymous’ was, it would make my life a whole lot easier.… [A]nyone—anyone—who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.” The only information suggesting White House involvement has come from the media, McClellan says. A reporter asks McClellan about his statement earlier in the day that “the president knows” Rove did not leak Plame Wilson’s name. McClellan says: “I’ve said that it’s not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.… [Bush is] aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.” When pressed about discussing the matter with Rove, McClellan adds, somewhat contradictorily: “I’ve known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.… I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I’ve already addressed it.” McClellan refuses to answer repeated questions about any possible White House investigations or attempts to find the leakers, repeating his answer that any such investigation is a task best left to the Justice Department and repeatedly asking reporters if they have any information about the leaks. He dodges repeated questions about the possibility of Attorney General John Ashcroft appointing a special counsel to investigate the leaks (see December 30, 2003). (White House 9/29/2003)
'Aggressive' Push Back against Reporters' 'Assumptions' and 'Challenges' - McClellan will later describe his performance at the briefing as “push[ing] back aggressively on assumptions embedded in the questions, and challeng[ing] reporters to produce information suggesting that White House aides were responsible for the leak.” He will write: “Those last words [the statement that anyone caught leaking information ‘would no longer be part of this administration’] would get plenty of media play over the next few years, particularly as important information came to light. With the president’s approval and his oft-stated commitment to honor and integrity embedded in my mind, I could not have been more confident in what I said.” The post-briefing critique with his staff, he will recall, is “very positive.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 187-189)

Ed Gillespie.Ed Gillespie. [Source: ABC News]Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ed Gillespie tells CNN that former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson contributed money to the presidential campaigns of Democratic contenders Al Gore and John Kerry. Gillespie tells CNN interviewer Judy Woodruff: “So I think there is a lot more to play in here. There is a lot of politics. The fact is that Ambassador Wilson is not only a, you know—a former foreign service officer, former ambassador, he is himself a partisan Democrat who is a contributor and supporter of Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.… [Wilson] has a partisan history here, as someone who supports John Kerry… This is a guy who’s a maxed out contributor to John Kerry, who has spoken to organizations that are seeking to defeat the president of the United States.” Wilson will later write, “The point he was trying to make, I suppose, was that it was justifiable for a Republican administration to expose the identity of an undercover CIA officer, if she happened to have a husband who had contributed to Democratic campaigns” (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). Wilson has also contributed campaign donations to Republicans, including the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Hours after Gillespie’s CNN comments, Wilson sees Gillespie in a CNBC “green room,” and asks him if he knows about these contributions to Republicans. Gillespie admits that he does, saying, “They are part of the public record.” Wilson will later write, “So he knew but decided not to disclose all the information he had about them.” Gillespie will later falsely claim that he acknowledged Wilson’s contributions to both parties during his CNN appearance. (CNN 9/30/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 389-390)

FBI agents investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak inform Attorney General John Ashcroft that they believe White House political strategist Karl Rove and conservative columnist Robert Novak may be conspiring to hide the truth behind Rove’s involvement in the leak. They also inform Ashcroft that they believe Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has lied to FBI investigators about his role in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Although it is unclear who provides this briefing to Ashcroft, he is usually briefed on the status of the investigation by John Dion, the head of the FBI investigation, and Christopher Wray, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division. (Waas 5/25/2006; Waas 6/8/2006)
Novak's Attempt to Protect Rove - They inform Ashcroft of a telephone conversation between Rove and Novak, in which Novak promised to protect Rove from the FBI investigation, presumably by either refusing to disclose him as a source of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 29, 2003) or lying to investigators. Although Ashcroft receives routine briefings on the status of the FBI investigation, the bureau considers this important enough to warrant a special briefing for him on the matter. The FBI believes that after the conversation with Rove, Novak did indeed change his story about the leak, characterizing White House officials’ role in it as entirely passive. A week after Novak publicly outed Plame Wilson, he told reporters that he didn’t “dig out” the Plame Wilson information, but rather “it was given to me.… They thought it was significant. They gave me the name, and I used it” (see July 21, 2003). This account suggests that Rove was actively trying to expose Plame Wilson as a CIA officer, as reporter Murray Waas will later write. But the same day he spoke with Rove, Novak provided a different story, saying no one at the White House gave him the information (see September 29, 2003). Novak’s first story fits more closely with accounts later given by reporters such as Time’s Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005) and the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see September 30, 2005). (Waas 5/25/2006)
Libby's Lies to FBI - The FBI also informs Ashcroft that it has acquired evidence—personal notes from Libby—that contradicts Libby’s assertions that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from journalists (see October 14, 2003). Libby also told investigators that he had merely considered the information about Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status “unsubstantiated rumors” when he leaked that information to reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), another lie. (Waas 6/8/2006)
Ashcroft Declines to Recuse Himself - Ashcroft will recuse himself from participation in the investigation in December, in part because of the potential of a conflict of interest stemming from his previous relationship with Rove (see December 30, 2003) as well as other White House officials. Some FBI investigators believe that he should have recused himself as soon as he learned that Rove and Libby were possibly involved in the leak; some have also noted privately that many of Ashcroft’s top aides came from the Republican National Committee (RNC), which they suspect has been working closely with the White House to pressure Ashcroft not to name a special prosecutor. In 2006, law professor Stephen Gillers will say: “There is always going to be an interim period during which you decide you will recuse or not recuse. But [Ashcroft] should have had an ‘aha!’ moment when he learned that someone, figuratively, or in this case literally, next door to the president of the United States—who was Ashcroft’s boss—was under suspicion.” Ashcroft’s spokesman Mark Corallo has explained that Ashcroft declined to recuse himself because of his intense interest in the probe. Corallo will later become the spokesman for Rove. Fellow law professor Charles Wolfram, like Gillers a specialist in legal ethics, agrees with Gillers. In 2006, Wolfram says the “most distressing” ethical aspect of the case is that Ashcroft continued overseeing the probe even after Cheney’s name arose. “This should have been a matter of common sense,” Wolfram will note. Ashcroft “should have left it to career prosecutors whether or not to go after politically sensitive targets. You can’t have Ashcroft investigate the people who appointed him or of his own political party.” (Waas 6/8/2006)

The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) has resulted in the exposure of a CIA front company, potentially causing widespread damage to overseas intelligence gathering. Yesterday, Novak revealed the name of the firm in another column (see October 2, 2003). The fictitious Boston firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, appears in Federal Election Commission records on a 1999 form filled out by Plame Wilson when she donated $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). Once the Novak column was published, CIA officials admitted that it is a front. Brewster Jennings is listed as Plame Wilson’s employer on her 1999 tax forms, though she was working as an undercover CIA officer at the time. A former diplomat says that since Brewster Jennings and Plame Wilson have been exposed, every foreign intelligence service is running the names through their own databases to determine whether she ever visited their countries and what kinds of contacts she made there. “That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat says. (Pincus and Allen 10/4/2003)
Plame's NOC Status, 'Legend' - As one of a very small, select number of “nonofficial cover” officers, Plame Wilson would have enjoyed little or no government protection had her cover been blown while she was overseas. Training officers such as her cost millions of dollars and require elaborate constructions of fictional background, called “legends,” including the creation of CIA front companies such as Brewster Jennings. The amount of damage caused by the outing of Plame Wilson and Brewster Jennings is incalculable. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says many other CIA agents and foreign assets are now endangered, and future attempts to convince foreign citizens to share information with US intelligence agencies will be hampered. Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson, who trained with Plame Wilson in 1985, says that when the damage is fully assessed, “at the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Johnson describes himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the breach. “We feel like the peasants with torches and pitchforks,” he says. “The robber barons aren’t going to be allowed to get away with this.” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also trained with Plame Wilson, agrees: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” While the CIA continues to keep details of Plame Wilson’s career secret, it is known that she was attached to a US embassy in Europe in 1990 and 1991 (more information on her overseas postings will later be revealed—see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). It is known that when Novak blew her cover, she was a senior case officer for the CIA’s counterproliferation division, working with intelligence about hostile countries and WMD. “All the people who had innocent lunches with her overseas or went shopping or played tennis with her, I’m sure they are having heart attacks right now,” says one former colleague who was also in covert operations. “I would be in hiding now if I were them.” (Leiby and Priest 10/8/2003; Strobel 10/11/2003)
Brewster Jennings Just One of Plame Wilson's Cover Firms - Former intelligence officials confirm that Brewster Jennings was just one of several cover affiliations that Plame Wilson used when she was operating overseas. “All it was was a telephone and a post office box,” says one former intelligence officer. “When she was abroad she had a more viable cover.” (Kerber and Bender 10/10/2003) Cannistraro will later add that when Plame Wilson was operating undercover outside the US, she would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company “is not an indicator of what she did overseas.” Now, those firms are themselves in jeopardy of exposure for working with US intelligence. (Wilson 2007, pp. 343-344) In 2007, former CIA and National Security Council official Bruce Riedel will say: “I have looked at the part of her CV that is in the open domain. The agency spent an awful lot of effort building a really good cover for this person. A lot of effort. People who say this was not a covert operative don’t understand what they’re saying. This was intended to be a nonofficial cover person who would have the credentials to be a very serious operative. The damage done to the mission of the organization by exposing her, and how cover is built, is pretty serious.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 343)

After being ordered to assure the press that Lewis “Scooter” Libby knew nothing of the Plame Wilson leak (see October 4, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan agrees to follow that order if Libby himself will give him that same assurance. McClellan calls Libby and asks, “Were you involved in the leak in any way?” Libby replies, “No, absolutely not.” Together, they decide what reporters McClellan should call, and McClellan begins spreading the word among a wide array of national media correspondents. (McClellan 2008, pp. 218-220) (Later research by author and blogger Marcy Wheeler indicates the reporters McClellan contacts are most likely the Associated Press’s Scott Lindlaw, Michael Isikoff or Evan Thomas of Newsweek, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s Mike Allen.) (Marcy Wheeler 6/10/2008) The line is, as agreed upon, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” Shortly afterwards, McClellan decides on his own to make the same assurances about National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams, who has angrily denied rumors of his own involvement (see October 5, 2003). “I was becoming increasingly frustrated,” McClellan will write, “as this was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I was putting myself in the middle of the investigation by publicly vouching for people, against my own wishes and against the sound advice of White House counsel.… In hindsight, the president should have overruled his advisers and demanded that an internal investigation be conducted to determine whether there might have been any White House involvement. He also should have ordered the public release of as much information as possible as soon as it was known, so that the scandal would not take on a life of its own.” McClellan will theorize that Bush “chose not to do so, perhaps feeling that keeping clear of the story would insulate him and protect him from potential political damage. Instead, it gave the story broader and longer life, only helping to reinforce the permanent state of suspicion and partisan warfare he had pledged to move beyond.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 218-220)

President Bush says offhandedly of the Plame Wilson leak (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) that Washington “is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don’t know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official.… You tell me: How many sources have you had that’s leaked information, that you’ve exposed or had been exposed? Probably none.” Many find Bush’s insouciance astonishing, considering the lengths his administration has gone to in the past to punish leakers. In response, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls for a special counsel to investigate the leak. Schumer also asks for an investigation of the three-day delay between the original announcement of the investigation and the instructions to the White House staff to preserve all relevant records (see September 29-30, 2003), and the possible conflict of interest concerning Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had once employed White House political strategist Karl Rove, named as a likely source of the leak (see September 30, 2003). (Ward 1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 102) Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will later write that he was “particularly offended” when Bush told reporters he wanted to know the truth, but then placed the responsibility upon journalists themselves to find the source of the leak. Wilson will reflect, “His lack of genuine concern stunned and disappointed me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 397)

White House political strategist Karl Rove testifies under oath to FBI investigators probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). Rove says he did not speak to any journalists about Valerie Plame Wilson until after columnist Robert Novak outed her in his column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove says, he circulated and discussed potentially damaging information about Plame Wilson with his colleagues within the White House as well as with outside political consultants and journalists. But he insists he was not the official who leaked Plame Wilson’s name to Novak. He only circulated that information about her after Novak’s column appeared, he says. He also claims that such dissemination was a legitimate means to counter criticism from Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
Lying under Oath - Rove is lying about his role in the exposure of Plame Wilson to Novak and other journalists (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and his lawyer, Robert Luskin, will later claim that Rove “forgot” about his discussions with at least one of the above journalists, Time’s Matthew Cooper, until he found an e-mail confirming their conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003 and March 1, 2004). For reasons that are unclear, the e-mail in question does not turn up in an initial search for all documents and materials pertaining to the FBI investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). Additionally, Rove’s assistant, Susan Ralston, will later testify that Rove asked her not to log the call from Cooper (see July 29, 2005). (Waas 3/8/2004; Leopold 10/31/2005; Leopold 12/9/2005; Waas 5/25/2006)
Fails to Disclose 'Protection' Conversation with Reporter - Rove also fails to disclose a conversation with Novak, in which Novak promised to “protect” him during the investigation (see September 29, 2003). Rove was a source for Novak, who revealed Plame Wilson’s identity in his column (see July 14, 2003). (Waas 5/25/2006)
Claims to Have Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Reporter - During his testimony, Rove claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from a reporter, though he cannot remember who that reporter was. (Waas 7/19/2005)
Discloses Names of Six White House Participants in Wilson Smear Campaign - Rove tells the FBI the names of at least six other White House officials involved in the smear campaign against 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, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). He says he and his fellow White House officials believed the campaign was justified by Wilson’s “partisan” attacks on the White House’s Iraq policies. (Waas 3/8/2004)

White House press secretary Scott McClellan prepares for his upcoming questioning by FBI agents by talking to White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales and the vice president’s chief legal adviser, David Addington. “This is not like being the White House spokesman,” Addington reminds McClellan, and advises him to “answer questions completely and openly, as opposed to only the limited information you might share as a spokesman.” McClellan will call Addington’s advice “no surprise,” but still “helpful.” He readily agrees to both Gonzales’s and Addington’s suggestions to have “someone from their office to sit in on any conversations I might have with the FBI,” even though he realizes “this would also be a convenient way for them to keep tabs on the investigation and any possible fallout for the president.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 221-222)

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