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Context of 'July 21, 2003: CIA Confirms Plame Wilson’s Covert Status, Says that Outing Her Puts CIA Assets in Jeopardy'

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Fall 1992 - 1996: Plame Becomes CIA ‘NOC’

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]

Entity Tags: Laura Rozen, College of Europe, US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, London School of Economics

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

CIA agent Valerie Plame leaves Europe after a long and distinguished career as a nonofficial cover (NOC) agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and July 21, 2003) in Greece and Brussels. The New York Times will report in 2003 that Plame may have been forced to return to the US after her name was given to the Russians by double agent Aldrich Ames in 1994 [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] , though that possibility remains unconfirmed. Plame takes a position as a case officer with a new bureau in the agency, the counterproliferation division (CPD), a part of the covert Directorate of Operations. She is hand-picked by the division chief of CPD, James Pavitt, for the slot. The CPD is an unconventional entity, the first bureau without a geographical affiliation; Plame will affectionately refer to it as “the island of misfit toys.” CPD and its counterpart, the Counterterrorism Center (CTC), are tasked to deal with emerging unconventional threats from rogue nations, stateless terrorist, and extremist groups. “The older divisions eyed CPD with deep suspicion and distrust,” Plame will later recall. Pavitt’s decision to include former NOCs such as Plame is controversial, and creates something of a turf war between CPD and the Office of External Development, which generally deals with NOCs. Pavitt wins out because of his close relationship with CIA Director George Tenet. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 349-350]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Aldrich Ames, James Pavitt, Valerie Plame Wilson, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Italian Panorama journalist Elisabetta Burba goes to the US Embassy in Rome and gives US officials copies of the Niger uranium documents (see March 2000) that she had obtained two days before (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). [Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Agence France-Presse, 7/19/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Associated Press, 7/20/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Up till now, the embassy had only received reports of the documents. [Unger, 2007, pp. 261] It is likely that the so-called “Italian Letter,” a letter purporting to be from the president of Niger to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein confirming the Iraq-Niger uranium deal, is not in the bundle of documents Burba brings to the embassy. [ERiposte, 3/6/2006] Burba meets with the embassy’s press spokesman, Ian Kelly. Over coffee, she tells him that she has documents purporting to show that Iraq has signed a deal to buy uranium from Niger, and she needs his help to confirm their authenticity and accuracy. Kelly brings three others into the discussion—a political officer, one of his own staffers, and perhaps a US military official, as Burba will later recall—and moves the entire group into his office. The subsequent discussion is brief; Burba hands over the documents. Kelly tells her the embassy will look into the matter. The CIA station chief, Jeff Castelli, refuses to meet with Burba. [Washington Post, 4/3/2007] Castelli is told about Burba’s visit, but is not interested. As the CIA’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, will later recall, Castelli says, “This is bullsh_t we don’t have time to waste on.” Castelli receives a copy of the documents but quickly forgets about them. According to Drumheller, Castelli is “not the most organized guy in the world. And his view was, ‘This is the least important thing that’s coming across my desk now.’ He just made a mistake.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; CBS News, 4/23/2006] Several newspapers cite sources (mostly unnamed, so it’s possible they are all relying on the same sources) that appear to support Drumheller’s account. [New York Times, 3/23/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] For example, an unnamed senior CIA official will tell Knut Royce of Newsday in July of 2003 that the CIA “had serious questions about [the claims] from day one” (see July 21, 2003). The agency “had accounts (see October 15, 2001, February 5, 2002, and March 25, 2002) of them [the letters] and that was close enough. We didn’t take it that seriously to begin with.… We didn’t put a lot of stock in these reports from Niger. We didn’t rush around to get the actual documents.” [Newsday, 7/11/2003] The documents are faxed to the State Department on October 15 (see October 15, 2002), and its intelligence unit will quickly conclude that the papers are probably fakes. [Washington Post, 7/20/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 148; Unger, 2007, pp. 261]

Entity Tags: Elisabetta Burba, Ian Kelly, Tyler Drumheller, Central Intelligence Agency, Jeff Castelli, Panorama, US Department of State

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

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow speaks twice to Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Harlow may divulge the fact that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official to Martin during these conversations. [Office of the Vice President, 6/12/2003 pdf file] Harlow is one of the government officials who will ask, fruitlessly, that columnist Robert Novak not make Plame Wilson’s CIA status public (see (July 11, 2003)).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bill Harlow, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Bill Harlow, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Grenier, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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.” [New York Times, 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]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

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

Bill Harlow, a CIA spokesman, has a conversation with conservative columnist Robert Novak regarding Novak’s plans to reveal the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson in a forthcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Novak has learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), and has already spoken to White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Harlow will testify about his conversation with Rove to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in 2004. In speaking with Novak, Harlow warns as strongly as he can without revealing classified information (i.e. Plame Wilson’s covert status) that Plame Wilson did not authorize her husband’s mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and Novak should not reveal her name or CIA identity. After their conversation ends, Harlow checks with other CIA officials, and confirms that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative. He then calls Novak back and reiterates that her name should not be used (see Before July 14, 2003). Harlow does not tell Novak that Plame Wilson is an undercover operative, because that information is classified. Novak will ignore Harlow’s warnings and reveal Plame Wilson’s name in his July 14 column. In an October 2003 column, he will minimize Harlow’s warnings, writing that an unidentified CIA official (Harlow) “asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that [she] or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name” (see October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 7/27/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bill Harlow

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Newsday logo.Newsday logo. [Source: Sobel Media]Newsday reports on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson by a news columnist based on information leaked by two administration sources (see July 14, 2003). In an article titled “Columnist Blows CIA Agent’s Cover,” reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce note that CIA officials confirm that Plame Wilson “works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity—at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] It will later be determined that Royce and Phelps’s source is probably a single official, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 pdf file] Shortly thereafter, other reporters learn that Plame Wilson was not only an undercover agent, but had what is known as NOC—“nonofficial cover” status (see Fall 1992 - 1996). NOC agents usually operate overseas, often using false identities and job descriptions. NOCs do not have diplomatic protection and thusly are vulnerable to capture, imprisonment, and even murder without official reprisals or even acknowledgement from the US. Vanity Fair reporter Vicky Ward will write in January 2004: “A NOC’s only real defense is his or her cover, which can take years to build. Because of this vulnerability, a NOC’s identity is considered within the CIA to be, as former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack has put it, ‘the holiest of holies.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, refuses to confirm his wife’s covert CIA status, but says that her outing is part of a concerted effort to attack critics of the administration’s intelligence failures (see July 21, 2003). Wilson recently revealed that the administration’s claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 6, 2003). Current and former CIA officials are outraged at Novak’s column, and the apparent leak from the administration. Former CIA Near East division chief Frank Anderson says, “When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned.” A current intelligence official says that blowing Plame Wilson’s cover puts everyone she ever dealt with as an undercover CIA operative at risk. Her husband agrees: “If what the two senior administration officials said is true, they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships, and operations.” Furthermore, if true, “this White House has taken an asset out of the” weapons of mass destruction fight, “not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In 2007, Plame Wilson will reflect: “Not only was it very rare for the agency to validate that an officer was undercover, no matter what the circumstances, but no one from the agency had told me that my undercover status would be confirmed. It would have been nice to at least get a heads-up from someone at work.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147]

Entity Tags: Vicky Ward, Timothy Phelps, Knut Royce, Newsday, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Kenneth Pollack, Frank Anderson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asks FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the likelihood that “two senior members of the Bush administration made the identity of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative public.” Schumer bases his request on news reports by, among others, columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Newsday (see July 21, 2003). Schumer writes that the exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson “was part of an apparent attempt to discredit [her husband, former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings about potential uranium exports from Niger to Iraq and intimidate other officials from speaking their minds.” He reminds Mueller that “the unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the identity of an American intelligence official is a crime punishable by fines and up to 10 years in prison under the Intelligence Identities and Protection Act” (see July 16, 2003). He adds: “On Tuesday of this week, the White House denied that it had given any authorization to release such information on Ms. Plame. It is essential, therefore, that you discover source of this information because it would appear that a significant intelligence asset has been illegally compromised.” Schumer goes on to note: “By disclosing the identity of a reportedly senior undercover operative who is active in our nation’s fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), administration officials have possibly endangered Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her entire network of intelligence contacts in order to avoid political embarrassment. In the process, they may also have undermined our national security just as the specter of WMD threats from North Korea and Iran loom on the horizon. If the facts that have been reported publicly are true, it is clear that a crime was committed. The only questions remaining to be answered are who committed the crime and why? I request that you immediately launch an investigation to determine the source of this information and assess whether there is enough evidence to refer the matter for criminal prosecution.” [US Senate, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Robert Novak, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph C. Wilson, Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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. [Vanity Fair, 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; Los Angeles Times, 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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 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]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Many conservatives and Republicans continue to attack former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson. One Congressman, Jack Kingston (R-GA), tells CNN that Plame Wilson is nothing more than a “glorified secretary” and therefore no harm was done in revealing her CIA status (see July 21, 2003). Plame Wilson is in reality the chief of the Iraq section of the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see April 2001 and After) and one of the agency’s “non-official cover,” or NOC, agents (see Fall 1992 - 1996). Joseph Wilson will later calls Kingston “obtuse” and his remark a “sexist insult… not only to Valerie but also to secretaries and to women in general who may have benefited from the protections afforded by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 388]

Entity Tags: Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Jack Kingston

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216] Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 399]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Timothy Phelps, Scott McClellan, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Aly Colon, a communications manager and columnist for the Poynter Institute of Journalism, writes a cautionary column regarding Robert Novak’s outing of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Colon writes: “There’s an old adage that claims journalists are only as good as the sources that feed them. Here’s a new one: Journalists are only as credible as the ethics that guide them.” Colon writes that Novak should have been more “rigorous” in his “decision-making process” that led him to out a covert CIA agent. Novak’s decision to out a person he clearly knew was a covert CIA agent, even after being asked not to by CIA officials on the grounds that blowing her identity would imperil US intelligence operations and assets (see July 8-10, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, and October 3, 2003), risked violating fundamental ethical principles of journalism. Novak is bound to report the truth as fully and independently as possible, but he is also bound to minimize harm. Colon writes that Novak should have more fully considered the ramifications of Plame Wilson’s outing, how important her identity was to his story, and what alternatives he had besides identifying her as a covert CIA agent. Novak also failed to adequately consider his sources’ motivations (see July 8, 2003). Colon concludes: “By disclosing the identity of a CIA operative… Novak provoked a Justice Department investigation of his sources (see September 26, 2003) and raised serious questions about his ethical conduct. Taking the time to answer a few ethical questions before publication can sometimes protect a reporter from having to answer more questions later.” [Poynter Institute of Journalism, 10/6/2003] In a subsequent interview, Colon will say, “Any time a journalist purposely deceives his readers, he undermines the newsperson’s or [his or her own] news organization’s credibility” and “threatens the trust between the reader and reporter.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Poynter Institute of Journalism, Aly Colon, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps, who co-authored a July 2003 article that confirmed the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), are both contacted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Their article quoted “intelligence officials” who confirmed that Plame Wilson was at the time an undercover official working on WMD issues. And Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), told Royce and Phelps that he was “given” the information about Plame Wilson by White House officials, who “thought it was significant.” Because the White House included Royce and Phelps as persons whose contacts with White House staffers should be disclosed (see September 30, 2003), Newsday removed both reporters from further coverage of the Plame Wilson story. Now Fitzgerald says he doesn’t want them to name the sources of their story, but he does want some information about their discussions with their sources. (Phelps later writes that in his estimation, he and Royce are the first reporters contacted by Fitzgerald, with the exception of Novak—see January 14, 2004). Lawyers for the reporters and Newsday wrangle the question, and Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen asks the reporters to cooperate as best they can without violating journalistic principles. Phelps later describes Fitzgerald’s request: “What Fitzgerald wanted us to do, among other things, was to differentiate between Source A, B, or C. Without giving up any names, would we simply outline which source had said what in our story?” Both reporters flatly refuse to cooperate. Fitzgerald threatens the reporters with a subpoena, but never actually serves them with a legal summons. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, Bush administration (43), Knut Royce, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Newsday, Timothy Phelps, Raymond Jansen, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters writes that Robert Novak, the conservative columnist who outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), has, in writing about his interactions with the federal agents investigating the leak (see July 12, 2006), “repeated a number of false and contradictory statements regarding the investigation and the manner in which he learned of Plame [Wilson]‘s identity.” Novak did reveal White House political strategist Karl Rove as one of his sources, but did not reveal his “primary source,” then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). [Media Matters, 7/12/2006] Author Marcy Wheeler, who blogs at The Next Hurrah under the moniker “Emptywheel,” concurs, and cites similar instances of Novak’s contradictory statements. [Marcy Wheeler, 7/13/2006]
Contradicts Earlier Statements - Novak does not reveal Armitage’s name, but he does discuss something of the Armitage disclosure, saying that Armitage’s revelation was “inadvertent.” Though this coincides with other Novak discussions, where he has called Armitage’s discussion of Plame Wilson “offhand” (see September 29, 2003 and October 1, 2003), it contradicts information he gave to two Newsday reporters in the days following his column’s publication: at that time, he told the reporters that he “was given” the Plame Wilson information and his sources—Rove and Armitage—considered the information “significant” (see July 21, 2003).
Misrepresents Plame Wilson's Involvement in Husband's Mission - Novak also repeats the falsehood that Plame Wilson “helped initiate” her husband, Joseph Wilson’s, 2002 trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003), a falsehood he claims has been “confirmed” by a 2004 Senate Intelligence Committee report (see July 9, 2004). And two years previously, Novak admitted that the committee failed to reach a conclusion on Plame Wilson’s involvement in the Niger mission (see July 15, 2004). [Media Matters, 7/12/2006]
Story Substantially Different from Rove's - Wheeler points out that Novak’s version of events is substantially different from the events Rove has laid out. According to Novak, Rove already knew Plame Wilson’s name; Rove says he neither knew the name nor divulged it to Novak. Novak says Rove called him, but Rove says Novak placed the call. According to Rove, when Novak asked about Joseph Wilson’s wife being a CIA official, he replied, “Oh, you’ve heard that too,” but Novak suggests Rove said something more. Novak also contradicts his earlier reporting, where he implied he confirmed (not learned) Plame Wilson’s identity from Who’s Who in America (see October 1, 2003). Moreover, Novak told reporters in 2003 that White House officials gave him the information on Plame Wilson, “I didn’t dig it out” (see July 21, 2003), implying that he was called by Rove and perhaps other White House officials as well. In his October 1, 2003 article, he wrote that he called Rove (whom he identified then as “another official”). [Marcy Wheeler, 7/13/2006] On Fox News, Novak says that the original reporting that he “was given” the information on Plame Wilson was “a misstatement.” He goes on: “That was an interview I did on the telephone with Newsday shortly after it appeared. Some of the things that they said that quoted me that are not in quotes are paraphrases, and they’re incorrect, such as the whole idea that they [the White House] planted this story with me. I never told that to the Newsday reporters.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 7/13/2006]
Contradicts CIA Official's Account of Interview - Media Matters also notes that Novak’s account of his discussion of Plame Wilson’s identity with then-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow is substantially different from Harlow’s account (see (July 11, 2003). Harlow has said, both in interviews and in grand jury testimony, that he warned Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s name or CIA status in the strongest terms he could without himself divulging classified information. [Media Matters, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Karl C. Rove, Bill Harlow, Joseph C. Wilson, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Novak, Media Matters, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

David Corn, a Nation editor and co-author of the book Hubris with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, reveals the nature of Valerie Plame Wilson’s status and duties as a CIA agent in his column. Isikoff and Corn have revealed similar information in their book; both accounts are based on interviews with confidential CIA sources. To answer the question of whether columnist Robert Novak broke the law when he “outed” Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see July 14, 2003) depends on whether Plame Wilson was, indeed, an undercover agent. Novak has called her “an analyst, not in covert operations” (see October 1, 2003). Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg has called her a “desk jockey” whose CIA status was common knowledge within Washington (see September 30, 2003). A Republican congressman called her a “glorified secretary” (see September 29, 2003). White House officials have suggested that her employment was no real secret. But according to the research done by Isikoff and Corn, none of that is true. Corn writes: “Valerie Wilson was no analyst or paper-pusher. She was an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush administration. [Richard] Armitage, [Karl] Rove, and [Lewis] Libby had revealed information about a CIA officer who had searched for proof of the president’s case. In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled” (see July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003)). The book also demonstrates that Plame Wilson did not send her husband, Joseph Wilson, on the now-famous trip to Niger as many Bush administration supporters have claimed (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, February 19, 2002, and July 22, 2003). Isikoff and Corn have verified Plame Wilson’s status as a NOC, or “non-official cover” officer, the highest and most clandestine of the CIA’s field agents (see Fall 1992 - 1996). Her job as a NOC was to recruit agents and informants for the CIA in foreign countries. After her return to Washington, she joined the counterproliferation division’s Iraq desk (see 1997), and eventually headed the operations unit of the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), the agency’s unit in learning about Iraq’s WMD programs (see 2002 and April 2001 and After)—which, Corn writes, was first launched months before the 9/11 attacks. Plame Wilson not only worked on JTFI duties in Washington, but in the Middle East, including a trip to Jordan to determine whether aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were for conventional missiles or for nuclear centrifuges. When Novak blew her cover, she was preparing to change her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, with plans to eventually return to secret operations. As Corn observes, Novak and the White House officials who leaked the information of her CIA status to him (see September 28, 2003) destroyed her chances of continuing her career, jeopardized the foreign agents and sources she had worked with (see October 3, 2003), and hindered the nation’s ability to determine the truth behind the claims of Iraqi WMD. [Nation, 9/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David Corn, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Joint Task Force on Iraq, Karl C. Rove, Jonah Goldberg, Richard Armitage, Michael Isikoff, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

On the Washington Post’s radio broadcast, Post columnist Richard Cohen falsely claims that former ambassador and war critic Joseph Wilson claimed in a 2003 op-ed (see July 6, 2003) that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson actually wrote that CIA officials sent him to Niger to investigate the possibility that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country, that “Cheney’s office had questions about” the charges (see (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA wanted to “provide a response to the vice president’s office” (see March 5, 2002). After citing this falsehood, Cohen calls the case against former White House official Lewis Libby, accused of committing perjury in his denials of involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), a “silly case.” All the White House was trying to do, Cohen states, was to “get their story out” after Wilson had “misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa” (see October 1, 2003). Cohen also repeats the frequently debunked notion that it was Wilson’s wife who sent him to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cohen says he “almost feel[s] sorry” for Cheney, who by having Plame Wilson outed was “just [Cheney] trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way.” Cohen also repeats the falsehood that many people knew Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see September 29, 2003 and September 30, 2003) and her covert status was “not a tightly held secret” (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). [Media Matters, 1/31/2007]

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In a column ironically titled “Free Scooter Libby!” Time columnist Michael Kinsley notes the damage done to the idea of the “anonymous source” in the Plame Wilson investigation and the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007). Leaks from anonymous sources are widely believed to be necessary to keep government honest, Kinsley notes, and journalists must not be asked to testify as to those sources. Kinsley goes on to note that in this case, instead of heroic whistleblowers, reporters such as the New York Times’s Judith Miller were protecting White House officials trying to spin the public. And, he continues, it is an established crime to blow the undercover status of a CIA officer such as Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Most journalists were somberly critical of Miller’s forced testimony, and, in contrast, are writing about the Libby trial in a “jaunty to the point of slapstick” manner. But ‘[i]t takes two” to “create a leak,” a government official on one end and a reporter on the other. Kinsley calls the Miller/Libby leak “a bad leak.” Plame Wilson’s covert status “should have stayed secret.” He concludes: “If leaks are vital to the freedom of the press, then surely both of the people needed to create a leak—the reporter and the source—deserve protection. If Judy Miller is a martyr of press freedom, then so is Scooter Libby.” [Time, 1/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Michael Kinsley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]

Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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