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Context of 'October 3, 2003: Columnist Points to Libby as Likely Source of Plame Wilson Leak'

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Vice President Dick Cheney asks his morning intelligence briefer, CIA briefer David Terry, about the Defense Intelligence Agency’s recent analysis (see February 12, 2002) of SISMI’s February 5 report (see February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. [Time, 7/21/2003; New Yorker, 10/27/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004] Cheney is reportedly dissatisfied with his briefer’s initial response, and asks the agency to take another look (see Shortly after February 12, 2002). [CIA Task Sheet, 2/13/2002; New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Cheney’s questions quickly reach the desk of senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, who accepts the suggestion of another CIA officer to send her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate the claims (see February 13, 2002). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Terry, Counterproliferation Division

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

Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson.Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press]Officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) Counterproliferation Division (CPD) decide to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq sought to procure uranium from that country. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a senior CPD officer (see April 2001 and After), relays the request to him explaining that “there’s this crazy report” asserting that Iraq made a deal with Niger on the sale of a large quantity of uranium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly afterwards, she sends an overseas cable requesting concurrence with the agency’s decision to send her husband to Niger (see February 13, 2002). She writes, “[B]oth State and [the Department of Defense] have requested additional clarification and indeed, the vice president’s office just asked for background information” (see (February 13, 2002)). [US Congress, 7/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Counterproliferation Division, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

Time magazine, in an article by Matthew Cooper and two other reporters, asks the question, “Has the Bush administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium?” Its answer: “Perhaps.” The ambassador is Joseph Wilson, who flew to Africa in February 2002 to find the truth behind the charges that Iraq had secretly attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson found no evidence to back up those claims (see March 4-5, 2002), and recently wrote a New York Times op-ed blasting the administration’s use of those claims to justify invading Iraq (see July 6, 2003).
White House Says Wilson's Report Bolstered Claims - Cooper reports that since Wilson’s op-ed was published, “administration officials have taken public and private whacks at Wilson, charging that his 2002 report, made at the behest of US intelligence, was faulty and that his mission was a scheme cooked up by mid-level operatives.” CIA Director George Tenet and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer have both criticized Wilson and disputed his conclusion, even stating that his findings in Niger actually strengthened the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger connection, saying that he reported a meeting with a former Nigerien government official who discussed being approached by an Iraqi official in June 1999 who wanted to expand commercial relations between the two countries. According to government officials, Wilson interpreted that overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. Fleischer said: “This is in Wilson’s report back to the CIA. Wilson’s own report, the very man who was on television saying Niger denies it… reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales” (see February 1999). Wilson disputes the characterization, saying that he never interpreted the discussion in the way the White House claims he did: “That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the president alleged? These guys really need to get serious.”
Wilson and the Forged Documents - Tenet has blasted Wilson for never discussing the forged Iraq-Niger documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001); for his part, Wilson said that he did not discuss the documents because he never saw them. And Fleischer says that Wilson erred in taking Nigerien officials at their word: “He spent eight days in Niger and he concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don’t admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation.”
Claims that Wilson Sent at Behest of Wife - Other unnamed White House officials have insinuated that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see February 13, 2002, February 13, 2002, Shortly after February 13, 2002, February 20, 2002, and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), whom Cooper identifies as “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” (see (June 12, 2003)). Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though he does not cite Rove as his source in his article. Cooper writes, “These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched [to] Niger” (see February 19, 2002). Wilson, according to Cooper, angrily disputes the contention that his wife sent him to Niger, saying: “That is bullsh_t. That is absolutely not the case. I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the February 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job.”
Wilson Sent Due to Cheney's Pressure? - A source whom Cooper identifies as “close to the matter” confirms that Wilson was sent to Niger after Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find out about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see Shortly after February 12, 2002), though both Tenet and Cheney’s office deny doing so (see (February 13, 2002)). Cooper quotes Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, as saying: “The vice president heard about the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger in February 2002. As part of his regular intelligence briefing, the vice president asked a question about the implication of the report. During the course of a year, the vice president asked many such questions and the agency responded within a day or two saying that they had reporting suggesting the possibility of such a transaction. But the agency noted that the reporting lacked detail. The agency pointed out that Iraq already had 500 tons of uranium, portions of which came from Niger, according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA—see 1979-1982). The vice president was unaware of the trip by Ambassador Wilson and didn’t know about it until this year when it became public in the last month or so.” Other administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, claim they, too, heard nothing of Wilson’s report until recently. [Time, 7/17/2003]
Cooper to Testify about Sources - Cooper will eventually testify about his contacts with Rove and Libby during the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Time magazine

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer in one of his columns three months earlier (see July 14, 2003), writes that he is now forced to revisit that column since “repercussions” from it “have reached the front pages of major newspapers and led off network news broadcasts.” Today’s column, he writes, is to clarify his actions and those of the Bush White House, which have been “distorted” in media reports. Novak says he “did not receive a planned leak” (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). He asserts that “the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson’s wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else” (see Before July 14, 2003 and September 27, 2003). And, Plame Wilson’s identity “was not much of a secret” (see Before July 14, 2003).
Husband the Real Issue, Novak Claims - Novak attempts to turn the issue around and make Joseph Wilson and the Democrats the focus of the controversy: “Wilson, after telling me in July that he would say nothing about his wife, has made investigation of the leak his life’s work—aided by the relentless Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. These efforts cannot be separated from the massive political assault on President Bush.” Novak points out that Wilson, whom he falsely describes as a former “high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council,” is now “a vocal opponent of President Bush’s policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one.” (Novak fails to note that Wilson gave campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats—see September 30, 2003). Why, Novak asks, was such a “partisan Democrat” given the assignment to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003)?
Again Asserts Wife Sent Wilson to Niger - Novak says that according to “a senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger “by the CIA’s counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official [later revealed as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see Late June 2003 and July 8, 2003], who is no partisan gunslinger.” Novak called a second official, later confirmed as White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), who said, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak calls reports that White House officials “failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue.” He acknowledges being asked not to reveal Plame Wilson’s identity by the CIA official “designated to talk to me,” but denies being told that others might be harmed or intelligence networks might be damaged by the revelation. As for Plame Wilson’s identity being “no big secret,” he asserts, falsely, that Republican activist Clifford May knew of her identity before his column appeared, and, according to May, her CIA status was “common knowledge” (see July 12, 2004). Novak also notes that “Valerie Plame” is listed as Joseph Wilson’s wife in her husband’s “Who’s Who in America” entry, though he fails to note that the entry does not identify her as a CIA employee. He goes on to say that the CIA did not describe her as an “operative,” but a mere “employee” who is “covered”—working under the auspices of another agency. He writes, again falsely, that Plame Wilson “has been an analyst, not in covert operations” (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After). Finally, Novak writes that the Justice Department investigation was not, in fact, requested by CIA Director George Tenet (see September 26, 2003). The request for an investigation was routine, he claims, one of around one such request a week. [Town Hall (.com), 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” [Salon, 10/3/2003] The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Larry C. Johnson, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Chuck Hagel, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Robert Novak, Eric Boehlert, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick Buchanan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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]

Entity Tags: Mike Allen, Michael Isikoff, Elliott Abrams, Evan Thomas, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Marcy Wheeler, Scott Lindlaw, Scott McClellan

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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