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Context of 'Mid-2006: CIA Suffered Long-Lasting Damage from Depredations by Bush Administration, Say Former CIA Officials'

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Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes accompanied by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, visits the offices of US intelligence analysts working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia “approximately 10” times. He interrogates them on their intelligence work on Iraq. Some analysts later complain that Cheney’s visits made them feel pressured to provide the administration with conclusions that supported the case for war. Other analysts will say they did not feel pressured. [Washington Post, 6/5/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 6/5/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 336; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242] Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, will later recall, “It was like they were hoping we’d find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer.” As a result of these visits, Sulick believes that agency analysts became “overly eager to please.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 4-5] According to Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, these visits were “unprecedented.” [Common Dreams, 7/23/2003] In 2006, author Craig Unger will call the visits “a highly irregular occurrence.” Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will recall: “I was at the CIA for 24 years. The only time a vice president came to the CIA building was for a ceremony, to cut a ribbon, to stand on a stage, but not to harangue analysts about finished intelligence.… When they go, it’s usually for some ceremonial reason, to hand out an award or to cut a ribbon. Then they get the hell out.” Former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will say: “Many, many of them [CIA analysts] have told me they were pressured. And there are a lot of ways. Pressure takes a lot of forms.” A State Department official will note: “For the vice president to be meeting with analysts, that was a real red flag. It was so unusual. It was clear that people were being leaned on. Usually, if a high-ranking official wants information, it gets tasked out through appropriate channels. It was highly unusual to lock these people in a room and keep pressing. It crossed the line between… intellectual inquiry and not accepting the real answer.” Another intelligence source says: “[Cheney] wanted them to make a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He already got them to agree on nuclear weapons. But he wanted the al-Qaeda connection.” Retired CIA officer Richard Kerr, brought back to the agency to study intelligence failures, later describes “overwhelming consumer demand” on agency analysts, which Kerr will say results in flawed intelligence reports. The pressure brought on analysts, another source says, is “brutal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 211; Unger, 2007, pp. 262-263] Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) also makes visits to CIA headquarters in Langley. [Guardian, 7/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Craig Unger, Richard Kerr, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Lang, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In light of the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 28, 2005), the Center for American Progress (CAP) puts out an analysis of Libby’s role as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and the impact Libby has had on Bush administration policies. Libby, a powerful and influential neoconservative, “has been one of the most important men pulling the levers behind the Bush administration,” the article finds. “From the very beginning of the administration, Libby has essentially been Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney.” But, the article goes on to note: “[w]hat few have realized at this historic moment is that for the past four and a half years, Libby has been ‘scooting’ from scandal to scandal. Libby has been at center stage for the other major national security scandals of the Bush administration, including the Iraq intelligence debacle, the secret meetings about Halliburton contracts, and doubtless others we have not heard of yet. It was Libby—along with Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and a handful of other top aides at the Pentagon and White House—who convinced the president that the US should go to war in Iraq. It was Libby who pushed Cheney to publicly argue that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. It was also Libby who prodded former Secretary of State Colin Powell to include specious reports about an alleged meeting between 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official in Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003). Libby co-authored the controversial Defense Planning Guidance document of 1988 (see February 18, 1992) that called on the US to essentially transform itself into an aggressive empire, using its military to stretch its power around the world. “This Planning Guidance document went a long way toward endearing Libby to Cheney,” the CAP article reads. There is also evidence that Libby helped steer no-bid Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton. The article concludes, “Given the depth of his influence in shaping the White House agenda over the past four and a half years, losing Libby today is not only a huge blow to the vice president, but to the entire Bush administration.” [Center for American Progress, 10/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Center for American Progress

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A photograph of the copy of Wilson’s op-ed annotated by Dick Cheney.A photograph of the copy of Wilson’s op-ed annotated by Dick Cheney. [Source: Department of Justice / New York Times] (click image to enlarge)Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, pursuing charges that former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby lied to his grand jury about revealing the identity of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 2004, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004), introduces into evidence a document that directly implicates Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, in Libby’s allegedly criminal behavior.
Notated Clipping - Fitzgerald submits an original clipping of a New York Times op-ed written by Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). The clipping bears notations in Cheney’s own hand, as well as Cheney’s fingerprints. Cheney’s commentary reads: “Have they done this sort of thing before? [Cheney is referring to the CIA’s decision to send Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002.] Send an amb. to answer a question. Do we ordinarily send people out to do pro bono work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” It is unclear when Cheney made the notes, but prosecutors believe they were taken before the July 14, 2003 column by Robert Novak that outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). According to Fitzgerald’s filing, Cheney’s copy of the op-ed is now “at the center of the sequence of events leading” to Libby’s alleged perjury and obstruction of justice. [CNN, 5/14/2006; New York Times, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
'Acutely Focused' Attention of Cheney, Libby on Wilson - The filing goes on to state that Cheney’s notes support the idea that Wilson’s op-ed drew the attention of Cheney and Libby, and “acutely focused” their attention on Wilson’s assertions “and on responding to those assertions.… The article, and the fact that it contained certain criticisms of the administration, including criticism regarding issues dealt with by the Office of the Vice President, serve both to explain the context of, and provide the motive for, many of the defendant’s statements and actions at issue in this case. The annotated version of the article reflects the contemporaneous reaction of the vice president to Mr. Wilson’s op-ed article, and thus is relevant to establishing some of the facts that were viewed as important by the defendant’s immediate superior, including whether Mr. Wilson’s wife had sent him on a junket.” [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006] Libby testified before the grand jury about the annotated op-ed, and that testimony is now entered into evidence. Libby said he recalled discussing the issues with Cheney, and said of those conversations: “I recall that along the way he asked, ‘Is this normal for them to just send somebody out like this uncompensated, as it says?’ He was interested in how did that person come to be selected for this mission. And at some point, his wife worked at the agency, you know, that was part of the question.” A prosecutor asked Libby, “Was it a topic that was discussed on a daily basis… on multiple occasions each day in fact?” Libby answered, “Yes, sir.” Libby acknowledged that during that time, Cheney indicated that he was upset about the Wilson article and what he considered to be false attacks on his credibility, saying: “I recall that he was very keen to get the truth out. He wanted to get all the facts out about what he [Cheney] had or hadn’t done—what the facts were or were not. He was very keen on that and said it repeatedly. ‘Let’s get everything out.’” During his testimony before the grand jury, prosecutors did not believe Libby’s assertion that Cheney might have “scribbled” notes on the Wilson op-ed on July 14, the day Novak’s column was published. Libby testified: “And I think what may have happened here is what he may have—I don’t know if he wrote, he wrote the points down. He might have pulled out the column to think about the problem and written on it, but I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.” [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Cheney's Other Actions - Fitzgerald has already asserted that Cheney had attempted to pass Wilson’s trip to Niger off as a “junket”—essentially a taxpayer-funded excursion with little real purpose—to discredit Wilson’s claims about the Iraq-Niger affair. Fitzgerald has also asserted that Cheney, acting with the approval of President Bush, authorized Libby to disclose some of the classfied portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002, June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) to reporters to rebut some of Wilson’s claims. The Cheney notes provide, in reporter Michael Isikoff’s words, “significant new context to that assertion.” The notes show that Cheney had “personally raised questions about Wilson’s trip right after the publication of the Wilson column—and five days before Libby confirmed to Time reporter Matt Cooper that he had ‘heard’ that Wilson’s wife… had played a role in sending him to Africa” (see July 13, 2005). [CNN, 5/14/2006; Newsweek, 5/16/2006]
Cheney 'at Center of Campaign to Discredit Wilson' - Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, “The annotation places Cheney at the center of the campaign to discredit Wilson, aware early on that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 217] Plame Wilson herself will write: “Given Cheney’s vaunted decades of government service, it is frankly unbelievable that he would ask such questions. He would have known that the CIA frequently sends US citizens abroad, on a pro bono basis, to answer specific intelligence questions. It is even quite possible that the CIA debriefed employees of Halliburton, the multinational company that Cheney headed prior to becoming vice president, when they returned from business trips in restricted countries of interest to the United States. Cheney’s marginal notes should be more accurately interpreted as marching orders to staff on how to spin Joe’s story so that Cheney could stay as far from it as possible while simultaneously undermining Joe’s credibility.” (Emphasis in the original.) [Wilson, 2007, pp. 288]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Jake Bernstein, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein that the damage done to the agency by the Bush administration is long-lasting and may well be permanent. “The CIA is a brittle bureaucracy, fragile as any other,” he says. “It’s now broken.” Part of the reason for the damage is the pressure brought to bear on the agency by senior White House officials (see 2002-Early 2003, Fall 2002, and Fall 2002). A former deputy director of the CIA tells the authors: “In the history of the agency, I’ve never heard of a vice president making specific demands of analysts. It’s never occurred. It’s without precedent.” It will change the way the CIA functions, he says. “The mere fact that [Vice President Cheney and his then-chief of staff Lewis Libby] were out there will generate in the bureaucracy—and the CIA is a bureaucracy—a sort of thinking that says, ‘Gee, can we make them happy, can we continue to satisfy them?’ That’s not the sort of thinking you want in an intelligence agency.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 222]

Entity Tags: Melvin A. Goodman, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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