This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=david_corn_1
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177; Unger 2007, pp. 276)
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 180-181)
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230)
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 370-1; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003)
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230) As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 368-9)
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. (Bamford 2004, pp. 368-9; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
In early February, David Corn, an editor of the progressive magazine The Nation, asks former ambassador Joseph Wilson to write an editorial for the magazine. Corn believes that Wilson’s “establishment credentials” give credibility to the antiwar views that Wilson and the magazine share. Wilson publishes an op-ed in the magazine titled “Republic or Empire?” Wilson, who staunchly supported the 1991 Gulf War (see After February 28, 1991), argues that the US has already succeeded in large part in its efforts to contain and disarm Saddam Hussein. Also, the US’s new military basing agreements throughout the region give it what Wilson calls a “[h]egemony in the Arab nations of the Gulf… a dominant presence astride strategic oil reserves that would enable us to respond to crises in the region much more quickly and efficiently in the future than we had ever been able to in the past. Thus, the conquest of Iraq would not materially improve our influence from southern Asia to the Horn of Africa.” The war is not about Iraqi WMD, nor Iraq’s alleged ties to terrorism, or even about liberating an oppressed populace, Wilson writes. “The underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations.” The neoconservatives in the Bush administration, Wilson asserts, “want to go beyond expanding US global influence to force revolutionary change on the region. American pre-eminence in the Gulf is necessary but not sufficient for the hawks. Nothing short of conquest, occupation and imposition of handpicked leaders on a vanquished population will suffice. Iraq is the linchpin for this broader assault on the region. The new imperialists will not rest until governments that ape our worldview are implanted throughout the region, a breathtakingly ambitious undertaking, smacking of hubris in the extreme. Arabs who complain about American-supported antidemocratic regimes today will find us in even more direct control tomorrow. The leader of the future in the Arab world will look a lot more like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf than Thomas Jefferson.” He concludes: “[W]ith the costs to our military, our treasury and our international standing, we will be forced to learn whether our republican roots and traditions can accommodate the administration’s imperial ambitions. It may be a bitter lesson.” (Wilson 3/3/2003; Wilson 2004, pp. 318-319, 469-472)
Marc Grossman, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, prepares a memo about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to ascertain the truth or falsity of claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The memo refers explicitly to Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official and identifies her as Wilson’s wife, using the name “Valerie Wilson.” The second paragraph of the memo is marked with an “S,” denoting that Wilson is a covert operative for the agency. (Stevenson 7/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 180)
Memo Based on Information from State Department's Intelligence Bureau - Grossman prepares his memo based on information he receives from Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ford, in a paragraph marked SNF for “secret, not foreign,” cites “Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 ; Pincus and VandeHei 7/21/2005)
INR: Wilson a 'Walk On' - The INR report calls Wilson a “walk on,” and goes on to note: “From what we can find in our records, Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger/Iraq uranium story. In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson (see February 19, 2002), [a] CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger but said he would only go if the department thought his trip made sense.” (US Department of State 6/10/2003 ; Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007)
Libby Originated Request for Information on Wilsons; Memo Contains Erroneous Material - The memo is prepared by Grossman at the request of the INR; the INR in turn responded to a request from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff. The memo claims that Plame Wilson “apparently convened” the CIA meeting that resulted in her husband’s selection for the investigative journey to Niger, a claim that Plame Wilson will later note is erroneous. According to Plame Wilson, Doug Rohn, the INR official who joined the February 2002 CIA meeting about Wilson’s proposed trip (see February 13, 2002), was late to the meeting and was not sure about Plame Wilson’s role. She had already left the meeting by the time Rohn arrived. When Grossman wrote his memo in June 2003, Rohn had left Washington to become the consul general in Karachi, Pakistan. Another analyst, Neil Silver, actually writes the memo for Grossman using Rohn’s old notes. Silver states as a fact that Plame Wilson convened the meeting. Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write: “Inadvertently, Rohn’s uninformed impression was now portrayed as a hard-and-fast truth. It would soon become, in the hands of White House spinners, a political charge.” The rest of the memo is fairly accurate, Plame Wilson will observe, and notes that, as the INR memo says: “Joe Wilson played only a walk-on part in the Niger-Iraq uranium story.… [H]e previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger, but said he would only go if the [State] Department thought that his trip made sense.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 261-262)
Author and liberal political columnist David Corn writes that he believes conservative columnist Robert Novak deliberately blew “the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security.” It seems as if Novak broke the law as well, Corn observes, all to “strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others.” Corn calls it a “smear” against Wilson and “a thuggish act” by “Bush and his crew [who] abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation’s counterproliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.” Corn is referring to a recent column by Novak in which he outed Valerie Plame Wilson, the husband of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). Corn believes the Novak column came about as part of a White House attempt to besmirch the reputation of Wilson, who recently wrote a column challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Corn cites Wilson’s qualifications for such a task, and notes that ever since the June 12, 2003 revelation that “an unnamed ambassador” had gone to Niger to investigate the claims and reported that the uranium deal likely never happened, the questions over the veracity of the claims as touted by the Bush administration have grown far louder. Administration explanations that the claims were based on “faulty evidence” were not going over well. Corn believes that Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity, and his supposition that she “sent” her husband to Niger, was triggered by a White House effort to impugn Wilson’s reliability and integrity. Corn also notes that Wilson refuses to answer questions about his wife’s career, saying only: “I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the president’s statement in the State of the Union speech.”
Deliberately Damaging a Covert Operative to Punish a Critic? - If Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA agent, Corn writes, then “the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.” Not only has Plame Wilson’s undercover status been compromised, Corn notes, but “her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration.” Her husband notes: “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames.” Philby and Ames were notorious traitors.
Violation of Federal Law - As for the “two senior administration officials” whom Novak claims as his sources, if Novak is accurate, then “a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what’s known as ‘nonofficial cover’ and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material.… This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.” Novak is not liable for an offense because journalists are protected from prosecution unless they engage in a “pattern of activities” to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. But it is possible Novak’s sources are so liable.
Intimidation Tactics - “Stories like this,” Wilson says, “are not intended to intimidate me, since I’ve already told my story. But it’s pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears.” Corn writes that the silence of the White House on the matter tends to give credence to Wilson’s view of the matter, since the Bush administration has heretofore been a jealous guardian of government secrets. “[O]ne might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job,” he writes. “Yet two days after the Novak column’s appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.” (Corn 7/16/2003)
Washington lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, a friend of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, calls columnist Robert Novak to say Armitage fears he might have “inadvertently” leaked to him the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003 and October 1, 2003). (Authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn, in their 2006 book Hubris, will speculate that Duberstein arranged the July 2003 meeting between Novak and Armitage.) Duberstein says that Armitage is considering resigning over his action, and asks Novak if Armitage was his source. Novak declines to confirm Armitage’s status to Duberstein. Novak will later write: “I did not reply because I was sure that Armitage knew he was the source. I believed he contacted me Oct. 1 because of news the weekend of Sept. 27-28 that the Justice Department was investigating the leak” (see September 26, 2003). (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 252, 325-326; Novak 9/14/2006)
Progressive author and columnist David Corn writes of his reaction to President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004). Corn writes that he recoiled in shock at the humor of Bush’s slide show, which featured him looking for “those weapons of mass destruction” in the Oval Office. Corn notes that Bush, like earlier presidents, is expected to have some fun at his own expense, either in a speech or a skit or the like. Bush has entertained the assembled reporters, editors, and lawmakers with slide shows in the past, and he did the same again. Much of the presentation was what Corn called “standard fare humor,” with Bush preparing for a tough election fight while wearing a boxing robe, and poking fun at Vice President Cheney.
"I Wasn't Getting It" - But, Corn writes, when the first slide of Bush looking for WMD in the Oval Office is shown, “I grimaced.” Others laughed. The assemblage continued laughing at the second and third slides of the series. Corn did not. One of his tablemates said, “Come on, David, this is funny.” Corn writes: “I wanted to reply, Over 500 Americans and literally countless Iraqis are dead because of a war that was supposedly fought to find weapons of mass destruction, and Bush is joking about it. Instead, I took a long drink of the lovely white wine that had come with our dinner. It’s not as if I was in the middle of a talk-show debate and had to respond. This was certainly one of those occasions in which you either get it or don’t. And I wasn’t getting it. Or maybe my neighbor wasn’t.” Corn notes that the last two slides honored US soldiers, writing: “Bush was somber about the sacrifice being made by US troops overseas. But he obviously considered it fine to make fun of the reason he cited for sending Americans to war and to death. What an act of audacious spin.… As the crowd was digesting the delicious surf-and-turf meal, Bush was transforming serious scandal into rim-shot comedy.”
Too Sensitive? - Corn is equally shocked at the lack of reaction from his fellow media figures. “Was I being too sensitive?” he asks. He answers, “I wondered what the spouse, child or parent of a soldier killed in Iraq would have felt if they had been watching C-SPAN and saw the commander in chief mocking the supposed justification for the war that claimed their loved ones.” Corn concludes that Bush’s jokes made up a “callous and arrogant display,” and adds: “For Bush, the misinformation—or disinformation—he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punchline in the nation’s capital.” (Corn 3/25/2004)
Author and columnist David Corn, who was the first member of the media to speculate that Valerie Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official may have been a crime (see July 16, 2003), now speculates that the Lewis Libby defense team may resort to “graymail” to derail Libby’s criminal prosecution (see After October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2006). Corn writes: “[Y]ears ago defense attorneys representing clients connected to the national security establishment—say, a former CIA employee gone bad—figured out a way to squeeze the government in order to win the case: Claim you need access to loads of classified information in order to mount a defense—more than might truly be necessary. Of course, the government is going to put up a fight. It may release some information—but not everything a thorough defense attorney will say is needed. The goal is to get the government to say no to the informant. Then the defense attorney can attempt to convince the judge that without access to this material he or she cannot put up an adequate defense. If the lawyer succeeds, it’s case dismissed. In such situations, the defendant is essentially saying, ‘Prosecute me and I’ll blow whatever government secrets I can.’” Corn notes the defense’s requests for 10 months of highly classified Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs), a request that may yet be granted (see February 24, 2006) and as such, will set up a battle with the Bush White House, which is almost certain to refuse to release any PDBs. Corn also notes defense requests for information surrounding Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After), another request that, if granted, will likely be refused by the CIA. Both scenarios are openings for the defense to ask for the dismissal of all charges against their client. And Libby’s team may ask for further classified information, from the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Office of the President. (Corn 2/6/2006)
The press reveals that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Washington Post author Bob Woodward in June 2003 at the same time Woodward has admitted to learning from a confidential administration source that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see June 13, 2003). The information comes from Armitage’s 2003 appointment calendars, made available to the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. The revelation makes it likely that Armitage was the first Bush administration official to reveal that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. Woodward admitted almost a year ago that a “current or former” administration official divulged Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to him (see November 14, 2005). Neither Woodward nor Armitage will comment on the allegations. At the same time, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff publishes the story in his magazine. (Apuzzo and Solomon 8/22/2006; Shenon 8/23/2006; Isikoff 9/4/2006) Lewis Libby’s defense lawyer, William Jeffress, says of the report: “I would hope that the facts on that would come out. We have asked for information as to Woodward’s source in discovery, but that has been denied.” Melanie Sloan, a lawyer representing Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson in their lawsuit against Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House official Karl Rove (see July 13, 2006), says “it sure sounds like” Armitage was the first to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a member of the press. However, Sloan adds, if Armitage revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), who outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), then far from indicating Libby’s or Rove’s innocence in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity, it merely widens the conspiracy. “Then I think maybe Armitage was in on it,” Sloan says. “The question is just what was Armitage’s role?” (Apuzzo and Solomon 8/22/2006) The Washington Post soon receives confirmation of Armitage’s role in the leak from a former State Department colleague. (Smith 8/29/2006) Many members of the press learn about Armitage from an upcoming book, Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. According to the book, Woodward dismissed Armitage’s outing of Plame Wilson as “gossip.” Armitage also revealed Plame Wilson’s name to columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003). (Wilson 2007, pp. 256) Partly as publicity for the book, Isikoff prints two “teaser” articles in Newsweek revealing Armitage as the source. One article is dated September 4, but appears on the Internet in late August. The articles also reveal that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to both Woodward and Novak. (Isikoff 8/27/2006; Isikoff 9/4/2006)
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. (Corn 9/6/2006)
Columnist Robert Novak, a recipient of several White House leaks regarding covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 7, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003) and the author of the column exposing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), publishes a column in the conservative Weekly Standard attacking the authors of Hubris, a book that identified former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as the original leaker of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, September 6, 2006, and September 7, 2006).
Attacks Co-Author of Book - Novak focuses primarily on “stereotypical leftist activist” co-author David Corn, whom he accuses of engendering the entire Plame Wilson identity leak investigation with a column questioning the propriety of Novak’s exposure of a covert CIA official (see July 16, 2003), and writes that Corn and other “enemies of George W. Bush” used the investigation to try to “bring down a president” (Bush). Now, Novak writes, Corn is in the ironic position of having co-authored a book “that has had the effect of killing the story.” (Novak credits co-author Michael Isikoff, not Corn, with discovering the Armitage leak.) To regain traction, Novak writes, “Corn has been frantic… to depict an alternate course in which [White House official Karl] Rove, [former White House official Lewis] Libby, and Vice President Cheney attempted, by design and independently, to do what Armitage purportedly accomplished accidentally.” Armitage’s leak was a gossipy “slip-up” that occurred simultaneously with what Corn and Isikoff called “a concerted White House effort to undermine a critic of the war,” former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Novak says the “conspiracy theory” of a White House effort to denigrate and smear Wilson is specious (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and calls the book’s detailed recounting of the misdeeds of the White House surrounding the Wilson smear and the Plame Wilson exposure “tiresome.” Novak dismisses Hubris as little more than “an unmitigated apologia for the Wilsons.”
Justifies Own Cooperation with Prosecution - He goes on to justify his repeated (and unreported) testimonies before the Patrick Fitzgerald grand jury (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004), saying since Fitzgerald already knew who his sources for the Plame Wilson leak were (Libby, Armitage, and CIA official Bill Harlow), “there was no use in not testifying about them,” and he “feared facing the same legal juggernaut that sent Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail” (see July 6, 2005).
Claims Plame Wilson Not Covert - Novak says that no one—Armitage, Libby, Rove, nor himself—could be prosecuted for outing Plame Wilson because she “was not a covert operative under the terms of the law” (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006).
Exposes White House Source - Novak concludes the article by identifying former White House press aide Adam Levine (see February 6, 2004 and October 26, 2005) as the source for the “1x2x6” articles published by the Washington Post (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003). (Novak 9/23/2006)
The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing about the ramifications of the Lewis Libby guilty verdict (see March 6, 2007) and the outing of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Plame Wilson is the star witness, and for the first time publicly discusses the leak and her former status as a covert agent. As earlier revealed by authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris, Plame Wilson was the covert operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), a section of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), which itself is part of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. Indeed, as Libby special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already stated, the fact of her employment with the CIA was itself classified information (see October 28, 2005). (Wilson 2007, pp. 299; Pitney 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Republican Attempts to Close Hearing Fail - Tom Davis (R-VA), the committee’s ranking Republican, attempts to close Plame Wilson’s testimony to the public on the grounds that her statements might threaten national security. “It would be with great reluctance, but we have to protect confidential information,” he says. Politico reporter John Bresnahan describes Davis as “clearly unhappy that the hearing is taking place at all, so his threat has to be viewed in that context.” Davis goes on to say: “We are mining something that has been thoroughly looked into. There are so many other areas where [Congressional] oversight needs to be conducted instead of the Plame thing.” The hearing will remain open to the public. (Bresnahan 3/14/2007)
Pre-Testimony Jitters - In her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls the jitters she experiences in the hours leading up to her appearance before the committee. She had tried, in the days before the hearing, “to think of every possible question the committee could throw at me.… I had to be sharp to avoid giving any information that the CIA would deem sensitive or classified. It was a minefield.” She is relieved to learn that CIA Director Michael Hayden has met with committee staffers and, she will write, “explicitly approved the use of the term ‘covert’ in describing my cover status.” She will write that though she still cannot confirm the length of her service with the CIA, she can “at least counter those who had suggested over the last few years that I was no more than a ‘glorified secretary’” (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). (Wilson 2007, pp. 299)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Before Plame Wilson testifies, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reads a statement saying that she had been a “covert” officer” who had “served at various times overseas” and “worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States.” Waxman notes that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during subsequent questioning, committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reports that Hayden had told him, “Ms. Wilson was covert.” (Corn 3/16/2007; Pitney 3/16/2007; FireDogLake 3/16/2007; Christy Hardin Smith 3/16/2007)
Confirms Her Status in CPD - Plame Wilson testifies that she is still bound by secrecy oaths and cannot reveal many of the specifics of her CIA career. However, she testifies, “I served the United States of America loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.” She says, “In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.” She also notes that she helped to “manage and run secret worldwide operations.” Prior to the Iraq war, she testifies, she had “raced to discover intelligence” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.” Those trips had occurred within the last five years, she says, contradicting arguments that she had not functioned as a covert agent within the last five years and therefore those who revealed her identity could not be held legally accountable (see February 18, 2007). “Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert,” she says. Furthermore, far from her identity as a CIA agent being “common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit,” as some have alleged (see September 30, 2003, July 12, 2004, and March 16, 2007), she testifies that she can “count on one hand” the number of people outside the agency who knew of her CIA status before her outing by White House officials. “But, all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, and all of the value of my years service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007; Stein 3/16/2007) During this portion of testimony, Davis repeats an assertion that neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney were aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status during the time of her exposure. (FireDogLake 3/16/2007)
'They Should Have Been Diligent in Protecting Me and Other CIA Officers' - Plame Wilson testifies that, as the Libby trial progressed, she was “shocked and dismayed by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.” Many agents in CPD are covert, she says, and thusly, officials such as Cheney and Libby, who knew she worked in that division, should have been careful in spreading information about her.
'Grave' Damage to National Security - Plame Wilson says she cannot be specific about what kind of damage was done by her identity being revealed (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006); the CIA did perform a damage assessment, but did not share the results with her, and that assessment is classified (see Before September 16, 2003). “But the concept is obvious,” she says. “Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risked their own lives and those of their families—to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers, to analysts, to technical operations officers, to even the secretaries, understands the vulnerability of our officers and recognizes that the travesty of what happened to me, could happen to them. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover… for purely political motives.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007) She refuses to speculate as to the intentions of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in exposing her identity (see July 10, 2005). (FireDogLake 3/16/2007)
Politicization of Intelligence Dangerous, Counterproductive - Plame Wilson decries the increasingly partisan politicization of intelligence gathering and presentation under the Bush regime, saying: “The tradecraft of intelligence is not a product of speculation. I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping, insidious politicizing of our intelligence process. All intelligence professionals are dedicated to the ideal that they would rather be fired on the spot than distort the facts to fit a political view—any political view—or any ideology.… [I]njecting partisanship or ideology into the equation makes effective and accurate intelligence that much more difficult to develop. Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services, or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been and our country placed in even greater danger. It is imperative for any president to be able to make decisions based on intelligence that is unbiased.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007)
No Role in Deciding to Send Husband to Niger - Plame Wilson discusses the persistent rumors that she dispatched her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Such rumors imply that Wilson was unqualified for the mission, and was sent by his wife for reasons having to do with partisan politics and nepotism (see July 9, 2004). Plame Wilson testifies that she had no authority to send her husband anywhere under CIA auspices, that it was a co-worker’s suggestion, not hers, to send her husband (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), and that her participation was limited to writing a note outlining her husband’s qualifications for such a fact-finding mission (see Fall 1999 and February 13, 2002). She testifies that a colleague had been misquoted in an earlier Senate Intelligence Committee report in saying that she proposed her husband for the trip, and that this colleague was not permitted to correct the record. (FireDogLake 3/16/2007; Corn 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Further Investigation Warranted - After Plame Wilson concludes her testimony, Waxman declares: “We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson.” Journalist David Corn concurs: “Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired?… What did Bush know about Cheney’s and Rove’s actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn’t involved in the leak?” Republican committee members are less sanguine about the prospect of such an investigation, with Davis noting that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had already conducted an investigation of the leak. Corn writes: “Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson’s presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it—while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.” (Corn 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Lawyer Victoria Toensing, who, as journalist David Corn will write, has served as “a point-person for the Libby Lobby, denouncing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame leak, and deriding his indictment of… Libby” (see February 18, 2007), testifies to the House Oversight Committee about the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Toensing is following testimony from Plame Wilson herself (see March 16, 2007). Contradicting the former CIA agent, Toensing argues that the entire investigation was specious, that—despite all evidence to the contrary (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, and February 18, 2007)—Plame Wilson was never a covert agent and therefore no one could have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in revealing her identity to the press. Toensing even testifies that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first printed Plame Wilson’s name in his column, didn’t identify her as a covert agent, but that identification was made by Corn in his own column (see July 16, 2003). Corn will call the allegation “a canard that some Republican spinners have been peddling for years, in an attempt to get Novak off the hook while muddying the waters.” Corn will note that once Novak published Plame Wilson’s name, her “cover was destroyed; her career was ruined; her operations and contacts were imperiled to whatever degree they were imperiled.” Corn wrote two days later that her outing was “a potential violation of the law” and that Novak may have violated the IIPA. Corn noted in the article that Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, refused to confirm or deny his wife’s CIA status. Corn’s article raised the possibility that Plame Wilson had been a covert agent, but presented it as mere speculation. He will write, “In the column, I even raised the possibility that Novak had botched the story and that ‘the White House has wrongly branded’ Valerie Wilson ‘as a CIA officer.’ Bottom line: I did not identify her as a ‘covert’ officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak’s column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA ‘operative on weapons of mass destruction’ (which happened to be a ‘covert’ position within the agency), her cover—whether nonofficial or official—was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.” Corn calls Toensing’s allegation “a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting” designed to deflect responsibility away from Novak and the White House. Therefore, Corn will write, Toensing has lied to Congress. (Christy Hardin Smith 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Toensing Lies about IIPA - Corn will note that Toensing is also lying when she insists that no one ever violated “her” law, the IIPA (which Toensing helped write). In her testimony, she says that to be a covert agent under the IIPA, an agent would have to live outside the US. Corn will note that the law makes no such distinction. The two criteria for an agent to be “covert” under the IIPA are: that person’s “identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information” and that the officer has to be “serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.” Because Plame Wilson testified earlier in the day that she indeed served overseas as a covert agent within five years of her outing by Novak, she is indeed covered by the IIPA. Corn will write: “Toensing is free to maintain that the law ought to cover only those officers residing overseas as part of a long-term foreign assignment. But that is not what the act says. By stating that the act defines a ‘covert agent’ as an officer residing abroad (as opposed to an officer who had ‘served’ overseas), Toensing misrepresented the law to members of the committee.”
Lying to Congress Is a Crime - Corn will write, “As a lawyer, Toensing is probably aware that knowingly making a false statement to a Congressional committee conducting an investigation or review is a federal crime. (See Title 18, Section 1001 of the US Code.) The punishment is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To say that I identified Valerie Wilson as a ‘covert’ officer is to make a false statement.” Committee chairman Henry Waxman is apparently unconvinced of Toensing’s honesty; when he concludes Toensing’s session, he says, “Some of the statements you’ve made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate, so we’re going to check the information and we’re going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say.” (Corn 3/19/2007)
Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says the US could have a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years,” and that “would be fine with me.” Speaking to a campaign rally audience in New Hampshire, McCain elaborates on his statement, saying that the US still maintains troops in South Korea, Japan, and other nations, and he has no problem with US soldiers remaining in Iraq for decades “as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed.” McCain continues the thread of his assertion after the rally, in an interview with reporter and author David Corn. Corn writes: “I asked McCain about his ‘hundred years’ comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that US troops could be in Iraq for ‘a thousand years’ or ‘a million years,’ as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: ‘It’s not American presence; it’s American casualties.’” (Corn 1/3/2008) McCain’s statement is not a “one-time gaffe,” as some claim. His repetitions include:
January 3, 2008: To a Detroit reporter, McCain says: “We’re still in Kuwait since the first Gulf War. If we can continue to show this progress, we could be there for 100 years, for all I know, as long as Americans are not dying. It’s not a matter of American presence; it’s a matter of success so we can beat back this adversary.”
January 6, 2008: On CBS’s Face the Nation, McCain says: “We’ve got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities. And then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years.”
In a New Hampshire speech on January 7, 2008: “We are in two wars. We are in a greater struggle that is going to be with us for the rest of this century.… These young people that are in this crowd, my friends, I’m going to be asking you to serve. I’m gonna be asking you to step forward and serve this nation in difficult times.”
At a Florida town hall rally on January 26, 2008: “I’d like to look you in the eye and tell you there’s not gonna be any more wars. I’d like to look you in the eyes and tell you that this terrible evil called radical Islamic extremism is defeated. I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you that we’re gonna be in this struggle for the rest of this century because it’s a transcendent evil.” (Stein 4/29/2008)
Journalist and author David Corn examines the media’s reaction to President Obama’s release of his “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011), writing that Washington reporters were, from the time just before Obama’s press briefing to the period of intensive coverage and analysis immediately following, alternating between expressing incredulity that Obama would spend time on such a “minor” issue and, in Corn’s words, “jumping up and down in anticipation.” Obama made the decision in large part to put an end to the endless media coverage going to the “birther” controversy that he feels would be better spent on analyzing and covering the discussions about the nation’s budget woes. In his brief address regarding the release of the document, Obama says: “[T]wo weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.” The entire controversy is a “distraction,” he says, that needs to stop soaking up huge amounts of media coverage. In the moments before the press briefing, Obama commented on a “break-in” by NBC political reporter Chuck Todd to that network’s normal broadcast schedule: “I was just back there listening to Chuck—he was saying, it’s amazing that he’s not going to be talking about national security. I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it.” Corn writes, “Ending the birther conspiracy allowed him to nudge the political media and demonstrate he’s the mature leader in town.” Obama wanted to deliver the message himself, Corn writes: “He wanted to come to the podium and take point on the birther rebuttal, using the occasion to address that larger problem and to demonstrate his own desire to rise above political pettiness in order to make Washington work for the citizenry. So rather than just release the records and allow the cable chatterers to chew up the material (and bash [billionaire ‘birther’ enthusiast Donald] Trump), the White House deployed the president to throw the knock-out punch, realizing that it had a much better chance to cut through the clutter if he was the messenger.” Corn concludes with a rhetorical question: “[C]an [Obama] turn the end of birtherism into a teachable moment? That may well depend on how the media covers it.” (Corn 4/27/2011)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike