!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Joseph C. Wilson
Positions that Joseph C. Wilson has held:
- US ambassador between 1976 and 1998
- Ambassador to Gabon and SÃ£o TomÃ© and PrÃncipe during the administration of President George H. W. Bush
- ChargÃ© d'affaires in Baghdad
- Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council
Early July 2003
“It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification for going to war. It begs the question, what else are they lying about?” He added that he did not believe the war was about the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein, instead suggesting that the real motive behind the war was to “redraw the map of the Middle East.”
[Washington Post, 7/6/2003]
July 6, 2003
“The next day [January 29, 2003—the day after President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address], I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn’t know that in December, a month before the president’s address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.”
[New York Times, 7/6/2003]
Joseph C. Wilson was a participant or observer in the following events:
According to the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)), with his CIA briefer, Craig Schmall. According to Schmall’s later testimony (see January 24-25, 2007), Libby is annoyed over Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Libby asks Schmall why Wilson was told the trip originated from questions emanating from Cheney. Schmall’s handwritten notes indicate that Libby refers to “Joe Wilson” and “Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
An internal CIA memorandum addressed to CIA Director George Tenet states that the agency no longer believes allegations that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The highly classified memo, titled “In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq’s Alleged Pursuits of Uranium from Abroad,” reads in part, “[S]ince learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.” Tenet asked for the assessment in part because of repeated inquiries from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, regarding the Iraq-Niger matter and the mission by Joseph Wilson to determine the likelihood of such a purchase (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and May 29, 2003). However, neither Cheney nor Libby asked for the review. In addition, Tenet wanted the assessment because of the media attention being paid to Wilson’s trip to Niger, and his worry that Congress or the press might raise additional questions about the matter. Soon afterwards, Cheney and Libby are briefed on the memo, but both continue to question the veracity and loyalty of Wilson, and continue to insist that Iraq did, indeed, attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium. Libby is adamant that the CIA is trying to “whitewash” the “truth” behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, and insists that the CIA’s WINPAC (Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) is primarily responsible for the CIA’s “whitewashing.” He mistakenly believes that Valerie Plame Wilson, Wilson’s wife, works in WINPAC, and has already informed a reporter of his belief (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Cheney and others in the Office of the Vice President also apparently believe that Plame Wilson works for WINPAC, though they have already been informed that she is a senior official for the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see (June 12, 2003)) and a covert agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (aka 'Robb-Silberman Commission'), 3/31/2005; National Journal, 2/2/2006]
Entity Tags: Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The New Republic prints a long analysis of the Bush administration’s misleading use of intelligence to create a false impression that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the US. The article anonymously quotes former ambassador Joseph Wilson commenting on the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger, saying that White House officials “knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie.” The reporters, Spencer Ackerman and John Judis, identify Wilson as “a prominent diplomat, who had served as ambassador to three African countries,” sent to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). “They knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie,” Wilson tells the reporters. “They were unpersuasive about aluminum tubes (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and January 9, 2003) and added this to make their case more persuasive.” (Note: The date of the New Republic article is June 29, but the issue containing it is published over a week earlier.) [New Republic, 6/30/2003]
After the publication of a news analysis that quotes former ambassador Joseph Wilson as saying the White House knew the Iraq-Niger claims were “flat-out lie[s],” Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, and Eric Edelman, a national security adviser to Cheney, discuss the article over the telephone. Edelman asks if the details of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) can be disclosed to the public, but Libby says that “complications at the CIA” prevent that from happening. Edelman says he knows the subject should not be discussed in detail over an unsecured line. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/5/2006 ]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward interviews White House chief of staff Andrew Card for his new book, Plan of Attack. Woodward has a list of prepared questions that include the topic of “Joe Wilson’s wife,” meaning CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, but, as Woodward will later testify (see November 14, 2005), he never broaches the subject of Wilson’s wife. “It did not come up,” Woodward will later say, but he will admit that it is possible he did ask about Plame Wilson. He will testify that the subject of Nigerien yellowcake uranium, in regards to the specious Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, does come up in their conversation. He will deny ever speaking to Lewis Libby about the subject of Plame Wilson. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003).
The London-based Independent prints the following front-page headline: “Retired American diplomat accuses British ministers of being liars.” Former ambassador Joseph Wilson realizes that the headline is about him (see June 9, 2003-July 6, 2003), and knows he will have to write of his own part in the Iraq-Niger affair (see July 6, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 332]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, “outs” a covert CIA agent to a reporter. Libby tells New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who has been a reliable outlet for administration leaks and disinformation (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, and May 1, 2003), that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official. Plame Wilson is a covert CIA officer currently working at CIA headquarters on WMD issues in the Middle East. More importantly for Libby, she is the husband of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger to verify the administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and who has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war policies both on television and in print (see July 6, 2003).
Libby Blames CIA for 'Slanted Intell' - Miller meets Libby at the Old Executive Building. Her focus is, as she has written in her notebook, “Was the intell slanted?” meaning the intelligence used to propel the US into war with Iraq. Libby is “displeased,” she notes, by what he calls the “selective leaking” of information to the press by the CIA. He calls it a “hedging strategy,” and Miller quotes him in her notes: “If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged.” Miller feels that Libby is trying to use the interview to set up a conflict between the White House and the CIA. He says that reports suggesting senior administration officials may have selectively used some intelligence reports to bolster their claims about Iraq while ignoring others are “highly distorted.” The thrust of his conversation, Miller will later testify (see September 30, 2005), is to try to blame the CIA for the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA is now trying to “hedge” its earlier assessments, Libby says. He accuses it of waging what he calls a “perverted war” against the White House over the issue, and is clearly angry that it failed to, in his view, share its “doubts about Iraq intelligence.” He tells Miller, “No briefer came in [after the State of the Union address] and said, ‘You got it wrong, Mr. President.’”
Joseph Wilson and 'Valerie Flame' - Libby refers to “a clandestine guy,” meaning Wilson, and tells Miller that Cheney “didn’t know” about him, attempting to disassociate Cheney from any responsibility for Wilson’s trip. In her notes, Miller writes, “wife works in bureau?” and she will later testify that she is sure Libby is referring to the CIA. In her notes, she also writes the words “Valerie Flame,” a misspelled reference to Wilson’s wife. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 310; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
No Story from Interview - Miller does not write a story based on the conversation with Libby. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Libby a 'Good-Faith Source' - Miller will later recall Libby as being “a good-faith source who was usually straight with me.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005] She will note that she was not accustomed to interviewing high-level White House officials such as him. For Miller, Libby was “a major figure” and “one of the most senior people I interviewed,” she will say. “I never interviewed the vice president, never met the president, and have met Karl Rove only once. I operated at the wonk level. That is why all of this stuff that came later about my White House spin is such bullsh_t. I did not talk to these people.… Libby was not a social friend, like Richard Perle.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Initial Incorrect Dating by Times - In October, the New York Times will initially, and incorrectly, identify the date of this conversation as June 25. [New York Times, 10/8/2005]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, pursuant to their telephone conversation four days prior (see June 23, 2003). Woodward’s interview is in regards to to his upcoming book Plan of Attack. Although Woodward questions Libby about the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Woodward will later testify that the subject of “outed” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson does not come up. He will say that he may have asked Libby about either Plame Wilson or her husband Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), but he has nothing in his notes about Libby discussing the subject. [Washington Post, 11/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Woodward is aware of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 13, 2003). According to later testimony from Woodward (see November 14, 2005), Libby discusses classified information from the October 2002 NIE (see October 1, 2002) that purports to show Iraq attempted to buy enriched uranium from Africa. According to Woodward’s notes, Libby describes the purported Iraqi efforts to buy uranium as “vigorous.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2006]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a well-established Washington conservative, lands an interview with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Novak has been trying for some time to schedule an interview with Armitage without success, but Armitage calls him virtually out of nowhere and offers an interview. They agree to meet soon after the 4th of July holiday. It is at this meeting that Armitage will tell Novak that administration critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is a covert CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), just as he has previously told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). [Unger, 2007, pp. 310]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson is the leadoff guest on NBC’s Meet the Press. Wilson is there to discuss his op-ed article in the New York Times detailing his debunking of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). He is followed by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), who have both just returned from a tour of Iraq; Washington Post columnist David Broder; New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller; and syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak. During his interview with guest host Andrea Mitchell, Wilson makes two main points, as he will later recall: “First, that in a democracy the decision to send troops to war had to be based on commonly accepted facts; and second, that if the war had in fact been based on a trumped-up threat of weapons of mass destruction, should we in the future face a real WMD threat, it would be much more difficult to convince the world or even the American people of its actual seriousness.” Wilson will recall that both Levin and Warner are “supportive” of his positions in their appearances, and that Broder characterizes his points as important. “The positions I had taken,” he will write, “were now part of the public discussion, and my credibility, though sure to be attacked, had been vouched for.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] Appearing after Wilson, Novak derides any concerns that the administration’s claims of Iraqi WMD might be false. “Weapons of mass destruction or uranium are little elitist issues that don’t bother most of the people,” he says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 98-99]
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]
Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Washington Post publishes an article about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed questioning the White House’s claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Post reporters Richard Leiby and Walter Pincus report that Wilson says he was told that his mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney or his staff, and add that, according to “[a] senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA, but not at the behest of Cheney or his office. “It was not orchestrated by the vice president,” the official says. The truth of the matter is somewhat less clear, as Cheney asked his CIA briefer to have the agency send him information about the Iraq-Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002)). It is not clear that Cheney asked for Wilson or anyone else to be sent to Niger, but Cheney did receive the CIA’s report on Wilson’s mission (see March 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/6/2003] The denial is part of a larger effort to distance Cheney from the Wilson mission to Niger and discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003).
According to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer’s deputy and imminent successor Scott McClellan, “Armed with updated talking points from the vice president’s office… Fleischer dispute[s] the notion that Cheney and others in the administration must have known about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings” (see March 5, 2002). Fleischer denies that Vice President Dick Cheney asked for someone to go to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from there (see (February 13, 2002)), and denies Cheney’s awareness of the mission until it was reported. However, Fleischer “inadvertently drop[s] a small bombshell,” according to McClellan. He tells reporters, “Now we’ve long acknowledged—and this is old news, we’ve said it repeatedly—that the information on [Nigeran uranium] did, indeed, turn out to be incorrect.” McClellan will later acknowledge that the admission is anything but “old news,” and will write: “But Fleischer now appeared to suggest for the first time that the president’s 16 words in the State of the Union address had been based primarily on the Niger documents (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Up until that point, the White House had maintained that the president’s language had been deliberately broad so as to include African countries other than Niger” (see January 28-29, 2003). Reporters “jump[ed] all over the story,” McClellan will recall. “Admitting that something the president had said was wrong was big news, and it would need to be discussed among senior advisers and approved by the president.” McClellan will note, “Throughout the day, there was much discussion among the president’s advisers on whether or not to acknowledge the obvious.” According to McClellan, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of the strongest advocates for making the admission, and “her point of view prevail[s].” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-169]
After the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection (see July 6, 2003), White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby discuss methods of discrediting Wilson. The four work with CIA Director George Tenet to declassify records that might help them prove their contention that they accurately portrayed intelligence about the Iraq-Niger claim, and put Wilson in a poor light. During Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), a senior White House official involved in the process will testify: “We were trying to figure out what happened and get the story out. There was nothing nefarious as to what occurred.” In a 2007 interview, that same official will confirm what will be said in federal grand jury testimony and public court filings: that Cheney and Libby often acted without the knowledge or approval of other senior White House staff when it came to their efforts to discredit Wilson, including leaking classified information to the press. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
The State Department sends a memo (see June 10, 2003) to Secretary of State Colin Powell as he is traveling with President Bush and other senior White House officials to Africa. Powell is seen during the flight walking around Air Force One with the memo in his hand. The memo concerns the trip by former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger, where he learned that allegations of Iraq attempts to purchase Nigerien uranium were false (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and reveals his wife as a covert CIA agent. [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180] The paragraph identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official is marked “S-NF,” signfying its information is classified “Secret, Noforn.” Noforn is a code word indicating that the information is not to be shared with foreign nationals. [Washington Post, 7/21/2005; Newsweek, 8/1/2005] When Wilson’s op-ed debunking the uranium claim and lambasting the administration for using it as a justification for war appears in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Carl Ford, the head of the State Department’s internal intelligence unit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at Ford’s home. Armitage asks Ford to send a copy of the Grossman memo to Powell, who is preparing to leave for Africa with Bush. Ford sends a copy of the memo to the White House for transmission to Powell. The memo relies on notes by an analyst who was involved in a February 19, 2002 meeting to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate the uranium claims, and if so, who (see February 19, 2002). The notes do not identify either Wilson or his wife by name, and erroneously state that the meeting was “apparently convened by” the wife of a former ambassador “who had the idea to dispatch” her husband to Niger because of his contacts in the region. Wilson is a former ambassador to Gabon. Plame Wilson has said that she suggested her husband for the trip, introduced him at the meeting, and left after about three minutes (see February 13, 2002). The memo identifies Wilson’s wife as Valerie Wilson; when conservative columnist Robert Novak outs her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), he identifies her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. The memo will later become a matter of intense interest to investigators attempting to learn how Plame Wilson’s identity was leaked to the press (see (July 15, 2005)). [New York Times, 7/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 180]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, George W. Bush, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Colin Powell, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A photo of the Wilson op-ed with Cheney’s notes written on it. The clipping will be presented as evidence in the Libby trial. [Source: National Public Radio]According to court documents filed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney has a conversation with his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, where he “expressed concerns to [Libby] regarding whether [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s trip [to Niger—see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) was legitimate or whether it was a junket set up by Mr. Wilson’s wife,” CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Soon after the conversation, Libby discloses Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to a reporter, adding that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). White House political strategist Karl Rove gives Time columnist Robert Novak similar information (see July 8, 2003). [National Journal, 6/14/2006] On a clipped copy of Wilson’s op-ed about his Niger mission (see July 6, 2003), Cheney writes: “Have they [the CIA] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb. [ambassador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?” [New York Times, 5/14/2006; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has a telephone conversation with conservative syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Neither Fleischer nor Novak will reveal the contents of that conversation, though the conversation takes place shortly after the publication of Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003) and a week before Novak, using White House sources, will reveal that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/19/2005] Fleischer will later testify (see January 29, 2007) that he learned that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA agent from White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Libby told Fleischer that the knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status is not widely known. [MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney writes talking points for press secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use with the press to address the recent New York Times op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who revealed that during a 2002 fact-finding mission to Africa, he found nothing to support administration claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). After Wilson’s op-ed, the White House was forced to back away from its claims about the uranium purchase (see July 6-7, 2003, July 7, 2003, and July 8, 2003), a move that Cheney and other White House officials believed damaged the administration’s credibility over its justifications for the Iraq invasion. Cheney then rewrites the talking points to provide White House officials with more information that can be used to discredit Wilson, and to maximize the chances that reporters will conclude that Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The lead talking point changes from the original version as drafted by Cheney press aide Cathie Martin: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger,” to Cheney’s: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Cheney will admit that in rewriting the talking points to draw attention to Plame Wilson’s putative role in arranging for the Niger mission, reporters might find out that she was a CIA officer. However, he will deny that he did anything on purpose to give reporters that information. FBI investigators will not be convinced by Cheney’s explanation.
Telling Reporters Cheney, Aides Knew Nothing of Wilson Mission - Another reason for revising the talking points is to give the impression that Cheney had little to no role in Wilson’s mission to Niger, and knew nothing of the trip before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 5, 2002). Cheney will later admit to FBI investigators that he rewrote the talking points to lead reporters to that conclusion—a conclusion that he hopes will paint Wilson’s trip to Niger as a nepotistic jaunt envisioned to discredit the administration. That conclusion is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cheney’s subsidiary talking points include: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger”; the “vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; Cheney’s office was not briefed about the mission until long after it occurred; and Cheney and his aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, only learned about the mission from reporters a year later. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Talking Points Revised Just before Libby Outs Plame Wilson to Reporter - Cheney revises the talking points on July 8, hours before Libby reveals Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporter Judith Miller and tells Miller that Plame Wilson sent her husband to Niger (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both Cheney and Libby will later testify that Libby’s purpose in meeting with Miller is to leak classified intelligence information that the White House hopes will discredit Wilson’s allegations that the White House manipulated intelligence to bolster its justification for the invasion (see July 12, 2003).
Talking Points Used in Morning 'Press Gaggle' - In the July 8 morning briefing for the White House press corps, informally known as the “press gaggle,” Fleischer reiterates the talking points, telling the reporters: “The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook.… They sent him on their own volition.”
'Growing Body of Evidence' that Cheney Directed Libby to Out Plame Wilson - In 2008, reporter Murray Waas will write, “That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame [Wilson]‘s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to Miller and other reporters.” Waas will write that Cheney’s admission adds to the “growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame [Wilson]‘s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.” Cheney’s admission is not, Waas will note, the “smoking gun” that would prove he directed Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Neither does it prove that Libby outed Plame Wilson on his own by acting “overzealously” to follow Cheney’s “broader mandate” to besmirch and discredit Wilson. Waas will write that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes that Libby lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy in order to protect Cheney, perhaps to conceal the fact that Cheney had told him to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson, whose op-ed in the New York Times debunking the administration’s claim of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection has just appeared (see July 6, 2003), is warned to expect harsh retaliation by former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Berger points out that since the Bush White House never backs down, the fact that they had admitted their error so quickly (see March 8, 2003) means that they have something even more important to protect. A Republican acquaintance of Wilson’s says that he and his fellows in the party are pleased with Wilson’s op-ed, as now they might have the ammunition necessary to confront the Bush neoconservatives. Wilson will write that his favorite reaction comes from his former National Security Council colleague John Pendergast, who tells Wilson, “Congratulations, you’re like the baboon who’s thrown the turd that finally hit the target and stuck.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 4] Within minutes of the story being published on the Times Web site, Wilson begins fielding questions from reporters, and accepts an offer to appear on the next morning’s broadcast of “Meet the Press” (see July 6, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 333-334] In response to Wilson’s editorial, then-White House press official Scott McClellan later writes: “Wilson’s performance turned the spotlight squarely on the charge being labeled by [Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof and other critics that the Bush administration had knowingly misled the public” about Iraqi WMD (see May 6, 2003). It further riled the vice president. It also provided the national media with a full-fledged controversy to cover, involving a colorful, outspoken character [Wilson] ready to level explosive charges against high-ranking officials.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168]
During the morning meeting for senior White House officials, political strategist Karl Rove tells the assemblage that the White House needs to “get the message out” about war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Rove emphasizes the need to push the point that Wilson was not sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). At the meeting are Cheney, President Bush, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and chief of staff Andrew Card, who will soon take over the administration’s response to the Iraq-Niger controversy (see (July 11, 2003)). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2004 ] Libby brings an underlined copy of Wilson’s July 6 New York Times op-ed to the meeting. [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003]
Just after a morning meeting where White House political strategist Karl Rove emphasized that White House officials need to tell reporters that Vice President Dick Cheney did not send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, e-mails talking points to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer that state:
“The vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger.”
“The vice president’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.”
“The vice president’s office did not receive briefing about Mr. Wilson’s misson after he returned” (see March 5, 2002).
“The vice president’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it” (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/7/2003; US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ]
Minutes later, Fleischer presents these talking points in the morning press briefing. He says of the Wilson op-ed: “Well, there is zero, nada, nothing new here. Ambassador Wilson, other than the fact that now people know his name, has said all this before. But the fact of the matter is in his statements about the vice president—the vice president’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts—press reports accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook as part of their regular review of events, where they sent him.” [White House, 7/7/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] In 2007, Martin will testify that Cheney dictated the talking points to her (see January 25-29, 2007).
Hours after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reiterates talking points from Vice President Dick Cheney emphasizing the lack of knowledge that Cheney and his office had of the trip taken to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 7-8, 2003 and 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003), Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby has lunch with Fleischer. Fleischer will later testify during Libby’s perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) that Libby speaks extensively of the role of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, in sending her husband to Niger. According to Fleischer’s later testimony (see January 29, 2007), Libby tells him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer will testify that Libby calls her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame. “He added it was ‘hush-hush,’ and ‘on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleischer will add. [White House, 7/7/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/15/2005; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009; Marcy Wheeler, 10/30/2009] Fleischer will later testify that the conversation is “kind of weird” and note that Libby typically “operated in a very closed-lip fashion.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ] Libby will remember the lunch meeting, and testify that he thanked Fleischer for making a statement about the Niger issue, but will deny discussing Plame Wilson. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ]
According to NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, “high-level people at the CIA” say that no senior officials at the agency ever looked at the verbal report made by Joseph Wilson upon returning from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002), nor did they look at the notes from that report (see March 8, 2002). Senior agency officials, Mitchell says, “didn’t even know that it was he who had made this report, because he was sent over by some of the covert operatives in the CIA at a very low level, not, in fact, tasked by the vice president.” If true, Mitchell says, claims that Vice President Dick Cheney asked about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and that Wilson was sent to Niger as a result of Cheney’s queries, “may not, in fact, be true. It could very well be that the vice president is correct, that he never asked for Joe Wilson to be sent, that it was a much lower level.” Although Cheney may not have known of the Wilson mission until after its completion, he did in fact ask for an inquiry into the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see (February 13, 2002)). Mitchell is apparently repeating claims from the White House designed to emphasize its contention that neither Cheney nor anyone in his office had anything to do with sending Wilson to Niger
(see July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, and July 7-8, 2003). [CNBC, 7/8/2003] The same day, Reuters reports a similar claim from another US intelligence official, stating that “Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said.” The Reuters report quotes the official as saying about Wilson and his recent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003), “He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the US government at the time it was made.” Progressive columnist Joshua Micah Marshall responds: “The message here seems pretty clear: Joseph who? Wilson, this ‘intelligence official’ is saying, is some small-time operator who got sent to Niger by some mid-level functionaries at the CIA. All the people who counted had no idea he’d even gone on his trip. And they certainly didn’t know about his vaunted report.… I don’t find this claim particularly credible.… I don’t think dumping on Wilson, which seems to be the White House’s preferred strategy now, is going to cut it.” [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/8/2003]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak discusses former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s journey to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003). Novak asks Armitage, “Why in the world did [the CIA] send Joe Wilson on this?” and Armitage answers by revealing what he has learned from a State Department intelligence memo (see June 10, 2003) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent who works with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. “I don’t know,” Armitage says, “but his wife works out there.” Armitage also tells Novak that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the Niger trip. [Fox News, 9/8/2006; Wilson, 2007, pp. 256; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003). Either later this day, or sometime during the next day, Novak also learns of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8 or 9, 2003). Novak will publicly reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status in his next column, apparently as part of an effort to discredit her husband (see July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, during which time he gives Miller information he wants her to use to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Libby tells Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent. After meeting with Miller, Libby returns to the White House and immediately consults with Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. At Miller’s request, Libby had promised her that he would try to find out more about Wilson and his wife, and apparently he goes to Addington for additional information about the two, asking, according to court papers filed as part of Libby’s later indictment (see October 28, 2005), “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas mission.” Addington assures Libby that the classified information he divulged to Miller (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003) was, by default, declassified once President Bush gave his permission to leak it: Addington tells Libby “that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document” (see July 12, 2003). Four days after Libby’s meetings with Miller and Addington, Libby speaks with Miller again, and gives her supplementary information about the Wilsons (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). The information comes from court records and documents later made part of the special counsel’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. Nothing in those documents and records suggests that Addington broke the law, or had any role in, or knowledge of, leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. However, as reporters Murray Waas and Paul Singer will later write: “Addington was deeply immersed in the White House damage-control campaign to deflect criticism that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to make the case to go to war with Iraq, according to administration and Congressional sources. Moreover, as a pivotal member of the vice president’s office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe” (see October 1, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 7/8/2003 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/27/2004 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer attempts to downplay and denigrate the report by former ambassador Joseph Wilson on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see February 13, 2002, March 4-5, 2002, and July 6, 2003). He asks the rhetorical question, “Wouldn’t any government deny it?” referring to Nigerien denials of any involvement in such a deal. Wilson quickly retorts in his own interviews that since he never spoke to any current Nigerien government officials, such denials must be part of another report. Wilson refrains from citing the reports by US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick and General Carlton Fulford (see November 20, 2001 and February 24, 2002) because, as he later writes, “I had wanted to limit my comments to my own personal experience.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 336] Fleischer is apparently unaware of an admission by a senior White House official that the administration erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003).
The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184; Washington Post, 4/9/2006] In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/22/2007]
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184] Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 361-362] Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Mayfield, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David S. Addington
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House political strategist Karl Rove returns a telephone call from conservative columnist Robert Novak. Rove has prepared for the call, assembling talking points and briefing materials (see July 7-8, 2003), some drawn from classified government personnel files provided by White House political director Matt Schlapp and other staffers. None of the materials directly involve Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who Novak will “out” in a soon-to-be-published column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove is preparing to discuss Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. It is unclear whether Rove speaks with Novak on the evening of July 8 or during the day of July 9. [National Journal, 12/16/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Combating 'Rearguard' Effort to Undermine Townsend - President Bush has asked Rove to counter what he believes to be a “rearguard” effort within his own administration—led by senior members of Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff—to discredit Townsend and derail her appointment, perhaps because she was once a senior attorney in the Justice Department under then-President Clinton. Novak has been calling other White House officials about Townsend, and Rove intends to give him the White House slant on her: that President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice all have full confidence in her. Part of the conversation is completely off the record, while other parts are on background, freeing Novak to quote Rove as a “senior administration official.” Novak will write his material on Townsend much as Rove lays it out for him. Reporter Murray Waas will later learn that opposition to Townsend within Cheney’s office is so intense that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, contemplates leaking damaging material about her to the press in an attempt to disrupt her appointment. Waas will write, “Libby’s tactics against Townsend appear to have paralleled those he took around the same period of time in attempting to blunt [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s criticism of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” Libby will indeed leak information on Townsend to selected Republicans in Congress, and they in turn will use that information to criticize her appointment. [National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Novak Broaches Subject of Plame Wilson - It is after they finish discussing Townsend that the submect of Valerie Plame Wilson comes up. Novak and Rove will both tell federal prosecutors that it is Novak who broaches the subject of Plame Wilson, saying he had heard that “Wilson’s wife” had been responsible for sending her husband on a CIA mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to later published accounts, Rove replies, “I heard that too.” Novak’s version of events will be slightly different, with him claiming Rove says, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak has already learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003) and from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003). Novak tells Rove that he is still going to write a negative column on Townsend, but implies that he will also write about Wilson and his wife. “I think that you are going to be unhappy with something that I write,” he tells Rove, “and I think you are very much going to like something that I am about to write.” Novak’s July 10 column will attack Townsend as an “enemy within,” a Democratic partisan who will likely not be loyal to the Bush administration. Four days later, he will write his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent as part of his attack on Wilson’s credibility as a war critic. Investigators will be unable to independently verify that Novak, not Rove, first brought up the subject of Plame Wilson during their conversation; for his part, Rove will deny leaking Plame Wilson’s name to any reporter, and will deny even knowing who she is. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Entity Tags: Murray Waas, Joseph C. Wilson, Frances Townsend, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Matt Schlapp, Robert Novak, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Columnist Robert Novak, preparing to publish a column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003 and July 14, 2003), speaks to Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is not known to be a source for Novak’s column, but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself is involved in outing Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit talking to Novak, but say the conversation hinged on Novak’s possession of the White House talking points distancing Cheney from the Wilson mission (see 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003). Libby will deny discussing Plame Wilson with Novak during their conversation. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Mary Matalin. [Source: Slate (.com)]Mary Matalin, Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, warns Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson has recently published a column debunking the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger, and accusing the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to create an overblown case for attacking Iraq (see July 6, 2003). Matalin tells Libby that Wilson is a “snake,” and that his “story has legs.” According to prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, who will present Matalin’s conversation during Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005), Matalin says: “We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand.” By “the cable,” Matalin is referring to the CIA’s debriefing of Wilson after his trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). Matalin also advises Libby to call NBC bureau chief Tim Russert and complain about MSNBC host Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Niger story. And she advises Libby to get a New York Times reporter such as David Sanger “or someone… to expose [the] Wilson story.” Two days later, Cheney will authorize Libby to declassify portions of the debriefing report (see July 12, 2003), telling him that President Bush has waved his wand, and Libby will again divulge Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; US Department of Justice, 2/2007 ; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, David Sanger, Chris Matthews, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Tim Russert, Peter Zeidenberg, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus calls former ambassador Joseph Wilson with a warning. The White House, says Pincus, is livid about Wilson’s op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), and, he says, “they are coming after you.” Wilson believes that Pincus’s warning relates to the ongoing White House attacks on his credibility (see July 8, 2003 and After), but does not put it together with his recent finding that conservative columnist Robert Novak is aware that his wife is a covert CIA official (see July 8, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
Shortly after he reveals to columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA agent (see July 8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove advises Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, of the conversation. According to the 2005 indictment filed against Libby (see October 28, 2005), “Libby spoke to a senior official in the White House (Official A) who advised Libby of a conversation Official A had earlier that week with… Novak, in which [Joseph] Wilson’s wife was discussed as a CIA employee involved in Wilson’s trip. Libby was advised by Official A that Novak would be writing a story about Wilson’s wife.” Attorneys involved in the case will later confirm that “Official A” is Rove. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
Almost immediately after the CIA admits that President Bush never should have claimed that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), the White House begins backing away from the admission of error. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus tells former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 11, 2003) that he is receiving numerous phone calls from White House officials trying to take back the admission. One official tells Pincus that, in Wilson’s words, “telling the truth ‘was the biggest mistake the administration had made.’” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer learns from White House communications director Dan Bartlett that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is a CIA agent. Bartlett is unhappy with press reports that say Vice President Cheney is responsible for sending Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002)). According to later testimony by Fleischer, Bartlett says: “I can’t believe he [Wilson] is saying the vice president sent him to Niger. His wife sent him, she works at CIA.” It is unclear whether Bartlett is speaking directly to Fleischer or merely speaking aloud in Fleischer’s hearing. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] After this pronouncement, Fleischer begins reading the CIA report of Wilson’s trip (see March 8, 2002), which he has gotten from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Clifford May, a conservative columnist, writes a column for the National Review that claims “[t]he president’s critics are lying” about the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. May states that President “Bush never claimed that Saddam Hussein had purchased uranium from Niger,” despite Bush’s words to the contrary (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). May writes that Bush’s claim was, precisely, that the British made the claim, not him or the US intelligence apparatus. In his column, May claims that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was indeed sent to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims by Vice President Dick Cheney, despite repeated efforts by the White House to deny any involvement by Cheney (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). May writes, “Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA to verify a US intelligence report about the sale of yellowcake—because Vice President Dick Cheney requested it, because Cheney had doubts about the validity of the intelligence report.” It is not known whether May has inside knowledge of Cheney’s involvement, or if he is merely stating his opinion as fact. May spends the rest of his column attacking Wilson as “a pro-Saudi, leftist partisan with an ax to grind.” [National Review, 7/11/2003]
While aboard Air Force One (see July 11, 2003), White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Ari Fleischer urge reporters, including Time correspondent John Dickerson, to write about the origins of Joseph Wilson’s CIA-backed mission to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Dickerson will later write that when he subsequently learns Wilson’s wife is a CIA official (see July 14, 2003), he then understands what he calls “the wink-wink nudge-nudge I was getting about who sent Wilson.” [Office of Special Counsel, 10/3/2005 ; Slate, 2/7/2006]
While in Uganda for a presidential trip to various sites in Africa, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells two reporters that Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, according to Fleischer. He also tells the two men, NBC’s David Gregory and Time’s John Dickerson, that Plame Wilson is responsible for sending her husband to Niger to investigate claims of an Iraqi attempt to buy Nigerien uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Fleischer says, “If you want to know who sent Ambassador Wilson to Niger, it was his wife, she works there.” Reporter Tamara Lippert of Newsweek is present for parts of the conversation. Fleischer will recount the story as part of his testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see July 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007] Later, Dickerson will say that Fleischer does not talk about Plame Wilson in his hearing, but merely prods him to investigate the origins of Wilson’s Niger mission (see July 11, 2003). Dickerson will write: “I have a different memory. My recollection is that during a presidential trip to Africa in July 2003, Ari and another senior administration official had given me only hints. They told me to go inquire about who sent Wilson to Niger. As far as I can remember—and I am pretty sure I would remember it—neither of them ever told me that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA.” [Slate, 1/29/2007]
White House political adviser Karl Rove, leading the White House’s damage control operation to recoup the losses from Joseph Wilson’s recent op-ed about the fraudulent Iraq-Niger documents (see July 6, 2003), speaks to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove has already discussed Wilson with columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003).
Cooper Digging for White House Smear Details - According to Cooper’s notes, an e-mail from Cooper to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy, and Cooper’s later testimony (see July 13, 2005), Cooper is interested in the White House’s apparent smear attempts against Wilson (see March 9, 2003 and After and May 2003). “I’m writing about Wilson,” Cooper says, and Rove interjects, “Don’t get too far out on Wilson.” Rove insists that their conversation be on “deep background,” wherein Cooper cannot quote him directly, nor can he disclose his identity. Rove tells Cooper that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor Vice President Dick Cheney sent Wilson to Niger, and that, Cooper will later write, “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Rove says that it is Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson “who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on wmd issues who authorized the trip… not only [sic] the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. [Rove] implied strongly there’s still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger.” Rove does not identify Plame Wilson, only calling her “Wilson’s wife,” but Cooper has no trouble learning her name. Rove ends the call with a cryptic teaser, saying, “I’ve already said too much.” Cooper will recall these words two years later when he testifies to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 2004). [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Later, Cooper will write: “I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, ‘I’ve already said too much.’ This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don’t know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.” [Time, 7/17/2005] Cooper will later testify that Rove never told him about Plame Wilson’s covert status. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Call Not Logged - Rove asks his personal assistant, Susan Cooper, to ensure that Cooper’s call does not appear on the White House telephone logs. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005]
Cooper E-mails Editor - After hanging up, Cooper sends an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
Conversation with Deputy National Security Adviser - After the conversation with Cooper, Rove sends an e-mail to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, saying he “didn’t take the bait” when Cooper suggested that Wilson’s criticisms had been damaging to the administration (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003).
White House Getting Message Across - Author Craig Unger later notes that while the conversation is on background, the White House is getting across its message that something about Wilson’s trip is questionable, and it has something to do with his wife. Unger writes, “And a White House press corps that relied heavily on access to high level administration officials was listening intently and was holding its fire.” [Cooper, 7/11/2003 ; New York Times, 7/16/2005; Time, 7/17/2005; National Journal, 10/7/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 311-312] Rove later testifies that his references to “Niger,” “damaging,” and Bush being “hurt” all referred to the potential political fallout from Wilson’s allegations. As for the statement that “If I were him I wouldn’t get that far out in front of this,” Rove will say he merely wanted to urge Cooper to use caution in relying on Wilson as a potential source. [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Bush administration (43), Michael Duffy, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, after learning from White House political strategist Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA official, and discussing the conversation with his editors at Time (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), e-mails Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin. Cooper sends Martin a list of questions pertaining to their conversation. He focuses on the White House’s attempt to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, and does not ask about Plame Wilson. Martin prints the e-mail and annotates it with brief answers to some of Cooper’s questions. Cooper wants to know:
“Who in the vice president’s office communicated to the CIA their interest in the Niger allegations (see (February 13, 2002) and July 6, 2003)? How and when was that communication performed?”
“Did the VP or a member of his staff discuss the Niger allegation in any of his personal visits to Langley [CIA headquarters]” (see 2002-Early 2003)? Martin writes “No” beside the question.
“Did the VP or a member of his staff play any role in the inclusion of the allegation in the president’s SOTU [State of the Union address]?” Martin writes “No” beside the question (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003).
“In addition to the VP sitting in on the president’s regular intel briefings, what other intel briefings does the VP get? Part of the answer to this, if I recall correctly from newspaper accounts, is that he often or regularly gets his own CIA briefing in the morning as he’s being driven to work.”
“How many persons are employed by the veep’s national security staff?”
“In previous VP stories Time has done (before my time), we’ve been told that the VP has a voracious appetite for ‘raw’ intelligence. Still true?” [White House, 7/11/2003]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims of a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger during a fact-finding trip to Africa (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at CIA Director George Tenet’s admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim “should never have been included in the text written for the president” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). According to his wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140] Wilson himself will recall believing: “I honestly thought that my exposure in the matter would quickly fade, as the administration would now have to concentrate on the serious question of competence among the members of the president’s staff. I told any interested friends and all inquisitive journalists that as my charges had been satisfactorily answered, I’d have nothing more to say. I honored obligations for interviews that I had previously accepted, but I denied any others in order to allow the waters I’d roiled to still. I thought that surely the focus of the debate would shift away from me. How naive and mistaken I was on that score!” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 335]
Time reporter John Dickerson speaks with his colleague Matthew Cooper about Cooper’s recent conversation with White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove told Cooper that war critic Joseph Wilson’s wife is the CIA official who sent Wilson on his mission to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cooper sent an e-mail to his editors at Time about the conversation (see 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson has just recently learned that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official from another White House source (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The two reporters agree that Cooper should pursue the story. As Dickerson will later write: “Matt and I agreed to point out in our files to the cover story that White House officials were going so directly after Wilson. We also agreed that I wouldn’t go back to my sources about the wife business. The universe of people who knew this information was undoubtedly small. Mentioning it to other officials would potentially out Rove as Time’s source to his colleagues. Plus, it was Matt’s scoop and his arrangement with Rove. He had a better sense of how to get the information confirmed without violating their agreement.” [Slate, 2/7/2006] Six days later, Time will print a story co-authored by Cooper and Dickerson that uses Rove’s disclosure as a central element (see July 17, 2003).
Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). [CNN, 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003]
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003]
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. [CNN, 7/11/2003; White House, 7/11/2003; Washington Post, 7/12/2003; New York Times, 7/12/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99; McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” [White House, 7/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 99] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172]
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. [Boston Globe, 3/16/2003; New York Times, 3/23/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2003; Associated Press, 6/12/2003; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; ABC News, 6/16/2003; Newsday, 7/12/2003; Washington Post, 7/20/2003] For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” [CBS News, 7/10/2003; CNN, 7/10/2003; Washington Post, 7/11/2003]
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” [ABC News, 6/12/2003; CBS News, 7/10/2003; New York Times, 7/14/2003; New York Times, 7/19/2003]
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171-172] Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 172]
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 140]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, ABC News, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, CBS News, Office of Special Plans
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. [Newsweek, 2/26/2007] Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney authorizes his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak to the press selected portions of a highly classified CIA report: the debriefing of former ambassador Joseph Wilson upon his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002 and March 5, 2002). This will become public in 2006, when material from Libby’s grand jury testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation is made known (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004 and October 28, 2005). Cheney intends to undermine the credibility of Wilson (see June 2003), a prominent war critic, by using the report to contradict his statements that the Bush administration was manipulating intelligence to bolster its claims that Iraq was in possession of WMD (see July 6, 2003), especially his claims that Iraq had not, as the administration has repeatedly claimed (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), tried to buy uranium from Niger. The CIA debriefing report does not mention Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, nor does it say that Plame Wilson arranged for her husband to go to Niger, as Cheney, Libby, and others will claim. [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] After Libby is indicted for perjury (see October 28, 2005), criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt will write on the progressive blog TalkLeft, “It sure sounds to me like the mechanics of the plan to leak the information about Wilson was cemented, if not formed, on Air Force Two, as a follow up to Ari Fleischer’s press gaggle attack on Wilson from Africa (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003), and that the plan was to call reporters and leak the information about Wilson and his wife as gossip coming from other reporters, while shielding themselves by claiming to the reporters that they couldn’t be certain the information was true.” [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Leaking Plame Wilson's Identity - Hours after Cheney instructs Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby informs reporters Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) that Plame Wilson is a CIA agent and she was responsible for selecting her husband for the Niger mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003).
Denials - Both Libby and Cheney (see May 8, 2004) will testify that Cheney did not encourage or authorize Libby to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Reporter Murray Waas will write, “But the disclosure that Cheney instructed Libby to leak portions of a classified CIA report on Joseph Wilson adds to a growing body of information showing that at the time Plame [Wilson] was outed as a covert CIA officer the vice president was deeply involved in the White House effort to undermine her husband” (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003 and After). The same day, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin discuss ways to rebut and discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). President Bush has already authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified intelligence estimate on Iraq in part to discredit Wilson (see March 24, 2004). [National Journal, 6/14/2006; National Journal, 1/12/2007] Senior White House officials, including Deputy National Security Director Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who have both worked with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify information in the effort to discredit Wilson (see July 6-10, 2003), will testify that they knew nothing of Cheney’s attempts to declassify the Wilson briefing. [National Journal, 1/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Jeralyn Merritt, Murray Waas, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Around the same time that Lewis Libby calls Time reporter Matthew Cooper and reveals the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Libby also calls Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler. Libby is attempting to discredit claims by former ambassador Joseph Wilson that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to bolster its case for war with Iraq, and is trying to distance Vice President Dick Cheney from any intimation that he was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). The stories of the conversation differ between the later statements of the two men. In testimony during the Libby perjury trial, Kessler will deny speaking to Libby about either Wilson or Plame Wilson; Libby will say, however, that he tells Kessler that Wilson’s wife is a CIA official. [Washington Post, 6/23/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
The same day that Vice President Dick Cheney tells his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to disclose classified information from a CIA report to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 12, 2003), Libby and Cheney, along with Cheney’s press spokesperson Cathie Martin, fly to and from Norfolk, Virginia. During the flight, the three discuss how they can rebut Wilson’s criticisms of the administration’s war effort and discredit him. They consider passing information to reporters such as Time correspondent Matthew Cooper (see 12:45 p.m. July 11, 2003) and the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler (see July 12, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; Washington Post, 10/30/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] Cheney tells Libby to leak classified information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD to reporters (see July 12, 2003). Cheney also tells him to steer reporters towards a recent statement by CIA Director George Tenet that asserts Wilson had been sent to Niger by CIA counterproliferation officers “on their own initiative” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). [Raw Story, 10/1/2005; New York Times, 10/1/2005; National Journal, 6/14/2006] He also tells Libby to alert reporters to the morning’s attack on Wilson by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/30/2005] And Cheney tells Libby to ask the CIA to back his assertion that the Office of the Vice President knew nothing of the Wilson mission and “didn’t get the report back,” referring to the CIA’s report on Wilson’s debriefing (see March 5, 2002). [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] According to the FBI’s investigation, Cheney and Libby discuss whether to tell reporters that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA. [Washington Post, 2/21/2007] Libby will “out” Plame Wilson to Cooper later this afternoon (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) as well as to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Cheney may have given Libby direct orders to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, according to classified transcripts of Libby’s later testimony to FBI investigators. According to Libby’s notes of the conversation, Cheney says that the CIA has told him that Wilson was sent to Niger “at our behest,” referring to the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Libby’s notes also state that Cheney told him Wilson’s “wife works in that division.” Plame Wilson is a senior official for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), a bureau within the agency’s counterproliferation division. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Ari Fleischer, Judith Miller, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Matthew Cooper, Glenn Kessler, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, in Nigeria with President Bush and his entourage, hosts an early-morning press gaggle in which he discusses war critic Joseph Wilson and the Iraq-Niger uranium claims. (The gaggle takes place at 8:20 a.m. local time; Eastern Daylight Savings Time in the US is five hours behind.) In light of recent admissions that the claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), Fleischer tries to steer the press’s attention onto Wilson, saying that he “also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official, Wilson, meet an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanding commercial relations between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales. 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, who never said anything about forged documents, reports himself that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking to contact officials in Niger about sales.” Fleischer is referring in part to a 1999 trip by Wilson to Niger to investigate earlier claims of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium (see Fall 1999). [White House, 7/12/2003] In the CIA debriefing for his 2002 trip to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002), Wilson did not say that Iraqi officials were attempting to engage Nigerien officials in negotiations to buy uranium; in neither of his missions to Niger did any Nigeriens ask him to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss commercial ventures of any kind. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later subpoena the transcript of Fleischer’s press gaggle for his investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see January 22, 2004). [Marcy Wheeler, 11/1/2005]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer reveals Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, returning from Africa aboard Air Force One, attacked the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, just hours before (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney has coordinated a White House strategy to discredit Wilson (see July 12, 2003). Fleischer tells Pincus that the White House paid no attention to the 2002 mission to Niger by Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) because it was set up as a boondoggle by Wilson’s wife, whom Fleischer incorrectly identifies as an “analyst” with the agency working on WMD issues. Pincus will not reveal the Fleischer leak until October 2003. [Pincus, 7/12/2003 ; Nieman Watchdog, 7/6/2005; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] Reporter Murray Waas will later write that Fleischer outed Plame Wilson to Pincus and others “in an effort to undermine Wilson’s credibility.” [American Prospect, 4/22/2005] Fleischer will later testify that he did not inform Pincus of Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2004 and January 29, 2007). “No sir,” he will say. “I would have remembered it if it happened.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirms to Time reporter Matthew Cooper that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Libby has been in regular communication with senior White House officials, including political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. On July 11, the two spoke privately after a staff meeting. According to later testimony from both Rove and Libby, Rove told Libby that he had spoken to columnist Robert Novak on July 9 (see July 8 or 9, 2003), and that Novak would soon write a column about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Today, Libby joins Cheney and others flying to and from Norfolk, Virginia, aboard Air Force Two; on the return trip, Libby discusses with the others what he should say in response to media inquiries about Wilson’s recent column (see July 6, 2003 and July 12, 2003). After returning to Washington, Libby calls Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, who has already learned from Rove that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). According to Libby’s 2005 indictment (see October 28, 2005), “Libby confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information, too,” that Plame Wilson was CIA. [National Journal, 3/30/2006] Libby speaks “on the record” to deny that Cheney had anything to do with the CIA’s decision to send Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). On background, Cooper asks Libby if he knows anything about Wilson’s wife being responsible for sending him to Niger. Libby replies, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too.” [Cooper, 7/12/2003 ; Cooper, 7/12/2003 ; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ; Time, 7/17/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ] Cheney’s communications director Cathie Martin and Libby’s aide Jenny Mayfield are present for Libby’s call to Cooper. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/30/2006 ] Later this afternoon, Libby phones New York Times reporter Judith Miller and discusses Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller again speaks to Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in regards to the Iraqi WMD controversy and the recent op-ed by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). In Miller’s notes, she writes the words “Victoria Wilson.” Libby has twice informed Miller that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003 and 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Miller Unsure of Details of Disclosure - In testimony about the interview two years later (see September 30, 2005), Miller will say that “before this [telephone] call, I might have called others about Mr. Wilson’s wife. In my notebook I had written the words ‘Victoria Wilson’ with a box around it, another apparent reference to Ms. Plame, who is also known as Valerie Wilson. I [testified] that I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity.” In her testimony, Miller will say that at the time, she believed she had heard Wilson’s wife only referred to by her maiden name of Plame. When asked whether Libby gave her the name of Wilson, Miller will decline to speculate.
Criticizing Plame Wilson's Husband - During their conversation, Libby quickly turns the subject to criticism of Wilson, saying he is not sure if Wilson actually spoke to anyone who had knowledge of Iraq’s attempts to negotiate trade agreements with Niger. After Miller agrees to attribute the conversation to “an administration official,” and not Libby himself, Libby explains that the reference to the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger in President Bush’s State of the Union address—the so-called “sixteen words” (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—was the product of what Miller will call “a simple miscommunication between the White House and the CIA.”
'Newsworthy' Disclosure - Miller will later testify that at the time, she felt it “newsworthy” that Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and recommended to her editors that the Times pursue the angle. She will write: “I felt that since the Times had run Mr. Wilson’s original essay, it had an obligation to explore any allegation that undercut his credibility. At the same time, I added, I also believed that the newspaper needed to pursue the possibility that the White House was unfairly attacking a critic of the administration.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/27/2004 ; New York Sun, 10/4/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005; New York Times, 10/16/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ]
Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]
The White House continues to back away from its admission of error concerning President Bush’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear on the Sunday morning talk shows to assert that the “16 words” in Bush’s January speech (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) were “technically correct” because British intelligence, not American intelligence, was the original source of the claim as worded by Bush. The British still stand by the claim, though they refuse to provide evidence. In the interviews, Rice tries to call the claim a “mistake” and simultaneously vouch for its “accuracy.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 100] “I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she says. In particular, Fox News host Tony Snow gives Rice multiple opportunities to state that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, and that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim is probably true. She says that the related claim of the Iraqis buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges is also supported by the CIA, even though Snow acknowledges that the tubes theory has been “knocked down.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003]
Invoking the British, Blaming Tenet - On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice again blames CIA Director George Tenet for the error (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), saying: “My only point is that, in retrospect, knowing that some of the documents underneath may have been—were, indeed, forgeries, and knowing that apparently there were concerns swirling around about this, had we known that at the time, we would not have put it in.… And had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence in, that the director of central intelligence did not want it in, it would have been gone.” [CBS News, 7/13/2003] On Fox News, Rice says: “[T]he statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.… We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.” [Fox News, 7/13/2003] On CNN, Rice calls the issue “enormously overblown.… This 16 words has been taken out of context. It’s been blown out of proportion.” She emphasizes that Bush’s claim came “from a whole host of sources.… The British, by the way, still stand by their report to this very day in its accuracy, because they tell us that they had sources that were not compromised in any way by later, in March or April, later reports that there were some forgeries.” She adds: “We’re talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president’s case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.… We’re talking about a single sentence, the consequence of which was not to send America to war. The consequence of which was to state in the State of the Union something that, while accurate, did not meet the standard that we use for the president.” [CNN, 7/13/2003]
Denies Involvement in Wilson Mission - Rice also denies that anyone at the White House had any involvement in sending former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer says of the Wilson mission, “Supposedly, it came at the request of the vice president.” Rice replies: “No, this is simply not true, and this is something that’s been perpetuated that we simply have to straighten out. The vice president did not ask that Joe Wilson go to Niger. The vice president did not know. I don’t think he knew who Joe Wilson was, and he certainly didn’t know that he was going. The first that I heard of Joe Wilson mission was when I was doing a Sunday talk show and heard about it (see June 8, 2003 and June 8, 2003)… [T]he Wilson trip was not sent by anyone at a high level. It wasn’t briefed to anyone at high level. And it appears to have been inconclusive in what it found.” Rice is following the White House strategy of denying Vice President Dick Cheney’s involvement in the Wilson mission (see July 6, 2003, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, and July 8, 2003). [CNN, 7/13/2003]
Entity Tags: Wolf Blitzer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tony Snow, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Two White House officials call at least six Washington journalists to tell them that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent. Wilson wrote an op-ed criticizing the administration’s Iraq policies and claiming that the allegations of Iraq’s attempts to buy uranium from Niger are unsubstantiated (see July 6, 2003). In return, administration officials are attempting to discredit Wilson by alleging that his wife, undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, sent him on the journey (see July 17, 2003). Plame Wilson will be outed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), who received the tip from two administration officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see Late June 2003) and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] One of those journalists is the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus (see June 12, 2003), who later testifies that he learns of Plame Wilson’s identity from White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see (July 11, 2003)) on July 12. Pincus will testify that, during a conversation about the Iraq-Niger WMD claim, Fleischer “swerved off and said, in effect, don’t you know his wife works at CIA, is an analyst on WMD, and she arranged the trip, that’s why people weren’t paying attention to it.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Outing 'Clearly ... For Revenge' - On September 27, a senior administration official will confirm that two officials, whom he/she does not name, called Novak and other journalists. “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official says. A reporter will tell Joseph Wilson that, according to either Armitage or Rove, “The real issue is Wilson and his wife.” Other sources will say that one of the leakers describe Plame Wilson as “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). When the administration official is asked why he/she is discussing the leakers, the response is that the leaks are “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility” (see September 28, 2003). Wilson will state publicly that he believes Rove broke his wife’s cover (see August 21, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
Wilson: Journalists Fear Reprisals - Wilson later writes: “A reporter told me that one of the six newspeople who had received the leak stated flatly that the pressure he had come under from the administration in the past several months to remain silent made him fear that if he did his job and reported on the leak story, he would ‘end up in Guantanamo’—a dark metaphor for the career isolation he would suffer at the hands of the administration. Another confided that she had heard from reporters that ‘with kids in private school and a mortgage on the house,’ they were unwilling to cross the administration.… What does it say for the health of our democracy—or our media—when fear of the administration’s reaction preempts the search for truth?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 440]
PBS graphic of Washington Post’s headline for Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson. [Source: PBS]As dawn breaks, former ambassador Joseph Wilson enters his bedroom and drops a copy of the day’s Washington Post on the bed. His wife, senior CIA case officer and covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson, awakes. Wilson says, “Well, the SOB did it.” Wilson indicates the editorial page, where conservative columnist Robert Novak has revealed his wife’s status as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson later recalls: “I felt like I had been sucker-punched, hard, in the gut. Although we had known for several days that he had my name and knew where I worked (see July 8-10, 2003), we never believed for a moment he would actually print it or that the agency would allow it. It was surreal.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143] Wilson later writes: “Foreign intelligence services would not attack us, but they might well threaten any contacts Valerie might have made in their countries, and they would certainly be eager to unearth operations she might have been involved in. International terrorist organizations were a different story, however. There was a history of international terrorists attacking exposed officers. The station chiefs in Athens, Greece and Beirut, Lebanon, after having been exposed by renegage CIA officer Philip Agee, had been assassinated; and in the US, there had been the instance of a terrorist sniper killing employees as they were driving into the CIA headquarters grounds at Langley, Virginia, in 1993. But what really made us nervous was the possibility of harm from some deranged person in the US who believed that the voices in his head emanated from the transmitter the CIA had installed in his teeth the last time he visited the dentist.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 395-396] Plame Wilson immediately thinks of the assets in foreign countries she had recruited and/or worked with (the CIA will redact her specific words in her book). She also thinks of “the many people overseas I had met under completely innocent circumstances.… They too could come under a cloud of suspicion if their governments learned of our contact. I tried to calculate the level of risk and weirdly sought to remember if Novak’s column ran overseas, as though that would make it better if it didn’t appear outside the United States. The next instantaneous thought was for my family’s security. There are many disturbed people out there who hate the CIA or anyone associated with it. I didn’t want to deal with a stranger on my doorstep or worse. Furthermore, al-Qaeda now had an identified CIA agent to put into their target mix.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143]
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
After Robert Novak outs Joseph Wilson’s wife in his column (see July 14, 2003), Wilson, upon reading the column, realizes that in his conversation with Novak four days before, Novak had told him he learned of his wife’s CIA identity from a CIA source (see July 8-10, 2003). But in his column, Novak cited two senior administration officials as his sources for Wilson’s wife’s CIA identity. Wilson calls Novak to ask about the discrepancy. Novak asks Wilson if he is “very displeased” with the column, and Wilson replies that while he can’t see how blowing his wife’s CIA cover had helped Novak’s argument, he wants to know about the discrepancy between Novak’s attribution of sources four days before and in his column. Novak says he “misspoke” in their earlier conversation. In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson asks: “What was Novak trying to say? What did blowing her cover have to do with the story? It was nothing but a hatchet job.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 345] Novak may have been referring to his conversations with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003).
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.” [Nation, 7/16/2003]
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
One of the first media-based attacks on Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson after her outing as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003) comes from former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who writes a scathing op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Weinberger accuses the opponents of the Iraq invasion of mounting a baseless smear campaign against the Bush administration by “using bits and pieces of non-evidence to contend that we did not have to replace the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.” He asserts that President Bush was correct to say that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), using the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002) and a review by a British investigative commission (see September 24, 2002) as support for his argument. He insists that WMD will be found in Iraq. Weinberger then writes that “the CIA committed a major blunder [by asking] a very minor former ambassador named Joseph Wilson IV to go to Niger to investigate” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Weinberger correctly characterizes Wilson as “an outspoken opponent” of the invasion, but then falsely asserts that “Mr. Wilson’s ‘investigation’ is a classic case of a man whose mind had been made up using any opportunity to refute the justifications for our ever going to war.” He asserts that Wilson spent eight days in Niger drinking tea and hobnobbing with ambassadors and foreign service types. Weinberger continues, “Because Mr. Wilson, by his own admission, never wrote a report, we only have his self-serving op-ed article in the New York Times to go by” (see July 6, 2003). He is apparently unaware that Wilson was thoroughly debriefed on his return from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002). He writes, “If we are to rely on this kind of sloppy tea-drinking ‘investigation’ from a CIA-chosen investigator—a retired ambassador with a less than stellar record—then I would say that the CIA deserves some of the criticism it normally receives.” Weinberger concludes that the US had a choice of “either… letting [Saddam Hussein] continue his ways, such as spraying poison on his own people, and breaking every promise he made to us and to the UN; or… removing him before he used nuclear weapons on his neighbors, or on us.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/18/2003]
Wilsons: Weinberger's Credibility Lacking because of Iran-Contra Connection - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “That’s rich, I thought. Weinberger had been indicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair (see December 25, 1992) and likely only avoided prison time because of a presidential pardon.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 146-147] Wilson himself will note that “Weinberger was not the most credible person to launch that particular counterattack, since, but for the grace of a pardon… he might have well had to do jail time for how poorly he had served his president, Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338]
Attempt to Intimidate Others - Wilson will note in 2004 that Weinberger deliberately focused on a minor detail of his report—drinking mint tea with the various people he met during his trip—and used it to “suggest… that supposedly I’d been excessively casual and dilatory in my approach to the mission.” He will add: “It seemed that the motive for the attacks on me was to discourage anyone else from coming forward who had a critical story to tell.… In essence, the message was, ‘If you pull a “Wilson” on us, we will do worse to you.’ However offensive, there was a certain logic to it. If you have something to hide, one way to keep it secret is to threaten anyone who might expose it. But it was too late to silence me; I had already said all I had to say. Presumably, though, they thought they could still silence others by attacking me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 338-339]
The Bush administration releases a heavily redacted version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Most of the report is whited out, and most of what remains is selected from the key judgments section; those remnants tend to support the Bush administration’s position that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and therefore posed a threat to the Middle East and perhaps to the US. The redacted version is released days after Vice President Dick Cheney authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to leak selected portions of the NIE to reporters (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003; National Security Archive, 7/9/2004]
Overall Findings - According to the redacted release, the NIE found “that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade.… We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.”
Financing through Oil Sales - The NIE maintained that Iraq used illicit oil sales “to finance WMD programs,” that it “has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities damaged during Operation Desert Fox, and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure under the cover of civilian production.”
Seeking Weapons-Grade Uranium for Nuclear Weapons Program - As for nuclear weapons, “[a]lthough we assess that Saddam [Hussein] does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.… How quickly Iraq will obtain its first nuclear weapon depends on when it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Without such material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until 2007 to 2009, owing to inexperience in building and operating centrifuge facilities to produce highly enriched uranium and challenges in procuring the necessary equipment and expertise.” The NIE judgments cited the long-discredited claims that Iraq purchased aluminum tubes as part of its nuclear weapons program (see Late September 2002 and March 7, 2003). In toto, the NIE claimed the existence of “compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.”
Large, Covert Chemical Weapons Program - It found that Iraq produced between 100 and 500 metric tons “of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX,” all deadly chemical agents, and had succeeded in hiding much of its production facilities “within Iraq’s legitimate chemical industry.” And Iraq was capable of filling “a limited number of covertly stored Scud” missiles, “possibly a few with extended ranges,” with chemical weapons.
Significant Biological Weapons Program - The redacted report claimed, “We judge that all key aspects—R&D, production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive BW [biological weapons] program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.” Iraq had “some lethal and incapacitating BW agents and is capable of quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers, and covert operatives. Chances are even that smallpox is part of Iraq’s offensive BW program. Baghdad probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents. Baghdad has established a large-scale, redundant, and concealed BW agent production capability. Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents; these facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable.”
Delivery Systems - According to the judgments, Iraq possessed several dozen “Scud-variant” short-range ballistic missiles, and is developing other methods of delivering chemical and biological payloads, including unmanned aerial vehicles “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agent.” It claimed, “Baghdad’s UAVs could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, US forces in the Persian Gulf, and if brought close to, or into, the United States, the US homeland.” Iraq had attempted to procure commercially available software, including a topographic database, that would allow it to target specific areas within the US, the report said.
Not Conducting Terrorist Attacks - The report found that Iraq was not conducting “terrorist attacks with conventional or” chemical or biological weapons against the US for fear it would trigger American reprisals. However, the report claimed that Iraq “probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks—more likely with biological than chemical agents—probably would be carried out by Special Forces or intelligence operatives.” More likely were covert attacks by Iraqi intelligence agents against “US and allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The US probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.” In such a case, Iraq might have allied itself with al-Qaeda to conduct more widespread attacks against American targets within the US itself and/or overseas.
Dissent in a Box - In a small boxed area at the bottom of the redacted report is a summary of some of the dissents filed by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Called “State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” the dissents actually reiterate much of the conclusions in the main body of the report, but with the INR backing away from claiming Iraq’s “integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.” Neither is the INR sure of the findings about the aluminum tubes. [National Foreign Intelligence Board, 10/2002 ; National Foreign Intelligence Board, 7/18/2003]
White House Briefing - An unnamed “senior administration official” briefs the Washington press corps on the redacted NIE release, walking the reporters through the contents of the report and reiterating Bush administration claims of the imminent danger posed by the Hussein regime, the Iraqi efforts to dodge UN oversight, and the support for the entire NIE throughout the US intelligence community. The official then quotes extensively from the October 2002 speech by President Bush in Cincinnati, where he made a number of specious and belligerent assertions about Iraq (see October 7, 2002). At the end of the briefing, the official concludes that everything Bush has told the public has been sourced from many different intelligence analyses and findings, and every claim Bush and his officials has made has been based in fact. The official blames “changes in style and tone” for the confusion and groundless claims made by Bush and other officials in earlier settings, particularly Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “And as we’ve said all along, that information that we know today is different from information we knew then,” he says.
Questions - The official takes questions from the assembled reporters. The first question of substance concerns the CIA’s warnings to remove the Iraq-Niger claims from the Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002) before they were included in the State of the Union address. The official explains that the speechwriters merely chose to be less specific in the Cincinnati speech than in the State of the Union address, because at that time the CIA only had “a single source” on which to base the Iraq-Niger assertion. The official denies that the claim was ever “flawed” or erroneous (see July 8, 2003), merely that it lacked adequate sourcing. He also denies that anyone in the White House knew that the Niger documents “proving” the uranium claim were forged until after the address (see March 8, 2003). The official repeatedly notes that the dubious and fallacious claims were “signed off” by the CIA, and by implication the fault of the CIA and not the White House. The official, responding to a question about the fact-finding trip to Niger by Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his later repudiation of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), reiterates that no one at the White House knew of Wilson’s findings (see March 5, 2002 and March 8, 2002), and the report actually bolstered the intelligence community’s suspicions that Iraq was attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. [White House, 7/18/2003]
According to a later interview with former ambassador Joseph Wilson, after the Robert Novak column outing his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official appeared (see July 14, 2003), Wilson begins receiving telephone calls from Washington journalists and news agencies about the leak of his wife’s identity. Wilson will characterize the calls as saying, “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall we can’t even put them up.” Shortly afterwards, “a respected journalist” calls Wilson to say, “White House sources are telling us that this story is not about the 16 words,” referring to the specious Iraq-Niger claim made in President Bush’s State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Instead, the journalist tells him, the White House is saying, “this story is about Wilson and his wife.” The calls culminate with a warning from MSNBC host Chris Matthews that White House political strategist Karl Rove has declared Plame Wilson “fair game” for reporters (see July 21, 2003). [MSNBC, 10/5/2003]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson has recently been “outed” as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), learns from NBC political reporter Andrea Mitchell that “senior White House sources” have told her that “the real story here is not the 16 words in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) but Wilson and his wife.” Mitchell does not reveal her sources. The next day, Wilson learns that White House political chief Karl Rove has declared his wife “fair game” (see July 21, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 5]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent act of retribution by the White House (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003), says that the intention of the outing was to intimidate others like him from speaking out against the Bush administration. “It’s a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we’ll take your family and drag them through the mud as well,” he says. “This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation, but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward” to reveal other intelligence lapses. [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, Wilson will elaborate on this concept: “This attack on Valerie may have been the White House’s way of saying that yes, indeed, there would be consequences if anybody else dared to speak publicly. The message to mid-career intelligence officers was clear: Should you decide to speak, we will come after you and your family. Anyone not accustomed to the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics would naturally wonder if the game was worth the candle.” Wilson will call the attack “stupid,” since it is so easy to disprove any allegation that his wife sent him to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002). “It marked a terrible breach of faith between the clandestine services of the CIA and the government it served, and it made my wife a victim. What the White House seemed not to understand, however, was that this attempt to divert the media’s attention from the lie in the State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) was only going to complicate matters for them. In addition to the question of who was responsible for putting the offending sixteen words into the president’s speech, the press now had a possible violation of law to pursue, not to mention an ugly violation of the code of cowboy chivalry promoted by this administration as the warmer, fuzzier side of its image.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 6-7]
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove declares that covert CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, recently outed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), is now “fair game,” presumably for media attacks. Plame Wilson learns of Rove’s declaration when she walks into her den to find her husband Joseph Wilson just getting off the phone. She will later write: “[H]e had a look on his face that I’d never seen before. He said he had just been talking with journalist and Hardball host Chris Matthews [the host of a political discussion show on MSNBC], who had told [Wilson] that he had just spoken with the powerful presidential adviser Karl Rove.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147] Wilson himself will later write that Matthews tells him: “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ‘Wilson’s wife is fair game.‘… I will confirm that if asked.” Wilson will write: “Those are fighting words for any man, and I’d just had them quoted to me.… Rove was legendary for his right-wing zeal and take-no-prisoners operating style. But what he was doing now was tantamount to declaring war on two US citizens, both of them with years of government service.… For a president who promised to restore dignity and honor to the White House, this behavior from a trusted adviser was neither dignified nor honorable. In fact, it was downright dirty and highly unethical even in a town where the politics of personal destruction are the local pastime.” He cannot be sure why he and his wife are being targeted. Surely, he muses, no one believes that his wife sent him on his mission to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002), or that his trip to one of the poorest countries in Africa had been some sort of pleasure jaunt. He realizes that the ultimate target might not be either his wife or himself, but others who may feel impelled to speak out against the administration, a point he makes later in the day to two reporters from Newsday (see July 21, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 1-5] Wilson will later write: “To make a political point, to defend a political agenda, to blur the truth that one of the president’s own staffers had scripted a lie into the president’s mouth, one of the administration’s most senior officials found it perfectly acceptable to push a story that exposed a national security asset. It was appalling.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 351]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent attempt to discredit his debunking of the Iraq-Niger allegations (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell about the outing. Wilson is careful to hedge in his answers about his wife, saying, “If she were [a CIA agent] as [columnist Robert] Novak alleged, then…” and other such caveats. When the interview airs this evening, Wilson is dismayed to see that NBC has edited out all of his careful qualifiers, giving the false impression that he is verifying his wife’s CIA status. He asks Mitchell to provide an unedited transcript of the interview so he can prove he did not confirm his wife’s CIA employment; she says the network does not provide such transcripts, but agrees to preserve the unedited interview on tape in case questions later arise about his statements. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 350-351]
Newsday logo. [Source: Sobel Media]Newsday reports on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson by a news columnist based on information leaked by two administration sources (see July 14, 2003). In an article titled “Columnist Blows CIA Agent’s Cover,” reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce note that CIA officials confirm that Plame Wilson “works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity—at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] It will later be determined that Royce and Phelps’s source is probably a single official, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ] Shortly thereafter, other reporters learn that Plame Wilson was not only an undercover agent, but had what is known as NOC—“nonofficial cover” status (see Fall 1992 - 1996). NOC agents usually operate overseas, often using false identities and job descriptions. NOCs do not have diplomatic protection and thusly are vulnerable to capture, imprisonment, and even murder without official reprisals or even acknowledgement from the US. Vanity Fair reporter Vicky Ward will write in January 2004: “A NOC’s only real defense is his or her cover, which can take years to build. Because of this vulnerability, a NOC’s identity is considered within the CIA to be, as former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack has put it, ‘the holiest of holies.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, refuses to confirm his wife’s covert CIA status, but says that her outing is part of a concerted effort to attack critics of the administration’s intelligence failures (see July 21, 2003). Wilson recently revealed that the administration’s claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 6, 2003). Current and former CIA officials are outraged at Novak’s column, and the apparent leak from the administration. Former CIA Near East division chief Frank Anderson says, “When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned.” A current intelligence official says that blowing Plame Wilson’s cover puts everyone she ever dealt with as an undercover CIA operative at risk. Her husband agrees: “If what the two senior administration officials said is true, they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships, and operations.” Furthermore, if true, “this White House has taken an asset out of the” weapons of mass destruction fight, “not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In 2007, Plame Wilson will reflect: “Not only was it very rare for the agency to validate that an officer was undercover, no matter what the circumstances, but no one from the agency had told me that my undercover status would be confirmed. It would have been nice to at least get a heads-up from someone at work.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147]
Entity Tags: Vicky Ward, Timothy Phelps, Knut Royce, Newsday, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Kenneth Pollack, Frank Anderson, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A senior intelligence official confirms that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) was not responsible for selecting her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to determine the truth or falsity of charges that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from there (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002). While Plame Wilson worked “alongside” the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger, the official notes, she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment. “They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising,” the official says. “There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason. I can’t figure out what it could be.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003]
Newsday reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce have an article published that confirms Valerie Plame Wilson, whose covert CIA identity was blown eight days ago by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) based on information provided by two senior administration officials (see July 8, 2003 and July 8, 2003), works at the CIA on WMD issues as an undercover official with the directorate of operations. Phelps and Royce receive confirmation of this from unnamed intelligeice officials. Plame Wilson’s husband, embattled war critic Joseph Wilson, refuses to confirm his wife’s status as a CIA official, but says the leak of her identity to the press, as well as her position as his wife and even her maiden name, are attempts to intimidate others from speaking out against Bush administration intelligence failures. “It’s a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we’ll take your family and drag them through the mud as well,” he says. Wilson and retired CIA official Frank Anderson say that if Plame Wilson is indeed a covert official (see Fall 1992 - 1996), whoever leaked her identity violated the law, endangered her career, and put the lives of her contacts in foreign countries at risk. Anderson, who formerly headed the CIA’s Near East division, says, “When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned.” Wilson adds: “If what the two senior administration officials said is true, they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships, and operations.… [T]his White House has taken an asset out of the” weapons of mass destruction fight, “not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.… This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation, but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward” to reveal similar intelligence lapses. A senior intelligence official also confirms that Plame Wilson did not send her husband to Niger, as some have alleged (see February 19, 2002 and July 22, 2003). “They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising,” he says. “There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason. I can’t figure out what it could be.… We paid his [Wilson’s] air fare. But to go to Niger is not exactly a benefit. Most people you’d have to pay big bucks to go there.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson gives an interview to Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” a satirical news and comedy program. Wilson enjoys the lighthearted approach taken by Stewart, and later notes that both Stewart and the audience are far more sympathetic and supportive of him than most of his other interviewers. Wilson brings down the house when he displays a letter he has recently received asking him to be the co-chairman of the Washington, DC, campaign to re-elect President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Stewart wryly asks the audience for contributions so Wilson can make the $1,000 donation required to be accepted for the position. Wilson will later note, “Even as Republicans would later attack me for contributing to Democratic candidates, they were actively soliciting donations from me.” He will write that for months afterward, people tell him how much they enjoyed his appearance with Stewart: “[I]t validated my instincts that Americans are more widely interested in public affairs than we assume, but that they do not always get their information from traditional sources. I think political leaders of all stripes would be well advised to reach out and explore every possible venue for talking to Americans.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 358]
In a speech to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Vice President Dick Cheney defends the decision to invade Iraq. He poses the rhetorical question, “How could any responsible leader have ignored the Iraqi threat?” In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will respond in his book The Politics of Truth: “It was of course the wrong question. No one doubted that Saddam [Hussein] had posed a threat. Rather, the question was, and had always been, whether that threat constituted such a grave and gathering danger that the conquest and occupation of Iraq was the only, or even the best, way to achieve the desired goal of disarmament.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 353]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asks FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the likelihood that “two senior members of the Bush administration made the identity of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative public.” Schumer bases his request on news reports by, among others, columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Newsday (see July 21, 2003). Schumer writes that the exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson “was part of an apparent attempt to discredit [her husband, former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings about potential uranium exports from Niger to Iraq and intimidate other officials from speaking their minds.” He reminds Mueller that “the unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the identity of an American intelligence official is a crime punishable by fines and up to 10 years in prison under the Intelligence Identities and Protection Act” (see July 16, 2003). He adds: “On Tuesday of this week, the White House denied that it had given any authorization to release such information on Ms. Plame. It is essential, therefore, that you discover source of this information because it would appear that a significant intelligence asset has been illegally compromised.” Schumer goes on to note: “By disclosing the identity of a reportedly senior undercover operative who is active in our nation’s fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), administration officials have possibly endangered Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her entire network of intelligence contacts in order to avoid political embarrassment. In the process, they may also have undermined our national security just as the specter of WMD threats from North Korea and Iran loom on the horizon. If the facts that have been reported publicly are true, it is clear that a crime was committed. The only questions remaining to be answered are who committed the crime and why? I request that you immediately launch an investigation to determine the source of this information and assess whether there is enough evidence to refer the matter for criminal prosecution.” [US Senate, 7/24/2003]
Sometime between July 25 and July 28, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, calls columnist Robert Novak. Libby was not one of Novak’s sources for his column outing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), but was part of an orchestrated effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 3, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), 7:00 a.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14 or 15, 2003), and himself outed Plame Wilson to two other reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). In subsequent testimony before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004), Libby will admit to a vague recollection of the conversation between himself and Novak, but will require his notes to determine that the call took place between July 25 and 28. [US Department of Justice, 3/5/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007] It is unclear what Libby and Novak discuss.
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), discusses the issue with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Wilson affirms that he has always believed Iraq had chemical and biological WMD, but not enough to warrant invading it, and adds that he “disagreed with… the other agendas that were in play that led us to invade, conquer, and now occupy Iraq.” He notes that he accepts the assertions that neither Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, nor CIA Director George Tenet were aware of his 2002 mission to Niger at the time he made the trip (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), but adds that he believes Cheney and his staffers, particularly his chief of staff Lewis Libby, “asked essentially that… the agency follow up on the report. So it was a question that went to the CIA briefer from the Office of the Vice President (see (February 13, 2002)). The CIA, at the operational level, made a determination that the best way to answer this serious question was to send somebody out there who knew something about both the uranium business and those Niger officials that were in office at the time these reported documents were executed.” Wilson refuses to comment on his wife Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), particularly her CIA status, but does say that the attacks on both himself and his wife were “clearly designed to keep others from stepping forward. If you recall, there were any number of analysts who were quoted anonymously as saying that the vice president had seemed to pressure them in his many trips out to the CIA (see 2002-Early 2003). I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you can be sure that a GS-14 or 15 with a couple of kids in college, when he sees the allegations that came from senior administration officials about my family are in the public domain, you can be sure that he’s going to be worried about what might happen if he were to step forward.” The people who leaked the information about his wife, Wilson continues, “are libel or vulnerable to investigation under a 1982 law dealing with the identification of American agents.” He is referring to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). [CNN, 8/3/2003]
A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), is interviewed for the PBS Frontline episode, “Truth, Consequences, and War.” The interview will be broadcast in early October 2003.
Trip to Niger - Wilson confirms that the CIA sent him to Niger in February 2002 to find evidence either supporting or challenging claims that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from that nation (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson notes that the CIA officials who sent him to Iraq “said that the Office of the Vice President had raised questions about this report, and they’d asked them to look into it” (see (February 13, 2002)), but he personally had no contact with anyone in that office.
Reactions to Claims of Iraq-Niger Uranium Deal - Wilson recalls being bemused by President Bush’s assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from an African country, but accepted the possibility that he was not referring to Niger, but another African nation that also mines and sells uranium (see January 28-29, 2003). Wilson says the issue became a concern to him when the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents used for the Iraq-Niger claims were obvious forgeries (see March 7, 2003), and the State Department admitted to being gulled by them (see March 8, 2003). He says, “Now, when the State Department spokesman said that, I was moved to say on a news program that I thought that if the US government looked into its files, it would find that it had far more information on this particular subject than the State Department spokesman was letting on” (see March 8, 2003). Wilson calls the decision to allow Bush to make the claim in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) irresponsible. “You allow the president of the United States to use information that did not even pass the threshold for an Italian news magazine [Panorama—see October 9, 2002]? You allow him to use that information in the most important speech that he makes in his tenure?”
Correcting the Record - Wilson denies that his decision to write an op-ed for the New York Times exposing the falsehood of the White House claims (see July 6, 2003) was political. Instead, he says, it was “a response to what appeared to me to be a series of misstatements on the part of senior administration officials.” Wilson notes that the White House had many opportunities to set the record straight without his intervention, but chose not to. He made pleas to the White House through his friends at the State Department and friends of senior administration officials to be honest about the claims (see January 29, 2003 and March 8, 2003). Wilson reiterates his feelings that the Iraq invasion was outside the bounds of the various United Nations resolutions constraining Iraq’s behavior, and that Iraq could have been successfully contained by continuing UN efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime. There were no provable links between Iraq and Islamist terrorism, there was no provable imminent threat to the US or the Middle East from Iraq, and allegations that Iraq had committed genocide could have been addressed through the UN’s Genocide Convention.
Blowing His Wife's CIA Identity - Wilson concludes by addressing the leak of his wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003), and notes that while he won’t confirm that his wife is a CIA official, to publicly expose such an official is a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). It was an attempt to intimidate others, Wilson says: “I think it was a signal to others, that should you decide to come forward, we will do this to your family as well. It was just very sloppy.” He adds that if his wife is indeed a CIA official, “if it’s a real violation, [it will] cause a lot of pain in our national security apparatus, because at a minimum—the assertions were that she was a CIA operative working in the weapons of mass destruction programs. So if those assertions are true, what this administration has done is they’ve taken a national security asset involved in a program to which they give high priority, off the table, and to protect whose career? What political objective is so important… that you take a national security asset off—not to shut me up, but to… [shut] others up. That would be the only conclusion I could come to. If you read the story in which this assertion was made, the assertion adds absolutely nothing to the story, nothing. It is not germane, it is not relevant.” The interviewer says, “All’s fair in love and war,” and Wilson responds: “When you’re an administration that comes to office on a platform of restoring dignity and honor to the White House, and you act in such a dishonorable and undignified way, then you really do descend to that ‘all’s fair in love and war’ status. I think in that case it’s important to point out how duplicitous some in the White House are.” [PBS Frontline, 10/9/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Intelligence Identities Protection Act, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Public Broadcasting System, US Department of State, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), fighting allegations that she was the officer responsible for sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from there (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, and July 22, 2003), meets with one of her supervisors, the deputy chief of the CIA’s counterproliferation division (CPD). Plame Wilson only identifies him as “Scott.” He tells her that she is the victim of unfair charges, and that it is obvious to him she did not indulge in any nepotism or improper conduct. “In fact,” Scott tells her, “if we had asked you to take our message to Joe about coming in to headquarters to discuss possible options relating to the yellowcake allegations and you refused for some reason, you would have been derelict in your duty.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 148]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover as a CIA agent was blown by two administration officials (see July 14, 2003), says that he believes deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove is responsible for outing his wife. At a public forum in Seattle, Wilson names Rove as the person most likely to have leaked his wife’s covert identity and says he is keenly interested “to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] As Wilson will later recall, the comment is greeted by a storm of boos and catcalls, “followed by applause at the thought of everyone’s favorite ogre being frog-marched.” Wilson’s wife is not pleased by Wilson’s turn of phrase, and later warns him to temper his words. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 372]
Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, approaches Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington with two questions. Libby, according to Addington’s testimony at Libby’s perjury and obstruction trial (see January 30, 2007), asks Addington whether the president has the authority to declassify government secrets and whether the CIA keeps paperwork documenting its work. Addington replies yes to both questions. Libby then says, “I just want to tell you, I didn’t do it.” Addington later testifies that he does not ask Libby what “it” is, but he surmises that Libby may be referring to Joseph Wilson’s criticism of the Iraq war. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later says he believes Libby is denying his involvement in the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and July 10 or 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2007; Associated Press, 1/30/2007]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson pens his second op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News, titled “Seeking Honesty in US Policy.” Wilson writes that the Bush administration is dragging the country “down a rabbit hole,” a reference to Alice in Wonderland, “all the while trying to convince the American people that life in newly liberated Iraq is not as distorted as it seems.” He accuses President Bush and his top officials of attempting to “misrepresent reality—and rewrite history—to mask its mistakes” in Iraq. If the US wants to fight terrorism, as Bush claims, it needs to go elsewhere, Wilson asserts.
'Dangerous, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy' - But, Wilson writes, “[b]y trying to justify the current fight in Iraq as a fight against terrorism, the administration has done two frightening things. It has tried to divert attention from Osama bin Laden.… And the policy advanced by the speech is a major step toward creating a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.”
Powerful Insurgency, Growing Terrorist Presence - Wilson notes that the US is fighting an ever-growing insurgency in Iraq, largely composed of “an angry but not yet defeated Sunni Muslim population who, although a minority in Iraq, had been in power for a century.” He notes that the US is “beginning to face terrorists there, but it is our own doing. Our attack on Iraq—and our bungling of the peace—led to the guerrilla insurgency that is drawing jihadists from around the Muslim world. The ‘shock and awe’ campaign so vividly shown on our television screens (see March 19, 2003) has galvanized historic Arab envy, jealousy, and resentment of the United States into white-hot hatred of America.”
Redefining Rationale for War - Instead of correcting its mistakes and pursuing terrorists where they actually congregate, Wilson says, “the administration is trying to redefine why we went to Iraq, because we have accomplished so little of what we set out to do—and severely underestimated the commitment it would take to deal with the aftermath of war.” No longer does the administration make its claims that Iraq had WMD that pose a threat to the Middle East or even the US itself. Now it claims that we invaded Iraq because it had WMD programs (see July 9, 2003). Wilson writes, “In other words, we’re now supposed to believe that we went to war not because Saddam’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction threatened us, but because he had scientists on his payroll.” The cost in American lives and tax dollars has been staggering and continues to rise virtually unchecked. Large sections of Iraq are in chaos.
Imposed Democracy, Security for Israel - “The truth is, the administration has never leveled with the American people on the war with Iraq,” Wilson writes. Powerful members of the administration wanted war no matter what, Wilson writes, because it was always their intention to overthrow Saddam Hussein and impose democracy on Iraq as a first step towards democratizing the entire Middle East. And at worst, some believed that even if the experiment in imposed democracy failed, Israel would be more secure because it would be surrounded by small, less powerful Arab states too busy bickering with one another to form a solid bloc in opposition to it.
Playing It Straight - Wilson concludes: “[B]efore we can hope to win back international trust or start down a truly new path in Iraq, the administration has to start playing it straight, with the American people and with the world. Recent administration statements, including the president’s speech, suggest that it still prefers to live in a fantasy world.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 9/14/2003]
Scowcroft Won't Share Op-Ed with White House - Wilson sends the editorial to White House adviser Brent Scowcroft and asks if he will share it with administration officials; Scowcroft laughingly demurs, saying that he is in enough trouble with the administration already (see March 8, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 375]
Dick Cheney answering a question posed by Tim Russert on ‘Meet the Press.’ [Source: Life]Vice President Dick Cheney appears for an entire hour on NBC’s Meet the Press, and is interviewed by host Tim Russert. Cheney reiterates many of the administration’s claims about Iraq, including the necessity for the invasion, Iraqi WMD, the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the assertion that “most” Iraqis have greeted the US “as liberators,” and even the alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks (which White House officials quickly repudiate—see September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003). Russert broaches the subject of former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Russert asks Cheney, “Were you briefed on his findings in February, March of 2002?” Cheney responds: “No.… He never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.” Cheney is lying: he was given a copy of the CIA’s report on Wilson’s trip shortly after Wilson’s return from Niger (see March 5, 2002). He does admit to asking questions about the Iraq-Niger claims (see (February 13, 2002)). “And Joe Wilson—I don’t know who sent Joe Wilson,” he says. Despite this statement, Cheney is aware from the report that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger. Russert says, “The CIA did,” and Cheney responds, “Who in the CIA, I don’t know.” Cheney also states flatly that neither he nor his staff ever pressured the CIA to come up with intelligence that would bolster the administration’s rationale for war with Iraq. “I can’t think of a single instance,” he says. “I’m unaware of any where the community changed a judgment that they made because I asked questions.” Cheney is again lying: he and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, made repeated trips to CIA headquarters that resulted in CIA analysts feeling heavily pressured to produce acceptable results to the White House (see 2002-Early 2003). [Meet the Press, 9/14/2003] In his testimonies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), Libby uses very similar language to Cheney’s in denying his knowledge of Wilson’s trip to Niger (see October 28, 2005). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Russell Mokhiber. [Source: Democracy Now!]White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is asked by journalist Russell Mokhiber about the likelihood of White House political chief Karl Rove’s possible involvement in the Plame Wilson leak. McClellan will call Mokhiber “a Ralph Nader associate and liberal White House critic… interested in gotcha reporting, plain and simple, to damage an administration he held in low regard.” Mokhiber notes that Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson believes Rove leaked her name to Robert Novak (see August 21, 2003), and adds, “[T]his is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover of a CIA operative.” McClellan will write that he has not discussed the matter with Rove as yet, and is somewhat taken aback by Mokhiber’s “emotionally offputting” phrasing. He “confidently” tells Mokhiber, “That’s just ridiculous.” He will continue denying any involvement by Rove, and will later write, “It was the stance I would maintain as the scandal blossomed.” [White House, 9/16/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 179]
The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Shortly after the FBI launches its investigation into the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove assures President Bush that he had no involvement in leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to the press (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove also assures Bush that he had nothing to do with leaking information to the press concerning Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. He does not tell Bush about his July 2003 conversation with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, in which he identified Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, nor does he tell him that he told Cooper that Plame Wilson had arranged for her husband to go to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). According to a 2005 story in the National Journal, Rove will also fail to disclose this information in his upcoming interviews with FBI investigators. Because of Rove’s assurances, Bush will tell White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he vouches for Rove’s non-involvement in the Plame Wilson affair (see September 29, 2003), and will give special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the same assurances (see June 24, 2004). [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
The Washington Post publishes an article stating that in July, two White House officials had leaked the name and CIA employment status of Valerie Plame Wilson to at least six reporters, and told the reporters that Plame Wilson had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The article is based on a leak of information by a “senior administration official.” Such an explosive leak is relatively rare from the Bush administration. Reporters Mike Allen and Dana Priest report, “It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another.” Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official says the leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “[c]learly… meant purely and simply for revenge.” The leaks were “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish [Joseph] Wilson’s credibility.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006] The “senior administration official” will later be revealed to be State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and October 17, 2003). [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
'1x2x6' Theory - Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler, covering the Plame Wilson leak and the subsequent perjury trial of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) for the blogs The Next Hurrah and later Firedoglake, later writes that the Allen/Priest report states the “1x2x6 theory” of the leak, in which one anonymous source tells Allen and Priest that two senior White House officials called at least six Washington reporters to discuss Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Wheeler will note that one of those Washington reporters, Robert Novak, has denied being the White House’s “willing pawn” who leaked Plame Wilson’s identity when the other reporters refused (see July 14, 2003, September 29, 2003, and October 1, 2003). Wheeler will write, “Novak’s October 1 column was designed to refute the incredibly damaging quotes from the 1x2x6 source that clearly indicated the leak was planned.” She will speculate that the single anonymous source for Allen and Priest may be Secretary of State Colin Powell, but she will state that she is by no means sure, and has no proof of her speculation. [Marcy Wheeler, 8/29/2006]
Poor Reasoning - Wilson will later write that he is pleased to learn that “there was at least one Bush official who believed the conduct of his colleagues was ‘wrong.’ I was disappointed to read that he or she evidently judged it so not because it was a betrayal of national security but because it was beside the point and had done nothing to damage my credibility. Would the leak have been okay if it had really impeached my character and sent me skittering into some dungeon reserved for critics of the Bush administration?”
'Smear Campaign' Readied Well before Wilson Published Op-Ed - Wilson muses over the implications of the article. He concludes that if two White House officials had conducted such a large media campaign, “there must have been a meeting to decide on the action to take” (see June 2003). And because of the timing, the officials involved must have had the information on Plame Wilson “well before the appearance of my article on Sunday, July 6” (see July 6, 2003). How did the two officials learn of his wife’s status? he wonders. Was there a breach of security? Was the revelation of his wife’s identity inadvertent or deliberate? “Whatever the answers to these questions,” he will write, “I knew for certain that the initial disclosure of her status, whether deliberate or inadvertent, was the first damaging act, before the calls to all the journalists were placed.… [A] plan to attack me had been formed well before [the publication of his editorial]. It was cocked and ready to fire as soon as I crossed the trip wire and wrote about what I hadn’t found in Niger. My [editorial] triggered the attack, but I was not the only target of it. Now my wife was in their sights, as well. What then happened was not a case of the loose lips of an overly ardent junior defender of the administration flapping to one reporter, but an organized smear campaign directed from the highest reaches of the White House. A group of supposed public servants, collecting salaries paid by American taxpayers and charged with defending the national security of the country, had taken it upon itself to attack me by exposing the identity of a member of the CIA’s clandestine service, who happened to be my wife. Revenge and intimidation had been deemed more important than America’s national security for these co-conspirators.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 385-387]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Washington Post, Marcy Wheeler, Joseph C. Wilson, Dana Priest, Colin Powell, Mike Allen, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Marc Grossman
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Many conservatives and Republicans continue to attack former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson. One Congressman, Jack Kingston (R-GA), tells CNN that Plame Wilson is nothing more than a “glorified secretary” and therefore no harm was done in revealing her CIA status (see July 21, 2003). Plame Wilson is in reality the chief of the Iraq section of the CIA’s counterproliferation division (see April 2001 and After) and one of the agency’s “non-official cover,” or NOC, agents (see Fall 1992 - 1996). Joseph Wilson will later calls Kingston “obtuse” and his remark a “sexist insult… not only to Valerie but also to secretaries and to women in general who may have benefited from the protections afforded by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 388]
Clifford May. [Source: Talkhaba]Conservative columnist Clifford May writes in the National Review that the question at the heart of the Plame Wilson leak investigation is not, “Who leaked her identity?” but “Who didn’t know?” that she was a clandestine CIA agent. May notes that he has previously questioned the credibility and partisanship of Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, over his conclusions about the purported Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see July 6, 2003). He then goes on to write that conservative columnist Robert Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see July 14, 2003) “wasn’t news to me.” May says he “had been told that—but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.” May says he never revealed Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent in his columns because “it didn’t seem particularly relevant to the question of whether or not Mr. Wilson should be regarded as a disinterested professional who had done a thorough investigation into Saddam [Hussein]‘s alleged attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.” He then goes on to call Wilson a “far-left… bitter critic of the current administration” and an affiliate of “the pro-Saudi Middle East Institute [and the] Education for Peace in Iraq Center,” which he calls “a far-left group that opposed not only the US military intervention in Iraq but also the sanctions and the no-fly zones that protected Iraqi Kurds and Shias from being slaughtered by Saddam.” He then mocks Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger as “eight days drinking sweet mint tea” and rubbing elbows with US and Nigerien dignitaries at the US Embassy in Niamey. May asks if Wilson’s trip to Niger was “primarily due to the fact that [his] wife worked for the CIA?… It has to be seen as puzzling that the agency would deal with an inquiry from the White House on a sensitive national security matter by sending a retired, Bush-bashing diplomat with no investigative experience. Or didn’t the CIA bother to look into Mr. Wilson’s background? If that’s what passes for tradecraft in Langley, we’re in more trouble than any of us have realized.” [National Review, 9/29/2003]
Hours after conservative columnist Robert Novak tells a CNN audience that he contacted Joseph Wilson to confirm that his wife was a CIA official for his July 2003 column exposing her as a CIA employee (see September 29, 2003), Wilson tells CNN’s Paula Zahn that Novak is incorrect in his characterization of events. “Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report (see July 14, 2003) and he said a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative,” Wilson says. “He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? And I said no.” After the article appeared, citing Bush administration and not CIA sources, Wilson called Novak about the article. According to Wilson, he called Novak about the discrepancy in his citation of sources (see July 14, 2003) and asked, “What was it, CIA or senior administration?” Wilson continues: “He said to me, ‘I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.’ That makes it senior administration sources.” [CNN, 9/29/2003; CNN, 10/1/2003]
The Washington Post reports that a journalist confirms receiving a call from a White House official before the July 14, 2003 appearance of a column exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003). The journalist, who refuses to allow his or her identity to be revealed, tells Post reporters Mike Allen and Dana Milbank that the White House official told them that Plame Wilson was a CIA official. The journalist says that the information was provided as part of an effort to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, but that the CIA information was not treated as especially sensitive. “The official I spoke with thought this was a part of Wilson’s story that wasn’t known and cast doubt on his whole mission,” the journalist says. “They thought Wilson was having a good ride and this was part of Wilson’s story.” Allen was one of the reporters who published a September 28 article alleging that Plame Wilson’s cover was blown as part of a “revenge” strategy against Wilson (see September 28, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/30/2003]
The FBI publicly acknowledges that it has opened an investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). The White House directs its staff to fully cooperate with the investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). President Bush tells the press: “If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated the law, he will be taken care of.” [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] (In White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s later recollection, “he’d made clear that if anyone in his administration had been responsible for the leak, he or she would have to leave.”) [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216] Bush says there are “just too many leaks” from both the White House and Congress. The Justice Department instructs the White House, through White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to preserve all records relating to the case, including any involving contacts with columnist Robert Novak (who first publicly outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003), and two Newsday reporters, Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce (see September 30, 2003). Phelps and Royce wrote a July 2003 article claiming that “intelligence officials” had confirmed and expanded on Novak’s identification of Plame Wilson, and stated that Plame Wilson worked for the CIA in “an undercover capacity” (see July 21, 2003). Bush tells reporters that he is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” of investigating the case, indicating that he will not support calls for an outside special counsel to take over the probe. The Justice Department has not ruled out asking for a special counsel, though Attorney General John Ashcroft says his department is more than capable of handling the investigation itself. Democrats say that Ashcroft’s Justice Department should not conduct any such investigation because of Ashcroft’s close connections to White House personnel who may be involved in the leak, such as White House political adviser Karl Rove. At a fundraising luncheon, Bush indirectly dismisses the controversy over the Plame Wilson outing as part of the “needless partisan bickering that dominates the Washington, DC, landscape.” A Republican source close to the White House tells the New York Times that the investigation will blow over within a matter of days. “The general view inside the White House among senior staff is that this is going to create a few rocky political days, that it’s mainly the Democrats pushing it and that if all the Republicans stay on board, the story goes away,” the source says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003; New York Times, 2006] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassdor Joseph Wilson, will later call this an “absurdly broad net, as there were only a very small number of people in the administration whose responsibilities overlap the national security and the political arenas, the best pool of possible suspects in which to start looking.” Wilson will note, “If the president really wanted to ‘come to the bottom of this,’ as he claimed to reporters on October 7 (see October 7, 2003), he could have acted like the strong chief executive he claims to be and brought his senior people into a room and demanded that they produce the leaker.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 399]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Timothy Phelps, Scott McClellan, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Shortly after sending an e-mail to White House employees informing them of the FBI’s Plame Wilson investigation (see September 29-30, 2003), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sends a second, more specific e-mail with instructions on saving any documents or materials that might be pertinent to that investigation. Gonzales writes: “This communication is a follow-up to the directive I sent you this morning regarding the preservation of certain materials in the possession of the White House, its staff, or its employees. Pursuant to a request from the Department of Justice, I am instructing you to preserve and maintain the following: [F]or the time period February 1, 2002 to the present, all documents, including without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any records that memorialize telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries, that relate in any way to:
“1. Former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency;
“2. Contacts with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, and/or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“3. Contacts with reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly, on behalf of these reporters.
“You must preserve all documents relating, in any way, directly or indirectly, to these subjects, even if there would be a question whether the document would be a presidential or federal record or even if its destruction might otherwise be permitted. If you have any questions regarding any of the foregoing, please contact associate counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the counsel to the president’s office.” [Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/30/2003]
Tom Rosenstiel on the PBS broadcast ‘In the Shadows.’ [Source: PBS]PBS hosts a live discussion with former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and journalist Tom Rosenstiel on the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see July 14, 2003). Columnist Robert Novak initially told reporters that the White House “gave” him the information about Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), but is now claiming that he had to “dig for” that information (see September 29, 2003). Novak also asserts that Plame Wilson was a “mere” CIA analyst and not a covert operative (see Fall 1992 - 1996), and admits that CIA officials asked him not to reveal her identity (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003), though he says they never indicated that doing so would endanger her or anyone else. Johnson says: “To hear Bob Novak parsing words like a Clinton lawyer defining sex is outrageous.… They took the initiative to divulge the CIA officer’s name. And that is outrageous.”
Confirmation that Plame Wilson Was Undercover - Johnson confirms that Plame Wilson is indeed an undercover CIA official, saying: “Let’s be very clear about what happened. This is not an alleged abuse. This is a confirmed abuse. I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been undercover for three decades, she is not, as Bob Novak suggested, a CIA analyst. But given that, I was a CIA analyst for four years. I was undercover. I could not divulge to my family outside of my wife that I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency until I left the agency on Sept. 30, 1989. At that point I could admit it. So the fact that she’s been undercover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous because she was put undercover for certain reasons. One, she works in an area where people she meets with overseas could be compromised. When you start tracing back who she met with, even people who innocently met with her, who are not involved in CIA operations, could be compromised. For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal.”
Novak Did 'a Really Dangerous and Terrible Thing' - Rosenstiel calls Novak’s assertion that the CIA didn’t warn him of any danger in leaking Plame Wilson’s name “weak,” and adds: “Bob Novak has done a really dangerous and terrible thing. If you are going to get involved in something like this where you’re bumping up against breaking the law, as a journalist you have a civil disobedience test you have to meet. What’s the public good of this story? What’s the—balanced against what’s the danger to the people involved publishing the story. The third part of the test is, is it necessary in telling the story to do this or is there another way to do it, do you need to divulge this person’s name, in other words, to convey the information you think is of the public interest? This doesn’t meet any one of those three tests. It’s not of overriding public interest. Novak may be really just an instrument of Republican revenge here. Whatever the public good is of the story is far overwhelmed by the danger to this woman and her network of operatives. And it’s gratuitous. You could have told the story without her name.” Johnson adds: “This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear of an individual with no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it. His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted (see August 12, 2003): to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision-making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy, and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend that it’s something else and to get into this parsing of words, I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.”
Most Reporters Thought Story 'Lousy - Asked why six reporters were told of Plame Wilson’s identity and five chose not to publish it (see September 28, 2003), Rosenstiel says that the five reporters’ decision “tells us that the majority of reporters involved thought this was a lousy story.” It was “[i]mproper to identify and actually maybe the story itself just didn’t rise to the level of being much of a story. Frankly, it’s difficult to see how this information discredits Wilson. I can see how it intimidates him but I don’t think it necessarily discredits his research into the Niger claim.” [PBS, 9/30/2003]
Ed Gillespie. [Source: ABC News]Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ed Gillespie tells CNN that former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson contributed money to the presidential campaigns of Democratic contenders Al Gore and John Kerry. Gillespie tells CNN interviewer Judy Woodruff: “So I think there is a lot more to play in here. There is a lot of politics. The fact is that Ambassador Wilson is not only a, you know—a former foreign service officer, former ambassador, he is himself a partisan Democrat who is a contributor and supporter of Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.… [Wilson] has a partisan history here, as someone who supports John Kerry… This is a guy who’s a maxed out contributor to John Kerry, who has spoken to organizations that are seeking to defeat the president of the United States.” Wilson will later write, “The point he was trying to make, I suppose, was that it was justifiable for a Republican administration to expose the identity of an undercover CIA officer, if she happened to have a husband who had contributed to Democratic campaigns” (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). Wilson has also contributed campaign donations to Republicans, including the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Hours after Gillespie’s CNN comments, Wilson sees Gillespie in a CNBC “green room,” and asks him if he knows about these contributions to Republicans. Gillespie admits that he does, saying, “They are part of the public record.” Wilson will later write, “So he knew but decided not to disclose all the information he had about them.” Gillespie will later falsely claim that he acknowledged Wilson’s contributions to both parties during his CNN appearance. [CNN, 9/30/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 389-390]
In a speech, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski observes that in 1963, during the Cuban missile crisis between the US and the USSR, Secretary of State Dean Acheson offered to show French President Charles de Gaulle satellite photographs of Soviet missiles in Cuba to support President Kennedy’s request for French support in case the US needed to go to war with the US. De Gaulle replied that he did not need to see the photos, that Kennedy’s word was good enough for him. In April 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, reflecting on Brzezinski’s words and the raft of lies and misinformation that led the US to invade and occupy Iraq, will write, “Who would now ever take an American president at his word, in the way that de Gaulle once did?” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 426]
Senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into the failures and possible misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004). In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that she and her husband hope that the committee will “reveal how the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq [and] show that the decision to go to war was premature; the intelligence community simply did not have the hard evidence from current, reliable human sources to match the confident rhetoric coming from the White House and its supporters.” Plame Wilson is accompanied in her appearance before the committee by a CIA attorney, whose job is to represent the agency’s interests, not hers. She is not questioned by any senators, but by four young staffers, two Democrats and two Republicans. When the staffers begin asking her about the story of the Iraq-Niger uranium connection and how she learned about it, it becomes obvious to her, as she will recall in her 2007 book Fair Game, that they “knew very little about how CIA cover actually worked, yet they acted as if they were veterans of the intelligence community.” One aggressive Republican staffer asks why she recommended her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to investigate the uranium allegations (see February 13, 2002); Plame Wilson will recall, “In my desire to be as accurate and truthful as possible, I answered, stupidly, ‘I don’t believe that I recommended my husband, but I can’t recall who suggested him for the trip.” She fails to recall that a CIA records officer actually recommended her husband for the trip (see February 19, 2002). She also forgets during the interrogation that it was a phone call from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office that set the entire trip into motion (see (February 13, 2002)). And she forgets that it was her branch supervisor who asked that Wilson come in to the CIA to discuss the possibility of such a trip (see February 19, 2002). She does recall staying out of the initial CIA interview with her husband. In 2007, she will blame her memory failures on her own lack of composure, her lack of preparation for the interview, and her refusal to compare memories with her husband out of a sense of propriety. After 45 minutes or so, she leaves the interview, fairly sure that she handled herself well, but with “a little voice in my head [saying] it felt like a setup.” She will write: “In retrospect, it was clear they weren’t seeking information, but simply confirming their already closed conclusions. But in my naivete, my heart actually felt light because I believed in our democratic institutions. I believed that the truth would prevail, but I would soon find out that in Washington, the truth is not always enough.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 167-169]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who earned accolades from former President George H. W. Bush for his bravery in standing up to Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Gulf War (see September 20, 1990) and journeyed to Niger to find out the truth behind the allegations of Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), says that he is publicly supporting Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for president. Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson have been the victims of Bush administration smear attacks since Wilson published an op-ed debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). Most notably, Plame Wilson was publicly identified as a covert CIA agent, apparently by two White House officials (see July 14, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/1/2003]
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]
According to anonymous White House sources, the Bush administration is using a two-track political strategy to counter fallout from the Plame Wilson investigation. White House officials are encouraging Republicans to attack the credibility and impartiality of Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and portray him as a partisan Democrat with a bent towards smearing the administration; the Republicans are also being encouraged to portray Democrats as politically driven scandalmongers hoping to use the investigation to influence the 2004 presidential election. Simultaneously, White House officials, in conjunction with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, are scrambling to ensure that no Congressional Republicans break ranks and call for an independent inquiry into the leak that would not fall under the direct control of the Justice Department. The White House is resisting Democratic calls for an independent special counsel to handle the investigation (see October 1, 2003). One Republican Congressional aide calls the strategy “slime and defend,” referring to the White House’s attempt to besmirch Wilson’s motivations and simultaneously shore up Republican support. The strategy seems to be working, the aide says: “So far so good. There’s nervousness on the part of the party leadership, but no defections in the sense of calling for an independent counsel.” A Republican National Committee memo distributed to Congressional Republicans gives one suggested talking point on attacking Democrats: “Lacking a positive issue agenda to offer the American people, the Democratic Party now returns to what they have long seen as their best opportunity to defeat President Bush and Republicans—scandalmongering.” House Republicans are passing out white paper bags labeled “Leak Hyperventilation Bag,” explaining that the bags are for Democrats who might be having trouble catching their breath over the subject. House Democrats have canceled a planned closed-door meeting with Wilson, fearing that they might be accused of playing politics on the investigation. The White House is closely monitoring five Congressional Republicans known for having something of an independent streak: Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John Warner (R-VA), and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL). The White House is working to keep these five, in particular, in line with its desired responses. [New York Times, 10/1/2003]
The Bush administration, prodded by polls showing that over 70 percent of Americans believe that someone in the White House leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press and almost that number is in favor of a special prosecutor to head an investigation, modifies its approach to its denials of involvement. According to the Washington Post, White House officials no longer proclaim the innocence of everyone employed by the executive branch, but now say that it is possible someone disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity without realizing that they were exposing a covert operative, and therefore no crime was committed. The first Congressional Republican to speak out against the administration’s handling of the issue is Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who says that President Bush “needs to get this behind him” by taking a more active role. “He has that main responsibility to see this through and see it through quickly, and that would include, if I was president, sitting down with my vice president and asking what he knows about it,” Hagel says. Meanwhile, administration supporters outside the White House are stepping up their counteroffensive, telling reporters that the White House is fully cooperating with the Justice Department investigation and that the real story is Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, who is making “rash statements” denigrating the administration. Press secretary Scott McClellan is no longer denying a White House effort to discredit Wilson, a critic of the administration, but now tells reporters that the only issue “is whether or not someone leaked classified information.… I’m drawing a line here. I’m not going to play the game of going down other rabbit trails.” The White House has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of appointing a special counsel to handle the investigation; critics say that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department cannot lead an impartial probe. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.