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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 ]
The White House, after much discussion and argument among senior advisers (see July 6-7, 2003), issues a vaguely worded admission that President Bush and his top officials erred in claiming that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). A senior, unnamed White House official says that Bush should not have made the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) by saying: “Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq’s attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech.… There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.” The statement is authorized by the White House. [BBC, 7/8/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Dashed Hope that Admission Might Defuse Controversy - White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “Although two other African countries were mentioned in the [Iraq] NIE (National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002) as possible sources of uranium for Iraq, the only detailed or specific intelligence about Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa was related to Niger, and this was clearly the primary basis for the president’s 16 words” in the State of the Union speech. Senior White House officials, with Bush’s authorization, elaborate on the concession. One official says, “We couldn’t prove it, and it might in fact be wrong.” McClellan will write: “It was the public acknowledgement that the president should have not made the uranium allegation in his State of the Union address and that the information in which it had been based was incomplete or inaccurate. At the White House, everyone hoped the acknowledgement would put the 16-words controversy to rest. The reality was the opposite.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Critics: Bush 'Knowingly Misled' US Citizenry, Calls for Firings - Critics of the White House are quick to jump on the claim. “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of Union address,” says Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. “Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.” Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, calls the admission another reason for Congress to fully investigate the use and misuse of prewar intelligence. Retired Colonel David Hunt, a Fox News analyst, says: “This is an absolute failure. This is an overstatement and it’s embarrassing and it’s very poor business for the war on terrorism, really bad news.” Hunt calls for firings over the admission: “I think there are some people that need to be fired—starting with the [CIA Director George] Tenet. This is bad. When they’re blaming him publicly, and that’s unheard of… it can’t be glossed over. The bureaucracy has got to knock this off. It can’t happen anymore.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003]
Calls for Congressional Investigation - Congressional Democrats demand, but never get, a Congressional inquiry; Senator Carl Levin questions how such a “bogus” claim could have become a key part of the case for war, and Ted Kennedy suggests the claim is a “deliberate deception.” McClellan will observe: “Whether legitimate expressions of concern or grandstanding for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House for political gain, their efforts to raise more suspicion about the White House were a natural part of the ongoing partisan warfare that President Bush had promised to end. Now, the way the president had chosen to sell the war to the American people and his reluctance to discuss openly and directly how that case had been made were ensuring his promise would not be kept.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Blair Administration 'Furious' at Admission - In Great Britain, officials in the government of Tony Blair are “privately furious with the White House,” according to McClellan. Blair’s officials insist on standing by the claim, thus causing an embarrasing disparity between the White House and Downing Street. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Admission Retracted Days Later - Within days, the White House will retract the admission (see July 11, 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]
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
Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. Several members of the commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculation with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
While some find neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission of a terrorist conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to be compelling (see July 9, 2003), others do not. One group that is not convinced is the so-called “Jersey Girls,” the group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and then worked to force the Bush administration to create the Commission (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003). They lambast Commission director Philip Zelikow for allowing Mylroie to testify. “Jersey Girl” Lorie Van Auken, who has learned a great deal about Mylroie’s theories in her research, confronts Zelikow shortly after the hearings. “That took a lot of nerve putting someone like that on the panel,” she tells Zelikow. “Laurie Mylroie? This is supposed to be an investigation of September 11. This is not supposed to be a sales pitch for the Iraq war.” Van Auken later recalls “a sly smile” crossing Zelikow’s face, as he refuses to answer. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Van Auken will say. “He was selling the war.” After the hearing, Zelikow informs the staff that he wants them to aggressively pursue the idea of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Author Philip Shenon will later write, “To some members of the staff, Zelikow seemed determined to demonstrate that whatever the evidence to the contrary, Iraq and al-Qaeda had a close relationship that justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Judith Yaphe testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Yaphe, a CIA veteran who now teaches at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, is considered one of the agency’s most experienced and knowledgeable Iraq analysts. Yaphe states that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, it is improbable, based on what is currently known, that Hussein and Iraq had any connections to the 9/11 attacks, nor that a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is believable. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003] Yaphe is disturbed by the commission’s apparent acceptance of the testimony of Laurie Mylroie (see July 9, 2003), whose theories about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda have long been discredited by both intelligence analysts and outside experts. She wonders why Mylroie’s “crazed theories” were being heard at all, and why the commission would risk its credibility by giving Mylroie this kind of exposure. She even speculates that Mylroie’s testimony is some sort of setup by the commission or the staff, and hopes that her own testimony can offset Mylroie’s theories and help discredit Mylroie before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Yaphe tells the commission, in apparent reference to Mylroie, that the use of circumstantial evidence is “troubling” and that there is a “lack of credible evidence to jump to extraordinary conclusions on Iraqi support for al-Qaeda.” She also calls Mylroie’s theories of Iraqi spies using false identities to help execute the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993) worthy of a fiction novel and completely unsupported by fact. [National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 7/9/2003]
President Bush, asked about the White House’s admission that he should not have claimed during his State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, and July 8, 2003), does not admit his own error, but instead justifies the US’s invasion of Iraq based on somewhat different rationales than he has used before. Bush, speaking to reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, reminds his questioners that Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire nuclear weapons technology before the 1991 Gulf War (see November 1986, 1989, and January 16, 1991 and After), saying: “In 1991, I will remind you, we underestimated how close he was to having a nuclear weapon. Imagine a world in which this tyrant had a nuclear weapon.… [A]fter the world had demanded he disarm, we decided to disarm him. And I’m convinced the world is a much more peaceful and secure place as a result of the actions.” [Fox News, 7/9/2003] Bush’s rhetoric contains a subtle but important shift: he now refers to Iraq as having pursued a nuclear weapons “program” rather than having actual weapons themselves. [Rich, 2006, pp. 99]
According to Amjed Isail Waleed, a detainee at Abu Ghraib, he is left naked in a dark cell for five days. [New York Times, 6/8/2004]
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]
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]
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, answers calls to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (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). In March, Roberts refused to sign off on a request from his committee to investigate the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see March 14, 2003). In June, his committee released a report defending the White House’s use of the uranium claims (see June 11, 2003); on that same day, Roberts and fellow Republicans denounced calls to investigate pre-war intelligence (see June 11, 2003). In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Roberts’s call for an investigation plays into the administration’s attempts to pin the blame for the uranium claims directly onto the CIA, and in a larger sense to blame the CIA for all the intelligence failures preceding the invasion of Iraq. According to McLellan: “On a broader front, the White House sought to dispel the nation that the intelligence had been ‘cooked’ by showing that it had been provided and cleared by the CIA. Most observers—war critics and supporters, Democrats and Republicans—had shared the assumption that Saddam had WMD programs and likely possessed at least some chemical and biological weapons. Only now, after the fact, were some prominent critics disavowing or downplaying their earlier belief, and the partisan tone of their attacks provided us with the gist of our counterattack.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 171]
According to author Craig Unger, the White House’s version of events concerning its recent admission of error concerning the Iraq-Niger claim (see July 8, 2003) is followed by most US mainstream print and broadcast news sources. Only “comedy news” shows like Comedy Central’s Daily Show and HBO’s Real Time, MSNBC’s political commentary show Countdown, and some liberal, progressive, and civil libertarian blogs attempt to tell a story not shaped by the White House (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). By and large, the mainstream media tells the story from the White House’s point of view. [Unger, 2007, pp. 312] In early 2007, author Eric Boehlert will add details to Unger’s statement (see February 6, 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
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]
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]
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]
In his final press conference before leaving the administration, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer continues to assert the possible validity of the admittedly false Iraq-Niger uranium claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “I think this remains an issue about did Iraq sek uranium in Africa,” he says, “an issue that very well may be true. We don’t know if it’s true (see July 8, 2003), but nobody can say it’s wrong.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 100]
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
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]
Senator John D. Rockefeller. [Source: ViewImages.com]John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” [Democratic Party, 12/19/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 115] Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116] It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
The Wall Street Journal prints an editorial based on, in its words, “[w]hat the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE—see October 1, 2002] said about Iraq’s hunt for uranium.” The Journal does not mention that the editorial is based on leaked information from the Office of the Vice President via the Defense Department (see July 14 or 15, 2003); in fact, it denies receiving the information from the White House entirely. (It is possible that the Journal editors were not aware that the leaked information originally came from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.) The Journal says “[w]e’re reliably told” that the NIE largely supports the Iraq-Niger uranium claims recently repudiated by the Bush administration (see July 8, 2003 and July 11, 2003). According to the material leaked to the Journal, the NIE indicates that before the March 2003 invasion, Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons, and the regime of Saddam Hussein was actively seeking yellowcake uranium, such as that produced by Niger, to shorten the time it would take to bring actual nuclear devices online. The Journal concludes that the Iraq-Niger claims were “supposedly discredited,” but are actually viable, and President Bush was “entirely accurate” in making the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in the January 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet’s recent admission that the claim was a “mistake” was, the Journal says, “more tortured than warranted by the assertions in the NIE.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/17/2003] The day after the editorial is published, the White House releases a heavily redacted version of the NIE to the public (see July 18, 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
The New York Times’s Judith Miller, an outlet for information planted in the media by the Bush administration in he run-up to the Iraq war (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 18, 2002), now reports the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq as 578—a figure far lower than the 1,400 she had reported during the first hours of the war (see March 19-20, 2003). Miller blames the US failure to find any WMD on Pentagon ineptitude: “chaos, disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap.” Deeper in the story, she writes, “To this day, whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons when the war began is unknown.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101]
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]
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
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in Iraq as part of what the New York Times calls a “carefully choreographed visit” to that country to point up the record of brutality compiled by former dictator Saddam Hussein, tells reporters that Iraqi WMD are no longer the “core reason” why the US invaded Iraq, or why it occupies that country. “I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction,” he says. “I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet.” With the US’s help, Wolfowitz says, Iraq can build a “magnificent” democracy. And apparently without a sense of irony, Wolfowitz says foreign nations should not meddle in Iraq’s business. “I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq,” he says. “Those who want to come and help are welcome. Those who come to interfere and destroy are not.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003]
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]
As decided the night before (see July 21, 2003), Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House communications director Dan Bartlett hold a press conference in which Hadley admits to having forgotten about CIA Director George Tenet’s October warning that the Iraq-Niger claim was not solid. Hadley admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger; he takes responsibility for its inclusion in the president’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). His admission and apology follow closely on the heels of Tenet’s acceptance of responsibility for the “error” (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Hadley admits that he received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from Tenet in October 2002 that questioned the Iraq-Niger allegations and warned that they should not be made public. The allegations were excised from Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). Hadley says he should have made sure those same allegations were not in Bush’s State of the Union speech: they “should have been taken out of the State of the Union.… There were a number of people who could have raised a hand” to have the passage removed from the draft of Bush’s speech. “And no one raised a hand.… The high standards the president set were not met.” (In reality, author Craig Unger will later write, the White House was reluctant to go back to Tenet because the CIA had already twice rejected the claim. Instead, White House officials had obtained clearance to use the material from a more amenable CIA subordinate—see January 26 or 27, 2003.) Hadley says he has apologized to Bush for the “error.” Bartlett says, “The process failed.” He adds that Bush retains “full confidence in his national security adviser [Condoleezza Rice], his deputy national security adviser [Hadley], and the director of central intelligence [Tenet].” Hadley says he had forgotten about the October CIA memos until they were discovered a few days ago by White House speechwriter Michael Gerson. [Associated Press, 7/22/2003; White House, 7/22/2003; New York Times, 7/23/2003; Raw Story, 11/16/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 273; Truthout (.org), 1/23/2007; McClellan, 2008, pp. 178] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later take some responsibility for the lapse, saying, “The fact is that given the October 5 and 6 memorandum [from Tenet], and my telephone conversation with the DCI Tenet at roughly the same time, I should have recalled at the time of the State of the Union speech that there was controversy associated with the uranium issue.” The press briefing, McClellan will write, “accomplish[es] our goal of putting the 16-word controversy behind us.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 178]
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]
Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” [Slate, 7/25/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Ahmed al-Shemri, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Iraqi National Congress, Judith Miller, Jack Shafer, Michael Gordon, Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by Gwen Ifill. [Source: PBS]After CIA Director George Tenet admits that President Bush should never have made the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley admits the White House also erred in allowing the claim (see July 22, 2003), Hadley’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, grudgingly admits to her own responsibility in allowing the claim to be made. She tells PBS reporter Gwen Ifill: “What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director [Tenet] had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). I either didn’t see the memo, or I don’t remember seeing the memo.” When Ifill asks if she feels any “personal failure or responsibility” over allowing the false claim, Rice responds: “Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of [sic] the highest confidence of his staff.” On the same day, Rice continues to insist that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see July 30, 2003, July 30, 2003, and July 31, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 352-353]
The CIA requests that the Justice Department investigate the “outing” of one of its undercover agents, Valerie Plame Wilson. Plame Wilson was revealed as a CIA agent in a column by syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). The CIA’s own Office of Security also opens an investigation. The FBI will handle the Justice Department’s investigation. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/30/2004 ] Novak’s “outing” of Plame Wilson may be a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover intelligence agent (see July 16, 2003). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announces that security forces at the Indian Point nuclear plant, in upstate New York, have thwarted a mock terrorist attack. The mock attack was held under quite different circumstances from a possible real strike by terrorists: the guards were told exactly what date the mock attack would be held on, the mock terrorists were required to attack during daylight hours, and the number of attackers was limited to three. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18-19] Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) calls the drill inadequate. Lowey asks: “Were guards required to defend against airborne and water-based threats, two of Indian Point’s greatest vulnerabilities? Why does poor performance in these drills carry no penalties? Our nuclear facilities must be protected by top-notch security forces that undergo regular, rigorous exercises that reflect the real-world terrorist threats we face today” (see Between July 9 and July 16, 2001). Alex Matthiessen, the director of the environmental organization Riverkeeper, agrees with Lowey: “When the NRC conducts a drill that tests post-9/11 terrorist scenarios and when they allow truly independent observers and experts to observe the drill, only then will I begin to believe that Indian Point’s security is robust or adequate. At this point the NRC has no credibility with the public, having just rubber-stamped a patently flawed emergency plan.” A spokesman for Entergy, the corporation that owns and operates the plant, calls the mock attack “rigorous and realistic.” [New York Times, 8/12/2003]
The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
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]
A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” [Guardian, 8/16/2003]
The CIA’s Baghdad station chief, Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), files an Aardwolf, or time-critical situation report, about the crisis in the area in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the UN offices in that city (see August 29, 2003). The report says that the UN bombing was part of a strategy by a new and bold insurgency to discredit and isolate the US-led coalition, and warns that insurgents and terrorists have the capability to carry out many more attacks against “soft targets.” The insurgency is increasingly dangerous, threatens to erase early progress made by the US, and could actually overwhelm occupation forces. The report also says that there are two strands of violence, one from foreign fighters and one from Iraqi insurgents. In addition, it predicts that the capture of Saddam Hussein will not end the violence as he appears not to be in control of it. Some in the Bush administration think the report is too negative and L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, attaches a note to it downplaying the worsening conditions in Iraq. [Risen, 2006, pp. 141-142; Wilson, 2007, pp. 157] Meyer will file another such report in November (see November 10, 2003).
In an interview, the US officer in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib acknowledges that, as per the directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), detainees are subjected to stress positioning. Stress positions are a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
When the media reports that six different reporters were told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer in the days before conservative columnist Robert Novak publicly identified her as such (see July 14, 2003), New York Times bureau chief Philip Taubman asks reporter Judith Miller if she is one of the six. Miller denies that she was told of Plame Wilson’s identity. She is lying (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Taubman will later recall that Miller is rather equivocal in her denial. “The answer was generally no,” he will say. He will recall Miller claiming that the subject of Plame Wilson and her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, had come up in casual conversation with government officials, but “she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) sends a team to Iraq to train interrogators in harsh, SERE-derived methods of interrogation (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, July 2002, and July 1-2, 2002). JPRA personnel demonstrate a number of methods to Special Military Unit (SMU) personnel, including “walling” (see May 10, 2005) and particular methods of physically striking detainees. JPRA personnel are present at several interrogations where detainees are placed in stress positions and repeatedly slapped. In at least one interrogation, JPRA personnel take part in abusing a prisoner, stripping him naked and giving orders to place him in a stress position for 12 hours. In August 2007, one JRPA official will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that, in regards to stripping detainees, “we [had] done this 100 times, 1,000 times with our [SERE school] students.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues an advisory warning that al-Qaeda is working on plans to hijack airliners flying between international points that pass near or over the continental US. The DHS spokesman states that most of the flights fitting this description would originate in Canada. Reasons for this advisory include concerns regarding the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a recent increase in intelligence information, and threats to aviation that continued through the summer. However, the advisory states that the information is not specific enough to raise the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. The advisory contains non-specific warnings about multiple attacks against “soft” targets in both the US and abroad. [CNN, 9/5/2003] No such attacks occur.
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, formerly head of the US Central Command, criticizes the Bush administration’s occupation strategy for Iraq, saying that the administration has never put together a coherent strategy, never created a plan for achieving its goals, and has not allocated the resources needed to achieve those goals. “There is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together,” he says, and so “we’re in danger of failing.” Speaking to several hundred Marine and Navy officers and others, Zinni, who was badly wounded in Vietnam, says: “My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice. I ask you, is it happening again?… We can’t go on breaking our military and doing things like we’re doing now.” A focus of his criticism is the choice by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to have the Defense Department, and not the State Department, oversee postwar efforts in Iraq. “Why the hell would the Department of Defense be the organization in our government that deals with the reconstruction of Iraq?” he asks. “Doesn’t make sense.” Another area of criticism is the Bush administration’s cavalier treatment of the United Nations, particularly in failing to secure a UN resolution that several nations said was a prerequisite for their contributing to the peacekeeping force (see October 21, 2002, October 27, 2002, November 8, 2002, December 31, 2002, February 5, 2003, and March 25, 2003). “We certainly blew past the UN,” he says. “Why, I don’t know. Now we’re going back hat in hand.” Zinni is given a warm reception by his audience, some of whom buy recordings of his remarks to share with friends and fellow soldiers. [Washington Post, 9/5/2003]
Sheldon Bradshaw, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a memo to Roz Rettman of the Office of Management and Budget. The memo remains secret, but it concerns an unspecified piece of draft legislation. It is in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request for documents concerning the treatment of detainees. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
Senator Patrick Leahy responds to Department of Defense William J. Haynes’s letter of June 25, 2003 (see June 25, 2003). He asks him to explain how the standards he outlined are implemented and communicated to US soldiers and asks for assurances that other agencies, including the CIA, abide by the same standards as the US military. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
Secretary of State Colin Powell sounds a note of disinterest when asked about the likelihood of a North Korean test of a nuclear weapon (see October 9, 2006). Powell tells reporters: “If they test we’ll take note of their test. The only reason they are testing is to scare the international community. The president has already accepted the possibility that they might test. And we will say ‘Gee, that was interesting.’” Powell adds: “The 50-year history of dealing with this regime is that they are marvelous in terms of threats, in terms of rhetoric and actions. Well, they might take an action, but this time they would be sticking their finger not just in the eye of the United States, but I think Kim Jong Il will have to think twice about whether he would do such a thing in light of Chinese involvement.” President Bush himself has answered a question about the likelihood of North Korea building as many as eight nuclear weapons by shrugging. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that because of the complete failure of negotiations between the US and North Korea (see August 2003), “[t]he administration had little choice but to act as though nothing was wrong.” [Business Week, 9/22/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
A New York man is caught hiding in a crate that had been flown by cargo jet from New York to Dallas, raising questions about airport security. Charles McKinley wanted to go home, and had already had himself shipped as freight from Newark to Buffalo, then from Buffalo to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and on to Dallas, where his crate was shipped by truck to his mother’s house. The deliveryman reports McKinley to the local police. Critics say the McKinley incident is the latest in a string of episodes highlighting the vulnerability of the nation’s airports and cargo shipments. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) tells a reporter: “Today, it was just a guy trying to fly cheaply from New York to Dallas to visit his parents. But in the future, a member of al-Qaeda could have himself packed into an air cargo container.” [CNN, 9/10/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 15]
The legal experts at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA) issue a memorandum amending the set of interrogation rules included in a September 10 memo (see September 10, 2003) by military legal experts in Iraq. The additional methods included in that memo can only be used with prior approval by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez on a case-by-case basis, the OSJA document says. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] Like Major General Geoffrey Miller, the OSJA stresses the importance of collaboration between MPs and intelligence personnel. It also provides “safeguards such as legal reviews of the interrogation plans and scrutiny of how they were carried out,” the Washington Post later reports. [Washington Post, 6/12/2004] Additionally, the memo discusses how the Arab fear of dogs can be exploited. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] According to a later report (see August 25, 2004) by General George R. Fay, interrogators at Abu Ghraib immediately adopt the new set of rules. But Staff Judge Advocate Colonel Mark Warren will recall that the memo is not implemented until its approval by the US Central Command (CENTCOM). [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] Evidence, however, supports the Fay report. “After mid-September 2003,” Fay will write, “all [s]oldiers assigned to Abu Ghraib had to read a memorandum titled IROE [Interrogations Rules of Engagement], acknowledging they understood the ICRP, and sign a confirmation sheet indicating they had read and understood the ICRP.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] According to classified documents uncovered by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009), CENTCOM lawyers begin objecting to the policies almost immediately. One e-mail, from a CENTCOM lawyer to a Staff Judge Advocate, warns, “Many of the techniques appear to violate [Geneva Conventions] III and IV and should not be used.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Private Alyssa Peterson. [Source: Arizona Daily Sun]Private Alyssa Peterson, deployed as an Arabic-speaking interrogator in Iraq, commits suicide rather than participate in torturing Iraqi prisoners. Peterson, from Flagstaff, Arizona, serves with the 311th Military Intelligence Unit, a part of the 101st Airborne, at an American air base in Tal Afar. Her death is initially cited as an accident resulting from a “non-hostile weapons discharge,” a not uncommon citation. Shortly after her death, Army officials tell the Arizona Republic that “a number of possible scenarios are being considered, including Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian.” In 2005, reporter Kevin Elston will probe more deeply into Peterson’s death; documents released under the Freedom of Information Act will show that, according to Elston’s report for radio station KNAU: “Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.” Official records show that Peterson had been “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for the prisoners. The report of her death states, “She said that she did not know how to be two people; she… could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.” She was reassigned to gate duty, and sent to suicide prevention training, but, the report reads, “[O]n the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.” A notebook is found next to her body, but its contents are entirely redacted. Peterson also leaves a suicide note, which Elston will be unable to obtain. After reviewing the records documenting the circumstances of her death, Elston will say: “The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were.” Peterson’s parents will not be told of their daughter’s suicide for three years, but are told merely that she died as a result of an accident. [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009] In 2009, reporter and author Greg Mitchell will interview former Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter who served briefly with Peterson at Tal Afar. Williams, like Peterson, objected to abusive techniques being used on prisoners, and is eventually transferred to different duties (see Late September 2003). Williams will note that there are probably more factors involved in Peterson’s suicide than her revulsion to torture. “It’s always a bunch of things coming together to the point you feel so overwhelmed that there’s no way out,” Williams will say. “I witnessed abuse, I felt uncomfortable with it, but I didn’t kill myself, because I could see the bigger context. I felt a lot of angst about whether I had an obligation to report it, and had any way to report it. Was it classified? Who should I turn to?… It also made me think, what are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation.” Mitchell will write, “Such an experience might have been truly shattering to the deeply religious Peterson.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]
According to anonymous current and former intelligence officials, the CIA has carried out an in-house investigation of the damage done to the agency by the exposure of covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, 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). That damage is described by the officials as “severe” and potentially far more damaging than has been previously reported, particularly to the agency’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program (see February 13, 2006). The officials say that while CIA Director Porter Goss has not submitted a formal assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure to Congressional oversight committees, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations did conduct a serious and aggressive investigation. That investigation, a “counter intelligence assessment to agency operations,” was ordered by the agency’s then-Deputy Director of the Directorate of Operations, James Pavitt. Former CIA counterintelligence officer Larry Johnson says that such an assessment would have had to have been carried out: “An exposure like that required an immediate operational and counter intelligence damage assessment. That was done. The results were written up but not in a form for submission to anyone outside of CIA.” A former counterintelligence officer says that the CIA’s reason for not submitting a report to Congress is that its top officials “made a conscious decision not to do a formal inquiry because they knew it might become public. They referred it [to the Justice Department] instead because they believed a criminal investigation was needed” (see September 16, 2003). According to that official, the assessment found the exposure of Plame Wilson caused “significant damage to operational equities.” Another counterintelligence official explains that “operational equities” includes both people and agency operations that involve the “cover mechanism,” “front companies,” and other CIA officers and assets. The assessment also shows that other CIA non-official cover (NOC) officers (see Fall 1992 - 1996) were compromised by Plame Wilson’s exposure. The officials will not say if American or foreign casualties were incurred as a result of her exposure. Several intelligence officials say it will take up to “10 years” for the agency to recover from the damage done by Plame Wilson’s exposure, and to recover its capability to adequately monitor nuclear proliferation on the level it had achieved prior to the White House’s leak of her identity. [Raw Story, 2/13/2006]
The CIA informs the Justice Department that it has completed its internal investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the media. It recommends that the FBI “initiate an investigation of this matter” (see September 26, 2003). [McClellan, 2008, pp. 178-179]
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 CIA submits a standard 11-part questionnaire to the Justice Department to determine whether an investigation of the Plame Wilson leak is warranted. Among the questions are: “whether the classified data disclosed is accurate”; “the extent of official dissemination of the data”; “whether the data has been the subject of prior official releases”; what effect disclosure has on national security; and “whether the material or portions thereof or enough background data has been published officially or in the press to make an educated speculation on the matter possible.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2003]
The US administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, speaks with President Bush during a dinner party. Discussing the insurgency in Iraq, Bremer warns Bush, “We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat.” In his 2006 book My Year in Iraq, Bremer will write that at this time, the US only has “about half the number of soldiers we need… here.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
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
Robert Novak, the conservative columnist who revealed Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a covert CIA agent in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), says that CIA sources have told him “it’s doubtful she’ll ever again have a foreign assignment.” He acknowledges being asked by a CIA official not to print her name: “They said if her name was printed, it might be difficult if she was traveling abroad, and they said they would prefer I didn’t use her name (see Before July 14, 2003). It was a very weak request. If it was put on a stronger basis, I would have considered it.” The CIA is still conducting an assessment of the damage that was done to its overseas information networks and foreign contacts by the revelation. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
The day after reading a Washington Post article about the two White House sources who alerted reporters to Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see September 28, 2003), former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer retains a lawyer. Fleischer knows he is one of the White House officials who disclosed Plame Wilson’s identy to reporters (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003), and is therefore one of the White House sources referred to in the article. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; FireDogLake, 1/25/2007] According to documents later filed with the government, after reading the article, Fleischer realized that he might end up facing legal charges. A government witness will later state: “And he realized, when there was an ongoing criminal investigation, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but basically it was one of those moments when your heart goes in your throat, and you think, I could be in very big trouble here. And the following day he obtained legal counsel and began discussing with his attorney what kind of predicament he was in.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/27/2007]
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
Kayla Williams. [Source: Bowling Green State University]Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter, witnesses prisoners being abused while being detained in Mosul. Williams is troubled by the death of an acquaintance, Private Alyssa Peterson, who actually committed suicide rather than take part in the torture of prisoners (see September 15, 2003 and After). Williams witnesses an incident that closely parallels the kind of interrogation Peterson objected to. She is taken into a special holding area called “the cage,” where she sees US soldiers punching a naked detainee in the face and burning him with lit cigarettes. There is no interrogation, just the brutalization of a prisoner. Williams will later write: “It’s one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That’s one thing. But flicking lit cigarettes at somebody—like burning him—that’s illegal.” She will later write that soldiers will soon tell her that “the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war.” In 2005, Williams will recall the incident on CNN: “I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes. They stripped prisoners naked and then removed their blindfolds so that I was the first thing they saw. And then we were supposed to mock them and degrade their manhood. And it really didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn’t know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren’t behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave.” After that session and several others that same day, she tells a superior officer that she will not take part in future interrogations. “I sat through it at the time,” she will recall. “But after it was over I did approach the non-commissioned officer in charge and told him I think you may be violating the Geneva Conventions.… He said he knew and I said I wouldn’t participate again and he respected that, but I was really, really stunned.” In 2009, Williams will say: “In general, interrogation is not fun, even if you follow the rules. And I didn’t see any good intelligence being gained. The other problem is that, in situations like that, you have people that are not terrorists being picked up, and being questioned. And, if you treat an innocent person like that, they walk out a terrorist.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]
Senate Democrats attempt to pass a non-binding resolution asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to name a special counsel to investigate the Plame Wilson leak, but Republicans squelch the resolution on procedural grounds. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the sponsor of the resolution, says, “This is not just a leak; this is a crime, plain and simple” and deserves an independent inquiry. Democrats say the Justice Department has an inherent conflict of interest in investigating the White House; they note that top Bush strategist Karl Rove, who has been accused of having a role in the leak, once was a consultant to Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 10/1/2003] US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will be named as special counsel for the investigation (see December 30, 2003).
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]
At an afternoon press briefing at the University of Chicago, President Bush is questioned about the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see September 26, 2003). Bush says that there are “too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There’s leaks at the executive branch; there’s leaks in the legislative branch. There’s just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.” He is “absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job” in the investigation. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.” Asked whether White House political strategist Karl Rove might be the source of the leak (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Busn replies: “Listen, I know of nobody—I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.” He remarks that “Washington is a town where there’s all kinds of allegations,” and again asks that if anyone has any “solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information—outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would. And then we’ll get to the bottom of this and move on.… I want to know who the leakers are.” [White House, 9/30/2003; CBS News, 9/30/2003]
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]
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and three other Senate Democrats write a letter to President Bush asking that he appoint a special counsel for the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Daschle and the other senators also ask that Bush order all senior White House senior staff members to sign a statement saying they were not responsible for the leak. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]
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]
In the days after the Justice Department begins probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 29, 2003), Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, finds a reference in his notes that indicates he learned from Cheney that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent. According to his later testimony, Libby immediately goes to Cheney with the notes, in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to discuss the matter with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). “It turns out that I have a note that I had heard about” Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from you,” Libby tells Cheney. Libby will later testify that Cheney “didn’t say much” in response. “You know, he said something about, ‘From me?’ something like that, and tilted his head, something he does commonly, and that was that.” [National Journal, 2/19/2007; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Libby tells Cheney that his public story is that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cheney knows that the Russert story is untrue, but does nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Cheney also encourages White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly exonerate and defend Libby (see October 1, 2003, October 4, 2003, October 4, 2003, and October 5, 2003), who complains that the White House is not doing enough to protect him. In 2007, law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman will say that any criminal interpretation of Cheney’s reaction to Libby’s story depends on the exact words the two men exchanged, and exactly what Cheney knew at the time. “Only Cheney and Libby know the import of their conversation, and as is often the case, each could have even come away with a different impression of what was meant” by what the other said, Richman will observe. “If Cheney was merely showing surprise and interest at what Libby [was] indicating to him he was going to tell investigators, then the vice president is innocent in the exchange. But if he had reason to believe, or personal knowledge, that what Libby was planning to say was untrue then there is good reason to view Cheney’s conduct in an entirely different light—an obstruction interpretation.” Libby knew that Plame Wilson was a CIA official a month before his discussion with Russert (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), and Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby around the same time (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/19/2007]
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]
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, re-reading the July 14, 2003 column by conservative columnist Robert Novak that outed covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) and Novak’s current column about the leak October 1, 2003), realizes that he was one of Novak’s sources (see July 8, 2003). In Armitage’s words, Novak wrote that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from “a non-partisan gun slinger.” Armitage calls his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and says, “I’m sure that was me.” He tells the FBI investigators probing the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity of his role in outing the agent. “I told them that I was the inadvertent leak,” Armitage will admit in 2006. But he does not hire a lawyer. He will explain, “First of all, I felt so terrible about what I’d done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn’t need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I was already doing that. I was not intentionally outing anybody.” [CBS News, 9/7/2006] Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s legal adviser, notifies a senior Justice Department official that Armitage has information relevant to the Plame Wilson investigation (see September 26, 2003). Armitage will discuss the matter with FBI investigators the next day (see October 2, 2003). [Newsweek, 9/4/2006]
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]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who has already outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), now outs the CIA front firm that was her cover. In a column reporting that Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson made campaign donations of $1,000 each to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 1999, Novak notes that Plame Wilson, under her married name of Valerie E. Wilson, “identified herself as an ‘analyst’ with ‘Brewster Jennings & Associates.’ No such firm is listed anywhere, but the late Brewster Jennings was president of Socony-Vacuum oil company a half-century ago. Any CIA employee working under ‘non-official cover’ always is listed with a real firm, but never an imaginary one. Sort of adds to the little mystery.” Novak fails to mention that Joseph Wilson also donated $1,000 to the campaign of George W. Bush. He also fails to note that he has indirectly admitted that he knew Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent. [Town Hall (.com), 10/4/2003; Washington Post, 10/4/2003] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter that Novak’s outing of Brewster Jennings indicates a “pattern of disclosure,” presumably indicating that Novak’s revealing of state secrets may rise to the level of criminal behavior. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Three days after sending e-mails to White House employees specifying how they should cooperate in the FBI’s investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29-30, 2003) and September 30, 2003), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets deadlines for those employees to turn over information pursuant to that investigation. Gonzales sends an e-mail saying in part: “On September 30, 2003, you received two memoranda from me directing you to preserve and maintain certain documents. In a letter received yesterday evening, the Department of Justice has requested that we provide those documents to prosecutors and FBI agents assigned to this investigation. To ensure compliance with the time deadlines imposed by the Department of Justice, you are directed to provide to the Counsel’s Office, by no later than 5 p.m. on October 7, 2003, copies of the following documents, created during the time period February 1, 2002, through September 30, 2003, inclusive:
“1. All documents that relate in any way to former US Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“2. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any member or representative of the news media about Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife’s purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency; and
“3. All documents that relate in any way to a contact with any or all of the following: reporters Knut Royce, Timothy M. Phelps, or Robert D. Novak, or any individual(s) acting directly or indirectly on behalf of them.
“For purposes of this memorandum, the term ‘documents’ includes ‘without limitation all electronic records, telephone records of any kind (including but not limited to any documents that memorialize
telephone calls having been made), correspondence, computer records, storage devices, notes, memoranda, and diary and calendar entries’ in the possession of the Executive Office of the President, its staff, or its employees, wherever located, including any documents that may have been archived in Records Management. However, at this time, you do not need to provide to Counsel’s Office copies of the following, provided that they have not been marked upon in any way and are not accompanied by any notes or other commentary: (a) press clips or articles, whether in hard copy or e-mail or electronic form, or (b) either of the two memoranda I sent on September 30, 2003, regarding document preservation.” Gonzales attaches a compliance certification that must be completed and returned by 5 p.m. October 7, 2003. The compliance certification includes the following paragraph: “I further understand that this certification is for purposes of a federal criminal investigation and that intentional false statements may result in criminal penalties or other sanctions.” [Alberto R. Gonzales, 10/3/2003] In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld e-mails from the FBI that may have proven criminal complicity on the parts of senior White House officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney (see February 15, 2006).
The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) has resulted in the exposure of a CIA front company, potentially causing widespread damage to overseas intelligence gathering. Yesterday, Novak revealed the name of the firm in another column (see October 2, 2003). The fictitious Boston firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, appears in Federal Election Commission records on a 1999 form filled out by Plame Wilson when she donated $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). Once the Novak column was published, CIA officials admitted that it is a front. Brewster Jennings is listed as Plame Wilson’s employer on her 1999 tax forms, though she was working as an undercover CIA officer at the time. A former diplomat says that since Brewster Jennings and Plame Wilson have been exposed, every foreign intelligence service is running the names through their own databases to determine whether she ever visited their countries and what kinds of contacts she made there. “That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat says. [Washington Post, 10/4/2003]
Plame's NOC Status, 'Legend' - As one of a very small, select number of “nonofficial cover” officers, Plame Wilson would have enjoyed little or no government protection had her cover been blown while she was overseas. Training officers such as her cost millions of dollars and require elaborate constructions of fictional background, called “legends,” including the creation of CIA front companies such as Brewster Jennings. The amount of damage caused by the outing of Plame Wilson and Brewster Jennings is incalculable. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says many other CIA agents and foreign assets are now endangered, and future attempts to convince foreign citizens to share information with US intelligence agencies will be hampered. Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson, who trained with Plame Wilson in 1985, says that when the damage is fully assessed, “at the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Johnson describes himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the breach. “We feel like the peasants with torches and pitchforks,” he says. “The robber barons aren’t going to be allowed to get away with this.” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also trained with Plame Wilson, agrees: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” While the CIA continues to keep details of Plame Wilson’s career secret, it is known that she was attached to a US embassy in Europe in 1990 and 1991 (more information on her overseas postings will later be revealed—see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). It is known that when Novak blew her cover, she was a senior case officer for the CIA’s counterproliferation division, working with intelligence about hostile countries and WMD. “All the people who had innocent lunches with her overseas or went shopping or played tennis with her, I’m sure they are having heart attacks right now,” says one former colleague who was also in covert operations. “I would be in hiding now if I were them.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2003; Knight Ridder, 10/11/2003]
Brewster Jennings Just One of Plame Wilson's Cover Firms - Former intelligence officials confirm that Brewster Jennings was just one of several cover affiliations that Plame Wilson used when she was operating overseas. “All it was was a telephone and a post office box,” says one former intelligence officer. “When she was abroad she had a more viable cover.” [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003] Cannistraro will later add that when Plame Wilson was operating undercover outside the US, she would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company “is not an indicator of what she did overseas.” Now, those firms are themselves in jeopardy of exposure for working with US intelligence. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343-344] In 2007, former CIA and National Security Council official Bruce Riedel will say: “I have looked at the part of her CV that is in the open domain. The agency spent an awful lot of effort building a really good cover for this person. A lot of effort. People who say this was not a covert operative don’t understand what they’re saying. This was intended to be a nonofficial cover person who would have the credentials to be a very serious operative. The damage done to the mission of the organization by exposing her, and how cover is built, is pretty serious.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Vincent Cannistraro, Jim Marcinkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings, Counterproliferation Division, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Federal Election Commission, Larry C. Johnson, Bruce Riedel
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
After being ordered to assure the press that Lewis “Scooter” Libby knew nothing of the Plame Wilson leak (see October 4, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan agrees to follow that order if Libby himself will give him that same assurance. McClellan calls Libby and asks, “Were you involved in the leak in any way?” Libby replies, “No, absolutely not.” Together, they decide what reporters McClellan should call, and McClellan begins spreading the word among a wide array of national media correspondents. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220] (Later research by author and blogger Marcy Wheeler indicates the reporters McClellan contacts are most likely the Associated Press’s Scott Lindlaw, Michael Isikoff or Evan Thomas of Newsweek, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s Mike Allen.) [Marcy Wheeler, 6/10/2008] The line is, as agreed upon, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” Shortly afterwards, McClellan decides on his own to make the same assurances about National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams, who has angrily denied rumors of his own involvement (see October 5, 2003). “I was becoming increasingly frustrated,” McClellan will write, “as this was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I was putting myself in the middle of the investigation by publicly vouching for people, against my own wishes and against the sound advice of White House counsel.… In hindsight, the president should have overruled his advisers and demanded that an internal investigation be conducted to determine whether there might have been any White House involvement. He also should have ordered the public release of as much information as possible as soon as it was known, so that the scandal would not take on a life of its own.” McClellan will theorize that Bush “chose not to do so, perhaps feeling that keeping clear of the story would insulate him and protect him from potential political damage. Instead, it gave the story broader and longer life, only helping to reinforce the permanent state of suspicion and partisan warfare he had pledged to move beyond.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220]
At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 217-218] Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. [New York Times, 10/5/2003] In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 9/2003 ; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, Jeffrey Rosen
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to committee chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), asking that the committee open an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Waxman’s letter will not receive a response. Davis has already ignored one such request (see September 29, 2003). [Waxman, 12/2005]
Five undercover agents posing as passengers and would-be terrorists manage to get weapons through security checkpoints at Logan Airport in Boston. The agents, sent by Department of Homeland Security inspector general Clark Kent Ervin, take knives, a bomb, and a gun through checkpoints in different terminals. The Transportation Security Administration says that such exercises are useful for spotting holes in airport security, but the Boston Globe writes, “The fact that such weapons made it past checkpoints two years after an overhaul of airport security is likely to be seen as a serious indictment of the government’s efforts to protect air travel from terrorists.” Ervin then orders similar tests at 15 airports, but the problems are also apparent at some of these other airports. For example, at Newark, from which Flight 93 departed on 9/11, screeners miss one in four test bombs or weapons. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 171-2]
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