Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Outing of Valerie Plame Shows the Bush Admin's True Colors

Nothing we didn't already know in today's LA Times article chronicling the history of the leaking of former CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. It's quite valuable and highly recommended reading nevertheless because, as Laura Rozen points out, having the detailed timeline of events and players helps to put all the pieces together.

Taken together with the Downing Street documents, Tom Hamburger and Sonni Efron's report points up the essential connection between Plame's outing and the Bush administration's prewar plans to invade Iraq at a time when the public was being told there were no such plans.

Hamburger and Efron allude to this when they describe the experience of Larry Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, trying to make sure Powell had correct information prior to his Feb. 5 speech at the United Nations making the case for war.

A week before the speech, Powell had walked into Wilkerson's office with the 48-page document provided by Libby that laid out the intelligence on the Iraqi weapons program.

Most of it was rejected because its facts could not be verified. Wilkerson believes that draft was based at least in part on data provided to Cheney by Rumsfeld's intelligence group [the Office of Special Plans, set up within the Pentagon to be Rumsfeld's own intelligence unit, circumventing the CIA.

"Where else did they get this 48-page document that came jam-packed with information that probably came first from the [Iraqi National Congress], Chalabi and other lousy sources?" Wilkerson asked.

To sort out the conflicting intelligence, Wilkerson convened a three-day meeting at CIA headquarters. Its rotating cast included the administration's major foreign policy players: Libby, Hadley, Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, Tenet, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin and Rice.

Wilkerson was told that Libby had said the 48-page document was designed to offer Powell "a Chinese menu" of intelligence highlights to draw from for his speech. Powell and his team were skeptical of most of it. Rice, Tenet and Hadley were trying to reinsert bits of intelligence they personally favored but that could not be corroborated. Hadley offered an unsubstantiated report of alleged meetings between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague shortly before the attacks.

"The whole time, people were trying to reinsert their favorite … pet rocks back into the presentation, when their pet rocks weren't backed up by anything but hearsay, or Chalabi or the INC or both," Wilkerson said.

In the end, Powell agreed with Tenet to rely mainly on the national intelligence estimate on Iraq, which had been vetted by the CIA. Wilkerson came to believe that the Pentagon officials, and their allies in the White House, doubted what the intelligence community said because "it didn't fit their script" for going to war.

The day of Powell's speech, U.S. officials provided the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency, with documents supporting the assertion that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium ore from Niger. Within weeks, the agency determined the documents were clumsy fakes. The episode has never been explained.

"It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries," Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the atomic energy agency, said in an interview. "We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day."

Clearly, the people at that three-day meeting were interested only in which bits of intelligence provided the most compelling arguments for war; not in whether the factoids they liked could be supported. And that was because the policy had been decided long before that meeting; the intelligence's only purpose was to justify that policy.

The truly chilling part of the Times article for me, though, was its description of the moment Joseph Wilson read Robert Novak's column and realized his wife's CIA identity had been revealed.

On Monday, July 14, Wilson was at his breakfast table in Georgetown when he saw Novak's column, which said in part: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me 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."

Wilson later recalled that Plame suppressed her anger by compiling a list of the things she had to do to protect information and two decades' worth of contacts overseas. An entire career, she told her husband, had gone down the tubes, "and for no purpose."

Wilson says there was a purpose: to smear him, intimidate critics and distract the public from charges that prewar intelligence had been manipulated.

And to protect their policy by smearing Wilson, Karl Rove, "Scooter" Libby, and all the other players responsible for outing Valerie Plame were willing to let our enemies gain access to classified information, and risk the careers and lives of all the people Valerie Plame had worked with over a period of 20 years.

Just another example of Bush's "culture of life."

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