don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
was September 2002, and then-National Security Advisor, now-Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice was fastening on CNN perhaps the most
memorable and frightening single link in the Bush regime’s chain
of lies propagandizing the war on Iraq. Behind her carefully planted
one-liner with its grim imagery was the whole larger hoax about
Saddam Hussein possessing or about to acquire weapons of mass destruction,
a deception as blatant and inflammatory as claims of the Iraqi dictator’s
ties to Al Qaeda.
demagogic scare tactic was also very much part of the tangled history
of alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger, the fabrication
leading to ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s now famous exposé
of the fraud, the administration’s immediate retaliatory "outing"
of Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, and now the revelation
that the President’s supreme political strategist Karl Rove and
Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Lewis Libby were involved
in that potentially criminal leak – altogether the most serious political
crisis Bush has faced. In fact, though her pivotal role has been
missed entirely – or deliberately ignored – in both the media feeding
frenzy and the rising political clamor, Condoleezza Rice was also
deeply embroiled in the Niger uranium-Plame scandal, arguably as
much as or more so than either Rove or Libby.
those who know the invariably central role of the NSC Advisor in
sensitive political subjects in foreign policy and in White House
leaks to the media as well as tending of policy, especially in George
W. Bush’s rigidly disciplined, relentlessly political regime, Rice
by both commission and omission was integral in perpetrating the
original fraud of Niger, and then inevitably in the vengeful betrayal
of Plame’s identity. None of that spilling of secrets for crass
political retribution could have gone on without her knowledge and
approval, and thus complicity. Little of it could have happened
without her participation, if not as a leaker herself, at least
with her direction and with her scripting.
evidence of Rice’s complicity is increasingly damning as it gathers
over a six-year twisting chronology of the Nigerien uranium-Wilson-Plame
affair, particularly when set beside what we also know very well
about the inside operations of the NSC and Rice’s unique closeness
to Bush, her tight grip on her staff, and the power and reach that
went with it all. What follows isn’t simple. These machinations
in government never are, especially in foreign policy. But follow
the bouncing ball of Rice’s deceptions, folly, fraud and culpability.
Slowly, relentlessly, despite the evidence, the hoax of the Iraq-Niger
uranium emerges as a central thread in the fabricated justification
for war, and thus in the President’s, Rice’s, and the regime’s inseparable
credibility. The discrediting of Wilson, in which the outing his
CIA wife is irresistible, becomes as imperative for Rice as for
Rove and Libby, Bush and Cheney. And when that moment comes, she
has the unique authority, and is in a position, to do the deed.
Motive, means, opportunity – in the classic terms of prosecution,
Rice had them all.
Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law Hussein Kamel, in charge of Iraq’s strategic
weaponry, defects to the West. He tells CIA debriefers that at his
command after the Gulf War, "All weapons, biological, chemical,
missile, nuclear, were destroyed." His claim is supported by
continuing reports of UN inspectors and US intelligence, including
sophisticated imagery analysis by both the CIA and Pentagon.
The first rumors begin to circulate in Europe that the Iraqis may
be trying to buy "yellow cake" weapons grade uranium from
Niger, a poor West African country that earns more than half its
export income from the strategic ore. Since Iraq is known to have
used only amply available Iraqi uranium in nuclear research until
its disbanding in 1991, and because Niger’s yellow cake is produced
solely at two mines owned by a French consortium and the entire
output strictly controlled and committed to sale to France, European
intelligence agencies and UN officials soon discount the story – though
the rumors persist along with other alarming allegations by Iraqi
exile groups long working to incite the US Government to overthrow
Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, American embassies and CIA stations in
Europe routinely report the rumors in repeated, widely circulated
cable traffic to Washington over the summer and fall of 1999. Among
the recipients is the nuclear non-proliferation section of the Clinton
Presidency’s NSC staff, whose files on Iraq, a "red flag"
country, are turned over to Rice and her staff when she assumes
office eighteen months later
2001: Parties unknown burgle the Nigerien embassy in Rome. Stolen
from the torn-up offices are various valuables along with stationery
and official seals, which the Italian police warn might be used
to forge documents.
24, 2001: "Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant
capacity with respect to weapons of mass destruction," says
Secretary of State Colin Powell. "He is unable to project conventional
power against his neighbors."
29, 2001: "We are able to keep his [Saddam's] arms from him,"
NSC advisor Rice tells the media. "His military forces have
not been rebuilt."
2001: An African informant reportedly hands Italian intelligence
what are purported to be official Nigerien documents of "great
importance." Among them are letters apparently dealing with
Niger’s sale of uranium to Iraq, including an alleged transaction
in 2000 for some 500 tons of uranium oxide, telltale in a weapons
program. The Italians routinely pass the letters on through NATO
channels to the US, where by the fall of 2001 both State Department
and Department of Energy nuclear intelligence analysts doubt the
genuineness of the documents, and duly report their findings to
Rice’s NSC staff.
2002: In cables cleared by both Secretary of State Colin Powell
and Rice, the first high-level reference to the subject after 9/11,
Washington asks the US ambassador to Niger to uncover any possible
Iraqi purchases of uranium. After talks with senior Nigerien officials
and French executives in the uranium mining operations, along with
a still wider investigation by the embassy, including the CIA, the
ambassador reports back that there is no evidence of such dealings,
and no reason to suspect them.
2002: Vice President Cheney hears "about the possibility of
Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger," according to what
his chief of staff Libby later tells Time. In his daily intelligence
briefing by the CIA, as Libby relates, Cheney asks about "the
implication of the [Niger] report." CIA briefing officers tell
Cheney and Libby of the documents passed on months before by the
Italians, including the State and Energy Department judgment that
the papers are probable forgeries.
few days later, with the routine concurrence of Rice and her staff,
Cheney through Libby asks the CIA to look into the matter further.
The Agency has no ready experts in Niger suitable to assign the
Vice President’s requested inquiry. After routinely canvassing the
relevant offices and relatively brief discussion, they seize on
the suggestion of one of their operatives working on nuclear proliferation
issues, a mid-level CIA veteran named Valerie Plame who has worked
abroad and in Washington under "NOC" – non-official
cover in private business in contact with several foreign sources.
Her pertinent if personal recommendation for the assignment is her
husband, then-fifty-three year-old Joseph Wilson IV, a retired Foreign
Service Officer who has served briefly as Charg d’Affairs in Baghdad
in 1990 and then from 1992–1993 as US Ambassador to Gabon,
a seasoned diplomat with experience in both Iraq and West Africa,
and even some specialization in African strategic minerals.
19, 2002: A meeting at the CIA discusses sending Wilson to Niger.
Attending is an analyst from the State Department Bureau of Intelligence
and Research who says the trip is unnecessary, since the US embassy
in Niger and European intelligence agencies have already disproved
the story of an Iraqi purchase – and whose notes of the meeting, including
the facts of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity as an NOC operative on
WMD and her role in recommending her husband, will be the basis
for later crucial memos in the scandal.
State Department objection, the CIA decides to go ahead with the
Wilson mission to satisfy the Vice President’s request, and the
former ambassador is "invited out [to CIA Headquarters in Langley,
Virginia] to meet with a group of people at the CIA who were interested
in this subject," as he will remember it. Wilson is introduced
to the gathering by his wife, who then leaves the room.
late February, with the concurrence of CIA Director George Tenet
as well as Rice and Powell, Wilson flies to Niger.
24, 2002: Meanwhile, to further emphasize the importance of the
issue and with Washington’s concurrence, the US Ambassador in Niger
has invited to the capital of Niamey Marine four-star General Carlton
Fulford, Jr., deputy commander of the US-European Command, which
is responsible for military relations with sub-Saharan West Africa.
Fulford meets with Niger’s president and other senior officials
on the 24th, and afterward confirms the Ambassador’s earlier findings,
as he later tells the Washington Post, that there is no evidence
of the sale of yellow cake to Iraq, and that Niger’s uranium supply
is "secure." The General’s report duly goes up through
the chain of his command to the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon and
on to Rice at the NSC, Powell at State, the CIA, the Energy Department
and other interested agencies.
5, 2002: Having met with several Nigerien officials and sources
over a ten-day visit and debriefed at length the US Embassy staff
and Ambassador (who promptly cables a report on to Powell and Rice),
Wilson returns from Niger and gives CIA officers, as they request,
an oral report which is the basis for a CIA-written memo on his
trip then forwarded to Rice and Powell, and for a further CIA debriefing
for Cheney in response to his original request. Republicans will
later dispute about how categorical or emphatic Wilson’s report
and its derivatives actually are at this point. He refers to "an
Algerian-Nigerien intermediary" for Iraq who had approached
Niger about sales of ore, though adds that Niger "ignored the
request." But the essence of his conclusion is, once again,
that there is no evidence of Iraq procuring uranium from Niger.
In de facto acceptance of this finding, the several Washington agencies
involved in the issue, including Rice and her NSC staff, make no
other effort – beyond the US embassy investigation, General Fulford’s
trip, and the Wilson mission – to investigate the matter further in
Niger or anywhere else.
2002: With the Iraq-Niger uranium issue apparently laid to rest,
Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld establishes in the Pentagon, with
the full knowledge of Rice, a new Office of Special Plans, under
the direction of Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the cabal of
neo-conservatives the Bush regime has assembled at the upper civilian
reaches of the Defense Department. Believing the CIA, FBI and other
agencies in myriad negative reports, including the Wilson mission,
have simply "failed" to find existing evidence of Iraq’s
weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s ties to al-Qaeda, Rumsfeld
and Wolfowitz direct "Special Plans" to gather and interpret
its own "intelligence" on Iraq. Meanwhile Rice takes over
coordination of efforts to stymie ongoing arms inspections of Iraq
by the United Nations.
26, 2002: In a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair and other
senior British officials at Ten Downing Street, Sir Richard Dearlove,
"C," head of MI6 British intelligence, reports on what
he found during recent Washington conversations at the highest levels
of the CIA, White House and other US official quarters. "Military
action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam
through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism
and WMD," as a summary records his words. "But intelligence
and facts were being fixed around the policy."
2002: Concerned at the potential opposition to the war, and to coordinate
policy and media relations for the coming attack on Iraq, a special
White House Iraq Group (WHIG) is set up, chaired by White House
Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and composed of Rice, Rove, Libby, Rice’s
deputy Stephen Hadley, and media strategists Karen Hughes, a longtime
Bush aide, Mary Matalin and others. The WHIG is to plan and control
carefully all high-level leaks and public statements on Iraq and
related issues. "Everything, I mean everything, was run through
them and came out of them," a ranking official will say of
the group. "It was understood, of course, that Condi or Hadley
would clear everything from a policy point of view, Rove and Libby
would do the politics, and the rest would handle the spin."
26, 2002: "Now we know," Vice President Cheney tells the
VFW convention, "Saddam Hussein has resumed his efforts to
acquire nuclear weapons." Rice routinely clears this speech.
2002: Several months earlier, the US and UN embargo of Iraq has
seized a shipment of high strength aluminum tubes, which the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the US State and Energy Departments
duly identify as designed solely for launch tubes for conventional
artillery rockets. Despite those expert findings, Rice now claims
publicly that the tubes are "only really suited for nuclear
weapons programs, centrifuge programs."
reflecting the original rumors of the Iraq-Niger deal and the subsequent
dubious documents handed the Italians thirteen months before (copies
of which have reportedly been given to MI6 British intelligence
by an Italian journalist), a British Government White Paper on Iraq
released in September mentions that Baghdad "had recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Pressed on
the issue by the CIA (on the basis of its now-several reports debunking
the story) to drop that statement as inaccurate, the British claim
they have sources for the assertion "aside from the discredited
[Nigerien] letters," but never identify them. Rice is fully
briefed on all these exchanges.
British intelligence officials will admit the 2002 White Paper statement
on uranium from Africa was "unfounded." Meanwhile, however,
much of official Washington is aware of the CIA-MI6 squabble over
the Niger uranium and questionable letters. "The Brits,"
a Congressional intelligence committee staffer will later tell the
New Yorker’s Sy Hersh in discussing the issue, "placed
more stock in them than we did.")
also that September, in answer to a question in a CNN interview
about what evidence the White House has of Iraqi nuclear weapons,
that Rice makes her infamous quip, a line first authored by Mary
Matalin – "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
26, 2002: In closed-hearing testimony before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee (with a transcript closely reviewed by Rice),
Powell refers to "reports" of an Iraqi purchase of Nigerien
uranium as "further proof" of Saddam Hussein’s weapons
of mass destruction.
2002: Seizing on the British White Paper, despite the documented
disagreement of the CIA as well as the State and Energy Departments,
the Office of Special Plans inserts in a National Intelligence Estimate
(NIE) on Iraq, apparently one of the few documents Bush reads in
this sequence, a reference to the British report of an Iraq-Niger
uranium transaction. Though the NIE at CIA insistence notes "different
interpretations of the significance of the Niger documents,"
and that the State Department judges them "highly dubious,"
the reference to Nigerien uranium is listed among other reasons
to conclude that Iraq poses a danger to American national security.
clear evidence of peril," Bush says in a speech in Cincinnati
that October, "we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking
gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Behind
the scenes, an earlier draft of the October speech has also contained
a reference to an Iraqi purchase of 500 tons of uranium from Niger,
the now-revived claim from the discredited documents of fifteen
months before. CIA Director Tenet urges that the White House take
out that reference, and though the Pentagon’s Special Plans office
is pushing for inclusion of the reference, Rice’s deputy (and eventual
successor) Stephen Hadley, after two memoranda and a phone call
from Tenet, finally agrees to drop the passage. Rice is fully briefed
on all this.
19, 2002: As preparations are hurried for the attack on Iraq, a
State Department "Fact Sheet," cleared by Rice, asks ominously,
"Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?"
assumption of the Niger-Iraq uranium connection now begins to appear
regularly in the President’s Daily Brief, the CIA intelligence briefing
which is now also drafted under the influence of the Office of Special
23, 2003: In a New York Times op-ed entitled "Why We
Know Iraq is Lying," Rice refers prominently to "Iraq’s
efforts to get uranium from abroad."
28, 2003: "The British government," Bush says in his State
of the Union litany on the dangers of Iraq, "has [sic]
learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities
of uranium from Africa."
and her staff, of course, have as always laboriously worked and
reworked the national security passages of the speech. In readying
the address, Rice’s NSC Staff assistant for nonproliferation, Robert
Joseph, asks Alan Foley, a ranking CIA expert on the subject, about
the "uranium from Africa" passage, which obviously refers
to the old Niger issue. Foley says the CIA doubts the Niger letters
and connection, has disputed the British White Paper (as Rice and
Joseph well know), and recommends that the NSC strike the reference.
In typical bureaucratic fashion, however, Foley also says it would
be "technically accurate" to say that the British had
in fact issued such a report on Iraq, however mistaken. With the
approval of Rice and her deputy Hadley, the passage stays, becoming
a major piece of "evidence" in the case for war.
5, 2003: In his now infamous presentation to the United Nations,
a factor in silencing many potential dissenters in Congress, Powell
pointedly omits any reference to the Nigerien uranium. The story
"had not stood the test of time," he says later.
February, too, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as part of his
own propaganda for war, issues a Ten Downing Street paper called
"Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation,"
which includes a reference to the Nigerien uranium. Thought to be
drawn from authoritative MI6 intelligence, the paper is soon widely
ridiculed, eleven of its sixteen pages found to be copied verbatim
from an old Israeli magazine.
7, 2003: In response to a request four months before, the State
Department finally hands over to the IAEA copies of the Niger letters,
which UN experts promptly dismiss as "not authentic" and
"blatant forgeries." "These documents are so bad,"
a senior IAEA official tells the press, "that I cannot imagine
that they came from a serious intelligence agency. It depresses
me, given the low quality of the documents, that it was not stopped.
At the level it reached, I would have expected more checking."
A former high-level intelligence official tells The New Yorker,
"Somebody deliberately let something false get in there. It
could not have gotten into the system without the agency being involved.
Therefore it was an internal intention. Someone set someone up."
8, 2003: In reply to questions about the forgery, a State Department
spokesman says the US Government "fell for it." "It
was the information that we had. We provided it," Powell will
say lamely on "Meet the Press." "If
that information is inaccurate, fine."
17, 2003: Bush, in a statement cleared by Rice, repeats that,"
Iraq continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons
19, 2003: Bush orders the invasion of Iraq.
21, 2003: Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D. WVa) writes FBI Director
Robert Mueller asking for an investigation of the Niger letters.
"There is a possibility," Rockefeller says, "that
the fabrication of these [Niger] documents may be part of a larger
deception campaign aimed at manipulating public opinion and foreign
policy regarding Iraq,"
6, 2003: In an anonymous interview with New York Times columnist
Nicholas Kristof, Ambassador Wilson – identified none too subtly as
"a former US Ambassador to [sic] Africa," says
about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq: "It’s disingenuous
for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because
they knew about this [that Saddam had no nuclear program or weapons]
for a year."
10, 2003: Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman asks the Bureau
of Intelligence and Research (INR) for a briefing on the Niger uranium
issue, and specifically the State Department’s opposition to the
continuing White House view that Iraq had tried to buy yellow cake.
The resulting memo is dated the same day, and drawn from notes on
the February 19 meeting at the CIA on the Wilson mission and other
sources. Befitting the sensitivity of the information, the memo
is classified "Top Secret," and contains in one paragraph,
separately marked ‘(S/NF)" for "Secret/No dissemination
to foreign governments or intelligence agencies, " two sentences
describing in passing Valerie "Wilson’s" identity as a
CIA operative and her role in the inception of the Wilson trip to
Niger. This June 10 memo reportedly does not use her maiden name
12, 2003: The Washington Post reports that an unnamed "former
US ambassador" was sent to Niger to look into the uranium issue
and found no evidence of any Iraqi purchase.
the State Department, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage asks INR
to prepare a memorandum on the background of what the Post
is reporting, and INR sends to Armitage that same day a copy of
the June 10 memo to Grossman. The memo is also sent to Undersecretary
for Arms Control and International Security (and future UN Ambassador-designate)
6, 2003: Outraged by continuing references to the Nigerien uranium,
Wilson breaks his anonymity with a sensational New York Times
op-ed disclosing his mission to Niger sixteen months before, and
the fact that he found no evidence of an Iraqi purchase of ore.
"Based on my experience with the administration in the months
leading up to the war," Wilson writes, "I have little
choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to
Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi
threat." He tells "Meet the Press," "Either
the administration has information that it has not shared with the
public or … they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence
to bolster a decision that had already been made to go to war."
in the day, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage calls INR
Assistant Secretary Carl W. Ford at home, and asks him to send a
briefing memo to Powell about the Niger uranium issue. Ford simply
pulls out the previous June 10 memo with its reference to Wilson’s
wife (her name now corrected from Wilson to Plame), addresses it
to Powell, and forwards the memo to Rice to be passed on to Powell,
who is due to leave the next day with the Presidential party on
a trip to Africa.
the WHIG is also moving that Sunday to deal aggressively with the
Wilson op-ed. They will no longer focus on the too obviously fraudulent
claim of an Iraqi purchase of yellow cake – White House orthodoxy
before the invasion – but will instead discount the issue, discredit
Wilson, and shift blame for the now-embarrassing State of the Union
reference. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is to try to
downplay and dismiss Wilson’s article on-the-record at the next
day’s press briefing, while Rice and others begin to make off-the-record
calls to the media to do the same. While pursuing their own contacts
among right-wing reporters and columnists, Rove and Libby are also
to work with CIA Director George Tenet in a statement by Tenet taking
responsibility for any inaccuracy in the State of the Union passage.
7, 2003: Under a barrage of questions at a 9:30 am press briefing,
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says of the Wilson claims, "There
is zero, nada, nothing new here,’ adding that "Wilson’s own
report [shows] that officials in Niger said that Iraq was seeking
to contact officials in Niger about sales." (A reference to
the "Algerian-Nigerian intermediary" in Wilson’s debriefings.)
("That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant
quantity of uranium as the President alleged?" Wilson later
that day replies to Fleischer. "These guys really need to get
serious.") But as the briefing wears on, Fleischer’s defense
grows "murkier," as the New York Times reports,
and he seems to "concede" that the State of the Union
reference to Niger uranium "might have been flawed."
evening, with the White House scrambling to defend itself against
Wilson’s resonating charges, Bush leaves for a trip to Africa, accompanied
by Rice and Powell. Before the party flies out of Andrews, Rice
is in several meetings with Rove, Libby and other senior aides of
scene now shifts to the plush but still relatively close quarters
of Air Force One, the specially configured 747 where the accompanying
media are boarded through a rear door and funneled directly to their
mid-level section closed off from the forward official compartment,
and where Administration VIPs like Rice and Powell are in conference
rooms and adjoining lounge chairs in closer and easier proximity
and informality than in any other official venue. It is in this
setting, soon after takeoff, as the New York Times will report
two years later, that Powell is seen walking around carrying the
INR June 12/July6 memo detailing Wilson’s mission and Plame’s identity
and role in the "(S/NF)" paragraph. Powell discusses the
memo with Rice and other presidential aides on board, including
press secretary Ari Fleischer. Witnesses later see Fleischer "perusing"
the memo. There are reports, too, of several calls between the plane
and the White House discussing the Wilson affair. En route over
the Atlantic, Rice and Fleischer both call contacts at the Washington
Post and New York Times "to make it clear,"
the Times will report, "that they no longer stood behind Mr.
Bush’s statement about the uranium – the first such official concession
on the sensitive issue of the intelligence that led to the war."
is in these hours of late July 7 and early July 8 that Rove, Libby
and other officials get word of Plame’s identity from Air Force
One. Rove and Libby will hear of Plame in the drafting with Tenet
of his mea culpa, but officials on the plane reading the INR memo
cannot know or be sure of this, and the memo’s passages on Wilson,
including his wife, are now relayed back to Washington. Reporters
later speculate that Powell might have called either Rove or Libby
with such information, but as one concludes aptly, "That was
above his pay grade." The President himself might have read
the memo and called the two aides. But given Bush’s style and grasp,
that, too, is implausible, though he may well have been informed
of the calls and given his approval. The only official on board
Air Force One with the knowledge and authority – motive, means and
opportunity – to instruct Rove and Libby and so betray Plame was Condoleezza
7-8, 2003: Right-wing Columnist Robert Novak is called by thus far
unidentified senior officials leaking to him that Wilson’s wife,
Valerie Plame (they use her maiden name), is a CIA operative who
instigated her husband’s trip to Niger. "I didn’t dig it out,
it was given to me," Novak tells Newsweek of the leak.
"They thought it was significant. They gave me the name and
I used it."
9, 2003: Rove discusses the Wilson imbroglio, including the role
of Wilson’s CIA wife, with columnist Robert Novak, who identifies
her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.
11, 2003: Peppered by questions about Wilson’s charges, Bush in
a press conference in Uganda says, "I gave a speech to the
nation that was cleared by the intelligence services." That
evening, aboard Air Force One flying over East Africa, Rice speaks
at length with the media about the "clearances" of the
President’s speech. "Now I can tell you," she says, "if
the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this
out of the speech,’ it would have gone without question." She
says nothing about the actual maneuvering behind the now-troublesome
passage, the Joseph-Foley exchange, the controversial British memorandum
US intelligence has disputed, the shadowy history of the yellow
11, 2003: Back in Washington, working to discredit Wilson, Rove
leaks to Time’s Matthew Cooper that "Wilson’s wife"
is, in fact, in the CIA "working on WMD" and has been
behind his mission to Niger. Rove "implied strongly,"
Cooper later emails his editor, "there’s still plenty to implicate
Iraqi interest in acquiring uranium from Niger."
that conversation, in evidence of the central role of Rice and her
staff in the betrayal of Plame’s identity to discredit Wilson, Rove
emails Rice’s NSC deputy Hadley that he has "waved Cooper off"
Wilson’s claim, and that he (Rove) "didn’t take the bait"
when Cooper offered that Wilson’s revelations had damaged the Administration.
Hadley immediately relays this message to Rice in Africa.
same day, after extensive deliberations with Rove and Libby, CIA
Director Tenet makes a public statement that the Nigerien uranium
allegation should never have appeared in the Bush 2003 State of
the Union. "This did not rise to the level of certainty
which should be required for presidential speeches," he confesses,
"and CIA should have ensured that it was removed,"
12, 2003: When asked by Cooper about Plame being CIA, Libby confirms
the story to the Time reporter. That same day, in a talk
with the Washington Post’s Walt Pincus, an unidentified "senior
administration official" brings up Plame’s CIA identity, in
what is now a widely authorized leak approved by Rice as well as
14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak, attributing the story to "two
senior administration officials" – neither of which is
Rove or Libby – identifies Plame as a CIA "operative on weapons
of mass destruction" who was behind her husband’s mission to
20, 2003: "Senior White House sources" call NBC reporter
Andrea Mitchell to say, "the real story here is not the 16
words [Bush's reference to Niger uranium in the State of the Union]
but Wilson and his wife."
21, 2003: On MSNBC, host Chris Mathews tells Wilson, "I just
got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ‘Wilson’s
wife is fair game.’"
30, 2003: Alarmed about the impact of the betrayal of Plame’s identity
on current and future agents and sources abroad, the CIA asks the
Justice Department to investigate the leak, which leads to the naming
of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Prosecutor.
2003: An unidentified "White House official" tells the
Washington Post that "at least six reporters" had
been told about Plame before Novak’s column appeared. The disclosures,
the source says, were "purely and simply out of revenge."
chronology will no doubt continue to expand in the days and weeks
ahead. There may well be a ticking time-bomb in the Grand Jury investigation
of the Plame leak that goes beyond anything we now envision. In
earlier findings in cases of reporters refusing to testify, DC Circuit
Judge, David Tatel, a distinguished jurist known for his devotion
to civil liberties and especially press freedoms, had stoutly maintained
a federal privilege for the media, shielding it from being compelled
to testify except under the most exceptional conditions. But in
then later joining his colleagues in ordering Cooper and the
New York Times’ Judith Miller to testify, Tatel reviewed extensive
secret information from the prosecutor, devoted eight blacked-out
pages of his judgment to the material, and concluded that the privilege
he had upheld throughout his career as a lawyer and judge had to
give way before "the gravity of the suspected crime."
No other element of the scandal bodes so ill for the Bush
is also the intriguing relationship between John Bolton, the regime’s
stymied appointee to the UN, and Judith Miller, the New York
Times correspondent sent to jail for contempt in refusing to
divulge her sources on Plame even for a story she never wrote. Bolton’s
close relationship to Miller, in which many suspect the right-wing
lobbyist handed the reporter much of the fraudulent accounts of
Iraqi weaponry that ended up on the front page of the Times,
may well have encompassed as well the passing of information from
the INR memo on Plame, which Bolton saw before Powell or even Rice.
too, as the Progressive Review’s Sam Smith and Counterpunch’s
Alexander Cockburn have pointed out from their lonely perch of substance
and perspective atop what’s left of American journalism, there is,
in the end, much less to the whole story than meets the eye. In
their too obvious relish of celebrity, Wilson and Plame as heroes
are as dubious as the Niger letters. The CIA, and the Presidents
who used it as a private mafia, account for a more than half-century
history far more catastrophic than a legion of seedy Roves and Libbys
or even multiple Bush regimes. Relentlessly corrupt, inept, anachronistic,
if ever an institution deserved to be "outed" and prosecuted
in its numbers, it is our vastly bloodstained intelligence agency.
But as so often in politics, we are left with the lesser, still
needed reckoning at hand.
in that, of course, the larger issue beyond Plame is the Bush regime’s
Big Lie behind the invasion of Iraq, in which the phantom Nigerien
yellowcake was an important malignant element. No government since
World War II has more blatantly invented the pretext for waging
a war of aggression. The Rove and Libby collusion only begins to
peel away the layers of the crime. Rice is the next skein to be
manifest failures in the fateful months before 9/11 in meeting the
principal responsibilities of the National Security Advisor – the
sheer incompetence and shallowness that left so much intelligence
uncoordinated, so much neglected or misunderstood – should have been
enough to have run her from public office long ago, of course, were
it not for her hold on this tragically flawed president, and her
deplorable immunity amid the chronic political cowardice of both
the Democrats and the media.
however, her role in the Plame scandal cannot be ignored or excused.
She alone among senior officials was knowing and complicitous at
every successive stage of the great half-baked yellow cake fraud.
She alone was the White House peer – and in national security matters
the superior – to Rove and Libby, who never could have acted without
her collusion in peddling Plame’s identity. She as much as anyone
had a stake in smearing Wilson by any and all means at hand. If
Rove and Libby are to be held criminally or at least politically
accountable for a breach of national security, our "mushroom
cloud" secretary of state should certainly be in the dock with
article owes a primary debt to the ground-breaking research of Professor
Gary Leupp of Tufts University in his "Faith-Based
Intelligence," CounterPunch.org, July 26, 2003.
Morris [send him mail] was
Senior Staff on the National Security Council under both Presidents
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, until resigning over the invasion
of Cambodia. Morris is the author of Partners
in Power: the Clintons and Their America and with Sally Denton
Money and the Power: the Making of Las Vegas. He is completing
Shadows of the Eagle, a history of US policy and covert interventions
in the Middle East and South Asia over the past half-century, forthcoming
from Alfred Knopf.
article originally appeared on the Green
Institute GP360 web site.