MoonDawg's Den: "Twisting the truth"

MoonDawg's Den

Monday, April 10, 2006

"Twisting the truth"

In the comments of his April 7th post, my friend Jeff continues our debate regarding the White House's release (or "leak", if you prefer) of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, and asks a number of questions.

Jeff: "First, do you believe that the 16 words in the SOTU speech were completely accurate? If so, why did the administration retract the statement?"

In his 2003 SOTU, Bush said that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The British still stand by their intelligence, so yes - this statement is "completely accurate". What made it problematic - at least politically - was that, as George "slam dunk" Tenet said, "This should not have been the test for clearing a Presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed."

Jeff: "If they weren't completely accurate, then Wilson's assertions that those words were not accurate are true. That was his main claim."

The problem is that Wilson's "assertions" after the fact don't fully match what he himself
found in Niger - i.e., that the former Nigerian Prime Minister told Wilson he met with an Iraqi delegation in 1999, and that the PM believed the purpose was to "discuss uranium yellowcake sales". Wilson's report reinforced the analysis of those in the intelligence community who believed Iraq had indeed sought uranium from Africa - an important part of the story that Wilson deliberately omitted from his NYT op-ed. As a WaPo editorial put it just yesterday,

The material that Mr. Bush ordered declassified established, as have several subsequent investigations, that Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium.
Hardly a "little inconsistency", that.

Jeff: "Second, you made mention that the President didn't authorize the disclosure of Plame's name. We really don't know that yet".

Actually, we do already know that, if Fitzgerald is to be believed. See the quote from his court filing in the April 7th post.

Jeff: "Third, we do know that Cheney authorized the leak. What should be done about that? Did he, or Rove, or Libby, or anyone else involved do anything wrong in your view?"

The VP has the same statutory authority to declassify information - in this case, the 2002 NIE - as the President does. The only person accused of doing anything "wrong" is Libby, who has been charged with lying under oath. If Libby is indeed found guilty of lying under oath, then he should face the consequences.

Jeff: "The camel in the issue that you have to swallow to take your position is that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program".

Well according to the
Duelfer report, "Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability - in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks - but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities." Although "Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed" after 1991, "Saddam did express his intent to retain the intellectual capital developed during the Iraqi Nuclear Program. Senior Iraqis - several of them from the Regime’s inner circle - told ISG they assumed Saddam would restart a nuclear program once UN sanctions ended." You may disagree, but for me Saddam's intent to reconstitute his nuke program is just as alarming as if he was already actually doing so.

"and that exposing a CIA operative to score political points is okay".

I've said no such thing - you are conflating the NIE leak with the Plame name leak: they are two separate things. But the main person responsible for "exposing" Valerie Plame is Joe Wilson himself. Did Wilson not expect that once he went public in the NYT op-ed announcing his work with the CIA, people would start asking hard questions? Questions like, why was a retired diplomat with zero experience in nuclear proliferation and zero investigative experience sent by the CIA to Niger - a country he hadn't served in for 24 years - to investigate reported attempts by Iraq to purchase yellowcake from Niger? Ah, his wife at CIA set it up - that explains it.

Jeff: "If we're looking at inconsistencies, we can talk about WMD in Iraq and the reasons for war. Those have shifted 9 or 10 times."

Indeed? I suggest you read the 2002 joint Congressional
resolution for the use of force, which lays out the rationale for war - WMD was cited, but also cited was Iraq's "supporting and harboring terrorist organizations", the "brutal repression of its civilian population", the refusal to "release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq", the "continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States", the "firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council", Iraq's continuing to "aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations", Iraq's "obstruction of United Nations weapons inspections", etc. This was all explicitly laid out before the war, but folks like Jeff cry about "shifting" reasons whenever the administration refers to those rationales - why?

"Or we can look at statements made by Bush about firing leakers (Rove still has a job) or about leaks in general."

Bush was referring to unauthorized leaks. Authorized leaks are perfectly legal - and in fact are SOP. As the WaPo said in yesterday's editorial concerning the NIE leak, "There was nothing illegal or even particularly unusual about that; nor is this presidentially authorized leak necessarily comparable to other, unauthorized disclosures that the president believes, rightly or wrongly, compromise national security."

Jeff: " Why was the summary of the NIE not leaked or declassified? Oh, it makes Wilson's case stronger. I see now."

I don't see how the conflict between DOE, State, CIA, and others in the intelligence community on Iraq's acquisition of aluminum tubes - which has nothing to do with the Niger issue - makes "Wilson's case stronger". In any event, the SSCI report had already revealed this
conflict long ago. The CIA viewpoint (which was wrong) won out over State's and DOE - but we already knew this. And note that DOE was only questioning the specific issue of the tubes; on the larger question of whether Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, DOE was in agreement with CIA:

"The Department of Energy (DOE) agrees that reconstitution of the nuclear program is underway but assesses that the tubes probably are not part of the program."
Also, I find it highly suspect that the author of the National Journal article you link to, Murray Waas, makes zero mention of Wilson's lies, or of the full context of DOE's assessment of Iraq's nuclear program. And it is a distortion by Waas when he states that the tubes issue was "a key rationale for going to war". Bush's SOTU mentioning the tubes was in January, but the use of force resolution had already been voted on - and passed by both houses - nearly three months earlier. The tubes (or the "16 words", for that matter) were not in any way part of the debate during the time that the resolution was being considered. Well, others have noted past distortions by Mr. Waas, so we should not be surprised.


  • Oh, I get it. Wilson leaked his wife's name. That makes complete sense now. He got what was coming to him, and Cheney, Rove, and Libby are all completely innocent. It was Wilson who masterminded the "highly organized administration effort" that led to the outing of his wife. It was Wilson who talked to Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Bob Novak, et al. about the identity of his wife.

    Why don't we add that it's Wilson's fault that there were no WMD and that the "mushroom cloud" that we were warned of really couldn't have come from Iraq (even if they did have "intentions" of making one)? Why don't we blame the lack of success in Iraq on Wilson as well? Why don't we blame our poor standing with the world on him too? Maybe the increasing national debt is Wilson's fault, and the lack of border security, and pork spending, and anything else that this administration has failed at? It's all Wilson's fault.

    All the Wilson bashing in the world doesn't change the fact that an undercover CIA agent's cover was blown for political reasons. Period. You haven't answered my question about whether this was okay or not. You just keep telling me that it's Wilson's fault. I'm not buying. Maybe we're both blinded by politics, but I honestly feel that defending the people who did this is a pretty tough position.

    Bush's father said this about outing CIA agents:

    "Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors."

    In my view, everyone in the administration who revealed Plame's name to the press and who authorized its release should face criminal charges. Maybe Wilson isn't a bastion of truth, but he certainly doesn't qualify as "the most insidious of traitors." That title belongs to those who outed his wife.

    BTW, there is increasing evidence that Plame's outing had a huge effect on national security. How do you defend that?


    By Blogger Jeff, At 8:23 PM, April 10, 2006  

  • PS- I realize I've shifted the conversation away from the NIE; however, I believe that the two are related. Once a president makes the decision to release sensitive information for political gain, he opens himself up to a "bad" leak. I think the "prove Wilson wrong at all costs" attitude is what led to the leak, and that attitude starts at the top.

    By Blogger Jeff, At 11:55 PM, April 10, 2006  

  • No, I wouldn't say any of the things you list are Wilson's fault - really, you can do better than this stream-of-consciousness hyperbole. The point I was trying to make is that if one's spouse is a clandestine agent for the CIA, then you shouldn't announce to the world that you yourself have worked for the CIA. The minute you do so, foreign governments (let alone the media) will start looking at all your associations - family, friends, business partners - for any other intelligence connections.

    Which begs the question, why wasn't Wilson required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is SOP when an outside party is contracted by CIA to do sensitive work?

    Pointing out that Wilson lied isn't "bashing", it's setting the record straight. If whoever Bob Novak's source was for his column - which is how this whole thing got started - told Novak that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife at CIA, then yes it's "okay" by me - what else could have been done to counter Wilson's lies? If exposing Plame's name would cause operational damage, one would expect the CIA to ask Novak not to publish - they ask for information to be withheld all the time. As Novak later wrote,

    At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson's wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause "difficulties" if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name. I used it in the sixth paragraph of my column because it looked like the missing explanation of an otherwise incredible choice by the CIA for its mission.

    "Incredible choice" indeed - like I said, it was a given that after Wilson wrote his op-ed, people would start asking why a retired diplomat with no investigative experience or proliferation expertise was given the Niger assignment by CIA. And, by Novak's account, the CIA was not concerned about operational damage, merely that Plame might face "difficulties" when traveling outside the U.S.

    And if you're getting your news from Raw Story, it explains much. Look - a true NOC does not drive to a desk job at Langley every day. A true NOC does not let themselves be seen within 100 miles of Langley. A true NOC does not let their cover identity appear in the annual editions of Who's Who in America.

    And just for the record, the elder Bush wasn't talking about "outing CIA agents", he was referring to foreign HUMINT sources, not CIA officers (the quote is from a 1999 speech at Langley).

    By Blogger Garry, At 11:42 AM, April 11, 2006  

  • Garry,

    I agree I can do better than the "stream of consciousness hyperbole," but it did get you to answer the question I've been asking all along. That was the point of it.

    To the question of whether or not it is okay to out a CIA operative for political reasons, you said:

    "If whoever Bob Novak's source was for his column - which is how this whole thing got started - told Novak that Wilson was sent to Niger at the behest of his wife at CIA, then yes it's "okay" by me - what else could have been done to counter Wilson's lies?"

    I would say that there were several ways to deal with "Wilson's Lies." You have done a very good job of it without even mentioning nepotism, which is why Plame was outed. No matter what you say, Wilson wasn't a bad choice for this mission. He had been an ambassador in Africa for many years and had lots of contacts there. Maybe he wasn't the best choice, but he certainly wasn't an "incredible choice." The charge of nepotism is spurious at best.

    The rest of the case against Wilson is pretty strong. Why didn't the administration use that? Why didn't they counter Wilson with the truth, or at least their version of it? Why play politics with an undercover agent? It's not worth the risk. And, it wasn't necessary to show the inconsistencies in Wilson's statements.

    I agree that Raw Story isn't the most credible of news sources, and I say that in one of my previous posts about Plame at my own blog; however, if Plame was working on nuclear proliferation issues in Iran and can no longer do it because of the leak, would you change your tune? If this had had a huge impact on national security, would you still be okay with it?

    The Novak quote you cite kills your argument. I'm not sure how it helps at all. He says a couple of things that are important here.

    1- "At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson's wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help."

    Doesn't that hurt the nepotism claim. She didn't "inspire" the selection. She was merely asked to "request his help." So the CIA said, "We think Wilson can help us here. Since you live with him, could you ask him for us?" That's not nepotism. Now, if she had "inspired" his selection, then you might have a case, but she didn't.

    2- "He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause "difficulties" if she travels abroad."

    This is obvious. They were trying to conceal her name. She was undercover. Whether she was leaving the country on assignment soon or not, they were still trying to keep her name secret. And, her status was officially covert, and she should've been afforded that protection.

    Lastly, what authority do you have to say what a "true NOC" does? That was her status. Period. We can't change it because maybe she wasn't as active as she had been. That's ridiculous. It is saying that her service didn't merit the title, so she doesn't deserve the protection. Hello?

    As for the Bush quote, doesn't outing a CIA operative "betray the trust" of our foreign sources (at least the sources that that particular operative had contact with)?

    Is this all about politics? If Al Gore, while he was vice president, had leaked the name of a covert CIA agent under similar circumstances, would you be so supportive? Think hard before you say, "of course I would." I don't think that anyone supporting this would be singing the same tune if it was the Clinton administration. What happened was wrong. Politics aside, it was just wrong.


    By Blogger Jeff, At 12:48 PM, April 11, 2006  

  • Well thank you for saying that I have done a very good job of pointing out Wilson's lies, but I had the benefit of being able to review the reports generated from the investigations conducted by the SSCI and the Butler Committee; these were not available until a full year after Wilson wrote the NYT op-ed. At the time - July 2003 - the media was taking Wilson's words at face value, creating a political firestorm, and all the White House had to counter Wilson's lies was the 2002 NIE.

    And no, Novak doesn't "kill my claim" at all. What the CIA spokesman told Novak in July 2003 about Plame being "delegated" to approach her husband was later proven to be inaccurate, per the SSCI report:

    "Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip."

    And no, Plame was not "covert" at the time. Her position at CPD was classified, which is not the same thing as "covert". Again, if revealing Plame's employment with CIA would have endangered ongoing operations in any way, CIA would have jumped on Novak with both feet.

    Perhaps I should have been more specific - Plame was a NOC, years earlier, but beyond the five year timeframe specified by the IIPA.

    It's funny you mention Al Gore in this context. Plame donated the maximum allowable contribution to the Gore campaign in 2000, and listed as her employer a CIA "front" company, Brewster-Jennings. Joe Wilson's contribution is listed right next to hers (he actually went over the limit and the campaign had to return $1000 to Wilson). So the lowliest clerk-typist in the Republic of Bumfuckegypt's secret service (or any media reporter) could have dug up this connection after Wilson broadcast his association with the CIA to the whole world.

    Finally, according to Novak, Plame's name was not disclosed with malicious intent - it was mentioned as an "offhand revelation" from an official who Novak says was "no partisan gunslinger". If a Clinton administration official had done the same thing, I would be suspicious at first, but I would also have taken the time to review all the facts of the matter. Of course if it had been the Clinton administration, the media would have been trumpeting the subsequent exonerating evidence far more loudly...

    By Blogger Garry, At 2:52 PM, April 11, 2006  

  • "And no, Plame was not "covert" at the time. Her position at CPD was classified, which is not the same thing as "covert". Again, if revealing Plame's employment with CIA would have endangered ongoing operations in any way, CIA would have jumped on Novak with both feet.

    Plame was a NOC, years earlier, but beyond the five year timeframe specified by the IIPA."

    Not true, my friend. Newsweek debunked that talking point in February. She had been on assignment within the 5-year time frame.

    "Finally, according to Novak, Plame's name was not disclosed with malicious intent - it was mentioned as an "offhand revelation" from an official who Novak says was "no partisan gunslinger".

    Most sources agree that at least one of Novak's sources was Karl Rove. He is definitely a "partisan gunslinger." Furthermore, from an ethical perspective, intent doesn't matter. He was asked by the CIA not to use the name, and he did.

    I think we've about beaten this to death. I'll concede that Wilson wasn't candid, and that the administration had a right to respond to his criticisms; however, I still don't believe that there was a reason to out Plame, and there should be consequences for doing so.

    I also still believe that Wilson's credentials were pretty good for this mission, and the nepotism charge doesn't hold much water. The other evidence is much stronger.

    I don't envy Patrick Fitzgerald of his job, but I do think he's doing a good job. Someday we'll know all the truth.


    By Blogger Jeff, At 5:06 PM, April 11, 2006  

  • PS- IMO, the fact that Plame and Wilson are democrats who contributed to Gore and Kerry isn't too relevent either.

    By Blogger Jeff, At 5:07 PM, April 11, 2006  

  • Actually the Newsweek piece isn't as clear-cut as you may believe. Here's Fitzgerald in January 2006, responding to a discovery request by Libby's team:

    "We have neither sought, much less obtained, 'all documents, regardless of when created, relating to whether Valerie Wilson's status as a CIA employee, or any aspect of that status, was classified at any time between May 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003'"

    If Fitzgerald has never even sought documentation on Plame's status at CIA, then one wonders how he can make definitive statements on said status. As the linked piece points out, the more likely case is that Appeals Court Judge Tatel misinterpreted a footnote in a 2004 affidavit submitted by Fitzgerald.

    As to Rove, there is little doubt that he has been a source for Novak - which is precisely why most people don't believe he was the source on Plame, due to Novak's characterization of the source as a "partisan gunslinger". Some believe that the source was Richard Armitage at State, since Armitage was also apparently Bob Woodward's source on Plame as well, as the WaPo reported last month. Armitage does fit Novak's description; he is certainly not a "partisan gunslinger".

    You contend Wilson's credentials were "pretty good"? You're telling me the CIA didn't have a single person to send to Niger who had a) at least some investigative experience, b) at least some nuclear proliferation experience, and c) had been in Niger within at least the last quarter century? I don't buy it.

    Lastly, I don't contend Plame's political contributions are relevant because it reveals Democratic affiliation - the 2000 contribution was relevant because Plame named a CIA front company as her employer on the FEC form. Not a very bright thing for a deep cover operative to do - unless of course, you are simply a desk analyst and not a field agent.

    By Blogger Garry, At 10:38 AM, April 12, 2006  

  • You've bashed my sources throughout this debate, and then you give analysis by York and the National Review as evidence. HMMM.......

    I think we're at an impasse. We won't agree. Fitzgerald's investigation and history will have to be the judges. It's been a good debate.


    By Blogger Jeff, At 10:57 AM, April 12, 2006  

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