What if Karl Rove isn’t guilty of knowingly leaking Valerie Plame‘s name as a covert CIA agent involved in nuclear proliferation issues? What if Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, is correct when he says that he’s been assured by prosecutors that his client is not a target of the ongoing investigation into Plame-gate? I’m going to swim against the tide, here, and against the expectations of my readers, by suggesting that this investigation isn’t about Rove and, furthermore, that Rove is a victim, in an important sense, someone who was used and abused by the real culprits. And who are these mysterious culprits? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first some background
One thing that has always struck me as odd about this whole affair and I wasn’t the only one is a seemingly minor detail: why did Novak’s original column, which started all this brouhaha, identify Valerie Plame by her maiden name? After all, most married women even in this era of Women’s Liberation defer to the tradition of taking their husband’s name, but I have to admit that, even after wondering about it for a brief moment, I shrugged and moved on. As it turns out, however, this is an important detail, because now we have Rove’s lawyer saying that he at no time gave out Valerie Plame‘s name: but if Rove identified her as Joe Wilson’s wife, what the heck is the difference?
The difference is that, as Valerie Plame, Mrs. Wilson was affiliated with a CIA front company, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, engaged in tracking and stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. As soon as her name was made public, the implications for U.S. national security amounted to a grave breach far more of a crime than merely violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which has only had a single prosecution since its passage in 1982. As the Washington Post reported when the Plame scandal broke:
“A former diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that every foreign intelligence service would run Plame’s name through its databases within hours of its publication to determine if she had visited their country and to reconstruct her activities. ‘That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,’ the former diplomat said.”
The publication of her maiden name not only endangered Valerie Wilson, but also blew the cover of a CIA front and imperiled anyone she might have come in contact with during her stint overseas. This isn’t just a matter of of violating a statute that, at most, entails a 10-year jail sentence and a fine this is a question of possible espionage.
What also seems fairly clear is that Karl Rove would not have had direct knowledge of Plame-Wilson’s covert activities on behalf of the CIA, and that only a very few people high up in the national security bureaucracy had the clearance to get access to her name. So who was it? If Rove leaked to Novak, and half a dozen Washington reporters, then who leaked to the leakers?
This isn’t about Rove.
It’s about a cabal of war hawks inside the administration who passed on this information to others without telling them about Plame-Wilson’s deep cover status, perhaps suggesting that she was just an analyst working at a desk rather than a covert operative involved in a vitally important overseas operation, the knowledge of which was highly compartmentalized and only dispensed on a need-to-know basis. When Rove and his shills blabbed to reporters and anyone who would listen, they didn’t realize that they were aiding and abetting an elaborate ploy to stick it to the CIA.
Seen against the backdrop of the fierce intra-bureaucratic war that broke out in the administration in the run-up to the Iraq war with the CIA and the mainline intelligence and diplomatic communities pitted against civilian neoconservatives in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President the outing of Plame and her colleagues amounts to an act of espionage committed out of a desire to exact revenge. The leakers meant to retaliate not just against Joe Wilson, through his wife, but against the “old guard” that was resisting the campaign to lie us into war. When the CIA wouldn’t go along with the neocon program and “spice up” their analyses with Ahmed Chalabi‘s tall tales and the outright forgery of the Niger uranium documents, the War Party struck back at them with the sort of viciousness for which the neocons are rightly renowned.
The neocons had a fix on their target; now the question was how to get someone else to pull the trigger. The leakers, in order to protect themselves, “laundered” the leak through journalists (Judith Miller, one of their favorite conduits) and Bush operatives Rove. In his book, The Politics of Truth, Joe Wilson says as much:
“Apparently, according to two journalist sources of mine, when Rove learned that he might have violated the law, he turned on Cheney and Libby and made it clear that he held them responsible for the problem they had created for the administration. The protracted silence on this topic from the White House masks considerable tension between the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President.
“The rumors swirling around Rove, Libby, and Abrams were so pervasive in Washington that the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, was obliged to address them in an October 2003 briefing, saying of Rove: ‘The president knows he wasn’t involved. It’s simply not true.’ McClellan refused to be drawn into a similar direct denial of Libby’s or Abrams’s possible involvement, however.”
“QUESTION: You’re in a bad spot here, Scott
“ because after the investigation began after the criminal investigation was under way you said, October 10th, 2003, ‘I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this,’ from that podium. That’s after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation.
“MCCLELLAN: No, that’s not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that.”
Reporters who heard McClellan’s assurances back in October 2003 weren’t being deceived so much as lulled to sleep, and that really didn’t take much of an effort on the part of the administration, now did it? They were basically asleep anyway, and weren’t really listening to what was being said. Some people were paying attention, however, and taking notes, Joshua Marshall for one:
“So, when McClellan was asked to be more clear, he opted for a meaninglessly vague statement and then fell back on the ‘leaking of classified information’ dodge. Can we all take note of this now? That denial wasn’t what it seemed to be. In fact, I doubt it was a real denial at all.
“There’s more there. Why not find it?”
Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald is now in the process of finding it and Rove is not his real quarry, although he and some others in the White House could wind up as collateral damage. By all indications, Bulldog’s real target points more in the direction of the Office of the Vice President. Ambassador Wilson knows who his enemies are, and he pointed to them in his book and in an interview with Joe Conason in Salon:
“Gleaned from all those crosscurrents of information, the most plausible scenario, and the one that I’ve heard most frequently from different sources, has been that there was a meeting in the middle of March 2003, chaired by either [Cheney’s chief of staff] Scooter Libby or the vice president but more frequently I’ve heard chaired by Scooter at which a decision was made to get a ‘work-up’ on me. That meant getting as much information about me as they could: about my past, about my life, about my family. This, in and of itself, is abominable. Then that information was passed at the appropriate time to the White House Communications Office, and at some point a decision was made to go ahead and start to smear me, after my opinion piece appeared in the New York Times.”
“Salon: You mention two other names: John Hannah, who works in the Office of the Vice President, and David Wurmser, who is a special assistant to John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and national security. Last Wednesday, their names both appeared on a chart that accompanied an article in the New York Times about the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and the war cabal within the Bush administration. Did these people run an intelligence operation against you?”
“Wilson: I don’t know if it’s the same unit, but it’s very clear, from what I’ve heard, that the meeting in March 2003 led to an intelligence operation against my family and me. That’s what a work-up is to try to find everything you can about an American citizen.”
After the War Party met in solemn conclave, and the command went out from Cheney: “Bring me the head of Joe Wilson!”, there was only one logical place for Cheney’s minions to go. Who in the administration would’ve had access to the specific information regarding Plame-Wilson’s role in a deep-cover CIA operation involving nuclear proliferation? Why, the man who was the State Department deputy secretary in charge of “weapons of mass destruction” the somewhat irritable if not downright reckless John Bolton, would-be ambassador to the UN, who played a central role in promulgating the Niger Uranium Myth.
Conveniently, two of Bolton’s assistants, David Wurmser and John Hannah, also worked in Cheney’s office. A story by UPI’s Richard Sale, published last year, points at Cheney’s office and specifically at Hannah as having played a key role in all this:
“Federal law-enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer’s identity last year. The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.
“According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, were the two Cheney employees. ‘We believe that Hannah was the major player in this,’ one federal law-enforcement officer said. The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah ‘that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time’ as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said.”
Hannah is Cheney’s Middle East policy point-man, and before that was director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Middle East expert Juan Cole shines his reportorial flashlight on what’s under that particular rock:
“Libby and Hannah form part of a 13-man vice presidential advisory team, sort of a veep NSC [National Security Council], which helps underpin Cheney’s dominance in the US foreign policy area. Hannah is a neoconservative and old cold warrior who is really more of a Soviet expert than a Middle East expert. But in the 90s he for a while headed up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank that represents the interests of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Hannah is said to have been behind Cheney’s and consequently Bush’s support for refusing to deal with Yasser Arafat. But he was also deeply involved in getting up the Iraq war. ”
The AIPAC connection should raise a red flag: AIPAC is already at the center of a case involving espionage conducted by Israel against the United States, with Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin indicted [.pdf] for passing classified information on to longtime AIPAC leader Steve Rosen and his aide Keith Weissman, with an Israeli embassy official, chief political officer Naor Gilon, directly involved. In both cases, which involve the unlawful dissemination of sensitive U.S. secrets, the defense is claiming that “everyone does it” and that the classified information they’re accused of leaking or, in AIPAC’s case, directly handing over to the Israeli government is supposedly “common knowledge.”
Treason is nothing to these people, because their real allegiance is not to the U.S., but to their own cause, which is perpetual war. Libby and Hannah were the enforcers who made sure that the lies put out by this administration to bamboozle us into war with Iraq were strictly adhered to within the government. Libby was a frequent visitor over at CIA headquarters, along with his boss, and, as Juan Cole writes:
“[H]annah had fingers in all three rotten pies from which the worst intel came Sharon’s office in Israel, the Pentagon Office of Special Plans (for which Hannah served as a liaison to Cheney), and fraudster Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Hannah had probably been the one who fed Cheney the Niger uranium story, triggering a Cheney request to the CIA to verify it and thence Joe Wilson’s trip to Niamey in spring of 2002, where he found the story to be an absurd falsehood on the face of it.”
In short, Hannah was at the center of that vortex of deception that swept us into a disastrous war. When Ambassador Wilson came out with his famous debunking of the infamous “16 words,” Hannah was well positioned to go after the heretic.
If we look at the passing of this leak as we would a ball game, as “super smart commenter Sara” pointed out on Digby’s blog, the probable trajectory of the ball as it makes its way to the goal goes something like this: “Bolton to Wurmser and Hannah, to Cheney (and/or Libby) to Rove.”
In this case, however, unlike soccer or basketball, possession of the ball is not an asset: according to the rules of this game, the last man holding it loses.
I do not believe for a moment that this lengthy and increasingly controversial investigation is centered around alleged violations of a rarely invoked statute, incurring a penalty that hardly seems proportionate to the energy expended to get a conviction. It is extremely hard to prove that someone has violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; there are all sorts of conditions and sub-clauses that provide a legal escape route for anyone so charged: that can’t be what all this is about.
If, however, Fitzgerald can prove there was a conspiracy inside the government to collect and selectively reveal classified information in order to crush political opponents, and shape U.S. policy, then the charges could be much more serious. By all accounts, the Plame investigation is said to be widening, and I would venture to say that by this time it is wide enough to include charges of espionage. The mere existence of a highly placed cabal that was engaged in collecting and utilizing highly sensitive information a kind of intelligence bank that existed outside of normal governmental channels would be of great interest to the FBI’s counterintelligence unit, and word is out that they’ve been plenty busy lately. Who made withdrawals from this Intelligence Bank, and did any of these account holders include foreign governments such as Iran, which received an intelligence treasure trove from neocon poster boy Ahmed Chalabi, and Israel, which is already under suspicion because of the Franklin affair, and has close links to several of the suspects in the Plame-gate investigation?
And then there is the question of the Niger uranium forgeries themselves: who forged the documents that fooled a president? Wilson’s exposure of the Niger uranium ploy angered whoever introduced those documents into the U.S. intelligence stream it was Hannah and Libby, by all accounts, who fought to keep these allegations in the president’s speech, in spite of opposition from the CIA and the State Department. The same crowd that pushed this phony intelligence must have known something about the murky origins of what turned out to be a crude forgery.
Forging “evidence” that helped get us into a war what are the penalties for that?
The fast developing scandal seemingly centered around Rove and a few journalists has only begun to unfold. By the time it is over, we’ll have the War Party or, at the very least, a few high profile representatives in the dock, and then the fun will really begin. So forget “Rove-gate” and get ready for “Cheney-gate.” I’ll gladly forgo the pleasure of seeing the president’s chief political advisor frog-marched out of the White House for the prospect of seeing our vice president, along with his top staffers, led out of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in handcuffs.