Background to Betrayal

Has I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, made a deal with CIA leak investigator Patrick J. Fitzgerald – and turned on his boss in return for leniency?

It sure looks like it. Or else how is it that Scooter suddenly discovered his notes of a “previously undisclosed” conversation held with Cheney on June 12, 2003, in which the vice president was the first to tell him that Joe Wilson‘s wife, Valerie, worked for the CIA? Prior to Scooter’s eleventh-hour revelation, he had been telling the grand jury that he got the information from journalists.

That makes at least three neocons “turned” by the Bulldog. Libby follows John Hannah, the VP’s national security adviser, and David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East expert-in-residence, down the well-trodden path to collaboration with the special counsel.

All roads lead directly to Dick Cheney.

What crime, however, has been committed? New light has been shed on this mystery with the breaking news that Fitzgerald is homing in on the question at the heart of his investigation – who forged the Niger uranium documents, and how did they get passed off as reliable enough information to be referenced in the president 2003 State of the Union address? UPI’s Martin Walker confirms what I reported in this space last Wednesday:

“The CIA leak inquiry that threatens senior White House aides has now widened to include the forgery of documents on African uranium that started the investigation, according to NATO intelligence sources. … NATO sources have confirmed to United Press International that Fitzgerald’s team of investigators has sought and obtained documentation on the forgeries from the Italian government. Fitzgerald’s team has been given the full, and as yet unpublished, report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair.”

The key to finding out who outed deep cover CIA agent Valerie Plame has always been the motive. Why would anyone in the U.S. government deliberately expose the identity of an agent working in the vitally important realm of nuclear proliferation – identifying not only Ms. Plame, but also her co-workers at “Brewster Jennings and Associates,” the CIA front company whose real function was to scour the world for evidence of rogue nukes and other weapons of mass destruction? In busting up the Agency’s operations designed to prevent the spread of WMD, whoever outed Plame was taking a very big risk – but why?

In investigating what led to the outing of Valerie Plame, Fitzgerald discovered that a fraud had been perpetrated on the American people and the Congress of the United States. In detailing the case for war, the administration based much of its argument that Saddam was close to acquiring nuclear weapons on a cache of documents that purported to show an agreement between Iraq and the African nation of Niger to purchase “yellowcake” uranium. The president referred to this, albeit obliquely, in his 2003 State of the Union address. A few weeks after that speech was delivered, however, the White House was forced to retract its statement – because the documents turned out to be forgeries.

Now we discover – and Fitzgerald no doubt knows more about this than anyone – that it wasn’t an error, another dreaded “intelligence failure,” that had allowed the Niger uranium forgeries to be marshaled along with similarly bogus intelligence as “evidence” of Iraqi WMD; it was a deliberate act of deception, carried out at the highest levels of the U.S. government. A series of articles in La Repubblica exposes the provenance of the documents, shows how they were funneled to U.S. policymakers, and maps their course all the way up to the White House. Go here for an English translation of the first installment. Here is the Italian version of Part II, and here is the translated version.

Authors Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d’Avanzo describe how SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency, was a party to faking the documents. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi was keen to put SISMI at America’s disposal in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and SISMI’s chief, Nicolo Pollari, was eager to make himself – and Italy – indispensable to the warlords of Washington. Pollari’s initial attempts to pass off the Niger uranium forgeries as authentic evidence of Iraq’s nuclear ambitions did not, however, meet with success. Whereupon Pollari took advantage of the developing split between the State DepartmentCIA professionals, who tended to be skeptical, and the Cheney-Pentagon-neocon ideologues, who were looking for any evidencehowever dubious –of Iraq’s WMD, and the Italians developed a strategy to legitimize the forgeries in the eyes of the White House.

The Italian strategy was to enter the factional conflict on the side of the Cheney-ites. As a liaison to those circles, Defense Minister Antonio Martino recommended “an old friend of Italy,” one Michael Ledeenneoconservative ideologue and veteran of “parallel intelligence” work from his days as broker of the Iran-Contra “arms for hostages” deal. Just as Ledeen acted as the middleman in effecting the transfer of Israeli arms to Iran in exchange for the hostages, so he apparently played a similar role as a go-between in Niger-gate. Using Ledeen as their Washington intermediary, the Italians succeeded in circumventing the CIA and getting the unvetted forgeries to the White House via the good offices of both Condoleezza Rice and the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans.

La Repubblica also reports that Pollari traveled all the way to Washington to sell these tainted goods, and, on Sept. 9, 2002, met in secret with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

This meeting came at a turning point in the debate within the administration over whether to include the Niger uranium claims in the president’s public arguments for war: the CIA and the State Department both insisted that the claims were highly dubious. They won in the case of the Cincinnati speech, where the reference was deleted at CIA director George Tenet’s insistence, but, in the interim between that and the 2003 State of the Union, the War Party managed to gain the upper hand – with the help of Pollari and his allies in the administration. The documents – or, at least, the allegations contained therein – made their way directly to the White House via the disinformation superhighway constructed by Pollari, Hadley, Ledeen, and the gang down at the Office of Special Plans.

In short, SISMI knew the documents were fakes but pushed them to help the White House gin up a war. The question is: who else knew? As we go up the chain, from the low-level criminals who prepared and disseminated the documents, to the second-and-third tier American officials who received them, finally ascending to the inner sanctum of the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Council, we have to ask: Did Hadley know? Did Libby? Did Cheney?

There are all sorts of undercurrents swirling around this vortex of deceit and double-dealing: a key link is Larry Franklin, the Pentagon’s top Iran analyst who recently pled guilty to charges of handing over sensitive information to Israeli “diplomats.” Franklin met with Ledeen, Pollari, Martino, and the ubiquitous Manucher Ghorbanifar in Rome – where else? – in December of 2001. A number of Iranians participated in this conclave, and the American delegation also included Harold Rhode, a Middle East scholar of rabidly neoconservative views who worked in the Office of Special Plans (as did Franklin). These unauthorized “back channel” meetings caused consternation at the State Department and the CIA, but continued unabated and apparently without consequences for the participants – until now.

The more one looks at the outing of Valerie Plame and the exposure of Brewster Jennings, the more it looks like a covert action aimed at what were once the eyes and ears of the U.S. intelligence community in the realm of WMD. That’s why this two-year investigation was launched to begin with, and why it is being pursued so relentlessly – because, at a time when nuclear terrorism is held up as the principal threat to our security, the Plame leak involves nothing less than an attack on what is arguably the most vital of our defenses. Which raises the question: A covert action – carried out by whom?

If we look at the individuals involved, we see that many have links to Israel, Iran, and the Iraqi National Congress, including:

John Hannah: Juan Cole details Hannah’s career and points to his strategic position as a key link in the neoconservative network that dragooned us into war:

“It is possible that Wilson posed a special danger to Hannah, since Hannah was at the center of the ‘cherry-picking bad intelligence’ effort that led Cheney to maintain that Saddam and Bin Laden were Siamese twins and that Iraq was floating in biological and chemical weapons and within 3-5 years of having an atomic bomb. … Hannah 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 Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.”

Hannah is former head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the educational arm of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the principal pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., whose two top lobbyists – longtime AIPAC powerhouse Steve Rosen, and Iran analyst Keith Weissman – have recently been indicted [.pdf] for spying on behalf of Israel.

David Wurmser: A professional fabulist, as Raw Story reports:

“Those familiar with information provided to Fitzgerald say that shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Wurmser was handpicked by Harold Rhode, a Foreign Affairs Specialist in the Office of Net Assessment, a Pentagon ‘think tank,’ and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith to head a top secret Pentagon ‘cell’ whose job was to comb through CIA intelligence documents and find evidence that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States and its neighbors in the Middle East so a case could be made to launch a preemptive military strike. Wurmser largely invented evidence that Iraq had close ties to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.”

Wurmser culled much of his material from the professional fraudsters of the Iraqi National Congress.

Wurmser is also the primary author of “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for the Realm,” a 1996 policy paper prepared for then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “A Clean Break” argued for regime change in Iraq as a means of knocking out Syria and extending Israeli influence throughout the region. Prior to serving on Cheney’s staff and as an aide to John Bolton at the State Department, Wurmser was a member of a two-man team, the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group, which, last we heard, was being investigated for leaking sensitive U.S. secrets to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, and thence to the Iranians. The Israelis, too, are involved, as the Washington Post reported a year ago:

“Investigators have specifically asked about a group of neoconservatives involved in defense issues, including Feith, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Iraq and Iran specialist Harold Rhode and others at the Pentagon. FBI agents also have asked current and former officials about Richard Perle of the defense board and David Wurmser, an Iran specialist and principal deputy assistant for national security affairs in Cheney’s office, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case. ‘The initial interest was: Do you believe certain people would spy for Israel and pass secret information?’ said one source interviewed by the FBI about the defense officials.”

Michael Ledeen: The first president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), which describes its goal as “to inform the American defense and foreign affairs community about the important role Israel can and does play in bolstering democratic interests in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.” Ledeen played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair, utilizing his Israeli and Iranian contacts. His allegiances have always been rather suspect, as journalist Stephen Green relates:

“In 1983, on the recommendation of Richard Perle, Ledeen was hired at the Department of Defense as a consultant on terrorism. His immediate supervisor was the Principle Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, Noel Koch. Early in their work together, Koch noticed with concern Ledeen’s habit of stopping by in his (Koch’s) outer office to read classified materials. When the two of them took a trip to Italy, Koch learned from the CIA station there that when Ledeen had lived in Rome previously, as correspondent for The New Republic, he’d been carried in Agency files as an agent of influence of a foreign government: Israel.”

Ledeen was first identified as an active player in Niger-gate in this space, and the La Repubblica piece confirms it. Whatever charges are filed by Fitzgerald this week, the latest revelations ought to provide plenty of grist for the prosecutor’s indictment mill – which we should not assume to be exhausted after this week.

As the architects of a campaign to lie us into war saw their narrative of a nuclearized Saddam come under challenge, they returned fire – and hit a CIA agent, blowing her cover and sabotaging an important U.S. intelligence-gathering operation. Perhaps, as I speculated in my last column, they had special reason to fear Plame and the capability of her colleagues at Brewster Jennings to track down the provenance of the Niger uranium forgeries. In any case, the neocons’ act of retribution backfired badly – to what extent we will learn shortly.

If the activities of this cabal were encouraged and, in part, directed by agents of a foreign power – the Israelis, the Iranians, or both – that wouldn’t be too surprising. After all, that is one of the great dangers of becoming an Empire: foreign ambassadors and native-born courtiers with an interest in pursuing various foreign agendas are expected to crowd around the throne, demanding an audience. They bribe, flatter, cajole, and otherwise inveigle their way into the policy debate, seeking to exert as much control as they can over what are, for them as well as ourselves, life-and-death decisions. It’s no wonder agents of influence would seek to foment a war seen as serving their interests – what’s frightening, however, is that the U.S. government finds itself so vulnerable to manipulation.

A two-way transmission belt of treason has been operating in Washington for years, and Fitzgerald is moving to shut it down. On the one hand, fraudsters like Chalabi have been hanging around the Imperial City, spreading tall tales and whooping it up for war, in hopes that American troops would ‘”liberate” their country – and, not coincidentally, turn it over to Chalabi‘s tender mercies. On the other hand, aside from broadcasting lies (via sock-puppets of Judy Miller‘s ilk), they vacuumed up bona fide intelligence – vital U.S. secrets – which Washington leaked like a sieve. This is the sort of treasonous tradeoff our highest officials have been engaged in. And for that they will pay the price.

As of this writing, we don’t know what specific charges Ftizgerald will bring, or against whom. However, the aforesaid is the backdrop, if you will, to the action, as the curtain rises on what promises to be the most sensational courtroom drama since the trial of Alger Hiss.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I have to add that this piece analyzing the La Repubblica article, by Laura Rozen, which appears on The American Prospect‘s Web site, is interesting, but in an important sense it is misleading: the focus is entirely on the Hadley-Pollari meeting. No mention is made of the Office of Special Plans, nor does Ledeen’s name come up at all. I find this puzzling, especially considering this excerpt from the Rozen piece:

“What may be most significant to American observers, however, is the newspaper’s allegation that the Italians sent the bogus intelligence about Niger and Iraq not only through traditional allied channels such as the CIA, but seemingly directly into the White House.”

Since the OSP – and certainly Ledeen – are specifically named as the conduits through which the White House received the forgery-based “evidence,” Rozen’s omission is inexplicable.

The Washington rumor mill is churning so furiously and loudly that I’m hearing it here in San Francisco: my sources tell me anywhere from five indictments – Libby, Rove, Hadley, Hannah, and Mary Matalin – to possibly just one. A Thursday morning press conference will reveal all. Maybe…

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].