L ‘affaire Plame is about breaking the law, about arrogance, about the ordinary viciousness that suffuses the corridors of power but its real significance is overlooked in the frenzy to find the perpetrator and tie him or her to the White House. The problem with this theory is that George W. Bush is the biggest victim of this incident.
After all, it was the President who was made to look like a fool when, in his State of the Union speech, he referred to the now-discredited story about Iraq seeking to purchase “yellowcake” uranium to build a nuclear bomb. When Joe Wilson’s op ed piece appeared in the New York Times, describing his trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA, and the complete lack of any real evidence for Bush’s contention, it must have occurred to Team Bush that they’d been set up, bigtime. Remember, the sole “evidence” supporting the Niger uranium angle had been a set of papers that turned out to be crude forgeries.
“These documents are so bad,” a senior IAEA official told the New Yorker, “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” interviewed by the New Yorker is sure it was an inside job (via Gary Leupp):
“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.”
Never mind, for the moment, who spilled the beans on Plame. The real question is: who set up the President of the United States by feeding him forged documents and passing them off as authentic? Because the answer to both questions is likely to be the same.
The big mystery of the Valerie Plame affair is: why did they do it? What possible motive could a top U.S. government official have in “outing” a CIA officer engaged in the essential work of nuclear nonproliferation?
In the context of Robert Novak’s column, which caused all the ruckus to begin with, it looks like they were trying to discredit Wilson by implying he got the assignment on account of nepotism: Plame is Wilson’s wife. But the primary effects of naming her were two-fold, neither of which had much to do with questioning Wilson’s credentials: it ended her career as an undercover operative, and warned off anybody else thinking of going public with evidence that the War Party had twisted intelligence estimates to make the case for war in Iraq. Punish, and deter.
But what, exactly, were they trying to deter? What was it about Wilson’s mission to Niger that provoked such extreme retaliation? They clearly knew what they were doing was illegal, and high risk: outing a CIA operative is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. So why take the chance?
The answer is because it throws the spotlight on an even bigger crime, the Niger-uranium forgeries and links them to the office of the Vice President.
In his op ed, Wilson pointed to Cheney and his staff as the source of the phony intelligence. It was those guys over in the Executive Office Building who made repeated trips to CIA headquarters, pushing “intelligence” that seemed to confirm the neoconservative case for war. Greeks bearing gifts, as it turned out .
The War Party built the case for war by doing an end run around the CIA, the DIA, and the established intelligence structure. They set up their own intelligence operation, the “Office of Special Plans,” described by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker:
“They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. By last fall, the operation rivaled both the CIA and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda.”
Run by Strauss scholar and author Abram Shulsky, and presided over by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, a militant neocon and supporter of Israel’s Likud party, the OSP was the nerve center of the War Party inside the U.S. government. Feith was a co-author, along with Richard Perle, of the seminal 1996 paper “A Clean Break,” that prefigured the invasion of Iraq. This paper, written for then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argued that Syria is the main danger to Israel and that the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad.
This crew pressed for including the alleged meeting of Mohammed Atta with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in Colin Powell’s pre-war presentation to the UN, but Powell refused to do so when the CIA vetoed the story as discredited. The OSP also pushed the alleged Al-Qaeda connection, a case built on a very slender reed. Is it unreasonable to suppose that the Niger uranium story also came from this crew? I’m not alone in my suspicion.
But the real source of the OSP’s pervasive influence was the patronage of high administration officials. Julian Borger, writing in the Guardian, nabs the Vice President:
“The president’s most trusted adviser, Mr Cheney, was at the shadow network’s sharp end. He made several trips to the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to demand a more ‘forward-leaning’ interpretation of the threat posed by Saddam. When he was not there to make his influence felt, his chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, was. Such hands-on involvement in the processing of intelligence data was unprecedented for a vice-president in recent times, and it put pressure on CIA officials to come up with the appropriate results.”
Another Cheney link is OSP overseer William Luti, a former Cheney advisor. Luti came out for war with Iraq early on, and is also head of the Defense Department’s post-war Iraq planning group. As Jim Lobe of Interpress News Service writes:
“In some cases, NESA [Near East and South Asia bureau] and OSP even prepared memos specifically for Cheney and Libby, something unheard of in previous administration because the lines of authority in the Vice President’s office and the Pentagon are entirely separate. ‘Luti sometimes would say, ‘I’ve got to do this for Scooter’, said [former NESA employee Karen] Kwiatkowski. ‘It looked like Cheney’s office was pulling the strings.'”
The Vice President’s DNA imprint is all over the OSP, and the Niger uranium fiasco. NESA is headed up by his daughter, Elizabeth. Those infamous sixteen words that got into the President’s State of the Union the single most important speech on our chief executive’s calendar had to be retracted by a White House that rarely admits error. Somebody is going to pay, and my guess is it’s going to be the Vice President and/or Libby.
Libby has already been implicated as the Spy-gate leaker by Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who worked with Ms. Plame while she was in training. As Marc Rich‘s lawyer for 15 years, Libby has some interesting connections. The fugitive billionaire who renounced his U.S. citizenship rather than face prosecution for fraud and tax evasion secured his pardon due to an extraordinary campaign engineered, in large part, by Libby. Intense pressure was brought to bear on then President Clinton, who was heavily lobbied by Ehud Barak and American Jewish leaders. This campaign was motivated, at least in part, by services Rich reportedly rendered to Israeli intelligence.
Libby’s links to the pro-Israel, pro-war network in the U.S. government, and the OSP, point to him as the linchpin of a sophisticated con game, with the President being spoon-fed flat-out false information. The American government, and the American people, were neo-conned into war. And now there is hell to pay.
But Libby and his minions are just the front men for the main operation. After all, they didn’t forge the Niger-uranium papers themselves, but somebody did. We are supposed to believe, as ABC News “reported,” that the Niger uranium forgeries were authored by “an underpaid African diplomat who was stationed in Rome.” He “created bogus documents, which he then sold to the Italian secret service.”
But that doesn’t jibe with the known facts. The trail begins with a January 2001 break-in at Niger’s diplomatic mission in Rome: the place is riffled, files are scattered about, no serious damage done. Police theorize that the purpose was to gain official seals and other information essential to forging documents. A few months later, the Niger-uranium documents show up. Do you suppose that maybe just maybe these two events are somehow connected?
The story that an “underpaid” African diplomat peddled these bogus papers to Italian intelligence turns out to have been itself bogus. The Italian intelligence agency denies playing any role: it turns out that an Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba, of Panorama magazine, brought them to the U.S. embassy, after declining to publish an article about them because she doubted their authenticity. She got the papers, she says, from a “usually reliable source.”
The break-in, the forgery, the mysterious circumstances that permitted a fraud to go undetected at the highest levels of our intelligence-gathering apparatus: all point to a well-coordinated scheme to drag us into war, a state-sponsored covert operation that succeeded all too well. As Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon analyst, testifies:
“Kwiatkowski said she could not confirm published reports that OSP worked with a similar ad hoc group in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office. But she recounts one incident in which she helped escort a group of half a dozen Israelis, including several generals, from the first floor reception area to Feith’s office.
”’We just followed them, because they knew exactly where they were going and moving fast.’
“When the group arrived, she noted the book which all visitors are required to sign under special regulations that took effect after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. ‘I asked his secretary, ‘Do you want these guys to sign in’? She said, ‘No, these guys don’t have to sign in.’ ‘ It occurred to her, she said, that the office may have deliberately not wanted to maintain a record of the meeting.”
Robert Dreyfuss, writing in The Nation, cites a highly placed former intelligence official who points the finger directly at Israel:
“According to the former official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled Shulsky’s and which has not previously been reported prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad which prides itself on extreme professionalism had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.”
But how did they get taken seriously enough to be included in the President’s State of the Union speech?
It may well be treason, as many people say, to expose an undercover U.S. intelligence officer. So what do we call funneling disinformation to the President on behalf of a foreign power high treason?
If Libby is implicated as having anything to do with Plame’s “outing,” then that, in turn, implicates Cheney, who must take responsibility. The Vice President’s resignation, under these circumstances, is a distinct possibility. Will we soon hear an announcement that he’s retiring “for health reasons”? There could soon be an empty spot on the national Republican ticket.
Many people have compared Spy-gate to the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, and the parallels are certainly striking. Watergate, too, started in a small way, with a petty, even quite stupid slip-up: a bungled break-in at Democratic party headquarters. In Spy-gate, as in the Watergate scandal, a towering hubris, a vindictive mindset, and the attempted cover-up will be the conspirators’ undoing.
As the scandal metastasizes, and threatens to engulf the White House, one might hope this administration would learn the lesson of history. Before the Democrats can take hold of this, and use it, George W. Bush must launch a preemptive strike against the cancer eating away at the vitals of his presidency.
Ditch the neocons, Mr. President, and get us out of the quagmire they created before it’s too late.