In the run-up to war the sheer volume of lies produced by this administration was meant to overwhelm Congress, the media, and the people with its inventiveness. In a veritable frenzy of prevarication, the War Party came up with some real whoppers and one howler that has not only come back to haunt them, but which very well may prove to be their undoing.
In his State of the Union address, George W. Bush made the claim that Iraq had sought to procure the means to assemble nuclear weapons in “an African country.” This assertion puzzled former U.S. ambassador to Gabon Joseph C. Wilson, who had been sent to Niger earlier in 2002 by the CIA on a mission to track down rumors that Saddam’s agents had sent an emissary there in search of weapons grade uranium. Ambassador Wilson used his connections to get word to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice that her assertions that the Niger uranium claim was based on facts garnered somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracy was in error. The message he got back was: thanks, but no thanks.
Wilson went public with his charges that the administration had relied on information it knew to be false to make the case for war. The administration struck back swiftly, and with potentially deadly accuracy: in addition to contacting columnist Robert Novak, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists, denigrating Ambassador Wilson as the beneficiary of “nepotism” because his wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA agent working on nuclear nonproliferation. Not only did Wilson have a political agenda, they charged, but it was only through her good offices that he was sent to Niger. As one source told the Washington Post:
“It was unsolicited. They were pushing back. They used everything they had.”
But this volley backfired almost immediately. Robert Novak’s now infamous column, in which he identified Plame, citing administration sources, caused a furor. Would the War Party stoop to this outing and potentially endangering an undercover CIA agent, and all her contacts in their zeal to discredit their enemies?
For months, John Ashcroft sat on this investigation, and very little was heard of it. Then, suddenly, he recused himself, and gave the job to one of his subordinates, who promptly appointed a special counsel: Patrick J. Fitzgerald. As someone familiar with Fitzgerald’s reputation in law enforcement circles put it:
“I’m sure the word is going out that the bulldog has arrived in town.”
Investigators have already compiled a large file of evidence, as the New York Times reports:
“Including notes of White House meetings, calendars, phone records and datebooks that officials have said provided telling clues about who within the administration may have had access to Ms. Plame’s identity.”
While federal agencies have been instructed not to destroy any records that might be helpful in the investigation, the Times informs us that “the White House is the only agency at which investigators are known to have demanded that investigators actually turn over records.” Let’s hope Bulldog Fitzgerald lives up to his street name, and fast. I can already hear the sound of shredders working overtime.
A question leaps out at us in the wake of Ashcroft’s recusal: why now?
News reports have it that FBI officials started out at the top, and worked their way down, interviewing high-ranking White House officials and then moving in on their subordinates. Whatever physical evidence has been turned over so far consists entirely of material garnered from the White House and that was enough to trigger the recusal and a decision to proceed.
They must have found something.
There is some speculation about whether or not a crime has actually been committed: under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the leaker must know an agent is working undercover. But the reality is that the investigation alone will destroy its targets, with lots of collateral damage to the War Party.
Who would target Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, seeking to discredit the former and destroy the career of the latter? And why? The political implications of these questions are potentially enormous. The answers could not only discredit the neocon network in Washington, but also drag down the Bush administration into a domestic quagmire from which there is no extrication. As former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last week:
“On the intelligence, what the president said [about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa] raises an interesting issue, which hasn’t been followed by the news media sufficiently. The documents on which that statement of the president was based were fabrications. We got them from the British. We asked the British, where did you get these documents? They told us they got them from the Italians. Now, did the Italians fabricate them? And if so, for what purpose? Or did someone else give them to the Italians?
“I think we have to pursue that, because the fact of the matter is, our intelligence not only has been poor, but we have been manipulated in the intelligence area by sources which give us intelligence, in order to influence us.”
Manipulated by whom? And for what? The significance of the Fitzgerald inquiry is that, before it’s over, we’ll likely have answers to both questions.
Critics of this war have long maintained that the nation was pushed, shoved, and rushed into war by a cabal with its own agenda. In uncovering the culprits, this investigation is bound to unearth the network of Washington warmongers who retaliated with such swift treachery when Joe Wilson hit them, unexpectedly, in a weak spot. Their vulnerability is due to the fact that the source of the President’s State of the Union assertion that Saddam was seeking uranium in “an African country” turned out to be a crude forgery. One crime leads to the detection of yet another, perhaps greater crime: and that is how regimes are sometimes brought down. It’s happened before, you know.
At a time when the methods and quality of intelligence-gathering by federal agencies is in the spotlight, it isn’t just the Democrats who are eager to find out what’s gone wrong with the process. A lot is at stake. How did a forged document get by so many people and land, as it were, on the President’s desk as “fact”? The answer is going to be politically explosive.
What is astonishing, in view of the ongoing investigation, is the boldness of this claque, as they fight like cornered rats, spitting and hissing at their tormentors. The Washington Post reports that, while the investigation into the outing of agent Plame is heating up,
“Sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame .
“Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband’s trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.
“CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame’s alleged role in arranging Wilson’s trip could not have attended the meeting.”
The classified document “has been circulated around,” according to the Post. So the same people who leaked Plame’s undercover status and passed off forged “evidence” of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions as authentic are now adding the theft of classified documents to the growing list of their crimes.
What’s amazing is that this kind of a leak would be engineered through such an obvious front group. The latest swipe at Wilson and Plame was executed by a right-wing (neocon) news agency, Talon News, whose parent group is called “GOP USA.” They somehow bamboozled Wilson into doing an interview, in the course of which they asked him:
“An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?”
“GOP USA”? I mean, how obvious can you get?
What’s interesting is that if “Talon News” somehow got its hot little hands on a document that purported to be the minutes of a meeting of CIA officials, it was almost certainly a fake. Like the Niger “yellow-cake” forgeries, which contained the names of officials who could not have been parties to the purported transaction, the phony INR document puts an individual where he couldn’t have been. A consistent incompetence seems to be the hallmark of our serial forger.
But is it really incompetence or is there a method to this kind of sloppiness? After all, the reader of the Talon News interview with Wilson couldn’t have known that the “internal government memo” was a fake, and, disseminated widely enough, without the CIA disavowal, it could have a real effect on Wilson’s credibility or at least conjure up sufficient doubts to cloud the issue considerably. And that’s what propaganda especially war propaganda is all about.
A lie is put out there, and before it’s debunked yet another variation on the same lie is already in circulation. This kind of rapid-fire dissimulation was very effective in the run-up to the Iraq war. Now that their lies are coming back to haunt them, the War Party is using the same methods to defend themselves and minimize the damage.
In lashing out with the sort of viciousness that is characteristic of the neoconservative cabal, the leakers made a mistake that could eventually prove fatal to their ambitions. The trial of, say, Richard Perle or any one of a number of neocon operatives with known links to Robert Novak will put the War Party in the dock. In the course of such a trial, the truth about this war, and the liars who needlessly provoked it, is bound to come out. No matter what the defendants are formally charged with, the indictment and conviction of these people as criminals would be a huge victory for the cause of peace.
I can hardly wait for the legal proceedings to begin! I’ll sit right in the front row, like Madame DeFarge in A Tale of Two Cities, knitting in the shadow of the guillotine, waiting patiently for justice to be done. Oh, how fitting for the neo-Jacobins to succumb to such a fate! And what a show this promises to be: a show trial, to be exact, albeit a much fairer one than they have in store for Saddam.
Perhaps the accused can get Ramsey Clark to take up their defense: after all, he took Slobodan Milosevic and Lyndon LaRouche as clients. Why not Scooter Libby? Failing that, the obvious choice is Glenn Reynolds, the famous law professor whose prolific blogging shows how much time he has on his hands. He might even do it pro bono, provided he gets to blog the trial from the courtroom.
This is going to be fun. Will Bulldog Fitzgerald brave the blizzard of disinformation, haul the conspirators in front of a grand jury, and pry the truth out of them? Go for it, Bulldog!
Alan Dershowitz infamously endorsed the use of torture to get information out of terrorists if there is a high probability that we can prevent another terrorist attack with the information we receive (or something to that effect). Without endorsing Dershowitz’s proposal and taking his premise of the overriding importance of averting an imminent threat as our own one could make the argument that Fitzgerald has every right to torture the truth out of the Usual Suspects, on the grounds that, if we don’t, they’ll lie us into yet another war.
They’re already debating whether to go to war with Syria, and the neocons have come out with their election year manifesto, declaring that we need to take the fight not only to Syria, but to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and chillingly North Korea. The neocons, and their nestlings inside the Defense Department and other federal agencies, are nothing if not brazen. What they need is a good smack upside the head. Let us hope and pray that Bulldog Fitzgerald doesn’t pull his punches.
As the neocons “stovepiped” lies straight up to the White House, bypassing the normal filtering process provided by the CIA, the DIA, and other intelligence-gathering agencies, someone knowingly put a forgery into the intelligence stream and then tried to cover it up. As is usual in cases of this type, the cover-up is just as bad, if not worse than the original crime, and leads to the detection of the perpetrators. From Watergate to War-gate, the pattern repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as a (delightful) farce.