Is Team Bush about to implode? It sure doesn’t look that way from the outside. But beneath the calm unruffled exterior of an administration that never admits either error or doubt, there are some palpitating hearts that beat a little faster each time U.S. special counsel Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald issues another subpoena in the Plame leak probe, and the sound of all that pitter-pattering grows progressively louder, as he has been especially busy of late.
Fitzgerald has subpoenaed records of telephone calls made from Air Force One in the week before Robert Novak‘s July 14 column was published, in which he outed CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame on information provided by administration sources. The President was on a trip to Africa that week, culminating in the Leon Sullivan Summit in Abuja, Nigeria, and the Imperial retinue included a whole panoply of top officials, including Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Colin Powell, and a large crew of lesser luminaries, any one of whom could be of interest to the leak probe. Also subpoenaed was the transcript of a White House media briefing, conducted in Abuja, which had mysteriously been erased from the White House website (it has since been restored). Yet another grand jury subpoena requests records of the White House Iraq Group, a heretofore little-known enclave of the national security bureaucracy, created in August 2002 to “educate the public” about the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein,” according to the Washington Post [August 10, 2003]:
“The escalation of nuclear rhetoric a year ago, including the introduction of the term ‘mushroom cloud’ into the debate, coincided with the formation of a White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a task force assigned to ‘educate the public’ about the threat from Hussein, as a participant put it.”
You’ll remember that it was National Security Advisor Rice who made some of the most hyperbolic statements about the destructive potential of Saddam’s WMD in the run-up to war, harping on the possibility of the ultimate horror if we failed to act, giving voice to talking points no doubt developed by the White House Iraq Group:
Uttered on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this is the kind of rhetoric that pushed us into the Iraqi quagmire: fear of nuclear terrorism was at an all-time high, the nation was on orange alert, and the neocons were on the march, beating the drums for war. The effort was coordinated by the WHIG, meeting weekly in the Situation Room: Rice’s chief deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, was a regular participant, the Post informs us.
Mr Hadley, you’ll recall, took the blame for somehow forgetting that George Tenet had called him and warned that the uranium allegation was questionable. Hadley also played a key role in promoting the alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent, which turned out to be just as bogus as the Niger uranium forgeries.
Also present at these weekly WHIG get-togethers were Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Vice President’s chief of staff and the leading suspect in this case. All will have been hauled up before the grand jury and questioned before this is over, and investigators dig deeper into the multi-leveled propaganda operation that lied us into war.
This is now the concern of at least two federal grand juries, as well as various congressional committees, because, in their zeal to enlist the nation in their righteous cause, the War Party resorted to clearly illegal activities. These include not only outing the unfortunate Ms. Plame, but also aiding and abetting forgery, an act that, in context, could be considered an act of espionage.
A grand jury is now meeting in Washington, while Fitzgerald’s team retraces the steps whereby a cache of crude forgeries procured under very dubious circumstances was absorbed into the American intelligence stream, passed off to the White House as fact, and immortalized as the famous “16 words” in the President’s 2003 State of the Union speech. The Niger uranium forgeries, procured by Italian intelligence and handed over to an Italian journalist, purported to document efforts by Iraq to obtain uranium from the closely-guarded mines of Niger. While the editor of Panorama, who had first look at the documents, smelled fraud and declined them, certain top U.S. officials were not so fastidious.
But which ones? Surely the same ones who tried to discredit Ambassador Wilson, and strike at him through his wife, but it isn’t that simple: Fitzgerald’s team of prosecutors faces a task of daunting complexity. Given the sheer amount of evidence to examine, and the number of potential witnesses involved, it looks like these indictments, and the trial preparations if there is a trial will require enough time to push the court date to well after November.
Ah, but not so fast. Fortunately, a posse of journalists has already mapped out much of the terrain. Thanks to the researches of Seymour Hersh, Karen Kwiatkowski, Jim Lobe, and others, the route taken by bogus “intelligence” originating from Iraqi exiles, Washington thinktanks, and foreign intelligence agencies via the Office of Special Plans, and stovepiped to the White House and the public, is well-known. The office of the Vice President, presided over by Libby, operated as the command center of a political operation designed to roll over any and all opposition to the war. This included former Ambassador Joe Wilson, a prominent critic of the rush to invade Iraq, who, in debunking the “16 words,” opened up a can of worms that they would much prefer to keep closed tight.
The idea was to discredit Wilson, a career diplomat with wide experience in the region, who had been sent to personally investigate the Niger uranium story, and dutifully reported that there was nothing to back up such claims. When the President uttered those 16 words, Wilson was flabbergasted and went public with the story of his journey to Niger. In lying the nation into war, the neocons had bypassed the traditional vetting system whereby errors and outright disinformation are weeded out before they percolate up to a higher level: Wilson was the institutional voice of that system, which was now being blamed for bad pre-war intelligence. Therefore, he had to be slapped down, and in such a way that others would not likely emulate his whistle-blowing example.
The political hit squad assigned to go after Wilson meeting, perhaps, in the Situation Room decided to hit back at him through his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA undercover agent working on nuclear nonproliferation issues. They told Novak, and apparently a good number of other journalists, that he wasn’t really qualified, Wilson’s wife had gotten him the (non-paying) job to go to Niger through her CIA connections, a bit of information dropped casually amid familiar complaints of partisan bias and ulterior motives. Plame’s career in the CIA was effectively ended.
It is, of course, a crime to willingly and knowingly divulge the identity of an undercover intelligence agent. In the case of Ms. Plame, who was engaged in such a highly sensitive field as nuclear non-proliferation stopping the very “mushroom cloud” that Condi Rice gabbled on about from ever blossoming over an American city the gravity of the offense seems to bear down all the harder on whoever is eventually indicted.
An interesting footnote: On the list of subpoenaed materials are included administration contacts with more than two dozen journalists. Included right up there with superstars such as Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, of the Washington Post, Evan Thomas (Newsweek), Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Nicholas D. Kristof, and Judith Miller, we have one Jeff Gannon, of something called “Talon News.” So, what’s up with that?
My regular readers might recall a column I wrote on Plame-gate a couple of months ago, wherein I mentioned that the Talon News Agency, an arm of something called “GOP U.S.A,” did an interview with Ambassador Wilson, during which the interviewer challenged Wilson with an internal U.S. government document purporting to be the minutes of a meeting at which Plame played a key role in getting her husband the Niger assignment. There was just one problem with these documents: as in the Niger uranium forgeries, which listed ministers who hadn’t served in years and got key facts wrong, these minutes of a purported meeting of CIA agents placed personnel in locations they couldn’t possibly have been. Another forgery! Counterfeiting official documents is also a crime, particularly when it is done with the cooperation or complicity of government officials involved in a conspiracy.
I advise Mr. Gannon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, if he knows what’s good for him.
This case is about much more than the outing of a CIA agent: It’s about a cabal of ruthless liars who stopped at nothing not even treason to achieve their goals, and kept lying (and committing forgery) even after they were caught. It’s about a bogus war fought on account of faked “evidence.” It’s about the hijacking of American foreign policy on behalf of interests that are neither American nor morally defensible.
As Joshua Marshall, among the few media mavens who have been following this story, points out, the Bush administration has explicitly not forbidden its minions, during the course of these legal proceedings, from invoking the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution against self-incrimination. So much for George W. Bush’s expressed desire to get to the bottom of this case. We don’t know what’s going on behind the closed doors of a grand jury investigation, but if the President’s men are already taking the Fifth, doesn’t the public have a right to know?