A gay prostitute, a phony media organization that managed to sneak its “reporter” into White House press briefings, and the lies that were fed to the media and the American people in the run-up to war with Iraq – what possible connection could these items have to one another?
The answer: a man called “Jeff Gannon.”
Amid the media frenzy over Gannon’s journalistic bona fides, or lack of them – and the lurid speculation going on in the left lane of the blogosphere about how a purported male hooker got admitted to White House press briefings before his “Talon News Agency” (a front group created by “GOPUSA“) was even created – one has to ask: who cares?
Answer: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, for one, the chief prosecutor in an investigation that could rope in several high-ranking administration officials and even lead to the White House itself. And those of us who have been awaiting the come-uppance of this White House, for two, and are ready to get out the popcorn and the chips-and-dip and settle down for a nice long juicy scandal.
Let’s go back to my column for Jan. 12, 2004, in which I pointed to an interview with Iraq war critic Joe Wilson conducted by Gannon. Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger by the CIA to find out whether Saddam had been trying to procure uranium in that African nation as part of his weapons development program – you know, the one that turned out not to exist. When Wilson returned, he reported that no such attempt had been made, and he was therefore astonished when the president, in his 2003 State of the Union address, made reference to Saddam Hussein, who supposedly “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Wilson went public with his mission and its results, which is when the neocon smear machine went after him hammer and tongs. Robert Novak wrote a column in which administration officials were cited as saying that Wilson was a partisan out to get the president and had only gotten the job because his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.
At that point, Ms. Plame’s career as a covert agent – apparently assigned to nuclear nonproliferation issues – came to an abrupt end. A crime had been committed – a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a felony to “out” a CIA agent on a covert mission – and an investigation was launched. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself and appointed a special counsel to look into the matter, the political implications of the case became clear.
Whoever was guilty of engineering the “outing” of Plame was also part of a more general effort to discredit Wilson – and head off any further investigation into how so much phony “intelligence” came to be touted by the president and his White House as “fact.” The president’s infamous “16 words” alluding to the Niger uranium caper supposedly launched by the Iraqis turned out to be based on an elaborate forgery – which was exposed by the scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency, using Google, within hours of receiving the documents.
How did such a fantastic hoax get perpetrated on the Bush White House – and by whom? You can bet the Bushies were really interested in finding out the answers to these questions. That explains the otherwise mysterious Ashcroft recusal and the launching of an extensive investigation that, in its relentless hunt for information, has several journalists facing subpoenas and the threat of jail.
Enter Jeff Gannon, aka Jim Guckert, supposedly a journalist for the “Talon News Agency.” Gannon, a familiar face at White House press briefings who had distinguished himself as outspokenly pro-Bush by the nature and tenor of his questions, somehow finagled Wilson into doing an interview, which was subsequently published on the Talon Web site (and then erased), in which he asked:
“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?”
How did Gannon get his hands on an “internal government memo” that was classified information? That’s what I wanted to know last year at around this time, and the authorities were similarly interested, as the Washington Post reported:
“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.”
It is true that news of the internal memo cited by Gannon had already appeared in the Wall Street Journal, but when confronted on the Free Republic Web site, where he frequently posted, as to the provenance of the memo and his knowledge of it, Gannon did not deny that he had seen it – and never so much as mentioned the Journal article. When a poster who calls himself “JohnGalt” challenged Gannon’s contention that he was being persecuted and his professed ignorance of why he was on the list of journalists called before the Plame grand jury, Gannon got huffy quick:
JohnGalt: “Mr.Gannon is not being truthful when he says he does not know why he is being subpoenaed. When he interviewed Wilson last October he made reference to ‘an internal government memo’ purporting to be the minutes of a meeting at which Plame played a key role in getting her husband the Niger assignment. …. Gannon is suggesting that he was made privy to counterfeit official/government documents which is a crime, and a separate crime at that and logically he would be hauled in front of a grand jury probing the Plame affair.”
To which Gannon replied:
“Your professed insight into the motivation of the grand jury is merely guesswork. The document in question has never been acknowledged by any government agency to even exist. This is a one-sided investigation where people are being accused of crimes for revealing names and information that may have not been secret in the first place.”
JohnGalt: “That is simply not true, Jeff. You are ensnared because you made reference to a government document, which appears to have been a forgery. You need to tell the grand jury who made you privy to that document. … What was the document you referred to in the interview with Wilson?”
Gannon: “I disagree with your characterization of the document itself, but that aside, I maintain that I am under no obligation whatsoever to reveal my sources. That is a fundamental element of maintaining a free press.”
At this point, Gannon could easily have cited the Wall Street Journal piece. But he didn’t. Instead, he reiterated the same point he made to the two FBI agents who supposedly questioned him. According to Gannon’s account, he told them the same thing: he couldn’t reveal his sources. A Gannon interview with Editor & Publisher reveals:
“He also threw into question media accounts suggesting that he had seen a classified CIA document critical to the Plame case, saying he had made references to the ‘internal memo,’ but adding, ‘I never said I had it or had seen it.’ But when asked if he had in fact seen it, he declined to say.”
While Gannon denied he had been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, admitted that he’d been questioned by the FBI, and “hinted” that he had never seen the internal memo, he added:
“I am not going to speak to that. It goes to something of a nature I do not want to discuss.”
If, after all, Gannon had merely read about the memo in the Wall Street Journal, why this curious reticence? Is his readership of that rather staid publication really “something of a nature” this gay escort who charged $1,200 for a weekend fling would be too shy to discuss?
Later on in the JohnGalt-Gannon dialogue on Free Republic, it gets pretty hilarious:
Galt: “Sorry, Jeff, but you claimed in this report you did not [know] why you were being subpoenaed which is untrue. You know very well why you are being subpoenaed. You are a logical target for the Grand Jury probing either the forged Nigerian documents, ‘forged’ being the FBI’s characterization not mine, or L’Affair Plame. The law does believe you are obligated so you are incorrect. While I would respect your integrity in accepting the consequences in refusing to release your sources, you are still obligated by the law to reveal who made you privy to the document you referenced. I am sure as a ‘conservative’ you understand the difference, don’t you?”
Gannon: “Justin Raimondo is that you? I didn’t think you hung out here anymore. Oops, now I’ve ‘outed’ someone else!”
Galt: “Sorry, Jeff, the only one ‘outed’ was you who claimed ignorance as to why you were being subpoenaed. I have been on this forum since 1997. Twenty-something; I sell software over the phone. Plenty of people on this forum have met me in the real world.”
Gannon mistook this 20-something Freeper for me, a mistake no doubt occasioned by my March 8, 2004 follow-up on the Gannon saga:
“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?”
Reminding my readers of the column cited above in which the significance of the Gannon-Wilson interview is underscored, I pointed out that the “internal document” cited by Gannon – like the Niger uranium forgeries – turned out to be completely bogus:
“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.”
He didn’t listen – and look where he is today.
This story isn’t about sex – although Gannon’s reported sideline as a gay escort (or was his “journalism” the sideline?) could figure even more prominently as the personal and the political meet and merge in this case. It’s about a bitterly fought internal power struggle inside the Bush administration, pitting the neoconservative clique centered in the office of the vice president and the civilian upper echelons of the Pentagon against the remnants of resistance in the intelligence community, in the top ranks of the military, and in the diplomatic corps. It’s about the lies the former told in order to bamboozle Congress and the nation into a disastrous conflict in the Middle East – and the crimes they committed in covering up the lies. It’s a story about the neocon “alternative” media – such as “Talon News” and its many proliferating clones in cyberspace and the world of print and television – the purpose of which is to refract and distort images of an unjust and increasingly troubling war into the illusion of “victory.” It’s about payola pundits and media whores who swallow the party line without question and without even charging a fee. If Gannon is a plant, then what about the other right-wing screamers and ranters with an identical agenda and tactics who are, in many cases, just as sleazy?
Who planted Gannon in the White House press pool, and gave him all that access – and to what purpose? Clearly part of the scheme was to lob softball questions at a beleaguered White House press secretary facing a barrage of pointed questions about the war and the Bush administration’s many scandals. However, the idea was also to debunk and distract attention away from the questions that were beginning to be raised not only about the Plame matter, but also about the series of outright fabrications that represented a great deal of this administration’s case for going to war. That case had been made by influential neocons now facing scrutiny from Congress and the Justice Department, and Gannon served as their personal pitbull, going after Wilson and other debunkers of the neocons’ war myth.
As a gay man, I can’t say that I understand Gannon’s appeal to his clients in the escort business – a 47-year-old male hooker camouflaging himself as a decade-younger faux-butch jarhead? It doesn’t work for me – but his attractions to the neoconized American right are all too easy to see: he offered Republican activists a more congenial view of the increasingly bad news from Iraq – and the home front – as a nefarious plot by the “biased” mainstream media (MSM) to make the president (and America) look bad.
That they bought it, and continue buying into it, is all the evidence we need that the neoconized “conservative” movement is not only brain dead, but dangerous to boot.
If we follow the slime trail left by Gannon and his sponsors all the way to the end, we’ll stand face-to-face with the real authors of the Iraq war, and the full record of their crimes in the reckless pursuit of power and imperial glory. Gannon may be a minor player in all this, but then so was the Watergate burglary a minor escapade – the unraveling of which eventually led to the resignation of Richard M. Nixon and a general disillusionment with the neoconservative agenda of global interventionism.
What I wrote last winter about the Plame case applies equally to l’affaire Gannon:
“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.”