September 29, 2003

The Plame Affair: What's Going On?

Let's take a step back and let me give my guess as to what is going on, using Mike Allen and Dana Priest's Sunday Washington Post article as our basic source:

At CIA Director George J. Tenet's request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.

The "government sources" may well be congressional sources that the CIA told last week about its request to the Justice Department. They may also be George Tenet or people carrying spears for George Tenet. They are unlikely to be Justice Department sources--cui bono? after all.

They may be White House sources who have decided that it is time to try to purge the bad guys of their influence. Some of the passages further on in the story raise that possibility.

The fact that Tenet has moved on this--has requested the Justice Department to investigate--means that he or that large factions within his agency are truly angry and very upset at what the White House has done. Even so, it is never good for Directors or Deputy Directors or Assistant Directors of Central Intelligence to be perceived inside the White House as having launched an unsuccessful bureaucratic war at those whom the president trusts--if, that is, they are still trusted when the process unwinds to its end. There must be people inside the CIA who are highly confident that this will end very badly for the guilty parties inside the White House, or the CIA would have found reasons to avoid the referral.

The operative's identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim. The intentional disclosure of a covert operative's identity is a violation of federal law.

Robert Novak appeared to have described Valerie Plame Wilson as an "operative" in conversations in mid-July. There are no overt "operatives" in the CIA--there are analysts. Intentional disclosure--and hence felony--appears to be demonstrated. This then raises the bar, for once the deed is a felony failing to report information about the deed makes one a potential accessory after the fact.

The officer's name was disclosed on July 14 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials. Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife.

The "senior administration official" who is talking to Allen and Priest is highly likely to be Tenet or somebody carrying spears for Tenet. "Senior administration official" means a cabinet secretary or one of their deputies, an assistant to the president, or somebody's chief of staff. The number of such people who would have known that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA is very small.

The two "senior White House officials" who made calls to at least six reporters in an attempt to get them to print their story about Valerie Plame Wilson are not yet known to us. But there names are known to the six reporters they called who have not been covering this story for the past two and a half years. And their names are clearly known by George Tenet--or whoever the "senior administration official" is.

Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

Not a screwup. Not an attempt to illuminate reasons why Wilson might have been sent to Niger even though he was (as the White House has occasionally tried to maintain) not the best man for the job. But revenge. The White House's motives are here painted (probably accurately) black as pitch by a senior administration official. This makes it very likely that before this ends there will be multiple resignations either from the White House staff or from the CIA--and the fact that it is the CIA that has initiated this tells us where they at least expect the resignations to be.

Sources familiar with the conversations said the leakers were seeking to undercut Wilson's credibility. They alleged that Wilson, who was not a CIA employee, was selected for the Niger mission partly because his wife had recommended him. Wilson said in an interview yesterday that a reporter had told him that the leaker said, "The real issue is Wilson and his wife." A source said reporters quoted a leaker as describing Wilson's wife as "fair game."

The "sources familiar with the conversations" have to be two or more of the six reporters who were called. Who else? Priest and Allen know two or more of those who were called.

The official would not name the leakers for the record and would not name the journalists.

But the senior administration official did name the leakers. The leakers are known not only to all the reporters they called and to all within the Bush White House whom they have told of their role, but also known to Priest and Allen. It is their task now--knowing what the answer is--to develop other lines of evidence that will point them at the targets they already know. Both Priest and Allen are good at this.

The official said there was no indication that Bush knew about the calls.

Are we supposed to make inferences from the lack of mention of Richard Cheney, Andrew Card, and Karl Rove? Are there indications that they did know about the calls? The fact that the senior administration official is limiting the fire exclusion zone to Bush alone may be significant. It may not.

It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another. Asked about the motive for describing the leaks, the senior official said the leaks were "wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson's credibility."...

It is rare for one senior official in any administration to turn on another to this extent: I cannot remember anything like it since the Darman-Sununu wars in the first Bush administration.

Sources said that some of the other journalists who received the leak did not use the information because they were uncomfortable with unmasking an undercover agent...

Further evidence that we are talking felony here: deliberate exposure of undercover operatives. That's serious jail time.

It is clear on one level what has happened: the CIA staff has become convinced that in exposing the names of covert operatives the White House has crossed a very important line in the politicization of intelligence, and that the right response is to set in motion a process that should lead to serious jail time for multiple senior White House officials. The highest ranks at the CIA agree--or, at least, think that an enraged White House (for surely almost everybody in the White House will convince themselves that it was an innocent, technical mistake at worst) will be easier to deal with than an enraged CIA staff would be.

On another level, it is not at all clear what has happened. National Security Advisor Condi Rice says that it is inappropriate to comment on a Justice Department matter, other White House officials say that George W. Bush has no plans to conduct his own internal within-the-White House investigation, the condoning of the crime between July 14 and September 28 suggests that the White House is hunkering down and hopes to survive the media storm (and hopes that the Justice Department investigation will somehow dribble away)--but still other White House officials say that Bush "wants to get to the bottom of this."

We hear thuds and screams inside the Topkapi Palace. But we have little idea what really goes on in there.

Posted by DeLong at September 29, 2003 05:41 PM | TrackBack

Comments

I agree that Tenet is the most likely source for the Washington Post article. It also seems evident that the White House is circling the wagons, which is not the defense they'd probably choose if only low-level White House officials were on the hook for this.

You have to wonder how well Rove is sleeping tonight.

Posted by: John McKinzey on September 29, 2003 11:24 PM

Novak now saying that his source was not the White House.

Posted by: big al on September 30, 2003 03:35 AM

"There must be people inside the CIA who are highly confident that this will end very badly for the guilty parties inside the White House, or the CIA would have found reasons to avoid the referral."

This is the key, and the reason to think the leaker was not Rove or Cheney. The Agency officials pursuing this must know that they would not win such a battle. I wouldn't be surprised if the suspected leaker were someone who had done this before--and also someone whose bureaucratic position was not completely secure. We'll see.

Posted by: Jim Harris on September 30, 2003 04:42 AM

> reason to think the leaker was not Rove or Cheney.


Two leakers. One of whom was, presumably, Fleischer.

Posted by: dave heasman on September 30, 2003 05:41 AM

> reason to think the leaker was not Rove or Cheney.


Two leakers. One of whom was, presumably, Fleischer.

Posted by: dave heasman on September 30, 2003 05:44 AM

I hope a call for lie detector tests for all senior administration officials rings throughout the land.

Posted by: Ken MacCardle on September 30, 2003 06:50 AM

Her super secret spy name, Plame, is not a common name and in fact was used on here husband's bios on a website ofr an international business advisory firm targeting turkey as well as that of a saudi funded think tank. How good of a cover is that? If she was using Plame as a covert name, it is pretty damn scary.


Wapo's Allen's assertion that Plame was not used by her publically may have been true but it was being used publically, by her husband, the former US ambassador and self-outed CIA investigator. She had no cover as Plame - the ICA can't be that bad.

If Plame told her husband that that was her cover name, and he put it on the web (which he did) - did Plame or Wilson violate TITLE 50 > CHAPTER 15 > Sec. 421.

Perhaps Novak is destroying a neocon enemy? Perhaps the delay was to clean up Plames oooperatives, if any, or for the CIA to cover its ass on how they had buffoon Wilson investigate the mater.

Posted by: zionblogster on September 30, 2003 07:46 AM

"Novak now saying that his source was not the White House."

Actually, Novak's direct quote was "Nobody in the Bush Administration _called me_ to leak this." If you're already on the phone with them, they don't have to call you. They just leak it while they've got you.

Posted by: Jim Henley on September 30, 2003 07:47 AM

>>>I wouldn't be surprised if the suspected leaker were someone who had done this before<<<


Karl Rove is someone who has done this before. He was fired from the first Bush W.H. for leaking a negative story to....guess who. Novakula himself.

This has a "been there done that" feel to it.

Posted by: Jo Ann on September 30, 2003 08:17 AM

>>>I wouldn't be surprised if the suspected leaker were someone who had done this before<<<


Karl Rove is someone who has done this before. He was fired from the first Bush W.H. for leaking a negative story to....guess who. Novakula himself.

This has a "been there done that" feel to it.

Posted by: Jo Ann on September 30, 2003 08:19 AM

dave heasman writes: " Two leakers. One of whom was, presumably, Fleischer"

I don't think it was Fleischer. He left that week, which would leave him exposed - a journalist could id him without burning a source in the administration.

I think it was Rove and Dan Bartlett. Bartlett's worked for Bush since 1993, and for Rove longer than that. Bartlett's only 31 or so, which means he's had his morality warped by Rove for his entire adult life.

Bartlett is White House Communications Director, and "oversees the White House Press Office, Office of Media Affairs, Communications, Speechwriting, and Global Communications"

I think that makes him Ari's (or McClellan's) boss.

My pet theory is that, since it was Ari's last week, there was an authority vacuum (or maybe a maturity deficit) and Rove and McClellan pulled some of Rove's trademark underhanded leak smears.

Posted by: Jon H on September 30, 2003 09:33 AM

Big Al wrote: "Novak now saying that his source was not the White House."

Not exactly. The headline is misleading on this. Novak is still saying that he was told of this by "senior administration officials," but that they mentioned it in passing when he called them. In other words, he's implicitly denying the "shopped it around" story, not that the White House wasn't the source.

Even if he's correct, it would still be a felony for him to be told of this, regardless of whether he called them or they called him.

Posted by: PaulB on September 30, 2003 09:45 AM

"Robert Novak appeared to have described Valerie Plame Wilson as an "operative" in conversations in mid-July."

Conversations? How about the article that started this whole thing:

"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."

Posted by: Nick on September 30, 2003 11:52 AM

Gee, you stopped before you got to one of the bits I liked best:

When Novak told a CIA spokesman he was going to write a column about Wilson's wife, the spokesman urged him not to print her name "for security reasons," according to one CIA official. Intelligence officials said they believed Novak understood there were reasons other than Plame's personal security not to use her name, even though the CIA has declined to confirm whether she was undercover.

Novak said in an interview last night that the request came at the end of a conversation about Wilson's trip to Niger and his wife's role in it. "They said it's doubtful she'll ever again have a foreign assignment," he said. "They said if her name was printed, it might be difficult if she was traveling abroad, and they said they would prefer I didn't use her name. It was a very weak request. If it was put on a stronger basis, I would have considered it."

"They believed Novak understood"? How about "We emphasized to him", or "we pounded the table and implored him" not to print it?

If the CIA confirmed it to Novak (and later, to TIME), how come they are now pretending it is a big deal, and why do they think their own "spokesman" is not culpable?

Posted by: Tom Maguire on September 30, 2003 12:58 PM

Tom Maguire: "Novak said in an interview last night that the request came at the end of a conversation about Wilson's trip to Niger and his wife's role in it. 'They said it's doubtful she'll ever again have a foreign assignment,' he said. 'They said if her name was printed, it might be difficult if she was traveling abroad, and they said they would prefer I didn't use her name. It was a very weak request. If it was put on a stronger basis, I would have considered it.'

"If the CIA confirmed it to Novak (and later, to TIME), how come they are now pretending it is a big deal, and why do they think their own 'spokesman' is not culpable?"

Well, Tom, see http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/09/30/wilson.cia/index.html :

"In addition to Novak, as many as six other journalists may have been told the CIA operative's name, CNN's [David] Ensor reported, citing sources. At least one of the journalists spoke to a Bush administration official who
revealed the name, Ensor said, but it was unclear who had initiated the call.

"Novak said a confidential source at the CIA told him that Plame was 'an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover
operatives.'

" 'They asked me not to use her name but never indicated it would endanger her
or anybody else,' he said.

[But] "In his July 14 column, Novak wrote that Plame 'is an agency operative
on weapons of mass destruction.'

"Ensor reported that sources at the CIA said Plame is an employee of the operations side of the agency.

" 'This is a person who did run agents,' Ensor said. 'This is a person who was
out there in the world collecting information.' "

Since then, Ensor now says flatly on CNN that she was not only an operative, but one still closely associated with the WMD search -- and he quotes "a senior CIA official" as saying, "If she was an analyst rather than an operative, we would not have told the Justice Department a crime had been committed."

So, since Novak is now known to have changed his story yesterday to try to make Bush look better, could it possibly be that he's now lying about what the CIA told him for the same reason? Surely not...(Although Bill Buckley could tell you about Novak's level of honesty; see their 1992 National Review debate over whether Pat Buchanan was anti-Semitic.)


Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on September 30, 2003 02:01 PM

Julian Borger of the Guardian is reporting that it widely known that Karl Rove is the leaker (audio interview):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/0,12271,759893,00.html

If this is true, then Rove is a marked man. If Borger can find this out in one afternoon, how long will it take the FBI?

Posted by: milieu on September 30, 2003 02:11 PM

"who have not been covering this story for the past two and a half years."

Months, n'est-ce pas?

As a philosopher who works on the epistemology, I find this whole story very frustrating. One of the basic results is that you can lose your credibility by talking about ridiculous topics--the secret plans of the CIA are one of my favorite examples. For instance, if a visiting assistant professor of philosophy in Salt Lake City says to you, "A major White House official burned a CIA agent for no reason at all, I've known about it for two months, and I'm not sure why you've never heard about it even though you subscribe to all the national newspapers"--then that visiting assistant professor is a nut. How would he know something like that?

AAARRRGGGH!

Posted by: Matt Weiner on September 30, 2003 06:14 PM

Regarding the Wilson intelligence scandal:

We need to realize that EVERYTHING Bush, Novak, and McClellan are SAYING is absolutely true. But everything they're TELLING US is a lie. We have to remember to listen carefully to the exact words.

Novak originally said that the information about Wilson's wife came from, "two senior administration officials." THIS IS TRUE.

Novak also says that, "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this." THIS IS ALSO TRUE.

There is ONE MAN in the world who is BOTH a senior administration official, and does not release information from the administration (from the White House).

There is ONE MAN in the world who invested his reputation and resources to the Niger yellowcake story, more than any other.

There was ONE MAN in the world who knew of Wilson's trip to Niger as well as he knew about the identity of Wilson's wife.

THE MAN'S NAME IS **DICK CHENEY**.

The yellowcake story was Cheney's baby.

Joseph Wilson killed Dick Cheney's baby.

So, when Scott McClellan talks about how "ridiculous" it is that the leak could have come out of Karl Rove, it's because he knows this statement to be true. Rove IS NOT the one who ORIGINALLY released this information. There is no way this could have been the case because there's really no scenario that would explain how Rove could legitimately be in possession of this information. But Rove is a part of the conspiracy, all the same.

The plan was for Cheney & Novak to make the info about Wilson's wife "common knowledge around Washington." That was the first wave of the attack. The second wave was initiated when Cheney told Rove that he (Cheney or his office) had put Wilson's wife's identity in print, and that she, and her identity, were now, "FAIR GAME." The rest was left to Rove. Rove, or people working with Rove, then made the FAIR GAME phone calls to the media, knowing that Cheney & Novak had laid the groundwork to cover their asses (legally) by making the secret information, "common knowledge around Washington."

The White House is trying to convince us that the Novak disclosure and the "FAIR GAME" phone calls were taking place as one continuous event, but they were not. The Novak crimes (disclosures) were designed to set up the FAIR GAME phone calls from Rove. This was a two-point plan. Novak is working with the White House on this. He is knowingly trying to mislead any would-be investigations and may eventually go down for this obvious obstruction (at least).

Scott McClellan completed the second wave on Wednesday. When asked to make a distinction between disclosing the identity of a covert CIA operative and discussing it after it is published, McClellan said, ""That is such a broad question, about is it OK to discuss news articles," he said. "I mean, news articles are discussed all the time."

So, is there one top-level White House official whose email, phone records, etc. ARE NOT being protected by orders of the Justice Department? Is their one top-level White House official who does not work in the White House and whose staff is not under evidence protection orders or legal scrutiny? Is Cheney watching and laughing?

Cheney is the only top level White House official who DID NOT go before cameras this week to talk about everything he doesn't know. Dick Cheney won't be seen any time soon.

When they (McClellan & co.) say, "White House," they're actually saying, "THE PLACE WHERE CHENEY IS NOT." Notice how often they use the terminology "White House." And when Novak uses the word "identity," in talking about Valerie Plame, he's not talking about her job at the CIA, he's talking about her "identity" as Wilson's wife. It's a word game. The words are true; the message is a lie.

LISTEN TO THE WORDS THEY USE.

All of the information above is classified.


Posted by: Billy on October 2, 2003 07:47 AM
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