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Editorial: CIA & Iraq/An effort to shift the blame
Minneapolis Star Tribune
In addition to potentially indicting one or more people in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame in the literal sense, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald could very well figuratively indict the Bush administration's case for going to war in Iraq, plus its cynical behavior when that case began to unravel. He could also expose just how badly columnist Robert Novak behaved in all this.
The Washington Post's Walter Pincus is the gold standard in trustworthy, hard-nosed reporting these days, and he, with Jim VandeHei, put together a powerful report for Wednesday's Post that illuminates several aspects of the Plame affair.
Pincus and VandeHei write that Fitzgerald is exploring the fight between the White House and the CIA over who was responsible for the discredited claim that Iraq sought to buy enriched uranium in Niger. He's exploring this because "the effort to discredit [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy."
Wilson, you will recall, was dispatched by the CIA to Niger to investigate the Iraq connection, which he debunked, only to see it appear in Bush's State of the Union message a year later. On July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote on the New York Times op-ed page that it appeared the administration was "twisting" intelligence.
The White House, Pincus and VandeHei write, "responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words [about uranium from Africa] to remain in Bush's speech. As part of this effort, then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley spoke with [CIA Director George] Tenet during the week about clearing up CIA responsibility for the 16 words, even though both knew the agency did not think Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, according to a person familiar with the conversation."
In fact, the CIA had worked hard to convince the White House that the Iraq-Niger allegations didn't hold water. So what you have here is the White House, which got caught erecting a fanciful case for war, aggressively trying to pin responsibility on the CIA and undermine the credibility of whistleblower Wilson.
Karl Rove's signature political tactics is: Attack your enemy's strength. With Wilson it was his sterling diplomatic reputation. With critics of Bush's case for war, it was CIA hesitancy sign on to that case.
So with Wilson, you put out the story that his Niger trip was a boondoggle authorized by his wife (it wasn't), and accuse him of saying falsely that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him (Wilson never said that). With the critics of the case for war, you pin the tail on the CIA, thus camouflaging White House efforts to create a solid case for war where none existed.
The Niger-Wilson-Plame-Iraq scheme involved much more than the politics such tactics usually further. It involved decisions about spending American blood and money in an unnecessary war. Rove's patented tactics are ugly on the campaign trail; they have absolutely no place in the White House.
Which is where Novak comes in. Pincus and VandeHei write that former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow spoke with Novak twice before the columnist outed Plame. Harlow said "he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be used." Harlow said he then checked that Plame was indeed working under cover and called Novak back to reiterate that she did not send her husband to Niger and that her name should not be used. Novak later wrote that the person he spoke to at the CIA said if her name were revealed, she probably would never get another overseas assignment and that there might be "difficulties" if she even traveled abroad. But, Novak said, he wasn't told that revealing her identity would endanger her or anyone else.
Novak has been around Washington for decades. Even a novice would know Harlow's message meant that outing Plame would be dangerous. Novak appears so eager to carry White House water that he ignored the CIA warnings.
Indicted or not, by the time this investigation has run its course, chances are good that no one in the White House, nor Novak, will find themselves covered in glory.