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Plame, the Veep, and the CIA
WARNING: Everything in this post is speculation!
I'm a little slow. Along with everybody else in the community I've been following the PlameGate stories eagerly. But I haven't really gotten it until now. Other people may have reached these conclusions already (I'm seeing some of the same stuff from Josh), but it's taken me a while to get here.
The thing that I never understood about the whole scandal was why. From the first day I heard about it, it made no sense to me that Valerie Wilson was outed to discredit her husband in retribution for his editorial.
It just didn't fit. The m.o. of this administration has been character assassination, and there seemed to be far better and more legal ways of tarring Joe Wilson. The guy had been a public servant for decades, surely they could have drug up somebody from his past to label him as partisan and a hack. Swift-boating I would have understood. This I did not.
If anything, identifying his wife as a CIA operative seemed to give his story more weight in my mind.
Oct 18, 2005 -- 02:05:56 PM EST
Then there was the odd thing with the use of his wife's maiden name in the article. Novak's Who's Who explanation of this just felt false from the get-go. That's the kind of thing that felt like a very specific choice to me. Why?
My theory on all this is that Plame was outed not as retaliation towards Wilson, but as retaliation towards the CIA community. This was a warning shot, an outing of an agent that would have relatively little collateral damage. "Don't fuck with us," they were saying.
It would explain the choice to name her as Valerie Plame. As others have pointed out, that was the name she went by at the CIA, and it would have been the equivalent of the mob leaving a picture of your child in your mailbox. "We know where you live," they were saying.
It sounds like Patrick Fitzgerald is heading down this path as well. From the Washington Post today:
As the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's name hurtles to an apparent conclusion, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney's office, according to lawyers familiar with the case and government officials. The prosecutor has assembled evidence that suggests Cheney's long-standing tensions with the CIA contributed to the unmasking of operative Valerie Plame.
So why did the Veep's office feel the need to snap the CIA into line? There must have been something immediately pressing to take an action of this magnitude.
One theory is that this was part of a competition for Bush's attention. Bush would have been a CIA man coming in, with close family connections in the organization. Tenet seems to have had the ear of the President up to this point. And after the outing, the relationship between Tenet and the Veep went downhill rapidly, with Tenet publicly refuting some of Cheney's more outlandish claims about Iraq.
Tenet resigned just under a year later, but as NBC noted:
A senior aide to Tenet told NBC News that Tenet, who made his final decision to leave over the holiday weekend and informed his senior staff Tuesday, had wanted to resign last summer or fall but that with the intelligence investigations coming up, Bush persuaded him to stay.
That would have been shortly after the Plame outing. So one theory is that this was aimed at making Tenet look bad. There had been a report in his own organization, from one of his own analysts that disproved the Niger claims that had been the strongest basis of the WMD claims. Tenet famously told Bush there was a "slam-dunk" case for WMD in Iraq. Now there was evidence he should have had at the ready and didn't. And it made Tenet look uncapable of protecting his own agents, making his position untenable.
But there's another theory as well. Shortly after Novak's column appeared, Seymour Hersh published an article in the New Yorker that made a lot of sense to me. In his account, the Vice-President's office and the Defense Department had basically shut out the intelligence analysis community, instead creating a system where raw, un-vetted intelligence data was "stove-piped" directly to the Veep (and probably WHIG) through the offices of John Bolton at the State Department (perhaps through a Fleitz connection?) and Douglas Feith at Defense.
From Hersh's article:
A few months after George Bush took office, Greg Thielmann, an expert on disarmament with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR, was assigned to be the daily intelligence liaison to John Bolton, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, who is a prominent conservative. Thielmann understood that his posting had been mandated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who thought that every important State Department bureau should be assigned a daily intelligence officer. “Bolton was the guy with whom I had to do business,