Monday, September 04, 2006

Richard Armitage and Valerie Plame

Smearing the Wilsons and Sliming America
By Larry C. Johnson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 02 September 2006

How low can they go? I refer of course to the latest vitriol directed at Valerie and Joe Wilson by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, who claim that Joe Wilson, not Bush administration officials, is responsible for destroying his wife's cover and exposing her as a CIA operative. Hitchens's battle with the bottle may account for his addled thinking, but what is Hiatt's excuse? Both men perform like Cirque du Soleil contortionists in dreaming up excuses for the nutty and destructive policies and actions of the Bush administration. In watching their behavior, we see a parallel with the devotees of Jim Jones, who gathered in Guyana almost 30 years ago to drink poisoned kool aid.

Let's focus on the Post's Fred Hiatt. In yesterday's Post editorial page, Hiatt writes:

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming - falsely, as it turned out - that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials.

The claim that Joe Wilson's op-ed from July of 2003 was a pack of lies and misrepresented the truth is an old right-wing, White House canard. Here is what Joe Wilson said in the July 2003 op-ed:

Though I did not file a written report, there should be at least four documents in United States government archives confirming my mission. The documents should include the ambassador's report of my debriefing in Niamey, a separate report written by the embassy staff, a CIA report summing up my trip, and a specific answer from the agency to the office of the vice president (this may have been delivered orally). While I have not seen any of these reports, I have spent enough time in government to know that this is standard operating procedure.

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.

False claim? False claim my ass! There were at least four reports. We now know that the National Intelligence officer for Africa in January 2003 briefed the White House that the Iraq/Niger claim was bunk. Even a partisan Senate Intelligence Committee report cites repeated efforts by the intelligence community to warn the president's advisors that reports claiming Iraq was trying to buy uranium, including British reports, were not credible.

What is so bizarre is that the White House did admit that it was wrong to put the infamous 16 words into the State of the Union Address (of course, they blamed the CIA), just days after Wilson's op-ed appeared. If, as Hiatt claims, Wilson's op-ed was false, then why did the White House correct the record by confirming the substance of his claim?

Hiatt also portrays an astonishing ignorance of national security affairs. He offers up this goofiness referring to Joe Wilson's "culpability" for exposing his wife's job:

He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife.

Yes, why would the CIA send the former Director of Africa at the National Security Council, a former Ambassador to Gabon, and the last US official to face down Saddam Hussein to Africa? Because Joe Wilson was uniquely qualified to do the job. Moreover, this is (or at least was) a common activity by the CIA. My former boss at State Department, Ambassador Morris D. Busby, made at least two trips I know of at the behest of the CIA after leaving government because of his experience in dealing with terrorism, narcotics, and Latin America. There are times when the CIA wants information and does not want to expose its own assets.

There was nothing on the public record or in any public document identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative. That information was classified. Sending Joe on a mission to Africa does not point the finger at her. Moreover, she did not make the decision to send him. That is another of Hiatt's lies and is routinely echoed by right-wing hacks. As Walter Pincus reported in the Washington Post in July 2005:

They [the White House] said that his 2002 trip to Niger was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, but CIA officials say that is incorrect. One reason for the confusion about Plame's role is that she had arranged a trip for him to Niger three years earlier on an unrelated matter, CIA officials told the Washington Post. (Washington Post, 27 July 2005)

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He 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 revealed. (Washington Post, 27 July 2005)

We are forced to revisit this nonsense because we have now learned that in addition to Libby and Rove, Richard Armitage also was shooting off his mouth about classified information. Regardless of Armitage's role as an initial source for Novak, we are still left with the fact that Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby abused their power and were actively engaged in a coordinated effort to discredit Joe Wilson for his behind-the-scene efforts to alert the public to the falsehoods in the president's State of the Union address.

While Richard Armitage may have had no malicious intent, the same cannot be said for Cheney, Libby and Rove. They knew exactly what they were doing. According to the Washington Post, during the week of July 6, 2003, "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists." Sometime after Novak's column appeared, Rove called Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball" and told him that Mr. Wilson's wife was "fair game."

And we have the document released by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in United States v. Libby that provides a copy of notes Cheney had written in the margins of Mr. Wilson's July 6 op-ed. In a court filing, Fitzgerald stated that the notes demonstrated that Cheney and Libby were "acutely focused" on the Wilson column and on rebutting his criticisms of the White House's handling of the Niger intelligence. Those notes became the basis for Republican National Committee talking points circulated and repeated by Ken Mehlman and others.

Why is this relevant? Today the Bush administration is once again trying to manufacture a case for war. They are calling critics of its policies on Iran and Iraq "appeasers" and decrying the lack of intelligence on Iran. It is déja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra. They whine about a lack of intelligence on Iran but refuse to accept responsibility for their own role in destroying Valerie Plame's undercover work, which was focused on monitoring the flow of nuclear technology to Iran. They may not have fully understood what Val was doing because of her cover status. But that's the point. They don't think these things through. Their only goal is political survival.

Perhaps the new attention on the Plame affair will fuel public support for accountability in government. The gang of political thugs currently in the White House refuse to be held accountable for anything. With the help of enablers like Fred Hiatt and Christopher Hitchens and others in the mainstream media, it is no wonder that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld skate from disaster to disaster, oblivious to the field of debris left in their wake.

We must also remember that the government-sanctioned attack on the Wilsons is not an isolated event. Just ask former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill or National Security Advisor Richard Clarke. Add to this list the names of the two CIA Baghdad chiefs of station who were savaged for their prescient early warnings that Iraq was moving into a civil war. The Plame/Wilson affair stands as a stark reminder that President Bush and his minions prefer destroying those who call them to account for failed policies rather than admitting error and taking corrective measures that will serve the longterm interests of the United States. As we move toward a new war with Iran, we should not be surprised that people who know the truth are reluctant to come forward. If you choose to blow the whistle, you are choosing career suicide and a full frontal assault on your character. In smearing the Wilsons, Bush and Cheney also are sliming America.

Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and US State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world.


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