[From the diaries by susanbhu]

By Susan Gardner, ePluribus MediaAlso posted on DailyKos

In an interview with ePluribus Media this weekend, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed CIA administrators have denied ex-CIA undercover operative and WMD expert Valerie Plame permission to publish an op-ed defending herself in the New York Times. Wilson also indicated he and his wife may seek legal action against administration officials. Calling the Bush administration “the most belligerent and secretive government in my lifetime,” Wilson said he believes White House officials orchestrated a smear campaign “to discourage others from coming forward.”
He also used the “T” word. As in “traitors.”

The wide-ranging interview began with a discussion of the April 22, 2005, article in The American Prospect, in which writer Murray Waas analyzes the activities of the federal grand jury that is investigating the leak of classified information that “outted” intelligence official Valerie Plame. Waas concludes:

Despite the fact that prosecutors might not bring criminal charges, the grand jury inquiry uncovered evidence that several administration officials engaged in an aggressive and organized effort to discredit Wilson by claiming that his mission to Niger was a result of nepotism, according to sources close to the case. Although several administration officials admitted to disseminating negative information about Wilson and Plame, they also asserted that they did not know that Plame was a clandestine CIA operative. Federal investigators have been skeptical of those accounts, according to sources close to the case, but unable to prove them false.

American Prospect

What is your initial reaction to the American Prospect article?

I have said all along that the compromise of Valerie’s covert identity was part of a conspiracy hatched in the White House to smear and discredit me, even as the administration had acknowledged the day after my original op-ed appeared in the New York Times that “the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the state of the union address.”  

That smear campaign continued throughout the summer of 2004, fueled by Republican staffers of the Senate Select committee on Intelligence, three Republican senators and their specious charges in a letter appended to the committee report, and a complicit (or lazy) Washington Post journalist named Susan Schmidt, who couldn’t be bothered to even read the Senate report.  Had she done so, she would have learned that almost four months before the infamous State of the Union address, both the Senate Select committee and the White House had been warned by the heads of the American intelligence community not to use the British allegation because in the view of our $40-billion-a-year intelligence community, the British had “stretched” and “exaggerated” the claim.

What can one say about a government that acts in such a fashion against its own citizens?  The first amendment of the constitution, in addition to guaranteeing freedom of the press and of speech, also guarantees the right of a citizen to petition the government to redress a grievance.  This administration has arguably abridged my right to do so with its smear campaign.

Earlier, you charged that the leak originated solely to discredit you because of your criticism of the Bush administration. The White House denied that. Do you now feel vindicated?

My speculation was always that the campaign was to discourage others from coming forward. And that has clearly worked. Federal employees have been silenced and intimidated. A senior administration official told the Washington Post in September 2003 that the motive was revenge.

How petty.

Will you be disappointed if the grand jury fails to find a prosecutable offense?

The grand jury has not yet finished its business, so it’s premature to express any opinion on its work. The leaks reported in Murray Waas’ article suggest strongly that there was an administration-orchestrated campaign to discredit my report by compromising the identity of my wife.

Irrespective of whether ultimately a crime is found to have been committed, this is an incredibly sleazy assault on the rights of a citizen to petition his government to redress grievances as protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

How could the president keep people of such low ethical standards in positions of responsibility? It’s an outrage. Don’t forget that the smear campaign began after the administration acknowledged to the Washington Post that “the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address.” The smears continued for well over a year and included in its most virulent forms the calling of Valerie and me liars and traitors.

If justice is not done – if administration officials get away with this – it’s hard to see why somebody would stand up in the future. The costs are enormous and much, much larger when the government can assault a citizen with impunity like they assaulted Valerie and me. It would be a sad day for democracy.

There are people in the administration who are right now sitting back and watching while their actions may lead to the jailing of two journalists. That they not step forward is an indication of their cowardice. But we have known for a long time that, like a lot of schoolyard bullies, they are cowards at heart. And in this case, traitors to their country.

Four congressional committees previously declined to investigate the leak, based on the fact that the federal grand jury had not finished its inquiry. Do you anticipate another round of calls for congressional investigation when the grand jury report is finalized and officially released? If so, do you expect these calls to meet with success?

So long as Republicans hold the chairmanships of the committees, there will be no congressional investigation, pure and simple. Even the Republicans in Congress are intimidated by the administration. And in refusing to investigate, they abrogate their constitutional responsibilities to provide oversight.

In your view, was the leak coordinated?

I believe there was an orchestrated conspiracy at the senior levels of the administration to first do the “work up” on me – essentially run an intelligence operation against me from the White House – and then to leak Valerie’s name. I think the special prosecutor and the grand jury may well expose an operation far broader than we yet know.

As to names, it’s clear that Rove pushed the story from the minute it appeared in print. That in and of itself is reprehensible, if not illegal. He may not have to wear handcuffs, but he should still be frog marched off the White House grounds. That sort of unethical behavior should not be tolerated.

Earlier you said you believe the leak was intended to discourage others from coming forward. Did the plan work?

Clearly. There are people close to my wife who could have spoken up at the beginning of the smear campaign to clarify that Valerie had nothing to do with the decision to send me to Niger. They declined because they feared that they would be subjected to the same attacks. And as I report in the paperback version of my book – on the stands in a couple of weeks – the CIA itself would not let Valerie defend her honor in an op-ed that the New York Times wanted to publish.

How many leakers do you think there were? And were they from the CIA or the White House?

I have read in the Post that two leakers called six reporters. But the leakers were probably not the decision-makers. They just carried out the decisions of their superiors.

The intriguing question is: Who gave the name to the White House in the first place? Who in the intelligence community offered up my wife’s name and why?

This was not an agency leak. There might have been an individual within the agency who leaked, but not the CIA as an institution. They asked me to do a job, I did it, they were satisfied.

Let’s go back to circumstances of your trip to Niger and how you were asked to undertake it in the first place. Can you talk a bit about that?

I did not approach the government or volunteer to undertake the mission. My wife did not suggest or recommend me for the trip. The CIA has been saying the same thing since it was first reported in Newsday several days after the Novak article appeared.

I was reimbursed for my expenses but not paid a salary or any compensation for my time. I was asked to do it because I had a unique set of relevant relationships in Niger and had undertaken a mission to that country on behalf of the CIA a couple of years previously.

There was nothing personal to be gained for either my wife or myself in making the trip.

The request for you to undertake the inquiry — where did it originate? The CIA or the White House?

The Vice President has belatedly admitted that he inquired into the report. That is what generated the trip.

You were asked to go to Niger based on an intelligence report about documents the Bush administration claimed proved Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase yellowcake. These documents are now known to be forgeries. If you had seen the original documents before your trip, do you think you would have been able to identify them as forgeries, based on your knowledge of the African mining industry and the key players involved?

I’ve said repeatedly from the very first article that I never saw the documents prior to Andrea Mitchell handing me photocopies in an interview. Even then, I did not have my glasses on and could not make out what they said (one of the drawbacks of getting old). I still have not seen them to read them.

The fact is that three of us – our ambassador in the field, a four-star Marine Corps general and me – were all asked to look into the possibility that such a transaction could have taken place or been contemplated by the Niger government (which incidentally had sent troops to fight with us in the first Gulf War).

All of us reported back that it did not and could not have happened.

What do you see as the consequences on an international level of the leak? How will this affect future intelligence gathering?

Those who have spoken out on the international ramifications have noted how long it takes to develop networks and sources, and how trust or confidentiality is critical to cooperation.

I have no idea how this affects future operations, but it’s safe to say it was a significant betrayal of trust between the clandestine service and its own government.

When you published “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” did you expect the level of retribution that you experienced?

I fully anticipated that they would attack me and was prepared for that. After all, I had handwritten notes and signed photos from the first President Bush commending my courage and leadership when I was in charge of the embassy in Baghdad during the first Gulf War. I also had a slew of awards from the State Department and the Distinguished Defense Service Award for my time as political advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Armed Forces in Europe. (Incidentally, the NATO commander who gave me that award had earlier in his career been an aide to Al Haig when Haig had been in the Nixon White House. No wussy Democrat, that officer!)

I, of course, had no idea that the administration would be so stupid as to compromise the identity of a national security asset working on protecting us from weapons of mass destruction. I also had no idea that they would tell such bald-faced lies and get away with it in the press.

When you look at the political landscape today, do you see specific instances in which the tactics used to discredit you have been used on others?

Sure. Start with the attacks on John McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 election. Look at what they did to Richard Clarke, with Bill Frist accusing him of perjury on the floor of the Senate. Swift Boat Veterans savaged John Kerry with their lies.

It has become, regrettably, a common tactic of the right. One need look no further than Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Hannity and Ann Coulter. Heck, James Dobson even tried to smear Spongebob.

Your wife’s career was ruined. Your reputation was smeared. Have you considered filing a civil suit?

We are looking at all options.

If the leak had never happened, how would your life – and that of your wife and family – be different today?

We would have receded into the background. My point had been made the day the White House acknowledged that the sixteen words should never have been in the State of the Union address. The press failed the country in allowing the lies and the cover-up to continue even as the right wing defamed Valerie and me.

What can we as ordinary American citizens do to help restore honesty and integrity to the government?

Everyone needs to take the time to be responsible citizens, to inform themselves on the issues and to be willing to take a stand. Letters to Congress, to the editors of local newspapers, are a start. Participation in groups amplifies the power of one. This is a precious democracy we have, but we will not have it long if we are not prepared to defend it.

Our politics should be as interesting to us as the NBA playoffs. It’s the ultimate reality show and we need to pay attention at every level of governance.

Now that you’re a writer yourself, with occasional op-eds and your biography, Politics of Truth, do you have a different view of the use of the shield law?

Actually, it’s as a citizen watching the most belligerent and secretive government in my lifetime that I worry about the erosion of the press’s ability to do its job.

Are you thinking about writing more in the future?

I’ve been thinking about a novel that encapsulates the atmosphere in Washington at this time in our history. The nice thing about fiction is that the malefactors can get what they deserve. See Dante’s Inferno

Would you ever consider a return to public service or running for office?

If there were something that the President felt he (or she) wanted me to do, I would find it impossible to refuse. But this was never a job interview. My actions in calling my government to account for what it had done in the name of the American people is what we do in a democracy. The response of this administration is typical of what is done in a dictatorship.

As for running for office, I have small children and have no desire to be a part-time father. I will, however, remain an active citizen.

One final question: Do you agree with Jon Stewart that Robert Novak is indeed a douchebag of liberty?

Valerie doesn’t like the term, “douchebag.” I think that Novak was a pawn in someone else’s game.

That said, it’s not likely he’ll be a guest in our home in this lifetime.

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