Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post are pushing the Plame story further down the road by taking a close look at the State Department memo. The more facts that come out the worse it looks for Ken Mehlman.

First of all, we have this:

Almost all of the memo is devoted to describing why State Department intelligence experts did not believe claims that Saddam Hussein had in the recent past sought to purchase uranium from Niger.

Update [2005-7-21 17:9:26 by susanhu]: Walter Pincus of The Washington Post — who co-authored the WaPo article that BooMan discusses here — is a guest tonight on
The Charlie Rose Show. Check local PBS listings for air times. Charlie’s other guests are Stephen Cohen of the Israeli Policy Forum and Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group.

Think about this. Wilson starts leaking anonymously in the spring of 2003. On May 6th, Nicholas Kristoff reports:

I’m told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

[snip]The envoy’s debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted — except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

“It’s disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year,” one insider said.

Upon seeing this Kristoff column, the State Department asks for information about this trip to Niger. A memo is written. Even though Kristoff’s editorial was blatantly calling the State Dept. out for rank dishonesty, the
whole emphasis of the memo is to support the leaker’s story and create seperation from the White House over the sixteen words. They are looking to cover their ass. But they are looking to cover their ass by agreeing with Kristoff. This is not your normal ass-covering. This indicates a very unhealthy relationship between the White House and State.

How does that line up will Mehlman’s talking points? How does that discredit Wilson?

Next:

After Wilson comes out publicly on July 6th, Armitage asks for info about Wilson’s trip again. Ford Jr., gets the month old memo, readdresses it to Colin Powell and sends it along. The next day, Powell peruses the memo on his trip to Africa aboard Air Force One.

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked “(S)” for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.

Plame — who is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson, in the memo — is mentioned in the second paragraph of the three-page document, which was written on June 10, 2003, by an analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), according to a source who described the memo to The Washington Post.

The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the “secret” level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as “secret” the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame’s name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said.

Does Mehlman want to keep arguing that Plame was a desk-jockey whose identity wasn’t classified? In any case, the next day Robert Novak gets the juicy scoop that Wilson’s wife is a CIA ‘operative’. He calls Rove to confirm. Rove confirms it.

Novak calls the CIA. He claims the CIA told him not to use her name, but claims:

“They…never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators,” Novak said.
link

So, the asshole printed her name anyway, because having the CIA ask you not to print her name is not a good enough reason to forego an opportunity to do Rove’s dirty work for him. But, alas, she either was, or had been, a covert operative. So, Novak’s indiscretion wasn’t just obnoxious, it was totally irresponsible. Perhaps there could be no clearer object lesson on why sensitive classifed information should not be entrusted to journalists who may or may not have any ethics or common sense.

But it gets better.

The description of Wilson’s wife and her role in the Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA was considered “a footnote” in a background paragraph in the memo, according to an official who was aware of the process.

It records that the INR analyst at the meeting opposed Wilson’s trip to Niger because the State Department, through other inquiries, already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

Does anyone else find this amusing? The INR had already determined that the memos were forgeries. The CIA thought the information was useless. The French and Italians thought the information was bunk. But BIG DICK Cheney wanted it checked out anyway. Can you see the collective interagency eye-roll? So, needing to satisfy the bloodthirsty veep, they convened a meeting to decide what dumb sucker to send to Niger on a wild goose chase.

And here is where the boondoggle comes in. Valerie Wilson suggests that her husband might be willing to check it out. Or maybe they ask her if her husband would be willing to do it. Whatever, who cares who suggested him first. How could it possibly matter?

So, off Wilson goes to visit Niger to check out a bunk story based on forged documents. And lo and behold, he discovers that the Ambassador to Niger has already been badgered on this issue and reported back that the story is implausible. Wilson sips some green tea, talks to a few ministers, and satisfies himself that Niger doesn’t control their uranium and can’t divert it without the French noticing.

Calling Mehlman!! You there buddy? Care to keep talking shit?

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