One day some university may offer a Ph.D program in Plameology. It all depends on whether this investigation peters out or revs up. For those of us that have read every word we could find, poured over the timeline, examined the backgrounds of the players, read the tea leaves, used Babelfish to translate Italian and French articles… we all share a secret dream.
That dream is that Fitzgerald will uncover the true story behind the Niger forgeries and drop a nuclear bomb on this administration.
Hopes for that outcome wax and wane. But Jason Leopold of Raw Story has me dreaming anew:
The investigation is expected to shift back to top officials in the Office of the Vice President, the State Department and the National Security Council, and may even shed some light on the genesis of the Niger forgeries, lawyers close to the case say. The forged documents, cited in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, claimed Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from the African country. It may also reveal how key players in the White House decided to expose Plame’s undercover status and top secret front company, Brewster Jennings.
Separately, these people said, the FBI’s renewed interest in probing the Niger forgeries grew out of Fitzgerald’s probe.
There is one theory of the case that is somewhat exonerating of the Vice-President, in a truly shocking and ironic way. Seymour Hersh laid it all out in the New Yorker in October 2003.
“The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’ ” My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it—‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’ ” These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi intelligence.
“They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go—to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels—a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.”
Like all large institutions, C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. “What’s telling,” he added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed”—an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration.
All right, my friends, welcome back to the Weekend Interview Show. I’m Scott Horton, and I am talking with Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker magazine. He’s the author of the book Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. And I’ve got to tell you, Sy, I really wish we had another hour to finish this interview because I have a lot more questions here for you, but I guess I am going to have to settle for asking you about the Niger uranium forgeries. Speaking of Phil Giraldi, who we brought up a minute ago, I basically got it out of him on this show that Ledeen was involved and a couple of former CIA officers. Later, Justin Raimondo, my boss at Antiwar.com, named two former CIA operatives, Duane Clarridge and Alan Wolf, as the principle forgers of the documents, and I noticed the name Duane Clarridge in your book Chain of Command as being closely connected to the Iraqi National Congress. So I wonder if you know anything more about that that you could add to my jigsaw puzzle I am trying to put together here?
Hersh: No, I don’t. I know that story that’s circulating that it all happened, and there has been a number of stuff, a long series of articles published in La Repubblica in Italy, one of the national newspapers there, published, I think out of Rome. And I know the kid who did the writing, Carlo Bonini, who’s a very competent journalist, so I read all this stuff with great interest. I’m not persuaded that anybody really knows who did the paper yet. Alan Wolf was the former station chief. He passed away a few years ago. Very competent guy, you know, and anecdotally I have heard his name mentioned, but I haven’t published it because I just couldn’t confirm what happened. As you may know, I wrote about this for the New Yorker. I wrote a long piece very early about the Niger forgeries long… before Joe Wilson went public. They were obvious forgeries, very bad forgeries. The one thing that makes me a little skeptical is Michael Ledeen is certainly, really smart, I disagree with everything, you know, he and I are on the other ends of the world, but it is such a bad forgery, I mean, it is such a bad forgery. It is a forgery that was discovered initially by officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency, a guy named Jacques Baute, one of their investigators, when they first found the document. When they were first given to them, I think, by us. It took Jacques Baute about 20 minutes, 30 minutes on Google to prove that they were no good. You know at least it began to unravel them, you know, very early on.
Horton: So you think Ledeen would have made sure that whoever was working for him would have done a better job than that?
Hersh: Well, common sense says they would have done a better job than that. It was such a bad job. We just don’t know, but the one thing we should be interested in and remain interested in is the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation. I think he’s formidable.
Horton: You think it will expand to where the forgeries actually came from?
Hersh: Well, the FBI has been actually looking at it, and everyone poo-poos it. But I think the FBI, they may not have made it the most, you know, highest priority investigation, but they looked at it. As I wrote much later, I think I quote a senior CIA or official saying that they are pretty sure it was an inside job. In other words, that would buttress the notion that somebody connected with the intelligence community could have done it for a variety of reasons – one, really to be honest, to embarrass the administration. That’s always been a theory that I’ve had. We don’t know. It’s a lousy forgery. It was taken at face value by these wackos that run our government and it shouldn’t have been, but anyway and there we are, over and out. Thanks for having me.
Horton: All right. Thanks a lot.
The big question about the Niger forgeries has always been why they were such obvious forgeries. Were they just a prank pulled off to make fun of anyone that was taking the Iraq-Niger reporting seriously? And did that prank get out of control?
Or did the Vice-President’s office actually have a role in forging these documents and then having them stovepiped back into the intelligence community?
Or maybe something else happened. But this back story of the CIA and the OVP being at war helps to explain why the OVP was suspicious that Wilson’s trip to Niger was not a real attempt to verify or debunk the Niger documents (which we did not yet have in our possession). Cheney may have felt that the CIA was not taking the Niger allegations seriously and only sent Wilson to satisfy his curiosity. If current or former members of the CIA forged the Niger documents in an obviously fraudulent way, it shows how exasperated they had become in trying to get Cheney to back off the Niger claims. That the Pentagon and the OVP took the forgeries seriously shows just how single-minded they were in getting proof of Saddam’s nuclear intentions. They were either blinded by their desire or they were willing to push any piece of crap intelligence they could find. Does that really exonerate Cheney?
Of course, the other possibility is that Cheney was behind the forgeries all along, and his crew is incompetent. No matter what, if the truth comes out it will not look good for Dick Cheney.
But it might explain why he was eager to punish Valerie Plame.