Writing about l’affaire plame is both fun and frustrating. It’s frustrating because it is so hopelessly complicated. The latest controversy, instigated by a misleading article in the NY Sun, is a case in point. The Sun bases its article on a declassified State Department memo. The Sun contends the memo “appears to offer no particular indication that Ms. Plame’s role at the agency was classified or covert.” Unfortunately for the Sun, they used a version of the memo that was created on July 7, 2003, not the original that was created on June 10, 2003. If you want to go mental, you can read about all the details at The Next Hurrah. Most people have criticized the Sun’s article on the basis of common sense. The paragraphs that mention Valerie Plame are marked (S//NF), which means that the information is secret and should not be shared even with our allies. The memo also refers to Valerie Wilson as a ‘WMD manager’. The term ‘manager’ is historically used to describe covert operatives (at least in the press). Therefore, the argument goes, the mention of Valerie Wilson was clearly highly classified and no explicit reference to her covert status was necessary to make it clear to anyone accustomed to reading such sensitive documents.
That debate is all very interesting, but the memo is valuable for different reasons.
The original State Department (June 10th) memo was drawn up at the request of Marc Grossman, who has now been reported to be the source for the September 28, 2003 Mike Allen and Dana Priest piece that reported (about the Plame leak):
The source also claims that, “Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge.” He stated that he was sharing the information because the disclosure was “wrong and a huge miscalculation, because they were irrelevant and did nothing to diminish Wilson’s credibility.”
But the July 7 version was drafted in response to Joe Wilson’s infamous column in the New York Times that appeared a day earlier. This version was forwarded to Colin Powell aboard Air Force One as the Presidential entourage headed to Africa.
Taking a look at both versions, one thing immediately leaps out. From emptywheel:
The June 10 memo includes the following passage:
What follows is based on our paper and electronic files: we are
confident that these records and the recollections of person involved
at the margin are basically accurate but the two INR staff members who were most involved are not here (one has been reassigned to REDACTED other is on leave) to guide us through the files and emails.
the July 7 rewrites that passage (in the electronic file–this is more
than redaction) to read (I’ve bolded the differences in both passages):
What follows is based on our paper and electronic files: we are
confident that these records and the recollections of person involved at the margin are basically accurate but one INR staff member who was most involved is not here (he has been reassigned to REDACTED to guide us through the files and emails.
What is notable is that the July 7 version has dropped a reference to one of the people ‘most involved’ in analyzing the Niger documents. That analyst had been ‘on leave’ in June. It is not known if they were still on leave in July. emptywheel argues convincingly that the missing analyst is the Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s (INR) Iraq nuclear analyst referenced in Pat Roberts’s whitewash of an investigation. Roberts’s SSCI report noted that the Niger documents were debunked immediately upon receipt. (Refresher: the documents were transmitted from the Rome Embassy to INR through John Bolton’s department of non-proliferation in October 2002).
Immediately after receiving the documents, the INR Iraq nuclear analyst e-mailed IC colleagues offering to provide the documents at a previously planned meeting of the Nuclear Interdiction Action Group (NIAG) the following day. The analyst, apparently already suspicious of the validity of the documents noted in his e-mail, “you’ll note that it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess).”
You can look at the documents here and get a sense for how transparently fake they were. Despite the fact that this INR Nuclear Analyst ‘immediately’ pegged the documents as fake, neither of the State Department memos mentioned that fact. Instead, they said the following:
On January 12, 2003, INR “expressed concerns to the CIA that the documents pertaining to the Iraq-Niger deal were forgeries”. The conclusion may, however, have been reached and communicated earlier: the record is not clear on this point.
So what does it all mean?
The analyst that deemed the Niger documents to be forgeries in October 2002 was conveniently ‘on leave’ in June and suddenly non-existent in July. The important point is that neither classified memo gave an accurate account of the facts and history of the case. An accurate account would have reflected that the INR had immediately debunked the documents upon receipt. But they didn’t say that. These memos were not intended for the public or for spin. They were supposed to be for the benefit our nation’s top leaders. And, yet, they were badly misleading.
And this leads me back to John Bolton. I remember when Senator Voinovich made his floor statement against the nomination of John Bolton to the United Nations:
There are several interesting theories on how Mr. Bolton got the nomination. I am not going to go into that on the floor of the U.S. Senate, but if anyone would like to talk to me about that, I am happy to discuss it with you. Otherwise, I urge you to get in touch with senior members of the Foreign Relations Committee and ask them.
I remain intrigued by Voinovich’s statement. John Bolton’s office was responsible for transmitting the Niger documents from Rome to the INR. He was known to attack analysts that failed to back up his worst-case scenarios on WMD. For example, Voinovich cited the testimony of another INR analyst that had disagreed with (and refused to clear) Bolton’s assertions that Cuba “had a secret bioweapons program”:
I would like to just read some quotes from the testimony of Christian Westermann, the analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and Tom Fingar, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, about Mr. Bolton’s patterns of losing his temper and getting angry.
Mr. Westermann: “He was quite upset that I had objected and he wanted to know what right I had trying to change an Under Secretary’s language. And what he would say, or not say or something like that. And I tried to explain to him a little bit of the same thing about the process of how we clear language. And I guess wasn’t really in a mood to listen and he was quite angry and basically told me that I had no right to do that. And he got very red in the face and shaking his finger at me and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position, and for someone who worked for him. I told him I didn’t work for him.” Westermann interview, p. 103, line 18 through p. 104, line 4.
What we need is for the INR nuclear analyst to come forward and explain who he told that the NIger documents were forgeries, when he told them that, who sent him ‘on leave’, how long he was on leave, and what role, if any, John Bolton had in the whole affair. If I were Fitzgerald, I’d be running that down. And I hope John Conyers put is at the top of his to-do list for next year.