Dear Mr. Fred Hiatt,

Your unsigned editorial on the Libby case shows you to be a dishonest broker of the political debates in Washington DC. Before we start, let’s get right to the heart of the matter. You state:

The trial has provided convincing evidence that there was no conspiracy to punish Mr. Wilson by leaking Ms. Plame’s identity — and no evidence that she was, in fact, covert.

Let’s skip the first part of that sentence, for the moment, and let’s focus on the second. The judge disallowed, from either the prosecution or the defense, any discussion of the covert or non-covert status of Valerie Plame. It was not germane to whether or not Scooter Libby lied, and was therefore considered potentially prejudicial information for the jury. So, it’s true that the trial provided no evidence that Valerie Plame was, in fact, covert. You didn’t tell your readers why the trial didn’t provide any evidence. That’s dishonest.

It’s especially dishonest when we consider that you cannot leak the name of a non-covert officer. If she wasn’t covert then her career could not have been destroyed by the revelation that she was a CIA officer. Here is how you describe the destruction of her career and the exposure of the Brewster-Jennings front company (which definitely was classified).

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were overbearing in their zeal to rebut Mr. Wilson and careless in their handling of classified information.

First you say there was no conspiracy revealed to punish Mr. Wilson and then you say that Cheney and Libby were overzealous in their efforts to rebut Mr. Wilson. Maybe you think it was the ‘incompetence of others’ that led Scooter Libby to leak information about Valerie Plame to Judith Miller, Matt Cooper, and Ari Fleischer. Maybe you think it is some innocent coincidence that Ari Fleischer leaked information, after receiving it from Scooter Libby, to Walter Pincus, David Gregory, and John Dickerson. Or maybe you think that telling Ari Fleischer that the information about Valerie Plame was ‘hush-hush and on the Q.T.’ was not indicative, or evidence, that Scooter Libby knew that she was covert. Maybe you don’t think that Scooter Libby asking David Addington to lower his voice as they discussed how to find records on Mr. Wilson’s wife (a spouse that works at the agency) was not evidence that he knew she was covert. Well, here is what the Intelligence Identities Protection Act states:

The term “covert agent” means—

a present or retired officer or employee of an
intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—

whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States;

Valerie Plame Wilson was a present officer or employee of an intelligence agency (the CIA) whose identity was classified information and that had traveled overseas within the last five years as part of her formal job-related responsibilities.

Mr. Hiatt, can you explain to me why the IIPA would protect the identity of CIA officers that are stationed overseas, but not those that travel overseas? No, I didn’t think you could explain that.

It is simply dishonest to suggest that the IIPA doesn’t cover undercover CIA officers that travel overseas. If the CIA did not think their officers were so protected then they would have to think twice about sending officers overseas for brief trips without formally stationing them in a foreign office. If the CIA didn’t think Valerie Wilson was protected by the IIPA, they would not have referred the leaking of her name to the Justice Department. If the IIPA did not cover Valerie Wilson then the Department of Justice would not have assigned a Special Prosecutor to investigate the CIA’s complaint.

Let’s move on. You state:

Mr. Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration had “twisted,” if not invented, facts in making the case for war against Iraq. In conversations with journalists or in a July 6, 2003, op-ed, he claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.

A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of these claims were false — and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife.

You are getting into some fine distinctions here. Let’s take them one by one. First you dispute that Wilson debunked the assertion that Iraq ‘sought’ uranium from Niger. Here we need to draw some lines. We need to keep in mind that Mr. Wilson was thinking in terms of the sixteen words in the State of the Union.

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Here is how Mr. Wilson reacted to hearing those words:

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia.

Mr. Wilson certainly thought he had debunked that claim. He went to Niger and found no evidence that Iraq had successfully obtained uranium. By January of 2003 it was already doubtful whether the term ‘recently sought’ really applied to a transaction rumored to have taken place in the late 1990’s. Regardless, Mr. Wilson had concluded that the transaction had not taken place and could not have taken place.

What Mr. Wilson could not have known is that a minor detail in his report would actually be used to justify the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. This involved his description of a meeting with former Prime Minister Mayaki. Here is how he put it in his book.

He had mentioned to me that on the margins of a ministerial meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1999, a Nigerien businessman had asked him to meet with an Iraqi official to discuss trade. My contact said the alarm bells had immediately gone off in his mind. Well aware of the United Nations sanctions on Iraq, he met with the Iraqi only briefly and avoided any substantive issues. As he told me this, he hesitated and looked up the sky as if plumbing the depths of his memory, then offered that perhaps the Iraqi might have wanted to talk about uranium. But since there had been no discussion of uranium–my contact was idly speculating when he mentioned it–there was no story. I spoke with this Nigerien friend again in January 2004, and he recollected our conversation in 2002. He told me that while he was watching coverage of press conferences in Baghdad prior to the second Gulf War, he recognized the Iraqi information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, known to Americans as “Baghdad Bob,” as the person whom he had met in Algiers.

Now. Let’s look at your assertion that this information ‘had [not] circulated at the highest levels of the administration.’ Here is how Mr. Wilson’s report was interpreted at different times.

Date Assessment of Intelligence

March 8. 2002 Wilson’s trip did not add new
DIA, CIA (didn’t refute the
SISMI report)
INR (didn’t add to the altready strong refutation)
September 2002 Wilson’s trip did not add new
February 4, 2003 Wilson’s trip cited in support of claim that Iraq trying
to acquire uranium from Niger

US government (not specified)
March 8, 2003 In response to IAEA debunking of
forgeries,  USG claims it has not shared three pieces of intelligence
supporting Niger allegation with IAEA, one of which was Wilson’s CIA
trip report
April 5, 2003 Wilson’s trip report did not
constitute credible evidence
June 12, 2003 No mention of Wilson’s report,
one way or another

July 8, 2003 and thereafter Wilson’s trip supported the Niger
July 11, 2003 Wilson’s trip did not resolve
whether Iraq was seeking uranium
George Tenet (in his mea culpa)

As Marcy Wheeler has noted:

Then, on March 8, the day Wilson challenged BushCo’s Niger case on CNN and the day after Mohamed el Baradei exposed the Niger documents as forgeries, DIA wrote a memo specifically referencing Wilson’s report as supporting the Niger claims (based on the fiction that Wilson reported the Iraqis had approached Niger to trade uranium).

Mr. Wilson had no way of knowing that his little toss-away aside about Baghdad Bob’s brief 1999 meeting in Algiers with former Prime Minister Mayaki would be twisted into support for the claim that Iraq had ‘recently sought uranium from Africa’. But that is exactly what happened. Mr. Wilson’s report certainly caught the attention of people at the highest levels of the Bush administration. It’s just that they ignored the substance of his report and cherry-picked a little piece of it to support their case for war.

Mr. Wilson went to Africa to answer a question. Here is how he put it.

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. (It’s worth remembering that in his March “Meet the Press” appearance, Mr. Cheney said that Saddam Hussein was “trying once again to produce nuclear weapons.”) At a minimum, Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.

Mr. Hiatt, your assertions about Mr. Wilson are simply unfounded.

The former ambassador will be remembered as a blowhard.

By you maybe.

You say that Mr. Wilson was making a false claim when he said:

In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney’s office had questions about a particular intelligence report.

Mr. Hiatt, no one has ever disputed that Mr. Wilson was told that the Vice-President was interested in claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. If you look at the testimony of Bob Grenier you’ll see what happened. In June 2003 (before Mr. Wilson went public) Scooter Libby called Bob Grenier at the CIA and asked him whether it was true that the CIA had sent Mr. Wilson to Niger and whether it was true that he was sent to Niger in response to inquiries from the Vice-President. Here is what Grenier said.

Fitzgerald: What did you know of the trip?

Grenier: It was the first I had heard of it. Libby didn’t say, but it was clear he wanted answers right away. This was the first time he called me, it was probable that I would see him in the next day or two. To me it was the way he reacted when he said Wilson was speaking to the press, it suggested that he needed the info sooner rather than later so he could get out in front of this story.

I attempted to call who I thought would have info. This individual was working in Counter Proliferation Division.

Fitzgerald: Who was it?

Grenier: Kevin (using just first name). There was a unit devoted to Iraq WMD. Kevin was Deputy Chief of that unit.

Fitzgerald: What happened when you called Kevin?

Grenier: I spoke to someone besides Kevin. Since I also knew the Chief of that unit, I may have asked to speak to him. I asked this individual to convey these questions to Kevin. I don’t recall who I was speaking to, I don’t think it was anyone I knew. I got a response shortly thereafter…

I don’t recall who I spoke to when they called back. I didn’t know that person either. The person was fully knowledgable. This person explained that in fact we, CIA, had sent Wilson to Niger to get info to determine whether or not Iraq attempted to purchase uranium.

Fitzgerald: Did they give any more info?

Grenier: Explained in a fair amount of detail when he went where he went, those kind of details. While in fact OVP had been very interested in this, interest had been expressed also by State and Defense. I felt I had all the information and more to respond to the request by Mr. Libby.


Grenier: Called [Libby] back. Got him on the phone. Told him that it was true, CIA had sent Wilson. How much else I said I don’t recall. I may have mentioned debrief was written up. Second major point I made the people had verified that not only OVP, but also requests as well from State and Defense.

Fitzgerald: What was his response to hearing that State and Defense had also been interested?

Grenier: Asked if CIA would be willing to release that publicly. I believe I did mention only in passing about Wilson’s wife. In fact Wilson’s wife works there and that’s where the idea came from.

Do you see what happened, Mr. Hiatt? The CIA told Mr. Wilson that the Vice-President was interested in the Niger-Iraq angle and that that was why they were sending him on the trip. But, in truth, it wasn’t only the Vice-President that was interested. It was Rumsfeld, too. [In fact, before Cheney even knew about any Niger allegations, Rumsfeld sent Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., then-deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, to Niger). And, they claim State was interested but that is simply not true. The State Department felt their ambassador had already settled the matter to their satisfaction.

Mr. Hiatt, you say:

It would have been sensible for Mr. Fitzgerald to end his investigation after learning about Mr. Armitage.

Mr. Armitage is not the only member of the Bush administration that was leaking the identity of a covert CIA officer. Let’s just look at what happened when Cheney’s CIA briefer was asked by Cheney to offer his opinion on the leaking of Valerie Plame’s occupation.

From Craig Schmall’s testimony:

Fitzgerald: What was said about Novak article?

Schmall: Invited to offer opinion about leak.

Fitzgerald: Did you know Plame?

Schmall: No.

Fitzgerald: Have you ever met her?

Schmall: No.

Fitzgerald: Had no idea about damage caused by her being named?

Schmall: Noted that the press and pundits talking about Valerie Wilson and her career, People were saying this was no big deal. I thought there was very grave danger to leaking name of CIA officer. Now that Valerie Wilson’s name in press foreign intell in countries she worked have an opportunity to investigation all the people she worked with can be harrassed, lose their jobs, arrested, tortured, or killed.

Fitzgerald: did anyone say anything in response?

Schmall: No.

They didn’t say anything in response. Instead, they engaged in a cover-up. And you, Mr. Hiatt, don’t seem to care. You seem to think it would be more sensible to allow a senior adviser to the President and the chief of staff to the Vice-President to lie to the FBI and a grand jury than it would be to prosecute him. Cheney was told that his subordinate’s actions might lead to ‘people [Plame] worked with [getting] harrassed, los[ing] their jobs, [or getting] arrested, tortured, or killed.’ Get that?

You conclude your essay with this gem:

Mr. Fitzgerald was, at least, right about one thing: The Wilson-Plame case, and Mr. Libby’s conviction, tell us nothing about the war in Iraq.

I’ll conclude mine with another gem…this one from Ambassador Wilson’s original column: What I Didn’t Find in Africa:

America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information. For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor “revisionist history,” as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.

Please correct the record.


BooMan (from Booman Tribune).

0 0 votes
Article Rating