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The Scandal isn’t the Leak, But the Illegal War
"Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!"
The conspiracy that bubbles around Judith Miller protecting a source — whose name she couldn’t remember — and Robert Novak using his column to out undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame should soon evaporate. The next step should lead Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald to the heart of the matter: a much more pernicious conspiracy designed to mislead the United States into war with Iraq. The crime to name a covert CIA official pales in comparison with conspiring to lead the nation to war under false pretenses.
Novak served as White House mastermind Karl Rove’s press poodle. He punished former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by revealing his wife’s name and ending her career on Juuly 14, 2003, eight days after Plame’s husband revealed in a NY Times op-ed (July 6, 2003) the fraudulence of Bush Administration claims that Iraq had tried to purchase African uranium for its nuclear weapons program.
Instead of following the logic of Wilson’s story, that the White House had conspired to lead the country into an unjust war, the media focused on the leak of a CIA’ official’s name. Reporters should have seen the Wilson story as one piece of a larger puzzle. They should have read Wilson’s Times op ed and other stories as an opening to look for who had motive to forge a document and plant it, so that the media would get properly "spun" and accept this forged paper as proof of Saddam’s perfidy.
Now, it begins to emerge that the White House undertook a major effort to mislead and manipulate the media and U.S. public opinion in general in order to get support for an unjust war.
In February 2002, the CIA had dispatched Wilson to investigate the claim based on this document that Iraq intended to buy nuclear material. When he returned from Niger, he reported that the evidence lacked credibility, but both Bush and Cheney refused to acknowledge his refutation. So he went public in the NY Times.
The unraveling of the Valerie Plame affair is but a step toward exposing this truly epic scam. Beyond compromising the identity of a CIA officer, the Bush administration had carried out what former intelligence official Larry Johnson called "a classic ‘covert action’ program against the citizens of the United States."
Part of this involved planting stories to "shape public opinion." Apparently, one member of the Coalition of the Willing, Italy under the right wing Berlusconi, agreed to fabricate reports dated in 2001 and 2002 that Iraq had reached an agreement with Niger to buy 500 tons of yellowcake uranium. When news of these reports supposedly reached Cheney’s office, the Vice President requested that the Agency check the story. Thus, the CIA dispatched Wilson to verify the report in Africa.
The fabricator apparently did not expect Wilson to blow the whistle on them and report that the evidence on Saddam’s nuclear program lacked credibility. . Nor did they conceive that a loyal public servant such as Wilson with a wife in the Agency would go public.
By mid 2002, the Bush campaign to invade Iraq was in full gear. Indeed, memos between Bush and Blair validated what Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski witnessed in the Office of Special Planning. Make up the facts and then report them as "intelligence."
"If one is seeking the answers to why peculiar bits of ‘intelligence’ found sanctity in a presidential speech, or why the post-Saddam occupation has been distinguished by confusion and false steps, one need look no further than the process inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense," wrote Kwiatkowski after she retired from the OSP position. July 31, 2003 by the Ohio Beacon Journal
She meant that top Rumsfeld aide, Douglas Feith, deliberately altered the methods of intelligence communication that the Pentagon routinely sent to State and CIA. Indeed, Kwiatkowski wrote that she "witnessed several cases of staff officers being told not to contact their counterparts at State or the NSC because that particular decision would be processed through a different channel." Like a virulent virus, the Cheney gang took over the OSP in what State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson called "a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made" (MSNBC Oct 20, 2005).
Wilkerson charged them with "undermining democracy" (NY Times Oct 19) when they decided to make a case for war against Iraq, they had to invent stories. One of the scariest scenarios that Bush and Cheney presented to the public involved Saddam’s nuclear threat. Apparently, one of Rumsefeld’s aides persuaded his Italian intelligence cohorts to make up documents suggesting that Iraq was trying to buy weapons grade uranium form Niger.
Despite Wilson’s report to the contrary and the doubt raised by veteran intelligence professionals, Cheney reiterated the Niger-Iraq connection accusation. On March 24, 2002, he appeared three times on TV shows and repeated that he knew Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear-weapons production.
Cheney had made nukes the center of his anti-Saddam argument. His staff apparently overruled State and CIA officials and insisted that the nuclear accusation remain in Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union speech the now tarnished 16 words.
Subsequently, Bush pointed the finger of blame at the CIA for giving him poor intelligence, but his own "cabal" had manufactured the very evidence that Bush later blamed for misleading him.
The outing of Plame appears as part of what Larry Johnson called a larger "pattern of manipulation and deceit." Judy Miller emerged as another key actor in the scenario designed to hype the war and fool the people.
On July 8, two days after Wilson revealed the hype over Iraq’s nuclear weapons, Miller had a hush hush meeting with a top Cheney aide The still-classified National Intelligence Estimate, Libby told her, ‘had firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.’ According to a Newsweek web exclusive, Oct 19 2005 (Isikoff and Hosenbell), Libby leaked to Miller an NIE report that stated that Iraq planned to by uranium for a nuclear bomb.
"My notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims," Miller wrote (NY Times October 16, 2005) "His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons and fresh intelligence reports."
The intelligence veterans remained skeptical. How could Saddam possibly reconstruct such an effort in the midst of sanctions and bombing and after seven years (1991-98) in which the UN Weapons Inspection team had destroyed almost all of his capacity? Indeed, counterevidence seriously outweighed the report and Cheney’s repeated claims.
Thanks to the prolonged investigation over the Plame case, some members of the media and the rest of the public have regained their bearings. Some reporters might even recall that right after Novak published Plame’s name, Bush promised publicly that he would fire any staff involved.
In July, he weakened that threat to: "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."
In fact, Bush may have privately reprimanded Karl Rove. But as the prosecutor kept bringing back Rove and Libby to the Grand Jury, rumors began to circulate that Cheney might resign because witnesses would implicate him in the leak scandal and that Bush himself might get tainted because he participated in conversations related to the Plame outing. Ironically, the conspirators lost control of one small piece of the plot to take the nation to war: the leaking of a name to punish a truth-teller and intimidate other potential whistle blowers.
Bush continues to act as if none of this concerns him and the justice of his war effort. The next time he says we’re going to "stay the course" in Iraq, the Democrats should respond by claiming that Bush wants to stay the course of total failure and pay for it with the lives and maimed bodies of young men and women.
As adversity rains on the Republicans, their audacity gradually transforms itself into defensiveness and silence. Frustratingly, the Democrats cannot seem to avail themselves of Bush’s deep problems and declining popularity. He fell well below 40% in late October.
The Democrats need to agree on a declaration calling the Iraq war wrong. They seem unable to say that Bush misled them into voting for the war and, most importantly, that the nation should immediately withdraw its armed forces.
SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.