What could have been going through the heads of senior White House officials when they decided to blow the cover of Valerie Plame, wife of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson? What did they find so compelling that they would burn her entire network of agents reporting on weapons of mass destruction, put those agents is serious jeopardy, and destroy her ability at the peak of her career to address this top-priority issue?
Was it another preemptive attack, which–like the attack on Iraq–seemed to the White House a good idea at the time? It certainly fits that pattern, inasmuch as little thought seems to have been given to the implications, consequences, and post-attack planning.
It is clear to me that the objective was to create strong disincentive for those who might be tempted to follow the courageous example set by Ambassador Wilson in citing the president’s own words to show that our country went to war on a lie.
After being sent to the African country of Niger in early 2002 at the behest of the Vice President’s office, he reported back that the report that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger for Baghdad’s putative (and, we now know, non-existent) nuclear weapons program was false on its face. As if further proof were needed, it was later learned that the report was based on forged documents.
When, despite all this, President Bush used this canard in his state-of-the-union address on January 28, 2003 Wilson faced a choice not unfamiliar to just-retired government officials. He could sit comfortably and smirk over brandy with friends in Georgetown parlors, or he could speak truth to power.
Conscience won. In a New York Times article on July 6, Wilson blew the whistle on the Iraq-Niger hoax, stating flatly what we all now know–that “some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”
The consummate diplomat, Ambassador Wilson chooses his words carefully. He was fed up, though, with the specious reasons adduced to justify the unprovoked US/UK attack on Iraq–the same reasons that prompted three courageous colleagues to leave their careers in the foreign service in protest. Wilson even permitted himself the comment to Washington Post reporters that the Iraq-Niger hoax “begs the question as to what else they are lying about.”
Clearly, that was too much for the White House, which took barely a week to react, using trusted columnist Robert Novak to do their bidding. There was little they could do to Ambassador Wilson, but they were hell-bent on preventing others from following his courageous example.
There are, after all, hundreds of people in US intelligence and foreign service circles who know about the lies–the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Worse still from the White House’s point of view, some are about to retire and escape the constraints that come of being on the inside. And, more often than not, the chicanery that took place can be exposed without divulging classified information.
That’s why White House Mafiosi decided to retaliate against the Wilsons–to warn those who might be thinking of speaking out that there will be a high price to pay. One reporter was explicitly told that wives are “fair game.”
So far the intimidation has worked. But a test case is waiting in the wings.
Alan Foley, the CIA manager in charge of analysis on weapons of mass destruction, has announced his retirement. He is the official who tried, mightily but unsuccessfully, to prevent the fable about Iraq seeking uranium in Niger from finding its way into the president’s state-of-the-union speech. Foley’s credibility was immediately attacked by the White House–which I may come to regret having done so.
I have worked with Alan Foley. He is cut of the same cloth as Ambassador Wilson. I am betting that the White House’s latest preemptive strike will not silence Foley and other intelligence officials able to give priority to conscience and integrity over misguided “loyalty to the team.”
So stay tuned. Things are going get even more interesting.
Ray McGovern is a 27-year veteran of the CIA and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He is currently Co-Director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org