Plame, Ledeen and Iran

If high officials are indicted in the Plame Affair, the issue won’t just be “Who exposed the identity of an undercover CIA agent in violation of the law?” That’s for me always been a secondary consideration anyway. “How dare anyone expose the identity of a CIA agent!” just doesn’t evoke moral indignation in me, maybe because I’ve read so much about the history of the CIA, which includes much of what normal objective people would have to call crime. I personally disagree with the Intelligence Identity Protection Act of 1982. (Can I do that in this free society?) I think people like Philip Agee, who resides in Cuba because he could be convicted under this law in the U.S., are good people.

But I do recall feeling kind of puzzled and impressed to hear of Valerie Plame’s “outing” in the context it occurred. In May 2003, just a week after Bush had declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Nicholas Kristof published an article mentioning that a claim central to Bush’s war rationale had been investigated by a former ambassador to an African country and rejected. I thought to myself, “This is excellent exposure of disinformation. When will the ambassador come forward and give details?” Two months went by. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and more and more questions were being raised about the rationale(s) for the war. The administration responded by changing the subject to Iraqi “freedom,” assuring the public that WMD would be found (or had been found), and blaming “faulty intelligence” provided by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. (It seemed to me that the neocons, long at odds with the CIA over the Chalabi issue and dissatisfied by the “liberalism” of the agency, were going to try to kill two birds with one stone. They would shift blame for the prewar lies from themselves to the CIA, whose ranks in fact included those appalled at the administration’s cherry picking of evidence; and reorganize the allegedly deficient CIA to better serve the requirements of administration policy.) In that early post-conquest period, as it became clear Iraq was not going to be a cakewalk, as the press was timidly at least starting to raise questions about the war, I imagine some high officials were feeling a little nervous.

Then Wilson published his op-ed piece in the New York Times. Many had long since been convinced that Bush had wanted to go to war with Iraq and “exaggerated the evidence” to do so, but this seemed the clearest proof yet. Bravo for Wilson, I thought. Just days later, after Novak’s column on Plame and her job appeared, I was thinking, “Hm, what sort of person is this Wilson, to be married to a covert CIA officer?” I wasn’t so much thinking of the tension between the CIA with its bias towards objective reality and the neocons with their need for disinformation. I was wondering what a CIA link said about Wilson, and whether I should be saying “Bravo!” at all. As I mentioned, I appreciate the work of people like Agee who understand the CIA to be a key arm of U.S. imperialism. But anyway (whatever you think of the CIA) you can see that neocon/CIA antipathy may be a key issue here.

More important than “Who did it?” is “What was the motive?” Presidential political advisor Karl Rove or pro-Bush reporter Judith Miller would have different motives than neocon heavy “Scooter” Libby, who for one thing has a specific history of antagonism with the CIA and who marched on the Pentagon with Cheney to pressure it to better bolster the war cause before the Iraq attack. Commentators have generally assumed that whoever outed Plame was enraged by Wilson’s implication (revelation?) that the administration had knowingly used incorrect intelligence to frighten the American people with the prospect of mushroom clouds. Since alongside the attack on Plame issued through Robert Novak’s column there were also orchestrated efforts to impugn Wilson’s integrity, portray him as a Democrat with an anti-administration axe to grind (hence not credible at least to the loyal Bush-base), suggest he only got the Niger job through his wife’s efforts, etc., we can assume that there are a number of people angered that he would out them and their dishonesty.

Wilson was implicitly calling them liars. From their point of view, he (like many other officials formerly in or around the administration) was some naïve liberal, not understanding that psychological operations directed at one’s own population can be necessary in times of crisis or opportunity and can help achieve great ends. Now that the Iraq thing was done, he was breaking ranks, joining the war critics, and opening up a can of worms about all the disinformation circulated domestically and internationally in order to do it. He was a traitor, and his wife was (as Karl Rove told reporters before October 2003) “fair game.”

Sheer malice may indeed have been the motive. If that’s shown to be the case, one would think that even many Bush supporters would be revolted by the nastiness of one or more administration officials rewarding a former ambassador’s honesty in this fashion. It offends traditional family values, patriotic values. And now—over two years since the op-ed piece and Plame’s outing—everybody knows the administration “exaggerated the intelligence.” Of course the most irredeemably gullible will insist, “That was the CIA’s fault, not the president’s!” But the president’s in big trouble if people start thinking as follows:

“Wilson served under Republicans and Democrats. He wasn’t an enemy of the Bush-Cheney administration. He just one of many people saying Bush might have fibbed about this or that. For Bush’s people to do that to his wife as punishment, and maybe to warn other whistleblowers—basically in defense of their own dishonesty—that was just mean!”

The Christian heartland indignation factor could be big here. Another issue: By revealing that Iraq had not sought uranium from Niger, Wilson helped discredit documents which appeared to prove that Iraq had done so. Documents that had for some reason surfaced in Italy, made their way to the CIA, and are now universally recognized as crude forgeries. Who forged them? Who would go to the trouble to break into Niger Embassy in Rome, rip off official letterhead, and then fabricate documents supposed to show that Iraq was seeking that uranium? Might the official or officials who exposed Plame have been involved in that forgery project? Might they have had particular malice against Wilson? I’d think this line of inquiry would be part of the Fitzgerald investigation.

Vincent Cannistraro, formerly National Security Council intelligence director, hence someone who probably knows what he’s talking about in connection with this matter, suggests that Michael Ledeen arranged the forgeries. Ledeen is a leading neocon. He has Italian ties (has written scholarly works on Machiavelli and Mussolini). He strongly urged the Iraq attack for years. He has had lots of ties with Iran, has written about “America’s Failure in Iran.” He was a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration. Now he advocates an attack on Iran and his views reportedly deeply influence the neocons in the administration.

Ledeen was once fired from his job as a Middle East specialist with the National Security Council because he came under FBI investigation for passing classified information to the Israeli embassy in Washington. But then he was hired in 2001 by fellow neocon Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (now under scrutiny in the Franklin/AIPAC Affair) to work for the Office of Special Plans (known to some as the “Lie Factory”) which stovepiped “intelligence” supporting war to the White House. If he were to go on trial, this Plame Affair would draw to the masses’ attention the existence of that Office of Special Plans, and its various violations of law. Given the OSP’s reported ties to a comparable body in Israel, it might somehow connect with the Franklin investigation too.

Imagine if it were to become generally understood that the Bush administration, wanting to attack Iraq but unable to get the intelligence apparatus to give them justification, deliberately created and disseminated disinformation to get the people to support a war against Iraq. Everyone with a brain already knows the war is not going well. There seems general understanding that the war is “damaging America’s reputation” in the world. It’s not creating jobs or reducing gas prices. The general sentiment as revealed by the polls is, “It just wasn’t a good idea.” Imagine if that were to change to, “It was a crime.”

So the Plame Affair might blossom out into something much more. John Dean, Richard Nixon’s former counsel, has argued that the ways in which Bush built support for the war could become a scandal bigger than Watergate. Certainly it would if the focus becomes, not the outing of one small spy, but the outing of a vast criminal conspiracy to mislead the people to implement a plan both the Pope and UN Secretary General (just to mention a couple regarded by many as world leaders) have called “illegal.” At the time Jean Paul II and Kofi Annan made those remarks they were drowned out warmongers’ voices in the mainstream U.S. media, but in the not too distant future most Americans might think, “The critics were right. Those neocons wanted to go to war, and so they took us for idiots, which we were, and made us believe all that BS about nuclear weapons and ties to 9-11. They made the world hate us, killed off all those people, including so many of our people, spent all that money and just made a worse mess. Criminals!”

I do believe this country has been slipping towards fascism, something Ledeen’s studied in depth. But there remains, in this bourgeois-democratic system adopted in the eighteenth century, a separation of powers in which the judiciary can act as a brake on executive power. Bush says he’ll support any member of his administration who hasn’t committed a crime in the Plame Affair. Not an ethics violation, mind you. No, a crime proven in court during a lengthy process in these troubled times when the world can changed overnight. You might say he’s testing the brakes. But he can’t stop the judicial process, at least not easily, so the affair and its reverberations could crash down on the administration. Unfolding, interrelated scandals could radically affect public opinion, redraw dividing lines in U.S. society, generate widespread support for impeachment proceedings, and maybe produce some radical reversals. That’s one hopeful scenario. Another scenario is 9-11 number two, followed by the U.S. attack on Iran that Ledeen wants, martial law and the suppression of any investigation such as Fitzgerald’s.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

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Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: