On May 6, 2003, just days after President Bush had triumphantly declared the Iraq invasion based on lies “Mission Accomplished,” Nicholas Kristof published an article in the New York Times revealing that a key lie—the now-infamous allegation that Saddam’s Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger that highlighted Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech—had been debunked almost a year before by a former U.S. ambassador after traveling to Niger to investigate. On June 12, Walter Pincus in the Washington Post followed up with more details. The former ambassador in question, Joseph Wilson, was a source for both articles, but Wilson himself didn’t go public until he published his op-ed piece in the New York Times on July 6.
On July 8 Vice President Cheney’s chief deputy and key neocon, Lewis “Scooter” Libby met with the NYT’s Judith Miller and apparently discussed Wilson with her. On July 14 Robert Novak in his syndicated column announced that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative and might have had some say in his being chosen for the mission. “Two senior administration officials,” Novak wrote, “told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate” what Novak called “the Italian report.” (Recall that Bush attributed the report to British intelligence, and that some have suggested the neocon and Office of Special Plans operative Michael Ledeen, with many Italian ties, is a likely source of the original forgery.)
The somnolent mainstream press, prodded by the Nation’s David Corn, began to awaken to a potential scandal involving White House officials violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. The CIA naturally demanded an investigation of the outing of one of its own; the Justice Department was obliged to launch a criminal probe, and Bush to appoint a special prosecutor, Patrick “Bulldog” Fitzgerald. And now the investigation is apparently nearing completion.
The incarceration and release of Judith Miller is of course at the core of the investigation. Following her release Sept. 29 after almost three months in confinement, having refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald in order to protect her sources and some concept of journalistic freedom, it’s been revealed that she had a conversation with Libby including reference to Wilson on June 25, eleven days before Wilson’s op-ed. The existence of a notebook containing notes about that meeting, which has been stored in the offices of the NYT, has just been revealed. It has or will occasion further discussion between the Special Prosecutor and the principals in the investigation. Its content may be critical, and explain the confusion about Libby’s waiver of confidentiality and earlier permission to Miller to answer the special prosecutor’s questions. It may be that Libby while partly cooperative with the investigation for some reason hoped to conceal details about the June conversation.
Thus Libby may have identified Wilson to Miller, as the unnamed subject of the Kristof and Pincus columns, as early as June and insinuated that he’d gotten his Niger assignment due to the influence of his CIA wife. He may have been deeply and personally concerned about the exposure of the lie even before Wilson went public.
Maybe his judgment was clouded by rage or fear, or he had forgotten that the outing of undercover CIA operatives is a punishable crime. He probably expected (and maybe knew from intelligence sources) that Wilson was about to blow the whistle and become a problem. Having great trust in Miller, as a fellow-traveler in a heroic movement, he may have wished to bounce around some ideas about how to discredit the former ambassador in the press. Maybe she (worrying about legal consequences?) hesitated to write about Wilson, and let Novak do the job instead, prompted by Karl Rove. (The excellent documentary “Bush’s Brain,” a political biography of Karl Rove, notes how Rove was fired from the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1980 for leaking information to Novak.) Nevertheless she was the one who did the jail time.
Questions for discussion:
Given that the Bush administration has more or less acknowledged that the “War on Terrorism” requires the planting of disinformation to obtain U.S. goals; that the administration has been caught red-handed subsidizing journalists promoting its version of reality; that the neocons speak matter-of-factly about “perception management” to abet their goals; that the Office of Special Plans (involving Cheney, Wolfowitz, Libby, Luti, Feith, Shulsky, Wurmser, Hadley, etc.); and that Miller proved herself to be a shameless purveyor of pure disinformation, for which the NYT has itself after a fashion apologized–is it not probable that Miller was an intimate partner in the OSP program all along?
And isn’t it likely that her otherwise inexplicable claim, contradicted by Libby’s own lawyer, that she could only recently leave prison because Libby finally gave her unequivocal permission to testify, cover for some other reason or purpose (maybe involving a delaying tactic) coordinated with others?
Is it not probable, too, that Libby’s “aspens are turning” love letter to Miller specifically authorizes her to discuss “anything in July 2003” in order to discourage her from discussing their exchange pertaining to the “Wilson-Plame matter” on June 25?
Is not Libby’s declaration that Miller’s readers want her back “doing what you do best—reporting” a statement to the discredited reporter that he continues to appreciate her service to the neocon mission? (Note how he especially looks forward to her coverage of “suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program”—stories that will have to be skewed to justify more aggression to remold the Middle East.)
And is it not possible that the much-derided concluding passage of the letter, about the aspens which “turn in clusters because their roots connect them,” is Libby’s way of saying, “you and I are in the same cluster, and if they chop me down, you die too”? “Come back to work—and life,” he ends, perhaps pleading for her to save his political neck.
Many have wondered why Miller, having never gone public with the story of Wilson’s spouse, has been so central to Fitzgerald’s investigation. One can only hope it’s because the investigation has expanded beyond the relatively small matter of Ms. Plame to the huge matter of official deception, undertaken by the administration and its agents in the corporate media alike, in the interest of building mass support, in the fashion of the Nazi propagandists, for criminal wars.
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I understand that Jon Stewart had some fun with the “aspens are turning” letter on his October 5 Daily Show, and that he derided the literary talents of Libby, who in fact is a sometimes novelist. For my part I will just note that when Shakespeare alludes to aspen leaves they are always trembling (Henry IV, II, II, iv; Titus Andronicus, II, iv), a metaphor for fear. May the liars tremble in the cold autumn breeze until they’re blown to the ground and scattered.
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.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
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As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
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August 17, 2005