So Scooter Libby has taken the fall.
Three and a half years and a long bloody war after he and a gang of war-mongers in the White House and Blair House, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, set out to undermine and trash the reputation of an Iraq war critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Libby has been found guilty of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice by a Washington jury.
Now maybe what passes for journalists in the mainstream media can get down to the real business of finding out just why the entire White House smear operation was unleashed upon a minor state department official and why they went so far as to violate federal law and expose his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame, in the process destroying her entire network of contacts for monitoring the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Because that’s what this whole Libby story is really about.
The whole focus of the media in this case has been on the narrow, inside-the-Beltway question of who leaked information about Plame to the media.
Entirely forgotten or ignored has been what this leak was all about to begin with.
For that, you have to go back and look at what Wilson did in the first place that so enraged or frightened the Vice President and the President.
And that was to go to Niger, one of the poorest nations in Africa, to prove conclusively that there was no truth to a set of forged notes on the letterhead of the Niger embassy in Rome, purporting to be receipts for 400 tons of Niger uranium ore allegedly being sought by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Wilson knew those documents were cheap forgeries–the name of the mines official on the papers was someone who hadn’t been in office for years–but he went to Niger anyhow, just to make doubly certain that no such purchase attempt had been made.
So the real question then is, who is behind those forged documents?
There is an interesting story here–and an important mystery to be solved.
As it happens, way back in early 2001 there was a pair of burglaries at the Niger Embassy in Rome and at the home of the Niger ambassador. Police investigating the crimes found that the only things stolen were official stationary and some official stamps, used to make documents official. A cleaning lady and a former member of Italy’s intelligence service were arrested for the crimes. They were odd burglaries to be sure, since there is precious little one could use, or sell, such documents for, given the country involved. I mean, it might make sense to steal official stationary from the French Embassy in Rome, which a thief might use to finagle a pass to the Cannes Festival. But Niger?
Jump to October 2001. A few weeks after the 9-11 attacks, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accompanied by his ministers of defense and intelligence, made a visit to the White House. There he reportedly handed over the forged Niger documents (they were on Niger government stationary, and had Niger government stamps!), which appeared to be receipts for uranium ore, made out to Saddam Hussein. Now forget the matter of why either Hussein or Niger’s government would want paper receipts for such an illegal transaction, and forget the matter of how Hussein would have transported 400 tons of yellow dust across the Sahara to his country without somebody noticing. The simple fact is that Bush’s own intelligence experts at the CIA and State Department promptly spotted the forgeries, and they were dumped.
We know this because we know, from the likes of onetime National Security Council counterterrorism head Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, that Bush was pushing for war with Iraq almost as soon as he finished reading My Pet Goat following the attack on the Twin Towers. Surely if the White House had even thought those Niger documents might be legit, they would have leaked or broadcast them all over creation.
They didn’t. The documents were deep-sixed, and mentioned to no one.
But according to some dedicated investigative reporters at the respected Italian newspaper La Repubblica, they resurfaced before long at a very suspicious meeting. This meeting occurred in December 2001 in Rome, and included Michael Ledeen, an associate of Defense Department Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith and a key figure in the White House’s war-propaganda program, Larry Franklin, a top Defense Intelligence Agency Middle East analyst who later pleaded guilty to passing classified information to two employees of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), convicted Iraqi bank swindler Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress, and Harold Rhode of the sinister Defense Department Office of Special Plans, that office set up by the White House and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under Feith’s direction to manufacture “evidence” to justify a war on Iraq. Also at this peculiar meeting were the heads of the Italian Defense Department and of SISMI, the Italian intelligence agency.
According to La Repubblica, it was at that meeting that a plan was hatched to resurrect the forged Niger documents, and to give them credibility by recycling them through British intelligence.
And that is what Bush was referring to when, in his 2003 State of the Union address, he famously frightened a nation by declaring, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Bush lyingly implied that this was new information, when in fact he knew–had to know–that the “evidence” in British hands was the same set of documents he had been offered by Berlusconi almost a year and a half earlier, which had been declared to be bogus.
No mainstream American media organization has pursued this story, or even published the details as reported in Italy. Most Americans, consequently, don’t even know what a grand lie Bush and the White House perpetrated upon them and the Congress in order to win approval for an attack on Iraq.
Perhaps now that Libby has gone down for his part in this grotesque crime, some editor will ask the obvious question: Why did the White House and the Office of Vice President go to such extraordinary lengths to attack Wilson and his wife? And more importantly, who was behind those Niger embassy burglaries and the forged uranium ore sale documents? And what was OSP doing meeting in Rome in December 2001 with the head of Italian intelligence?
Make no mistake: this whole story has the odor of a “black op” designed to target the American people.
If so it was an act of high treason.
It is not just Libby who should go to jail for this crime. It is the president and vice president.
At this point, what should happen is that Fitzgerald, with Libby in the bag, would take the next step and hold the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence recommendation over the convict’s head in order to try and win from him a promise of cooperation with the prosecution. Because Libby knows who was behind all this.
That’s the way prosecutors go after criminal syndicates and conspiracies, but Fitzgerald has folded his tent, reportedly saying that he plans no further prosecutions.
That means it’s up to Congress, which should take the cue and initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney based on the evidence of crimes and obstruction that came out during the Libby trial testimony.
And of course, it’s up to the media, which if they were still doing their job, would be all over this story.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org