Trial Docs, Testimony Reveal Admin Reasons for Outting CIA WMD Analyst May Be More Than Simple Retaliation Over 'Yellowcake' Op-Ed...
What Were They REALLY After?
By Margie Burns on 2/25/2007, 4:57pm PT  

*** Special to The BRAD BLOG
*** by Libby/CIA Leak Trial Correspondent Margie Burns

In today’s Washington Post ombudsman column, “Covert Question, Open Controversy,” Deborah Howell says, “Wilson's New York Times op-ed piece, critical of the Bush administration's use of intelligence, set off a chain of events that led to the disclosure of Plame's job.”

But information and testimony revealed during the course of the Libby Trial indicates that it wasn't Wilson's op-ed piece that set the off the chain of events leading to their disclosure of the CIA WMD analyst and her covert network. The Bush administration began its campaign to discredit Valerie Plame/Wilson at least a month prior to the release of her husband's article.

I can’t criticize Howell for her focus on the op-ed as the ball that got the campaign rolling. I, and most of the media, having been basically taking the same line in previous postings on this topic. Most of the writers on the CIA leak have been doing the same. Joseph Wilson’s book, The Politics of Truth: A Diplomat's Memoir: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, takes the same tack: that the outing of CIA analyst Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, was retaliation for Wilson’s July 6, 2003, op-ed column, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.”

But when Wilson wrote his book, he did not have access to behind-the-scenes discussions about his wife now revealed through the perjury and obstruction trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff. Retaliation there was, in spades, but testimony and documents in the Libby trial demonstrate, unrefuted, that administration discussion of Mrs. Wilson began several weeks before Wilson’s column appeared.

The reasons why are still unclear, and the prosecution was not permitted to delve into ramifications of the leak. But that the administration was already targeting both Wilson and his wife, Valerie --- overseeing a crucial intelligence network monitoring WMD activity in the middle east --- is now beyond question.

So why, beyond Wilson's op-ed, was the Bush Administration previously so intent on discrediting one of its own CIA assets?...

Trial testimony and evidence show the Administration already gunning for Plame/Wilson well prior to her husband's editorial. While the prosecution isn't allowed to say this very directly, because it would be too prejudicial, here is the timeline of the pre-op-ed activities:

  • May 29, 2003 – Libby calls Marc Grossman, then an Under Secretary in the State Department, asking how and why Joe Wilson was sent to Niger about uranium.
  • “late May and early June, 2003” according to Grossman’s testimony --- Grossman gives oral interim reports to Libby that Wilson was the ambassador who went to Niger (mentioned but not named in a May 6 NYTimes piece by Nicholas Kristof, “Missing in Action: Truth”).
  • June 9, 2003, according to Grossman’s testimony – Grossman had a conversation with Wilson, who was “upset” about Condoleezza Rice’s claim the day before on Meet the Press that the White House was unaware of doubts about the Niger uranium story. (In his book, Wilson says this conversation “elicited the suggestion that I might have to write the story myself”; he got in touch with the NYTimes the same day. p.332.)
  • June 9, 2003classified documents from CIA are faxed to the Office of the Vice President to Libby and colleague John Hannah, mentioning the Wilson trip but not naming Wilson.
  • June 10, 2003 – a classified State Department memo written by State’s Bureau of Intelligence & Research (INR) gives Grossman the background on Wilson’s Niger trip, refers explicitly to Valerie Wilson as Wilson’s wife and “a CIA WMD manager.” The memo also strongly debunks the Niger uranium story.
  • June 11, 2003 – Robert L. Grenier, then “Iraq mission manager” and “point person for Iraq,” receives a phone call from Libby, then is summoned from a meeting with the CIA Director to talk with Libby about Wilson; tells Libby Wilson’s wife is in CIA. (Grenier is no longer with the CIA.)
  • June 11/12, 2003 – Marc Grossman has a “30-second discussion” about Mrs. Wilson with Libby, according to Grossman’s testimony.
  • June 12, 2003 – Libby is informed by Cheney in a phone call that Wilson’s wife is in CIA (handwritten note: “CP: his wife works in that div”).
  • June 12, 2003 – David Addington, Cheney’s government lawyer, receives the same notes from Libby’s office mentioning Wilson’s wife in CP (typed copy).
  • June 13, 2003 – Richard L. Armitage tells Bob Woodward, on tape, that Mrs. Wilson works for CIA, suggests that Mrs. Wilson sent Wilson on the Niger trip.
  • June 14, 2003 – CIA daily briefer Craig Schmall briefing of Libby at Libby’s home notes question about Wilson (“ex-amb”) and the Niger trip, notes Wilson and Valerie Wilson by name.
  • June 23, 2003 – Libby has a discussion with Judith Miller, mentions Wilson’s wife at “bureau” (CIA). (Miller had returned to the U.S. on June 8.)
  • July 6, 2003 – Joseph Wilson’s op-ed criticizing the Niger story finally appears in the NYTimes.

Additionally, on June 20, June 23 and June 27, according to a cautious statement by Bob Woodward in the WashPost, Woodward met with another official, spoke with Libby on the phone and then met with Libby, bringing items including “yellowcake” and “Joe Wilson’s wife” with him.

So why were there all these colloquies in the administration, about Wilson’s wife, before Wilson’s article even came out?

Retaliation is too simple an answer. Wilson had already expressed doubts about the war and WMD on television programs from January through April, 2003. He seems to have pulled his punches sometimes – undoubtedly wondering whether the White House might actually have some evidence of Iraq WMD – but he still made plenty of public comments that could have irritated the White House into attacking him, or investigating him, at any time. There is no sign that they did so until May – a month when Wilson made few if any public remarks.

Nor does the administration seem to have tipped its hand to the Wilsons beforehand to stop Wilson from going public.

What did happen in regard to Niger uranium – before Kristof’s piece – is that Seymour Hersh published a devastating New Yorker article, “Who Lied to Whom?" in March, which reappeared on April 22 as "Iraq Post Mortem” in the British magazine Prospect. The article emphasized the blatantly forged Niger documents that generated the "yellowcake" brouhaha. (Judith Miller, for one, seems to have backed down on Iraq WMD immediately following the definitive debunking in Prospect.) Did the administration simply decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Wilson, convinced that his going public would be the last straw on the "mushroom cloud"? Or with its usual tin ear, did it fear that Joe Wilson and Seymour Hersh would join forces? Or did it go for a two-fer, moving to disrupt analysis in the WMD counter-proliferation unit at the CIA where Mrs. Wilson worked?

If so, it moved fast: by the time Wilson’s column appeared, his wife’s name and CIA connection had already been leaked to Bob Woodward of the Post and Judith Miller of the Times – for 23 days and 13 days, respectively. Note: Armitage, Woodward’s source, is another Cheney man and has been since before Bush 41.

Whatever the reasons for the activity and whatever the trial outcome, one point continues to be clear: The man at the top who chose Dick Cheney as his Vice, is ultimately --- and Constitutionally --- responsible.