05 July 2005

Karl takes the Plame

Gather round boys and girls, it’s story time.

Remember that epic tale called Watergate? The strange
but true mystery that gripped the nation and ended a
corrupt presidency? Well, there’s a sequel in the works
and it’s time to get up to speed…

At the heart of this story are the infamous forged
government documents from Niger that supposedly
proved that Saddam Hussein was attempting to
purchase “yellowcake” (milled uranium oxide which
can eventually be converted into weapons-grade
enriched uranium) from that same African nation.

According to Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker and
the Associated Press, these documents first surfaced
in the fall of 2001 when a journalist for Italy’s Corriere
della Serra
gave them to the Italian intelligence service,
who then passed them along to the US embassy.

In February 2002, Vice-President Cheney sent former
Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to uncover any
evidence that might support the claims made in the
documents. By March, Wilson had discovered no such
evidence and concluded that the documents were
probably forgeries. This view was shared by the
International Atomic Energy Agency and the CIA,
as the Washington Post reported a year later

…Knowledgeable sources familiar with the
forgery investigation described the faked
evidence as a series of letters between Iraqi
agents and officials in the central African
nation of Niger. The documents had been
given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and
reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence.
The forgers had made relatively crude errors
that eventually gave them away - including
names and titles that did not match up with
the individuals who held office at the time
the letters were purportedly written, the
officials said…

…The CIA, which had also obtained the
documents, had questions about "whether
they were accurate," said one intelligence
official, and it decided not to include them in
its file on Iraq's program to procure weapons
of mass destruction.

But President Bush and his cabinet, trying to make the
case that Saddam was a nuclear threat to the United States,
continued to use the false documents as justification for
invading Iraq. In January 2003, ten months after he was
informed by the CIA that the Niger documents were fake,
the president made this infamous statement in his State
of the Union Address:

The British government has learned that
Saddam Hussein recently sought significant
quantities of uranium from Africa.

By March of 2003, only weeks before the Iraqi invasion,
the facts about the forged documents began to appear
in newspapers around the world, including the previously
quoted article from the Washington Post. But by then, war
was a foregone conclusion and the issue soon fell off the
media radar.

But the story regained the spotlight when Joseph Wilson
went public with a July 6th editorial in the New York Times
titled “What I Didn’t Find In Africa.” The editorial gives a
step-by-step account of Wilson’s mission in Niger and his
subsequent briefing to the CIA . He reveals that despite
their debunking by himself, the CIA and the IAEA, the
Niger documents were included in a fact sheet created
by the State Department in 2002. The editorial concludes
with a strong indictment against the White House,
suggesting it deliberately used unreliable evidence
to deceive the American public into supporting a war
against Iraq.

If my information was deemed inaccurate, I
understand (though I would be very interested
to know why). If, however, the information was
ignored because it did not fit certain precon-
ceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument
can be made that we went to war under false
pretenses. (It's worth remembering that in his
March "Meet the Press" appearance, Mr. Cheney
said that Saddam Hussein was "trying once again
to produce nuclear weapons.") At a minimum,
Congress, which authorized the use of military
force at the president's behest, should want to
know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.

I was convinced before the war that the threat
of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of
Saddam Hussein required a vigorous and sustained
international response to disarm him. Iraq possessed
and had used chemical weapons; it had an active
biological weapons program and quite possibly a
nuclear research program — all of which were in
violation of United Nations resolutions. Having
encountered Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up
to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware
of the dangers he posed.

But were these dangers the same ones the
administration told us about? We have to find out.
America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of
its information. For this reason, questioning the
selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq
is neither idle sniping nor "revisionist history," as
Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last
option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave
threat to our national security. More than 200
American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq
already. We have a duty to ensure that their
sacrifice came for the right reasons.

Needless to say, the Bush administration was highly embarrassed
by this editorial. The retribution was swift and severe. Conservative,
syndicated columnist Robert Novak dropped this bombshell in his
July 14th column:

Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie
Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass
destruction. Two senior administration officials told
me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to
investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter
proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his
wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question
about my wife," Wilson told me.

In case you didn’t catch that, Novak just exposed Joseph Wilson’s
wife as an undercover CIA operative. Michael C. Ruppert, author
of Crossing The Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire
at the End of the Age of Oil,
explains the consequences of
this act:

Not only was Plame's cover blown, so was that of
her cover company, Brewster, Jennings & Associates.
With the public exposure of Plame, intelligence agencies
all over the world started searching data bases for any
references to her (TIME Magazine). Damage control
was immediate, as the CIA asserted that her mission
had been connected to weapons of mass destruction.

However, it was not long before stories from the
Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal
tied Brewster, Jennings & Associates to energy, oil
and the Saudi-owned Arabian American Oil Company,
or ARAMCO. Brewster Jennings had been a founder
of Mobil Oil company, one of Aramco's principal

And what was Valerie Plame doing in Saudi Arabia? Ruppert
speculates that she was gathering intelligence to determine
how much oil was left in the country that produces 25% of
the world’s most valuable resource. Despite denials from
the Saudi government, the New York Times has published
articles claiming that Saudi oil production is in a state of
irreversible decline.

If anybody has the real data on Saudi fields it is
either ARAMCO or the highest levels of the Saudi
royal family.

The answer to the Saudi peak question will
determine whether Saudi Arabia really can increase
production quickly, as promised. If they can't, then
the US economy is going to suffer bitterly, and it is
certain that the Saudi monarchy will collapse into
chaos. Then the nearby US military will occupy the
oilfields and the U.S. will ultimately Balkanize the
country by carving off the oil fields - which occupy
only a small area near the East coast. That U.S.
enclave would then provide sanctuary to the
leading members of the royal family who will
have agreed to keep their trillions invested in
Wall Street so the US economy doesn't collapse.

Sounds like a pretty important mission, no?

Even if Ruppert is totally wrong about the nature of Plame’s
work for the CIA, it is still a felony to disclose the identity of
a covert agent -- and that is precisely what someone in the
Bush White House did when that information was leaked to
Robert Novak (and other journalists, including Matt Cooper
and Judith Miller.)

Still with me?

Good. Because here is where it gets really interesting.

The obvious question until now has been “Who is the White House
Novak, protecting an anonymous source, won’t tell.
In February 2004, President Bush made the following statements:

If there's a leak out of my administration, I want
to know who it is. If the person has violated law,
that person will be taken care of. I welcome the
investigation. I am absolutely confident the Justice
Department will do a good job.

Of course, if Bush really wanted to know the leaker, he could
find out pretty quick by demanding the answer from his
White House staff. But the president’s search for answers
bares a striking resemblance to O.J. Simpson’s search for the
real killer -- willfully ineffective.

The case took on another fascinating twist when both President
Bush and Vice-President Cheney hired private criminal defense lawyers in June 2004, anticipating the possibility that they would
be forced to testify in the case that was now being investigated
by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

John Dean, former White House Counsel to President Nixon,
was more than a bit surprised by this move as he wrote in
his June 4th column in findlaw.com:

This action by Bush is a rather stunning and
extraordinary development. The President of the
United States is potentially hiring a private criminal
defense lawyer. Unsurprisingly, the White House is
doing all it can to bury the story, providing
precious little detail or context for the President's

…But from what I have learned from those who
have been quizzed by the Fitzgerald investigators
it seems unlikely that they are interviewing the
President merely as a matter of completeness, or
in order to be able to defend their actions in front
of the public. Asking a President to testify - or
even be interviewed - remains a serious, sensitive
and rare occasion. It is not done lightly. Doing so
raises separation of powers concerns that continue
to worry many…

…If so - and if the person revealed the leaker's
identity to the President, or if the President decided
he preferred not to know the leaker's identity - then
this fact could conflict with Bush's remarkably broad
public statements on the issue. He has said that he
did not know of "anybody in [his] administration who
leaked classified information." He has also said that
he wanted "to know the truth" about this leak.

If Bush is called before the grand jury, it is likely
because Fitzgerald believes that he knows much
more about this leak than he has stated publicly.

So it all comes down to this:

Who leaked the information, and did the president know about it?

Keeping all this background in mind, it is now easy to see why it
is such a big deal that the leaker has now been identified as
Karl Rove.

Yep, that Karl Rove -- longtime advisor and political guru to
George W. Bush, currently serving the administration as deputy
White House chief of staff.

Rove, his lawyer and the White House are already in full-spin mode,
claiming that the Boy Genius didn’t really break the law because
he didn’t knowingly expose a covert agent. But again, this is small potatoes.

The big questions -- the ones that are no doubt depriving Bush
of his much needed beauty sleep are:

Is there any way that the president’s most trusted confidant and
important advisor could have leaked this information without
Bush knowing about it?

And if so, will Bush make that claim under oath?