[Karl Rove is so effective at manipulating public perception, so radically unprincipled and so abysmally cynical, that it's difficult to believe he isn't controlling whatever the headlines say is happening to him. Maybe the 21st Century Watergate is just Karl's latest grand operetta, designed to distract us all from the savageries "our troops" are committing in the Persian Gulf as you read this. In that case, some legal technicality is even now being incubated inside Mr. Fitzgerald's briefcase, ready to hatch at the right moment and send us all back to business as usual.
Or maybe this Watergate, like the last one, is a creature of the CIA. All those years ago, Dick Helms may well have instructed one of Nixon's burglars (namely, CIA employee Bernard Barker) to sabotage his own burglary by leaving behind the strip of tape on the door-lock. That way, when the burglars were caught, all their orders would point backward to Nixon except that one, which pointed not to Helms but to sheer incompetence. Goodbye, Nixon. If this were being repeated, the Agency will have somehow contrived to trap Rove and his bosses into outing Valerie Plame, while using the Downing Street leaks as a lever to force the White House into jeopardy.
This time, however, the CIA is not being run by someone like Dick Helms, a veteran werewolf whom President Nixon inherited. It is run by Porter Goss, whom Bush (i.e., Cheney) appointed as part of a long war against the agency. That conflict pits the CIA against a solid alliance comprising the White House, the Pentagon, and the titans of the oil industry. Though the Agency's bark remains as horrifying as Cerberus' howling from the porches of the Inferno, it may have few teeth left for either attack or defense. Mike Ruppert surmised as much, four months ago in "GlobalCorp":
"Look, the agency does many things in many roles from raw intelligence gathering, to economic warfare, to satellite recon, to paramilitary operations requiring cover and deniability, to drug smuggling. But since its inception it was always focused in large part on medium and long-term intelligence gathering and covert operations through the costly, patient, expensive means of placing NOCs (non-official covers) or assets in missions where it might take five, ten or fifteen years to bear fruit. These programs were always centered on "what if" contingencies which inherently implied that multiple outcomes were possible; that there were alternative futures to be influenced and shaped.
"Battlefield intelligence is a different critter. It presupposes that there is nothing more important than the battle that has been joined at this moment. If the battle is not won, there are no future choices. Hence nothing matters other than the war that is being fought today. No Yaltas or Potsdams; no future deep cover moles will be needed.
"Every country in the world is betting everything it has on this one hand knowing that after 2007 or 2008 the game ends. The map of the future after that is unknowable and, to large extent, irrelevant. That's why Rumsfeld has won the battle to control American intelligence operations and why the new National Intelligence Director John Negroponte is getting the job."
Either the White House is controlling this Rovegate scandal (in which case it is a grand diversion that will come to nothing), or the CIA is controlling it (in which case it may sink the administration and perhaps the Republican congressional majority, anointing Hillary Clinton), or nobody is controlling it - in which case this is part of the institutional flake-down of what used to be the government. Either way, we all get front-row seats. Pass the popcorn (and don't mention Peak Oil). -JAH]
Special to From the Wilderness
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July 27, 2005 1800 PST (FTW): The irony is almost cosmic: just as the American situation in Iraq deteriorates into a Vietnam-like quagmire, a White House scandal-and-inquiry is taking on the proportions of Watergate. A major element of that ordeal was the secret release of the Pentagon Papers and Richard Nixon's determination to punish the leakers of those documents, partly for revenge and partly to deter future leakers.
Similarly, the current inquiry began over a national security leak and the administration's failure or unwillingness to find out who the leaker was. It is that failure and reluctance that has led to a convergence of the current scandal with the release of the British based Downing Street minutes. The combination threatens to turn President Bush's 2004 election victory into dust. In fact, this convergence, plus the selection of a special counsel has the potential to end the Bush presidency in a string of criminal indictments and - depending on whether or not the Democrats win back congress next year - impeachment proceedings. In another undreamed-of irony, Karl Rove, who designed the GOP congressional victories around the "imminent" threat of Iraq is, for now, at the center of what could be a critical investigation - both for him and for his creature, President George Bush. Rove learned what he knew about Valerie Plame from his membership in the Iraq Study Group (see below). The leak was not just a punishment of Plame's husband, Joe Wilson; it was an attempt to protect the false foundations of the entire Iraq War.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan glibly called the alleged culpability of Karl Rove "ridiculous." But now he has no comment except to say that he should give none in the face of an ongoing investigation. Even the White House press corps questioned this contradiction: wasn't Fitzgerald's inquiry ongoing when you said those men were above suspicion? The behavior of McClellan's boss has been exactly parallel: At first, Bush declared that anyone found to be leaking classified material would be dealt with decisively. Today that standard has been altered: now, whoever did so must await the outcome of Fitzgerald's investigation and then be found guilty. What caused these two embarrassing changes?
As most people know, the ostensible beginning to the present investigation was a column written by Joseph Wilson for the New York Times on July 6, 2005, called "What I Didn't Find in Africa." At that time, the American invasion of Iraq had been on for just over three months. The major media had gone along with Donald Rumsfeld's "Shock and Awe" military display, and the embedded reporters had played up the easy triumphs over Iraq's overmatched military. There had been previous broadsides against the underpinnings of the campaign against Iraq. But because it appeared in one of most influential newspapers in America, Wilson's article constituted the first serious crack in that carefully crafted mosaic. Another reason it had a potent effect was because it was written by someone who was directly involved in the events leading up to the war. Wilson had served for 23 years in the foreign service and had been an ambassador to three countries, including Iraq. Under Bill Clinton, Wilson had helped direct Africa policy for the National Security Council:
It was my experience in Africa that led me to play a small role in the effort to verify information about Africa's suspected link to Iraq's non-conventional weapons programs. Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That's me.
In February, 2002 I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake - a form of lightly processed ore - by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
Wilson wrote that his conclusion was that any claim for such a transaction involving uranium was extremely dubious. In fact, the current ambassador had already submitted reports debunking the rumors. Belatedly, Wilson's essay provided serious ballast to the long and systematic process of exposing the whole "weapons of mass destruction" pretext as sheer falsehood.
On July 14th, in reaction to Wilson, syndicated columnist Robert Novak tried to cast aspersions on the former ambassador. Novak insinuated that the Niger trip was not genuine policy, but nepotism: a gift to Wilson from his wife, one Valerie Plame, who worked as an "operative" at the CIA. He also wrote that Wilson's report was lightly regarded by the Agency, was not commissioned by the Director, and probably never reached the DCI nor the President. Novak specifically named Wilson's wife by her maiden name. And on October 4th, he named her front company, Brewster-Jennings and Associates, and clearly alluded to her status as an NCO, non-official cover agent - one not attached to official cover (e.g., an embassy, or a military outpost).
A reaction quickly set in to what Novak had done, for he had named "two senior administration officials" as his sources for the information about Plame. Within 48 hours, The Nation and later Newsday wrote that Novak had exposed the name of an undercover CIA agent working on, ironically, preventing the spread of WMD. Both periodicals condemned the act. Such exposure had now ruined the woman's career as an undercover operative, exposed people she had worked for and with, ruined the front cover the CIA had constructed, and rolled up any continuing operations they had started. Whether or not further consequences were even more lethal can only be revealed by declassification of the CIA damage report, which the GOP is resisting. Wilson took Novak's column as a personal warning to himself and to other whistle blowers: "This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation, but what it really is, is an attempt to keep anybody from coming forward" to reveal similar intelligence lapses (Newsday, 7/21/03). But further, as others pointed out, it was a potential violation of the Intelligence Identities Act of 1982 which made it a crime for anyone with access to classified information to intentionally disclose the identity of a covert agent.
This reaction to Novak's disclosure set in motion an inquiry at the CIA. The agency researched the matter and in September it sent a referral on the action over to the Justice Department - meaning the CIA had concluded it merited an investigation for criminal action.
Then on September 28th Washington Post reporters Mark Allen and Dana Priest wrote that a senior administration official told them that Novak's sources had also called six other reporters before the story broke in an effort to smear Wilson. That showed that the administration had "shopped" the story around in a forceful attempt to get it printed. It also showed that the exposure was intentional, which may have legal repercussions under the Identities Act.
Just after that story appeared, in late September, the Justice Department investigation began. Democratic senators Richard Durbin and Tom Daschle raised objections to Attorney General John Ashcroft leading the inquiry. Appropriately, Ashcroft recused himself. On December 30, 2003 his second in command, James Comey, announced the appointment of U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, as the Special Counsel in charge of the investigation.
In October of 2004, federal judge Thomas Hogan sentenced Judith Miller to jail for not testifying about her sources before a grand jury. Matt Cooper, of Time magazine, later joined Miller in defiance of Fitzgerald. They both filed an appeal of Hogan's decision to jail them. On February 15th of this year their initial appeal failed. They filed a second one, which failed in April. They appealed to the Supreme Court, and on June 27th, the Supreme Court declined to hear their case.
At this point, on June 30th, Time agreed to hand over Cooper's written records of his conversations with his White House sources (Cooper had written a story back in June of 2003 entitled "The War on Wilson"). The records have revealed that Karl Rove was his source for the leak of Plame's status as a CIA employee. In a remarkable disclosure, he has further revealed - after testifying to the grand jury - that Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff, was his second source. Miller has refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald and on July 6th he sentenced her to jail for contempt of court.
If not for the cases of Miller and Cooper, next to nothing would have been published in the press about Fitzgerald's probe. Up until two weeks ago, many thought the investigation would end up centering on Novak, Miller, Cooper and, because of his historical relationship with Novak, Karl Rove as the probable source of the leak on Plame. But it now involves people in the State Department (probably the "embattled" John Bolton), in the office of the Vice-President, the president's first spokesperson, and ultimately perhaps Cheney and Bush themselves (in one particular piece of grotesquerie, even Jeff Gannon enters the frame).
How did Fitzgerald's inquiry go on so quietly for so long, and cast such a wide net? The answer has to do with the CIA's conduct of its ongoing fight with the neocons in the Bush administration. Consider these three anomalies:
- In Novak's initial column of July 14, 2003, he referred to Wilson's wife as Valerie Plame. This was her maiden name which, reputedly, she used on her Agency assignments. How did Novak know this?
- In a later October column, he revealed the name of the CIA proprietary company she used for her NOC. Again, who could tell him that?
- Finally, it has been reported that the CIA sent at least two summaries of their debriefing interview with Wilson to the White House. If so, why did President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice (then National Security Advisor) all continue to attribute the pursuit of nuclear weapons to Hussein using this same discredited Niger uranium yellowcake story?
The solution comes into focus if we regard Cheney's original sending of Wilson to Niger not as an intelligence mission, but as a counter-intelligence mission. Let me explain.
Recall the role of Richard Cheney in the first Gulf War fought under George Bush Sr. At the end of that war there was a dispute between Secretary of Defense Cheney and JCS Chairman Colin Powell. The war had started as an attempt to kick Saddam's forces out of Kuwait. But once that was done, American forces crossed into Iraq and ignited rebellions against Hussein by the Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south. Cheney and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, advocated aiding the rebellions with American power and thus ridding Iraq of Hussein. Powell argued against it, and he persuaded the president, who thought, wisely, that this would present a serious occupation problem which could pin down American forces for years.
In the last days of the administration, Cheney's assistant Paul Wolfowitz wrote a review paper called Defense Planning Guidance (DPG). It was a neoconservative call to arms. It stated that the decades-old doctrine of containment should be abandoned; that a new guideline called preemption should replace it; and that although multilateralism was fine and dandy, those with consciences and courage should have no problem with America acting unilaterally.
When Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, many thought the Wolfowitz neoconservative manifesto would be permanently buried. But Clinton mismanaged his first two years so badly that Cheney's close friend Newt Gingrich took back both houses of Congress for the GOP. Cheney now visited Washington frequently to brief the Gingrich cabal on foreign policy matters. Then, in 1997, with neoconservative guru William Kristol, he became a cofounder of a group called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Clearly a neocon vehicle, PNAC revived and expanded the Wolfowitz DPG. Its members included Jeb Bush, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and current UN Ambassador nominee John Bolton. In 1998, the Project wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to take military action against Hussein (so he would not be able to develop weapons of mass destruction), and to remove him from power completely. Clinton did little to fulfill their wishes.
In 1999, George W. Bush set up an exploratory committee to run for president. He also hired a ghostwriter, Mickey Herskowitz, to write a biography to introduce him to a national audience. The contract was later cancelled. But Herskowitz told journalist Russ Baker that even at that time an Iraq invasion was on the candidate's mind. Bush told the author that it was important for a president to be seen as a strong commander-in-chief, and then one could capitalize on the tide of martial goodwill like Margaret Thatcher did in the Falklands War (rawstory.com). In December of 1999 at a pre-primary talk in New Hampshire the candidate advocated going in and taking out Hussein's WMD (ibid). With these predilections, it seemed logical that Bush's White House would have a balance toward the PNAC types, with Cheney as his VP, Wolfowitz's former deputy Lewis Libby as Cheney's Chief of Staff, and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz running Defense. By virtue of numbers, placement, and friendship, the realist Powell as Secretary of State was outflanked by the ideological zealots. (The New Republic of 2/5/01 had an insightful article detailing how Powell had been boxed in by the ideologues.)
Generally speaking, the White House relies on the CIA and the State Department for intelligence abroad. Cheney and Rumsfeld set out to circumvent this process so completely that it reminds one of the premise of the film The Truman Show. The virtual reality circus had four features:
- They would construct a new intelligence agency based in the Pentagon;
- They would bypass the usual State Department intelligence controls;
- Cheney would go up against CIA Director Tenet and get him to cherry-pick and even alter raw intelligence reports;
- Finally, by the creation of a black propaganda shop, they would erase the usual divide between political and secret intelligence.
For the first function, Rumsfeld created the Office of Special Plans (OSP), run by William Luti and headed by neocon Douglas Feith. The OSP did not just select questionable intelligence out of context. They also created a back-channel for Ahmed Chalabi, the notoriously unreliable president of the Iraqi National Congress (IRC), a dissident group which the CIA no longer trusted. This office was not subject to the usual intelligence standards of vetting, crosschecking, and contextualizing. Yet many of its questionable findings went to the highest ranking officials in the administration.
The same process occurred in the State Department. The neocons knew that they had to find a way around Secretary of State Powell. There, John Bolton became their Douglas Feith. Bolton refused to see Powell's specified briefer, Greg Thielmann, and later demanded access to raw intelligence reports and data that he would process himself. What made this so unfortunate of course is that raw data in the hands of an ideologue produces faulty intelligence. The reports of people like Chalabi, or the notoriously unreliable source codenamed "Curveball," made it from people like Feith and Bolton to Cheney and from Cheney to Bush. With it, Cheney then made Tenet go back and reprocess previous reports. Upon their return, the VP would question even the most solid of reports in an attempt to wear down Agency analysts and slip through the most questionable findings through back-channel officers like Lewis Libby. Tenet had warned both Cheney and Bush about the dubiousness of the Niger documents but Cheney used the information repeatedly in 2002, and Bush used it infamously in his 2003 State of the Union address.
The last part of this superimposed intelligence structure was Rumsfeld's black propaganda machine, originally titled Office of Strategic Intelligence (OSI). Word about this new agency first broke in the New York Times (2/19/02). The article said that the group was "developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations." A later story in the AP (2/26/02) said the Pentagon had closed OSI down because the original Times report had hurt its reputation so much "that it could not operate effectively." But then, in November, on the DOD website, a fascinating report appeared. Rumsfeld now said he was joking about the demise of the OSI. He said that he had given up the idea IN NAME ONLY-"I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have." What Rumsfeld appeared to have done between the first February report about OSI and his November comments was to create another new cell called the Iraq Study Group (ISG). It did what the original OSI plans called for: it created false stories and planted them in the foreign media, whence they would flow into the American press. Colonel Sam Gardiner wrote a long paper entitled "Truth from These Podia" exposing fifty of their fabrications, which included the Jessica Lynch fairy tale. The Times of London wrote that the bill for the Iraq Study Group was about 200 million dollars, and described it as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein." To my knowledge, what the neocons did with the creation of this constellation of new agencies had never been done before. Not in the entire 58 year history of the national security state. The only point of comparison I can think of was the paper submitted prior to Watergate to Nixon called the Huston Plan. This proposal was going to change the structure of the intelligence community to have it directed out of the White House. It was more far reaching, yet it was not enacted. This plan was.
To show how this newly imposed layer of false intelligence intersects with the Fitzgerald inquiry, in February of 2004, Editor and Publisher reported that the Plame Grand Jury had subpoenaed documents from the Iraq Study Group dated July of 2003, just as it began to crank up. One member of the group was reportedly Karl Rove. Which might explain how he got the classified information on Valerie Plame to give to Matt Cooper and perhaps to Novak.
One might ask, why would Rove and his cohorts resort to such extreme and thuggish measures like exposing a covert CIA officer thereby inflicting untold collateral damage? An instructive parallel here would be what CIA Officer James Angleton did to the Agency by his brutalizing of Soviet intelligence defector Yuri Nosenko after the Kennedy assassination. Many analysts now believe that Angleton's wild overreaction was caused by his need to hide something even worse, i.e. his own connection to Oswald and therefore to the murder of JFK. Correspondingly, what Wilson threatened was not just the motive for the war, but even more importantly, the means by which the administration launched it: the corruption, and at times, the fabrication of intelligence. And as John Dean has pointed out, under certain circumstances, these are criminal and perhaps impeachable offenses.
One reason the counter-intelligence operation against Wilson shifted into high gear was that unlike other public doubters, Wilson was a formidable foe who would not go away. Wilson had been a hidden source for two critical pieces in June of 2003, before his personally bylined column in July - one was by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post and the other by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. He had also appeared on CNN in March, right after the invasion was launched. There were other critics of the march to war like Hans Blix, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Scott Ritter. But the White House, particularly the ISG with Rove on board, could handle them all. They hatched a sexual smear against Ritter; they tried to intimidate Blix and actively defamed the UN and placed it under surveillance; and they made sure the IAEA report got on no network news program when it appeared. But Wilson was different. Personally and professionally, he was Mr. Clean, so you could not cheap-shot him like Ritter; he was homegrown and a moderate, not part of the pink-o UN like Blix; and you could not keep him out of the electronic and print media because he knew too many people like Kristof and Pincus. And he was indefatigable. With his special access to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times (through the Post's news agency association with the LAT), Wilson was a more serious threat to the PNAC crowd than any other journalist could be. This goes a long way to explaining their rage against him, which seems to have overwhelmed their judgment when they exposed his wife. That miscalculation awakened the media, caused the CIA referral to the Justice Department, and now has placed the scandal on the front pages and kept it there.
It is interesting to note that two of the journalists hardest at work on exposing this intelligence charade are Walter Pincus and Seymour Hersh. Pincus has a long history of being a CIA comrade-in-arms all the way back to Watergate, and more recently in the mugging of the late Gary Webb for his exposure of CIA cocaine smuggling. Hersh launched his career by doing a limited hangout for the CIA and Pentagon on the My Lai Massacre, decrying anyone who thought it was part of a larger planned operation - which it was, namely the Phoenix Program. Concerning the current scandal, Pincus wrote an article for the Washington Post (6/12/03) before Wilson's column appeared, criticizing the administration's handling of data in no uncertain terms: "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was consistent was not seriously scrutinized."
It is now possible for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to bring a string of indictments against sitting White House officers that could surpass the Iran/Contra affair and for those charges to form the evidentiary basis for bills of impeachment against both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.
In Part 2, Jim diEugenio will survey the possible criminal cases Fitzgerald may make against journalists Judith Miller and Robert Novak and certain White House officials. He will conclude with a possible case for impeachment against both President Bush and Vice President Cheney based on both the Fitzgerald inquiry and the Downing Street Minutes.