"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Plame Case

The administration’s handling of the Plame matter is illustrative of how it handles critics and uses the press. Before the invasion of Iraq, Columnist Robert Novak wrote that he had learned in the White House that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent. The agency said that she was a covert agent, which meant revealing her identity could be a crime. There were reports that television host Chris Matthews received a call from Karl Rove, saying it was open season on Wilson’s wife, but the press never nailed down this report. Eventually, journalist Matt Cooper admitted that Rove told him about Plame’s true identity, but only after denials from the White House that Rove was involved From September 2003 to April 2006, Rove denied that he told the Time correspondent about Plame, and only admitted it after Prosecutor Fitzgerald had Cooper’s testimony. Nevertheless, Rove would not be prosecuted for lying or anything else.

Bob Woodward, perhaps the nation’s most famous and respected print journalist, repeatedly said he did not see why the Plame matter was important as White House people are historically given to gossiping. He later had to reveal that he had early knowledge of her identity. When most of the facts were known, it was clear that three high Bush administrations officials told reporters she was a CIA agent, and still others had busily pressed the media to report that she worked for the CIA.
Of course, most of the press had initially thought objections to the veracity of Bush’s claims of WMDs in Iraq were similarly inconsequential. Lou Dobbs, a moderate Republican, told his CNN audience that the investigation into what reporters knew was an “onerous, disgusting abuse of government power,” and liberal columnist Richard Cohen said “The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago, and prosecute some real criminals.” Fitzgerald was prosecutor in the Plame case.

No one confessed to outing her, so there is no way to know why this was done. Many supposed it was a way of punishing Wilson, who had written to the New York Times, disputing the administration’s claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger. Novak never answered for what he wrote. Times journalist Judith Miller, who never wrote about Plame, spent 85 days in jail until she proved willing to talk about who told her about Plame. In her first days in jail, she was even forced to sleep on the floor. She left jail only when promised she would be questioned only about Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief-of-staff. She had been an important part of the Cheney information apparatus, and she may have accepted her incarceration as a means of protecting other people. Libby was soon indicted for lying and obstructing, not leaking the identity of a covert agent.

Retired CIA agents made it clear to Congress that the outing of Plame did serious damage to intelligence gathering and that the administration’s cover-up caused “irreversible damage [to] the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince an overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us….” The mainstream press showed little interest in the outings implications for national security. Most of the Republican press claimed that outing Plame was not a potential breach of the law. There was a major effort to cast aspersions on the honesty and motives of the Wilsons and reduced the question to one of pure politics. Critics of the Wilsons have also insisted she was not a covert agent under the meaning of the law, even though the CIA had stated she was "an employee operating under cover." From the beginning of this sorry mess, the White House and the Republican information machine have attacked the Wilsons by claiming the trip to Niger was a "boondoggle" and an example of "nepotism." In fact Joe Wilson was an old Niger hand and undertook the assignment without pay. Only, his expenses were reimbursed. His wife even lacked the authority to send him.

After many reports that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was about to indict Karl Rove, Fitzgerald told Rove’s lawyers that this was not going to occur. Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee, had repeatedly handled the case in a manner that allowed the Bush administration to minimize its importance. At one point in 2005, it appeared that the grand Jury would indict Rove, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had a serious discussion with Fitzgerald and the grand jury records were permanently sealed. Good sources suggest the Attorney General reminded Fitzgerald of his and that of Michael Chertoff, misconduct in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecutors hid the multiple government ties to the bombers. He had indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying but the Libby trial was long delayed. It has been speculated that Alberto Gonzales, who met with Fitzgerald at the time of the supposed indictment, told him that Bush planned to pardon Rove. That would have made the case against Rove hard to make. A March 2007 Justice Department evaluation of US attorneys said of Fitzgerald : “No recommendation : has not distinguished himself either positively or negatively." By then he had indicted Libby and was on the way to winning four counts of perjury and obstruction against him.

Weeks after Rove was in the clear, columnist Robert Novak admitted that Rove had exposed Plame as a covert agent to him. Novak also said that Rove’s testimony to the prosecutor was very different from his. The CIA assessment of damage done by unmasking Plame never became public, but knowledgeable sources said it decimate the operation she directed out of Brewster Jennings and Associates. She ran an important part of the CIA’s Counter proliferation Division (CPD.) To confuse matters more CIA director actively purged members of CPD because they had not supported claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

CBS News rarely reported on the case, just as it usually ignored the charges against John Bolton who had been nominated to be ambassador to the UN. Burned by its mishandling of charges regarding George W. Bush’s Texas Air Guard service, it simply steered clear of the Rove investigation, as though it involved mere politics. Under Republican control, the two Houses of Congress showed no interest in the matter, but Democrats did conduct an informal, unofficial hearing on the Rove matter. On the PBS program "Reliable Sources," which is supposed to render a balanced account of how the press handles major stories, the host complained that the Rove story had driven the Senator Dick Durbin story off the front page. Durbin, echoing the International Red Cross, had said that some of the abuse of detainees reminded him of Nazi practices. To press fairness watchdog Howard Kurtz, the Durbin remark and the Rove matter were both simply political flaps. On the right-wing FOX News, Juan Williams tried to suggest that the affair was serious because it endangered CIA operations, but Brit Hume silenced him with, “somebody needs to hose you down.”

Prosecutor Joseph Fitzgerald seems to have persuaded a panel of judges that the Intelligence Identity Protection Act could have been violated. However, the law is very tightly drawn, defines covert very narrowly, and specifies that the leaker must have done so with the full intention of exposing a covert agent. Some observers believed it would be almost impossible to prove this. John Wesley Dean has suggested that indictments could be more readily obtained under two other sections of the U.S. code. However, to a layman’s reading, it would seem hard to apply these statutes. White House personnel sign nondisclosure agreements, promising they will not reveal classified information. Fitzgerald could also have been looking at a violation of this agreement. The whole thing might simply have gone away as it has been reported that Fitzgerald's power to investigate will expire in October and the Justice Department official he reports to has been replaced with someone close to Bush. The press could not be counted upon to keep the matter alive or to help in getting to the bottom of the scandal.

The Republican controlled Congress has refused to investigate this possible violation of laws governing national security. Rather, it chose to investigation only the role of journalists in the matter. Normally, the CIA automatically does a damage assessment after a breach of security like this. The assessment is then sent to the committees in Congress that deal with security matters. Eventually an assessment was made, but the CIA refused to let Congress see it. The Republican Congress took a similar approach when The Washington Post’s Dana Priest reported on November 2, 2005 that the CIA maintained a number of secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere. Rather than look into the “black-sites program” both Houses of Congress began probing the leak. In 2007, the Council of Europe issued a scathing report revealing that the CIA had secret prisons in Romania and Poland where detainees were subjected to “degrading treatment and so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’” Dick Marty, a Swiss senator, revealed that disgruntled CIA operatives provided information for the report..
In September 2006, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a former CIA covert agent, admitted that he had inadvertently revealed Plame’s identity. He said Fitzgerald had not authorized him to disclose his role until that late date. That revelation seemed to end the matter and even justify Republican claims that it was a tempest in a teapot. It was also revealed that Robert Novak confirmed what Armitage told him with Karl Rove and that Rove had also passed this classified information to Matt Cooper. Fitzgerald seemed to have concluded that there was no way to enforce the law against outing covert CIA agents. Interest in others who revealed her identity in order to damage her husband ended, and few remembered that the CIA had never revealed what damage her outing had done to the unit she worked with.

When Libby was tried for perjury, several Bush administration witnesses said he had lied about hearing about Plame first from a journalist. Judith Miller, a friend of Libby, repeatedly said she could not remember who told her Plame was a CIA agent. Matthew Cooper, another New York Times reporter, testified that Rove first told him Plame worked for the agency. All the testimony made it clear the Vice President’s Office had been involved in a major effort to destroy the good names of Wilson and his wife It was reported that at least one agent with non-official cover was killed as a result of the leak. In early July 2007, President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence to two and a half years probation. In this way, the investigation was effectively ended as Libby no longer had any incentive to tell Fitzgerald what he knew.

The mainstream media has frequently compared the commutation of the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to the pardon of Marc Rich by Bill Clinton. One similarity is that neither served any prison time, which is an usual conditions in commutations and pardons. Not mentioned is that Libby had obtained Rich’s pardon and that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barach requested the pardon as did Shimon Peres and Ehud Omert. Rich was involved in many US/Israeli covert operations. It gets more interesting, when we consider that British Lord Chancellor Jack Straw said, “It’s a toss-up whether [Libby] is working for the Israelis or the Americans at any given time.” Recently a former Mossad agent told Wayne Madsen that Libby was an Israeli agent.

A much better comparison would to compare the pardon to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger and Eliot Abrams. Lawrence Walsh made it clear these pardons were intended to end his investigation of Iran/Contra. There were strong reasons to believe that the elder Bush was coordinating the supplying of Contra rebels in Nicaragua, even after law forbade it. A continued investigation would have followed up on leads that Bush, Sr. was not “out of the loop” in the Iran/Contra affair.

To continue the comparison--- The convictions of Admiral John Poindexter and Colonel Oliver North were reversed after partisan Republican Chief Justice William Rehnquist removed Walsh from the supervision of a friendly judge and steered the North and Poindexter to situations where Judge David Sentelle could be of great help. The judge was a protégé of Jesse Helms and a great admirer of Reagan, for whom he named a child. The younger Bush replaced prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s friendly supervisor with a Bush loyalist, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales all but openly leaned on Fitzgerald.

In the case of the younger Bush, the cover-up clearly involved an orchestrated effort to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by revealing that his wife was a covert CIA agent. When Wilson returned from Niger, he started telling journalists that the story that Iraq seeking uranium there was false. He was doing this well before his now famous New York Times Op Ed was published on July 6, 2003.

It is also clear that, beginning around June 23, 2003, the White House began contacting journalists to out Valerie Plame Wilson. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s staff offered Robert Novak an interview, even though the columnist has said that Armitage had continually shunned him. In the interview, which occurred after the New York Times piece appeared, Armitage revealed that Plame was an agent. It did not appear to be the accidental admission he claimed. Then Novak got a confirmation from Karl Rove, who had been Armitage’s friend since 2000.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had vigorously denied that anyone in the White House was involved in the leak. After he left that post, he wrote that “I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administrtion were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the Vice President, the President’s chief of staff, and the President himself.”

What else could the White House been hiding? Good alternative news sources suggest that Plame had discovered that there was a secret U.S. effort to smuggle uranium into Iraq in order to develop proof for the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument.

It is not clear why Fitzgerald limited his prosecution to Libby. Clearly, he was under pressure to let Rove off the hook and prevent Vice President Cheney from being implicated. He may have worried that the very conservative DC federal courts would buy the new claim that the president can declassify anything and even, in this case, override the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which made outing covert agents illegal. Under this doctrine, Cheney could be seen as out of reach because an executive order of March 25, 2003 delegated to the Vice President the power to classify and declassify information. Hence, Cheney could have legalized the outing of Plame by excluding her from the protection of the act. Many would have seen all this as legal but still unseemly and an abuse of power.

Fitzgerald may have felt the need for restraint because of his well-meaning mistakes in the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The indictment of one key figure was kept under seal; and the involvement of triple agent Ali Mohammed was concealed, as was the likely use of an informer as an agent provocateur.


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Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!