In response to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney's office to find evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the CIA sent retired diplomat Joseph Wilson to investigate reports that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from the African nation of Niger. Wilson returned from Africa and reported that the claims appeared to be false, just as the U.S. Ambassador to Niger had already reported to Washington.
In spite of this, George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address contained the statement:
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Because Bush Administration officials continued to refer to the discredited reports as a justification for going to war with Iraq, Joseph Wilson wrote an article for the New York Times (7/6/03), refuting the Bush Administration's false claims. Five days later the CIA issued a statement that said there was no evidence that Iraq had ever attempted to purchase African uranium, and the statement should not have been included in Bush's State of the Union address.
On July 14, 2003, Republican stooge Robert Novak published a column questioning the origins of Joseph Wilson's fact-finding trip; but the big news turned out to be Novak's statement, "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." Oops! It seems that revealing the identity of a CIA agent is against federal law; and that is exactly what Novak had done but who gave him this classified information in the first place? That is the question.
At the end of December 2003, United States attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago was appointed as Special Counsel in the CIA leak investigation. Now, almost two years later, Fitzgerald has announced the indictment of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Mr. Libby served the Bush Administration as an Assistant to President Bush, Chief of Staff of Vice President Cheney, and Vice President for National Security Affairs. The grand jury charged Libby with two counts of perjury, two counts of false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury. Mr. Libby turned in his resignation(s) on the day the indictments were announced. President Bush said Libby "has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and sacrificed much in the service to this country."
Yes, Mr. Libby and his accomplice(s) have "worked tirelessly" to discredit a distinguished American diplomat, but their scheme has blown up in their faces. They ran into something they didn't know how to handle a man of integrity, who was not afraid of them.
Joseph Wilson was the acting US ambassador to Iraq in the months leading up to the first Gulf War. After Saddam threatened to kill anybody caught harboring foreigners, Wilson defied the Iraqi leader by housing more than 100 US citizens in the American Embassy, and then met with journalists wearing a hangman's noose instead of a tie. His message to Saddam was, "If you want to execute me, I'll bring my own [expletive] rope". The first President Bush referred to Wilson as a "truly inspiring diplomat" who exhibited "courageous leadership" (quoted by Paul Krugman, The New York Times, 10/3/03)
...and Libby has "sacrificed much" in sacrificing the career of a veteran CIA agent and no ordinary agent. Valerie Plame was described as a "non-official cover operative". When she worked overseas, she did so without the benefit of the diplomatic protections that most agents have. If she were caught, she could have been executed as a spy.
"[Agents] run a risk when they work for the CIA that something bad could happen to them, but they have to make sure that they don't run the risk that something bad is going to happen to them from something done by their own fellow government employees." -- Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, 10/28/05
Not content with destroying only Ms. Plame's career as a covert operations officer, Robert Novak appeared on CNN the day after his column appeared and blabbed the name of the front company where Ms. Plame supposedly worked. This company was apparently used as a front by other CIA officers, so they and their operations were also put at risk. The CIA conducted an extensive damage assessment, but the public will probably never know the extent of harm done to America's intelligence operations by senior officials in the Bush Administration.
"This is wrong and this is shameful. Instead of a president concerned first and foremost with protecting this country and the intelligence officers who serve it, we are confronted with a president who is willing to sit by while political operatives savage the reputations of good Americans like Valerie and Joe Wilson." --Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA colleague of Plame, Bloomberg.com, 7/23/05
"Senior administration officials used the power of the White House to make our lives hell for the last 27 months. But more important, they did it as part of a clear effort to cover up the lies and disinformation used to justify the invasion of Iraq. That is the ultimate crime." --Joseph Wilson, LA Times, 10/29/05
Next time: How low the will the Republicans go to defend the indefensible?