Controversy surrounds the hunt for WMD in Iraq
Sat Feb 7 14:31:02 2004
Controversy surrounds the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The White House's retraction of the uranium claim in the president's State of
the Union address is the only time it has admitted a flaw in its case for war
with Iraq. It came after former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson undermined the
Iraq-Africa connection, saying he was sent to investigate the claim a year
earlier and found no credible evidence. A short time later, the identity of
Wilson's wife as a CIA operative was leaked to several journalists. The White
House denies being the source of the leak, and the Justice Department has opened
a full-blown investigation.
JOSEPH WILSON/VALERIE PLAME :
Joseph C. Wilson 4th served as ambassador to Gabon in the first Bush
administration and later helped direct Africa policy for President Clinton's
National Security Council. More recently, he had argued against using force in
Iraq as opposed to strict containment. He was dispatched in February 2002 to
explore whether Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, and returned to report he
found no credible evidence. A month later, the CIA sent a cable to the White
House saying Niger denied the uranium claim. Wilson's trip was not mentioned in
President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address included a 16-word
passage stating that the British had learned that Iraq had tried to purchase
yellowcake uranium in Africa. In a New York Times op-ed piece published July 6,
2003, Wilson said he told the CIA long before Bush's address that the British
reports were suspect. "Based on my experience with the administration in the
months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of
the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to
exaggerate the Iraqi threat," he wrote.
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was identified as a CIA operative working on the
issue of weapons of mass destruction in a column by columnist Robert Novak that
ran a week after her husband's Times piece. Novak quoted anonymous government
Also in July, Wilson's work in Niger came under scrutiny from the Bush
administration, which said his report actually confirmed concerns the Iraqis
were making overtures – rebuffed or not - to Niger, and also questioned why he
did not investigate the forged documents. And according to a July 17, 2003, Time
magazine article titled A War On Wilson?, "some government officials have noted
to Time in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was
involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger."
The Sept. 28, 2003, edition of The Washington Post quoted an unidentified senior
administration official as saying two top White House officials called at least
a half-dozen journalists and revealed Plame's identity and occupation.
Disclosing the identity of covert U.S. intelligence officers is a crime under
the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and the Justice Department
opened an investigation into the leak.
In a July 14, 2003, column that ran in newspapers across the country, Robert
Novak wrote that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA analyst on
weapons-proliferation issues and suggested the trip to Africa was her idea.
Novak later said on CNN that his report was based on conversations with two
senior administration officials while he was looking into Wilson's Africa trip.
The officials told Novak that Wilson's wife had suggested the mission for her
husband, the columnist said.
On CNN's "Crossfire" Sept. 29, 2003, Novak, who is also co-host of the program,
said the CIA "asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would
endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA,
Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge
of undercover operators." Novak said he will not name his sources.
THE WHITE HOUSE:
President Bush has directed his White House staff to cooperate fully with the
Justice Department investigation into the leak. "I don't know of anyone in my
administration who has leaked," Mr. Bush said. "This investigation is a good
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell
both said they were unaware of any White House involvement in the matter, and
the White House denied that chief political strategist Karl Rove was involved in
revealing Plame's identity. "There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought
to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the
vice president's office as well," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.
President's Chief Political Strategist
Joseph Wilson had said in a late August 2003 speech in Seattle that he suspected
President Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove as the leaker, but has
since backtracked somewhat from that assertion. "I did not mean at that time to
imply that I thought that Karl Rove was the source or the authorizer, just that
I thought that it came from the White House, and Karl Rove was the
personification of the White House political operation," Wilson said.
Wilson, however, then added: "I have people, who I have confidence in, who have
indicated to me that he (Rove), at a minimum, condoned it and certainly did
nothing to put a stop to it for a week after it was out there. Among the phone
calls I received were those that said `White House sources are saying that it's
not about the 16 words, it's about Wilson and his wife.' And two people called
me up and specifically mentioned Rove's name," he said.
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that
Rove was involved. "The president knows he wasn't involved. ... It's simply not
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY:
The CIA's Office of General Counsel reported the leak regarding operative
Valerie Plame to the Justice Department in late July 2003. The letter noted a
violation of the law had apparently occurred when someone provided syndicated
columnist Robert Novak with the CIA officer's name. The letter was not signed by
CIA Director George Tenet and did not call for a specific investigation of the
Previously, the CIA sought to distance itself from Bush's assertion in his State
of the Union address that Saddam Hussein was shopping for uranium in Africa.
Tenet later said that his agency had concerns about the claim, but after some
language was changed, they cleared the president's text as "factually correct."
Soon after, the documents that had apparently launched Joseph Wilson's
investigation into the alleged Iraq-Africa connection were given to the CIA, and
quickly deemed forgeries. Administration officials later acknowledged the error.
The Justice Department receives about 50 CIA referrals a year, seeking a
preliminary investigation into leaks of classified information, a senior
administration official said. Very few ever reach a full-blown investigation, as
this one did on Sept. 26, 2003.
The investigation is being done by FBI agents in the counterintelligence
division, based at the FBI Washington field office, and overseen by 11 career
prosecutors in the counterespionage section of the Justice Department's criminal
division. Congressional Democrats have pressed the case for a special counsel,
saying Attorney General John Ashcroft had an obvious conflict of interest. At a
news conference, Ashcroft declined to say why he hadn't sought an outside
investigation. "Because of an ongoing investigation of criminal violations, I
will not be making any further comment at this time," he said. The attorney
general has left the possibility open, a senior law enforcement official said.
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