Valerie Plame Wilson Revealed
The Woman Behind The Very Public War Against U.S. Foreign Policy
By Dan McLaughlin Posted in Democrats — Comments (3) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
David Corn, the Nation writer who launched the Plame story with an interview with Joe Wilson back in July 2003 and now has a book out (with Michael Isikoff) in which he tells the tale as if he were a disinterested observer rather than a prime mover in the story, has an excerpt up on "What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA". Corn's article, probably unintentionally, confirms much of what obervers on the Right have been saying all along.
[T]he officers of the [CIA's] Joint Task Force on Iraq--part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations--were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie Wilson.
In other words: Mrs. Wilson was not an innocent bystander to the Iraq War debate - she was at its epicenter, having led the CIA's efforts to find WMD in Iraq. Now, we know that the CIA battled with the White House and the Defense Department over a number of the details in this debate, and that the CIA's Iraq team generally sided with the faction in the State Department (including, ironically, Richard Armitage) who opposed the war. Reading between the lines here, and leaving aside Corn's implicit spin about how these folks had no agenda of their own, it would appear that Mrs. Wilson may even have been the leader of that internal CIA faction.
Her specific position at the CIA is revealed for the first time in a new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, by the author of this article and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. The book chronicles the inside battles within the CIA, the White House, the State Department and Congress during the run-up to the war. Its account of Wilson's CIA career is mainly based on interviews with confidential CIA sources.
First off, the irony here is too rich: Corn, having wailed to high heaven over the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's identity, now reveals much more non-public information about her undercover work, and does so with the complicity of "confidential CIA sources".
Second, note the promise of revelations of "inside battles within the CIA" - I'll give you one guess which side Mrs. Wilson comes down on.
Another issue was whether Valerie Wilson had sent her husband to Niger to check out an intelligence report that Iraq had sought uranium there. Hubris contains new information undermining the charge that she arranged this trip. In an interview with the authors, Douglas Rohn, a State Department officer who wrote a crucial memo related to the trip, acknowledges he may have inadvertently created a misimpression that her involvement was more significant than it had been.
Chief Plame-ologist Tom Maguire greets this claim with the scorn it deserves:
Please - Ms. Plame was head of the JTFI Ops group, had proposed her husband for his 1999 trip to Niger, but was not involved here? Well, then, why does Libby's indictment include this:
7. On or about June 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson's trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.
Court filings eventually established that 'senior officer' to be Robert Grenier. So why was he wrong about this - more bad intel from the CIA? My guess - Grenier accidentally told the truth; later, the CIA scrubbed their story a bit. (Gosh, does that mean the CIA might, like, lie? That is almost like running a covert op...).
So, what did the then-Valerie Plame do with the CIA?
Valerie Plame was recruited into the CIA in 1985, straight out of Pennsylvania State University. After two years of training to be a covert case officer, she served a stint on the Greece desk, according to Fred Rustmann, a former CIA official who supervised her then. Next she was posted to Athens and posed as a State Department employee. Her job was to spot and recruit agents for the agency. In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.
Again, to the extent that some of this stuff hasn't been disclosed or confirmed publicly, why is Corn doing that? (You will recall that Novak's initial column was vague on Mrs. Wilson's job at the CIA - it was Corn, presumably at the insistence of Joe Wilson, who first publicly asserted that she had been a covert operative).
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division.
Which underlines the fact that she had been non-covert and working at headquarters for six years, leaving her uncovered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists--in America and abroad--looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi émigrés to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.
"We knew nothing about what was going on in Iraq," a CIA official recalled. "We were way behind the eight ball. We had to look under every rock." Wilson, too, occasionally flew overseas to monitor operations. She also went to Jordan to work with Jordanian intelligence officials who had intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes heading to Iraq that CIA analysts were claiming--wrongly--were for a nuclear weapons program. (The analysts rolled over the government's top nuclear experts, who had concluded the tubes were not destined for a nuclear program.)
As to Mrs. Wilson, Corn is straining here to imply some covert overseas role, but if she was meeting with "Jordanian intelligence officials" as an official representative of the CIA (I doubt she told them she was a private energy consultant looking to recruit defectors from Iraq), her cover in that region wasn't ever going to be secure - I'd guess that a lot more hostile governments have sources in Jordanian intelligence than read Bob Novak.
As to the actual intelligence gathering process, this just emphasizes what we've known for some time now: while there were a broad array of indicators as to Saddam's historical WMD programs and continuing interest in such programs (including, ironically, his feelers to Niger to explore buying yellowcake), there was simply no way we could rule out the possibility that he still had or was on the verge of getting the robust WMD programs he'd been pursuing for two decades.
The results were frustrating for the officers. Were they not doing their job well enough--or did Saddam not have an arsenal of unconventional weapons? Valerie Wilson and other JTFI officers were almost too overwhelmed to consider the possibility that their small number of operations was, in a way, coming up with the correct answer: There was no intelligence to find on Saddam's WMDs because the weapons did not exist.
Of course, no weapons wasn't the correct answer, either, but that's another day's argument.
When the war started in March 2003, JTFI officers were disappointed. "I felt like we ran out of time," one CIA officer recalled. "The war came so suddenly. We didn't have enough information to challenge the assumption that there were WMDs.... How do you know it's a dry well? That Saddam was constrained. Given more time, we could have worked through the issue.... From 9/11 to the war--eighteen months--that was not enough time to get a good answer to this important question."
Well, this has been a talking point of war opponents for some time. Corn confirms that it was the view of people on Mrs. Wilson's task force. 2+2= . . . ?
When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator--to rise up a notch or two--and then return to secret operations.
In other words, she was moving from one Langley-based bureaucratic job to another. And how practical it was to go back to the NOC world is, at best, dubious, given that her cover had previously been compromised by Aldrich Ames, given that she had met with foreign intelligence services as a CIA officer, and given that she was married to an American diplomat who was injecting himself in public controversies over intelligence-gathering.
[S]he would now be pulled into the partisan warfare of Washington. As a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn't able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration's justification for war and had come up empty.
No, but she could send her husband out to telegraph the same message in the pages of the NY Times. You can feel here someone's frustration - perhaps it's just Corn's, but perhaps it is genuinely Mrs. Wilson's feeling that she needed a way to go public without leaving her own fingerprints - a way that was gift-wrapped by having the message delivered by her husband. The fact that Joe Wilson trumpeted his own involvement in a CIA-sponsored intelligence-gathering trip violates the most fundamental rule of the CIA, which is to keep your mouth shut. That breach of trust is the critical wrongdoing of this whole episode, and set off a chain of events in which it was increasingly unlikely that his wife's role in sending him on the trip could be successfully concealed.
It's unfortunate that Mrs. Wilson's role, however compromised it already may have been and however many years in the past, became public. But her husband's lunge for the spotlight probably made her role untenable anyway.