August 30, 2006
Now that Dick Armitage has admitted
to being the initial source of right-wing columnist Robert Novak's
news story outing Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent and wife
of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, it's important to remember
what this story is really all about.
The mainstream media has focused
on the scandal as a whodunit, all about White House leaks and
journalists' unidentified sources, but the real issue has largely
been left unaddressed, namely: Why did the White House go to
such lengths to try to attack and discredit Wilson, a career
To answer that question we
have to go back to 2002 and the march to war in Iraq, and to
2003, when the Bush administration was starting to take the heat
for its evident failure to find any "weapons of mass destruction"
in the defeated land of Iraq, and for the fiasco of the occupation,
which was becoming obvious.
As I wrote in Barbara Olshansky's
and my book, The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin's Press,
"the Bush-Cheney administration,
which had its sights set on Baghdad and `regime change' from
the day it took office, was by 2002 well on the way to invading
Iraq, and was only looking for ways, to borrow from the Downing
Street memo, to `fix the facts' so as to win public support for
war. The game plan was to make Saddam Hussein look scary to Americans,
and what better way to scare people than to say that this bloody
dictator was trying to get The Bomb?"
This propaganda goal was accomplished
with the help of a crude forgery of documents which were presented
as solid evidence of such an effort. The documents-supposedly
signed letters of intent to ship 400 tons of uranium ore from
Niger in Africa to Iraq, bearing the signature of Niger's mining
minister-had initially been provided to the White House by the
sycophantic and obliging Italian Prime Minister, S. Berlusconi,
and his chief
of intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, back in October 2001. The documents
were immediately spotted by the CIA and the State Department's
own intelligence office as forgeries-the minister whose signature
appeared on the sale documents had been out of office for years
by the time of the signing date.
This is where the plot thickens,
though. A team of investigative reporters in Italy, working for
the respected newspaper La Repubblica, learned that a
group of people, allegedly including Michael Ledeen, Defense
Department Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, Defense Intelligence
Agency Middle East analyst Larry Franklin, Pentagon Office of
Special Plans member Harold Rhode and convicted bank swindler
and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, met secretly
in Rome. Also present, reportedly, were Pollari and the head
of the Italian Department of Defense. The La Repubblica
reporters, led by investigative reporter Carlo Bonini, claim
that it was at this unusual meeting that a plan was developed
to recycle the bogus and discredited Niger documents through
British intelligence, so that they would come back to the White
House as "new evidence" of Hussein's nuclear ambitions.
Ledeen, who was deeply involved
in similar scheming during the infamous Reagan-era Iran arms-for
hostages stinger missile deal, which had been used to raise secret
funds for the CIA-backed Contras who were invading Nicaragua,
doesn't deny that meeting, but has denied any involvement in
the Niger scam. But the involvement of Feith (an architect of
the whole Neocon scheme to invade Iraq and overthrow Hussein),
of Franklin, who later pleaded guilty to passing classified information
to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and especially
of Rhode, who was working in OSP, the Pentagon office Cheney
and Rumsfeld created specifically to gin up "evidence"
to justify an Iraq invasion, makes this meeting suspicious in
On its face, it would appear
that this was the start of a so-called "black op,"
designed to create false evidence for the purpose of deceiving
the U.S. media, the Congress and the American public into believing
that America was at risk of a nuclear attack from Iraq.
And it worked. In his January
29, 2003 State of the Union address, with war fever growing,
Bush declared to the assembled members of Congress and a watching
nation, "The British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from
This, to most Americans, was
the clincher. Never mind that it takes years for a non-nuclear
nation to go from buying uranium ore to producing a bomb. The
president was saying that was Saddam's evil plan. But the president,
when he said that, was lying through his teeth, since the British
government's "evidence," he knew, was the same set
of forged documents that had been discredited two years earlier
by his own intelligence people. The president knew it wasn't
new, and it wasn't true.
This is where Wilson and Plame
Back in 2002, with the White
House continuing to promote the bogus Niger uranium purchase
story, the CIA reportedly decided it needed to get better information.
Plame, whose responsibility at the Agency was nuclear proliferation,
apparently suggested to the CIA director of operations that her
husband, who had served in Africa and had good relations with
officials in Niger, including the minister of mines, be sent
over there to investigate.
Wilson was dispatched, and
returned reporting confidently that there was no uranium there
to sell (it had all been sold to Japanese and European customers),
and that any documents purporting such a sale "would not
Wilson's report went the rounds
in the CIA, and that might have been the end of it, but the White
House, and especially Vice President Cheney and the Pentagon
Office of Special Plans, had other ideas. Talk of Saddam's uranium
purchases and nuclear ambitions began cropping up in administration
speeches in August, 2002, with both then National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice and Bush himself referring darkly to a "mushroom
cloud" threatening America, and ultimately with Bush's reference
to the forged documents in early 2003.
Wilson grew frustrated with
the lies and deceit, and ultimately went public in 2003 with
what he knew, first in May to Congress and then on July 6 in
an opinion article in the New York Times.
Having a lowly former ambassador
undermine a statement by the president might anger a White House,
but the attack that ensued, which appears to have been orchestrated
by the White House and the Vice President, was so virulent, involving
the criminal outing of Plame and the jeopardizing of all her
contacts and her critical work on nuclear proliferation, including
in countries like Iran, that clearly more was involved than just
The real concern, I suspect,
was the possible discovery of who was behind the document forgeries,
and of a black-op scheme to recycle them through British intelligence.
It appears that the investigation
into the Plame outing scandal, which is being conducted by Special
Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, has been successfully obstructed
by the White House, and, unless Fitzgerald has some surprise
in store, will be limited to the prosecution of Cheney aide I.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby on a charge of perjury and obstruction.
We cannot expect Fitzgerald
to get to the bottom of this scandal, which goes to the heart
of a criminal war that has killed 2600, Americans and 100,000-plus
Iraqis. Nor, sadly, does it seem we can count on the mainstream
media, which continues to treat the story as being all about
leaks and Valerie Plame.
Only an impeachment hearing
can do the job. At such a hearing, the House Judiciary Committee
would not face the same hurdles regarding whom it would call
to testify, what questions it could ask, and what documents it
could demand to see as does a prosecutor operating under the
rules of a federal court.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing
Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new
book of CounterPunch columns titled "This
Can't be Happening!" is published by Common Courage
Press. Lindorff's new book is "The
Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org