I may add more in a bit; but for now read Firedoglake and Digby. See also The Last Hurrah, especially the part headed “The Really Interesting Details.” They’re all talking about this article, David Corn’s “What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA”, which has just come out in The Nation.
(Corn is the co-author, with Michael Isikoff, of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. His account of Wilson’s CIA career is mainly based on interviews with confidential CIA sources.)
Short version: Valerie Plame, outed CIA employee, and wife of whistleblower Joseph Wilson, was not, as various right-wing sources have suggested, a paper-pushing desk jockey who perhaps wasn’t even involved in covert operations. They were lying.
Here’s the word that’s just come out: Valerie Plame, a career undercover officer, was the Director of Operations for the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq.The JTFI group was running espionage operations aimed at gathering information on any Weapons of Mass Destruction Iraq might have. That is: they were trying to find evidence that would back up the White House’s assertion that Iraq had WMDs and was thus a danger to the United States. Corn says:
Valerie Plame’s job was to deliver “intelligence” that would justify the war that Bush and Cheney were already planning.
In the spring of 2002 Dick Cheney made one of his periodic trips to CIA headquarters. Officers and analysts were summoned to brief him on Iraq. Paramilitary specialists updated the Vice President on an extensive covert action program in motion that was designed to pave the way to a US invasion. Cheney questioned analysts about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. How could they be used against US troops? Which Iraqi units had chemical and biological weapons? He was not seeking information on whether Saddam posed a threat because he possessed such weapons. His queries, according to a CIA officer at the briefing, were pegged to the assumptions that Iraq had these weapons and would be invaded—as if a decision had been made. (emphasis mine)
Notice that: her unit was ramped up before 9/11, and had 50 employees well before the war began.
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division. (About this time, she moved in with Joseph Wilson; they later married.) She was eventually given a choice: North Korea or Iraq. She selected the latter. Come the spring of 2001, she was in the CPD’s modest Iraq branch. But that summer—before 9/11—word came down from the brass: We’re ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.
As I recall, the inspectors working in Iraq were saying the same thing. Remember: not one of the 9/11 bombers was from Iraq. Their organization had no ties with Saddam Hussein. But as of early afternoon on 9/11, the Bush Administration was already plotting to tie the attacks to Saddam Hussein in order to justify a war with Iraq.*
There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. 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.)
The JTFI found nothing. The few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Task force officers sent reports detailing the denials into the CIA bureaucracy. The defectors were duds—fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.) 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. Still, she and her colleagues kept looking. (She also assisted operations involving Iran and WMDs.)
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.”
Back to David Corn:
In July 2003—four months after the invasion of Iraq—Wilson would be outed as a CIA “operative on weapons of mass destruction” in a column by conservative journalist Robert Novak, who would cite two “senior administration officials” as his sources. (As Hubris discloses, one was Richard Armitage, the number-two at the State Department; Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist, was the other. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, also talked to two reporters about her.) Novak revealed her CIA identity—using her maiden name, Valerie Plame—in the midst of the controversy ignited by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, her husband, who had written a New York Times op-ed accusing the Bush Administration of having “twisted” intelligence “to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”Riiiiight.
The Novak column triggered a scandal and a criminal investigation. At issue was whether Novak’s sources had violated a little-known law that makes it a federal crime for a government official to disclose identifying information about a covert US officer (if that official knew the officer was undercover). A key question was, what did Valerie Wilson do at the CIA? Was she truly undercover? In a subsequent column, Novak reported that she was “an analyst, not in covert operations.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested that her employment at the CIA was no secret. Jonah Goldberg of National Review claimed, “Wilson’s wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already.”
What do I conclude?
1. Valerie Plame Wilson’s unit honestly couldn’t find evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and said so. She was punished for it.
(Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t understand how potentially disastrous it is to force intelligence findings to conform with one’s preferred policies? Intelligence asks, What is true? Policy replies, That being true, what are we going to do about it? Reversing their order turns it into: Tell us what we want to hear, so we can justify doing what we’ve already decided to do. That approach leads to conclusions like “Nobody will object if we march through Belgium,” “our attack at the Somme will produce a great strategic breakthrough,” and “the Iraqis will greet our troops with cheering and flowers.”)
2. Her outing was not, as originally thought, a way of getting back at her husband. It was meant to take her down.
3. This realization isn’t mine, I got it from a friend: Cheney and his staff must have known who she was, and what she was working on, at the time they outed her.
4. Bush’s relatively recent admission that they were mistaken about the WMDs was a lie from start to finish. The Bush administration knew that well before the war started.
5. Thanks to the magic of global mass communications, the rest of the world now knows it too.
Addendum: See also, Madison Guy’s So, you’re Dick Cheney and you’ve got a war to start.