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April 15, 2006
Who Leaked The Report First?

Murray Waas wrote a rather sensational story for the National Journal yesterday about the Scooter Libby case in which he alleges that Dick Cheney told Libby to leak a classified report to the press. Again, as with so much in this case, the truth of the matter depends on reading the full context of the situation, and Waas fails to provide it. Fortunately, Steve Spruiell at NRO's Media Blog stayed on top of it. Waas reports on the pedigree of the "leak" without noting that the same information had already been leaked and misrepresented on several occasions by its author:

Vice President Dick Cheney directed his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on July 12, 2003 to leak to the media portions of a then-highly classified CIA report that Cheney hoped would undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to Libby's grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case and sources who have read the classified report.

The March 2002 intelligence report was a debriefing of Wilson by the CIA's Directorate of Operations after Wilson returned from a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate claims, later proved to be unfounded, that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation, according to government records.

We can stop there for the moment, because Waas gets the story wrong in both paragraphs. Once again, we need to remind people that Dick Cheney has presidential authority to declassify material for release. Why would Cheney have done so in this case? Because Joe Wilson had already leaked this same report to both Nick Kristof at the New York Times and Walter Pincus at the Washington Post, and then had written about the briefing under his own name earlier that month in the New York Times. If that briefing was "highly classified", then Wilson should be prosecuted for leaking it; he has no declassification authority. And at that point, the classification had been rendered moot.

More importantly, Wilson deliberately misrepresented the findings, and Waas does the same in the second paragraph. Wilson had been sent to Niger to find out whether Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Niger, as he had in the early 1980s. Any attempt at buying uranium would indicate that Saddam wanted to continue his efforts to build nuclear weapons, since the IAEA had sealed off all of Saddam's existing yellowcake. Wilson reported through his leaks and in his own op-ed that Saddam had not purchased uranium, and implied that the intelligence that pointed to Niger was false. However, his own report once declassified showed that Saddam had indeed tried to feel out Niger on a secret deal which the Nigerien prime minister was convinced related to uranium sales. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported this:

[Wilson's] intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,(REDACTED) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."

Wilson's report strengthened the case that Saddam wanted to pursue clandestine nuclear development, and Wilson deliberately misrepresented his findings to score political points. Cheney authorized the release of the report in order to answer the charges that the administration had deliberately lied about Saddam's attempts to purchase uranium in Africa. It was, in fact, a reasonable declassification in the face of the repeated leaks and misrepresentations that Wilson provided long before Libby spoke to any reporter on the subject.

Let's move on to the next two paragraphs of Waas' report:

The debriefing report made no mention of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, then a covert CIA officer, or any role she may have played in her husband's selection by the CIA to go to Niger, according to two people who have read the report.

The previously unreported grand jury testimony is significant because only hours after Cheney reportedly instructed Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby divulged to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper that Plame was a CIA officer, and that she been involved in selecting her husband for the Niger mission.

Of course, the debriefing report didn't mention Plame's involvement in Wilson's mission, but neither did Wilson. In fact, he repeatedly lied about his strange selection for this mission, claiming that his wife had nothing to do with the assignment -- an odd claim, when one considers that Wilson has no particular background for this assignment and Plame worked in the non-proliferation mission at the CIA, which would have had a focus on uranium producers. The SSCI also addressed this in their report:

Some CPD officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife "offered up his name" and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador's wife says, "my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." This was just one day before CPD sent a cable DELETED requesting concurrence with CPD's idea to send the former ambassador to Niger and requesting any additional information from the foreign government service on their uranium reports. The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA and told him "there's this crazy report" on a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq.

The former ambassador was selected for the 1999 trip after his wife mentioned to her supervisors that her husband was planning a business trip to Niger in the near future and might be willing to use his contacts in the region ...

On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR, and several individuals from the DO's Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of the former ambassador traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was "apparently convened by [the former ambassador's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue."

The SSCI determined that, contrary to Wilson's claims of being selected by the VP's office and his wife's non-involvement, Plame actively sought to have her husband assigned the mission and took concrete steps towards getting it for him. The memo she drafted to upper management shows that her efforts were not limited to simply tossing his name into a hat. It doesn't take much to figure that Plame and Wilson had an axe to grind about this mission, and his continual misrepresentations about both the circumstances and the findings of the mission add to this conclusion.

Faced with these factually deficient attacks in the media on the intelligence, and with the "classified" nature of the Niger mission already repeatedly blown by Wilson, Cheney decides to formally declassify the report and give the true context of the intel to the press. In the course of that action, since the press had consistently reported that Wilson was assigned at the "behest" of the VP, the explanation of how Wilson got the assignment would have been critical to explaining why the actual report differed from Wilson's characterization of it. And explaining how Wilson got that assignment required noting that his spouse got it for him.

Wilson is ultimately responsible for outing his wife, and he's also the leaker in this case. He released everything about that briefing report except the truth of it, which was that Saddam had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger and that Plame actively campaigned to send Wilson to check it out. On both points, Wilson has consistently lied to everyone -- except the SSCI, where he had to testify under oath and couldn't risk perjuring himself. Wilson has no more credibility on this subject, and if Patrick Fitzgerald and Murray Waas want to pursue leakers, then they should start looking at the one who started this entire chain of events.

I have a primer on Joe Wilson posted here.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 15, 2006 8:08 AM

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