Amid renewed discussions of JimmyJeff and questions of whether Nicholas Kristof was subpoenaed, I've been puzzling through the list of jounalists whose contacts with the WH was subpoenaed in March 2004 (via JustOneMinute).
Robert Novak, "Crossfire," "Capital Gang" and the Chicago Sun-Times
Knut Royce and Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday
Walter Pincus, Richard Leiby, Mike Allen, Dana Priest and Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post
Matthew Cooper, John Dickerson, Massimo Calabresi, Michael Duffy and James Carney, Time magazine
Evan Thomas, Newsweek
Andrea Mitchell, "Meet the Press," NBC
Chris Matthews, "Hardball," MSNBC
Tim Russert, Campbell Brown, NBC
Nicholas D. Kristof, David E. Sanger and Judith Miller, The New York Times
Greg Hitt and Paul Gigot, The Wall Street Journal
John Solomon, The Associated Press
Jeff Gannon, Talon News
I'll say a bit about this list in a second, but what I'm most intrigued by, at first glance, is the absence of David Cloud, the journalist who reported the first presumably verifiable leak about the INR memo.
First, though, my comments about the list. On it are the presumably six journalists named by the senior Adminstration official in 2003: Cooper, Miller, Novak, Pincus, Russert, and Kessler. Then there are people who clearly got some inside information, because they passed it along to Wilson, people like Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews. And then there's the inestimable JimmyJeff (this is probably as close as he'll come to being classified as a real journalist). Royce and Phelps are there, for their post-leak article, but David Corn is not.The journalists Cooper shared a byline with. Leiby, who did a profile of Wilson and later Plame. Allen, who knows the name of the leaker, and Dana Priest who co-bylined that article with him. Like Dave McGuire, I'm rather stunned Clifford May isn't here. And I'm looking into the others--I suspect Sanger is here, for example, because he reported a number of leaks the week this all went down in July 2003.
But no David Cloud.
I came to the rather obvious realization the other day that, if showing someone a memo with a paragraph marked [S] in July could get you in trouble for security clearance violations, than doing so in October would do so as well. Whoever leaked this to Cloud (or JimmyJeff, who at the least published an article shortly after Cloud) should be in doo doo right now, particularly since the CIA considered this leak part of continued actions to "release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy."
But then I looked back at the Cloud article and things got crazy. First, because compared to some of the leakees in the press today, Cloud was remarkably balanced and thorough. For example, Cloud makes it clear the nepotism claim is bunk. He shows how appropriate Wilson was for the task.
That Ms. Plame recommended her husband doesn't undercut Mr. Wilson's credentials for the job of trying to figure out whether Saddam Hussein was seeking the raw material for a nuclear weapon in Africa. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and National Security Council expert on Africa in the Clinton administration.
And Cloud includes the other evidence that shows the Bush Administration should have--or did--know the Niger claims were BS when they included them in the SOTU.
The decision to send Mr. Wilson to Niger came after months of efforts by the CIA, urged on by the Bush White House, to try to discover whether the Iraqi dictator was back in the business of pursuing nuclear weapons. Indeed, two other U.S. officials -- the U.S. ambassador to Niger and a top Marine general -- were asked to make inquiries, and came back similarly dubious.
The memo, prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel, details a meeting in early 2002 where CIA officer Valerie Plame and other intelligence officials gathered to brainstorm about how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from Niger.
Ms. Plame, a member of the agency's clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested at the meeting that her husband, Africa expert and former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, could be sent to Niger to investigate the reports, according to current and former government officials familiar with the meeting at the CIA's Virginia headquarters. Soon after, midlevel CIA officials decided to send him, say intelligence officials. [emphasis mine]
And he goes on:
According to current and former officials familiar with the memo, it describes interagency discussions of the yellowcake mystery: whether the reports of Iraq's uranium purchases were credible; which agency should pay for any further investigation; and the suggestion that Mr. Wilson could be sent to check out the allegations. Other officials with knowledge of the memo wouldn't say if it mentions Ms. Plame by name as the one who suggested Mr. Wilson, or if her identity is shielded but obvious because of what is known now about the mission. Operations officers like Ms. Plame are sometimes identified only by their first names even in interagency meetings. [emphasis mine]
Now compare that to the most complete description we've had to date.
The material in the memo about Wilson's wife was based on notes taken by an INR analyst who attended a Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA where Wilson's intelligence-gathering trip to Niger was discussed.
The memo was drafted June 10, 2003, for Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who asked to be brought up to date on INR's opposition to the White House view that Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa.
The description of Wilson's wife and her role in the Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA was considered "a footnote" in a background paragraph in the memo, according to an official who was aware of the process.
It records that the INR analyst at the meeting opposed Wilson's trip to Niger because the State Department, through other inquiries, already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Attached to the INR memo were the notes taken by the senior INR analyst who attended the 2002 meeting at the CIA. [emphasis mine]
Finally, compare both of these with some excerpts from the SSCI Report. First, there's the description fo the meeting where it was decided to invite Joe Wilson (I'll call this Meeting A).
Officials from the CIA's DO Counterproliferation Division (CPD) told Committee staff that in response to questions from the Vice President's Office and the Departments of State and Defense on the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal, CPD officials discussed ways to obtain additional information. _____________ who could make immediate inquiries into the reporting, CPD decided to contact a former ambassador to Gabon who had a posting early in his career in Niger. Some CPD officals 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. (39)
Then there's the meeting that Joe Wilson attends (I'll call this Meeting B).
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 former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes. (40)
And finally this description of Meeting B that I've been stewing over for months.
An e-mail from a WINPAC analyst to CPD following the meeting noted "it appears that the results from this source will be suspect at best, and not believeable under most scenarios. (40-41)
If the most recent descriptions of this memo are correct, then it's clear David Cloud never saw the memo--and his sources either hadn't, or they were just lying through their teeth. Because, as far as we know, the memo doesn't detail Meeting A; it only includes a description of Meeting B. Yet Cloud says it describes Meeting A (almost to the exclusion of Meeting B). The primary discussion of Meeting B included in Cloud's description is the content--whether Wilson's trip would be valuable--but presented as if it's the central focus of the memo, rather than the question discussed at the meeting described. And in any case, we've learned that all of this stuff, Meeting A and Meeting B, were just a "footnote" in the INR memo.
But when it gets down to the stuff we want to know about--Plame's identity--all of a sudden Cloud is dealing with different sources.
Other officials with knowledge of the memo wouldn't say if it mentions Ms. Plame by name as the one who suggested Mr. Wilson, or if her identity is shielded but obvious because of what is known now about the mission.
From everything we know about the memo, the latter is the case--it identifies Plame only as Wilson's wife. So while these officials wouldn't say one way or another, at least they give a more accurate picture of the reality of the INR memo.
Let's take a quick look at Cloud's sources. There are two sets of people (plural) who claim familiarity with the INR memo. Those who comment on its content and those who comment--or not--on whether it identifies Plame. One set of those people is described in terms remarkably similar to a different group, those "current and former government officials familiar with the meeting at the CIA's Virginia headquarters." Given the limited number of attendees at the first meeting (Meeting A), this would either suggest Cloud interviewed a bunch of CPD (Counter Proliferation) CIA guys. Or his sources were lying. I guess I'd wager it's the latter, given later concerns about whether the people cited in the INR memo had any business talking about what went on in Meeting A. I included the quote from the WINPAC analyst, btw, because that's the only person described in this section of the SSCI that could be Fred Fleit; I wonder whether he was one of Cloud's sources?
So what? So close to the denouement, what difference does this make?
Well, first of all, I was wrong to assume the people shopping this memo in November will go to jail. Because I suspect they didn't shop them memo ... they just lied. Or this isn't the INR memo, in which case the first time any memo is described as the INR memo in the press is when JimmyJeff describes it as such. In which case, we can't assume JimmyJeff learned about the INR memo from the WSJ, since this doens't look to be the INR memo.
If I had to guess, I'd guess that this "memo" was a compilation of details from the SSCI (which was not released yet--but almost came to be released at about this time), rather than the memo itself. Or, Cloud's sources were describing what I suspect to be an NSC talking points memo put out specifically to attack Joe Wilson, but claiming it was the INR memo. Or, after the WSJ reported this story, JimmyJeff did his shilling duty and pretended it was something different than it was.