Twice before, I have tried to tell the Plame Story as a narrative. Lots has been revealed since I last told the story, just before Libby got indicted, so I thought I'd update it here. I'll warn you--it has grown from big to gigantic, so I'll do it in three parts or more.
The Background--Niger Claims and Power Struggles: 2002-2003
I'll start with some background. There are two reasons why members of the Bush Administration were reckless enough to out a covert spy. First, Joe Wilson's criticisms risked exposing the Administration's efforts to sustain claims about the Niger intelligence they knew to be false. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Neocons Michael Ledeen and Harold Rhode may have played a role in planting the Niger forgeries and John Bolton played a role in stovepiping the forgeries within the US Intelligence Community (IC). And whether or not BushCo had a active, deliberate role in producing the forgeries, they certainly sustained the claim that Niger tried to sell Iraq yellowcake even after that claim had been debunked. eRiposte details the many warnings against the Niger intelligence here, and he proves that the SOTU claim depended on the Niger intelligence here. In other words, the "16 words" in the State of the Union Address (SOTU)--claiming that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa--were based on the Niger claim, and the Administration had known that claim to be bogus by October 2002.
I'll add just two critical points: the INR Iraq nuclear analyst--whose October 15 debunking of the Niger forgeries appears to have been suppressed--definitely warned WINPAC (the same part of the CIA that eventually approved the SOTU claims) that the documents were forgeries by January 12 or 13, 2003, two weeks before the SOTU. Also in January, the National Intelligence Council (the intelligence organization charged with issuing definitive statements about the IC's judgments) issued a memo just completely dismissing the intelligence.
The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. ... the memo ...arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.
other words, the Bush Administration was warned they should not use the
Niger claim just before they used it in the SOTU. So when, in a March
CNN appearance, Joe Wilson stated "the U.S. government knew more about
the Niger uranium matter than it was
letting on," the comment had to have made BushCo worry that their
deliberate disregard for warnings from the IC would be exposed,
regardless of whether it was Wilson's report--or other intelligence
reports--that debunked the Niger claims.
And not only had the Bush Administration been warned before they used this intelligence. They were reminded they had been warned. Sometime in spring-summer 2003, Stephen Hadley did a review of the intelligence claims Bush used to justify war; he concluded the aluminum tube claim was based on discredited intelligence. And the INR memo--which Grossman briefed the White House on in June 2003--documented the INR analyst's January warning that the Niger documents were forgeries. BushCo had pleaded ignorance that the Niger documents were forgeries in March 2003, presumably so they could still launch their war. But as early as June 2003, more evidence surfaced that their plea of ignorance was a lie.
But that's not the only reason BushCo were
reckless enough to out a covert agent. Up to and during the war, Cheney
and Rummy's Defense Department were in an epic
fight with State and some factions within the CIA over control of the
reconstruction. This was no mere bureaucratic struggle. In fact, the
Pentagon was making tactical military decisions designed to outflank or pre-empt State's efforts to establish a wide-ranging
Iraqi interim government. They did this most notably when they flew Ahmed Chalabi and his forces into Iraq to undercut a State Department conference on Iraqi governance, and again when they flew Chalabi into Baghdad so he would be the first exile leader in the capital. The struggle between Defense and State may have extended so far that Judy Miller--by publishing
an accusation made by an anonymous INC member--may have exposed Chalabi
rival Saad Janabi as a CIA asset. Cheney's office (OVP) had already
proven it was willing to go to great lengths to score points in its
battle against State and CIA.
Data Collection and Pre-Leak Leaking: March to July 2003
So when a long-time State Department employee with ties to CIA's reality-based faction started publicly attacking the Bush Administration's Niger claims, BushCo struck back. Wilson describes
the smear as starting in March, in response to a CNN appearance.
After my appearance on CNN in early March 2003, when I first asserted that the U.S. government knew more about the Niger uranium matter than it was letting on, I am told by a source close to the House Judiciary Committee that the Office of the Vice President -- either the vice president himself or, more likely, his chief of staff, Lewis ("Scooter") Libby -- chaired a meeting at which a decision was made to do a "workup" on me. As I understand it, this meant they were going to take a close look at who I was and what my agenda might be.
Though the timing is unclear. Fitzgerald's subpoenas for Libby's notes all start in May, beginning the day of Kristof's column, then breaking until June, when things start heating up again.
Instead, we have sought (and thus presumably obtained) from the Office of Vice President all of Mr. Libby's notes for the time periods May 6 through May 10, 2003, June 1 through July 25, 2003, July 28, 2003 and July 29, 2003, and September 27 through October 13, 2003.
don't know what to make of the discrepancy. I suspect BushCo
started by assessing their vulnerabilities, putting together the larger
defense strategy against claims they misused intelligence. Perhaps they
got Hadley to do his review of intelligence claims and developed their plans to
leak the NIE. But by May, it had became personal. They were looking for
information on Wilson and got some on his wife, to boot.
Libby's indictment provides one chronology for how BushCo learned about Wilson's trip--and Plame's purported role in it. The following passage uses the indictment chronology, but fills in names and other relevant background.
May 29: Libby asks Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Marc Grossman, for "information concerning the unnamed ambassador’s [named in Kristof's column] travel to Niger to investigate claims about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake." Grossman provided Libby updates in May and June. Grossman's updates provided Libby with Wilson's name, if he didn't already have it. Grossman quit his position in December 2004 after Condi was named Secretary of State.
June 9: CIA faxes documents to Libby and one other person in OVP. The documents almost certainly include the CIA report on Joe Wilson's trip. The CIA report only mentions Wilson as "contact with excellent access who does not have an established reporting record", but two people in OVP wrote his name on the report. The Wilson report also described a 1999 Iraqi attempt to establish commercial relations with Niger. The documents may also have included details on a different 1999 trip, one Wilson took to Niger for the CIA, details about which would come up during the week of the leak. (The indictment does not explain who faxed the documents, or to what kind of resquest they were responding.)
On June 11 or 12, Marc Grossman briefed a White House meeting on the results of his search. Presumably, he provided the information included in the INR memo and the analyst notes the memo was based on. This would include the sentence, "In a February 19, 2002 meeting convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger [redacted]," and the note, "Meeting apparently convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD managerial type and the wife of Amb. Joe Wilson. with the idea that the agency and the larger USG could dispatch Joe to Niger to use his contacts there to sort out the Niger/Iraq uranium sale question." According to the cover sheet of this memo and one news report, this memo did not circulate beyond Marc Grossman in June.
On June 11, Libby talked to Robert Grenier, then CIA's head of Counter-Terrorism, about Wilson's trip. Grenier told Libby that Plame worked at CIA and "was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip." Grenier was fired from his position as head of CIA's Counter-Terorirsm group this Spring, allegedly because he was unwilling to use torture in the war on terror.
On June 12, Dick Cheney told Libby (purportedly based on information from someone at CIA) that Plame worked in Counter-Proliferation at CIA. As someone with extensive experience in intelligence, Libby would have known that Counter-Proliferation was in CIA's Directorate of Operations, the clandestine side of CIA.
By this point, then, Libby had enough information to provide almost all the information included in Novak's leak: details about Wilson's trip, Plame's purported role in organizing that trip, and her position in Counter-Proliferation which almost certainly made her a clandestine agent. One thing is not explained by the indictment, though--how Libby (or whoever leaked it to Novak) learned that Plame worked under her maiden name.
That's the story Fitzgerald tells, based largely on Libby's own notes and the testimony of a few witnesses (primarily Grossman and Grenier), in an indictment designed (I'm confident) to include hints about evidence of a larger conspiracy, particularly the involvement of Cheney, but not to provide the critical evidence for that charge. I suspect the names and roles of many participants were left out. And I suspect Fitzgerald may have intentionally left out details related to the INR memo (which may, in turn, describe how Libby got backchannel information on Plame from Bolton's shop at State).
Let the Leaking Begin: June 2003
Well, at some point in mid-June, Libby had a plan (to smear Wilson, to leak the NIE) and he had most of the information he would need to smear Wilson. This is when the leaking starts.
In mid-June (sometime between June 12 and June 22), a source who is almost certainly Richard Armitage told Bob Woodward that Valerie Wilson was involved in organizing the trip, and that she worked as a WMD analyst at the CIA. I suspect Armitage learned that detail from the back and forth on the INR memo (though I don't think he had seen the memo itself). And I suspect Woodward asked him about it to find out more about the background to a Walter Pincus story published on June 12, which included the following details:
The CIA's failure to share what it knew, which has not been disclosed previously, was one of a number of steps in the Bush administration that helped keep the uranium story alive until the eve of the war in Iraq, when the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector told the Security Council that the claim was based on fabricated evidence.
A senior intelligence official said the CIA's action was the result of "extremely sloppy" handling of a central piece of evidence in the administration's case against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But, the official added, "It is only one fact and not the reason we went to war. There was a lot more."
However, the CIA did not include details of the former ambassador's report and his identity as the source, which would have added to the credibility of his findings, in its intelligence reports that were shared with other government agencies. Instead, the CIA only said that Niger government officials had denied the attempted deal had taken place, a senior administration said.
Woodward also spoke to Libby twice in June, on June 23 and in person on June 27; at the latter meeting, Libby leaked some of the contents of the NIE to Woodward, though he did not mention Plame at either meeting.
Judy spoke to Libby on June 23 too. I strongly suspect Libby provided her with a set of talking points--points he knew to be misleading, but that would absolve OVP for ignoring intelligence--so she could pursue the story with other sources (which she did).
"Was the intell slanted?"
The CIA was guilty of "selective leaking."
Their strategy was, "if we find [WMDs], fine, if not, we hedged."
Reports of Cheney embracing skimpy intelligence were "highly distorted."
The CIA "took it upon itself to try and find out more" by sending "a clandestine guy" to investigate.
"Veep didn't know of Joe Wilson ... Veep never knew what he did or what was said. Agency did not report to us."
"Wife works in bureau?"
"No briefer came in and said, 'You got it wrong, Mr. President,'"
Note that these talking points don't suggest Libby wanted Judy to reveal Plame's and Wilson's identity. Rather, it appears that he wanted her to raise the question publicly--did Wilson's wife work in the bureau (which Judy admits she understood to mean the CIA)? It appears Libby wanted Judy to "discover" Plame's identity herself and then leak it. I don't call her the A1 Cut-Out for nothing, you know.
Libby also may have leaked contents of the NIE to Judy. Judy admitted he did so on July 8 back when she was pretending to have spoken to Libby only in July. But there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the NIE. The question of whether Judy testified to receiving this leak as early as June is critical because of another event. On July 2, according to Libby's testimony, Cheney authorized him to leak the NIE (and possibly Joe Wilson's trip report and another document supporting their argument). But wait a second, you may be asking!! I thought Libby leaked the NIE to Bob Woodward on June 23! Did he leak the still-classified NIE, or was he authorized to leak the document earlier? Well, that's why I think the NIE is the key to proving that Cheney orchestrated the Plame leak. Because apparently Libby has instructions in his notes saying he was supposed to leak something. We don't know when that note appears, but if the NIE leaking occurred (with authorization) in June, then the notation almost certainly doesn't relate to the NIE. If Fitzgerald can prove that the note doesn't relate to the NIE, Fitzgerald will provide circumstantial evidence that Cheney ordered Libby to leak Plame's identity.
Next Up: Leak Week
Update: A few changes per recommendations in the comments.