This is the post I've been promising for weeks, in which I will speculate wildly as to the source of Cheney's knowledge about Plame's role at CPD and in her husband's trip. Here's the argument, in brief:
- Cheney learns during the week of June 9 that "Defense and State expressed a strong interest in the Niger intelligence"
- At a time when Cheney presumably already knew that information, he tried to get CIA to repeat it in such a way that it could be published
- This suggests he could not use his original source for that information (either because the source refused to publish that information or because he wanted to hide the source itself)
- One possible explanation (this is speculation, mind you) is that Cheney saw Valerie Wilson's emails leading up to Wilson's trip to Niger--which would have informed him of key information--and would have made it clear that Valerie's identity was protected
Cheney could not use his original source
Libby has explained that his note recording Cheney's information about Plame records a discussion held in preparation for the Walter Pincus article. While there is no affirmative reason to believe a convicted perjurer, as I show in this post, all of the talking points that appear in the note appear in Pincus' story--save one, the information that DOD and State were also interested in the Niger intelligence. This supports Libby's claim that the note did reflect a conversation in prep for the Pincus article (though I'll offer other wacky suggestions at some point in the future).
Assuming this is correct--that the note was prep for the Pincus article, but that for some reasons the DOD/State talking point didn't make it into the article--it suggests Cheney could not go back to the source who had shared the DOD/State info. After all, this is the Vice President we're talking about. The easiest way to get that talking point confirmed publicly would be if Cheney just called and made it happen. Given that it didn't happen, it's unlikely just calling Cheney's source was an option.
Cheney sought to bring the info out via another path
Furthermore, there's the evidence that Cheney and Libby did seek to bring this information out via another path--Robert Grenier. Libby claimed Cheney had learned the information in the note from the CIA. But we know from this email that Cheney first made inquiries of the CIA by June 10--and he had a meeting with John McLaughlin on June 11 at noon (most likely, at precisely the same time as Libby was learning of Plame's involvement in Wilson's trip from Marc Grossman). We know that Libby, Cheney, and Cathie Martin met for twenty minutes at 1:05; in the middle of that meeting, at 1:15, Libby first called Grenier (in fact, this was the first Libby had ever called Grenier). When Libby made that call, it's highly likely both Libby and Cheney knew of Plame's role in Wilson's trip (Cheney via McLaughlin, Libby via Grossman). And if Cheney learned of the trip from McLaughlin, then he had learned of it just before they decided to call Grenier. Libby called Grenier for the information he almost certainly already had.
Now when Libby finally speaks to Grenier later that afternoon, he asks precisely the questions that would cue Grenier to offer up the DOD/State talking point. Three times in Grenier's testimony at the trial, he emphasized that Libby asked whether the trip came about solely because of OVP's interest (this quote is from Jeff and Murray's book):
He wanted two things. He wanted me to verify for him whether or not there was truth to that story, whether, in fact, the CIA had sent Ambassador Wilson to Africa on the mission, and, secondly, whether it was, in fact, true that the only reason that the CIA had done so was because of interest expressed by the Office of the Vice President.
There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice when he mentioned about the story that people in CIA had stated this to Mr. Wilson, i.e., that it was only because of interest on the part of the Vice President that they were doing this.
Again, he wanted--he wanted for me to try to verify whether or not the two parts of the story were true, i.e., that first we had sent Mr. Wilson off to Africa, and secondly,--whether or not it was true that we had only done so because of interest on the part of the Office of the Vice President.[my emphasis]
Given the form of Libby's question, for Grenier to answer it thoroughly, he was going to have to discover and share the State/DOD talking point. (Significantly, he was also likely to discover and share Plame's identity.)
There is, of course, the possibility I floated here--that the note is not actually Libby recording Cheney's information, but Libby recording Grenier's information. If Cheney and Libby were to review the note after his Grenier conversation, then Cheney could tell Libby to hold the Pincus article (how?) until CIA had gotten back and approved the DOD/State talking point. But given the scenario described in the trial, in which Grenier informed Libby of the DOD/State talking point, then immediately put Harlow on the phone with Cathie Martin, there would have been no opportunity for Cheney to instruct Libby to hold the article. Even if Cheney were sitting in the room with Libby when Libby spoke to Grenier (the call appears to have occurred in the 20 minutes between Libby's meeting with [!] Chalabi and his meeting with Radi Naidanov, since the Harlow call seems to have been at 5:27), at that point it would have been a little late to "hold, get agency to say that." Such an instruction almost certainly came at a time--earlier the same day or before--when Libby and Martin weren't already right in the midst of getting the CIA to say it.
So it seems likely, both because Cheney didn't simply call his source himself, and because the whole Grenier call appears to have been an attempt to elicit information Libby already knew, that Cheney could not go back to his original source for that information.
Reasons why Cheney needed a new source
There are a number of reasons why Cheney might need a new source to spread the DOD/State talking point, including:
- McLaughlin refused to state the talking point on the record
- Cheney's original source wasn't someone in the CIA
- Cheney's original information came from a source that made it clear Plame was covert
These are not necessarily exclusive: after all, McLaughlin may have refused to state the talking point on the record because the only source for it was classified and/or made it clear that Plame's identity was classified. Or Cheney's original source--someone assigned outside of CIA like David Shedd or Fred Fleitz, perhaps--may have had learned the information via a source that made it clear that Plame was covert.
Valerie Wilson's memo to Niger is one of two known documents where the DOD/State information appears
Understand something about the DOD/State talking point: it comes from CPD. The SSCI report reports CPD officials repeating that detail:
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. [my emphasis]
Grenier also describes learning that information from someone in CPD. He first calls "Kevin," the Deputy Chief of the unit working on Iraqi WMD (this may or may not be the JTFI). Kevin doesn't call back--someone Grenier didn't know called back, but still within CPD. And that person tells Grenier (who tells Libby) of the interest on the part of DOD/State.
Now it's possible that the people in CPD were just working from memory, from having been intimately involved. But if they learned this information from documents, there are two known documents within CPD that mention the interest of State and DOD. There is the report, written by the reports officer, forwarded to Valerie and others, about the rising interest in the Niger intelligence. From the latest SSCI:
The report was forwarded in an e-mail from a CIA reports officer to Mrs. Wilson and a number of other recipients which said that the DO had received a number of calls from the Intelligence Community about the Iraq-Niger uranium report, citing the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and SOCOM, specifically. [my emphasis]
[Note, the report by the minority of the minority goes on to claim that CPD didn't tell SSCI about DOD/State's interest ... I guess they didn't read their own report.]
But this report doesn't use precisely the terms used in Cheney's talking point--State and DOD. Rather, it is more specific, mentioning INR and DIA and SOCOM.
However, Valerie Wilson's cable, sent to Niger to get concurrence for Wilson's trip, does include precisely that language.
Mrs. Wilson sent a cable that was sent overseas requesting concurrence with Ambassador Wilson's travel to Niger. ... the cable drafted by Mrs. Wilson was sent ... on February 13, ... Interestingly, the cable states that "both State and DOD have requested additional clarification and indeed, the Vice President's office just asked for background information. [my emphasis]
In other words, if Cheney's talking point came from a document (and not someone's direct memory), then it may well have come from this cable.
There are more reasons to track this talking point--and the possibility that Cheney saw this cable--that I'll lay out in some follow-up posts. But for now, consider what Cheney would know if he saw just the two documents (the cable to Niger and the memo to her supervisor) Valerie Wilson is known to have written before the February 19 meeting. He would know:
- Someone who worked in a sub-office of CPD had discussed her husband's qualifications for the trip (and note--the abbreviation used in Valerie's memo for CPD is simply CP, the same one used in Libby's note)
- Wilson was sent in response to an OVP request--but State and DOD were also interested
- This wife--who worked at CPD--sent her documents under some other name--this would have strongly suggested that her identity was protected
Now, Cheney would still have needed the trip report from Wilson's trip to know that the debriefing took place in the US (and I'm just presuming the report would reflect that--it is redacted now). But if he had those three documents--the two documents from Valerie and the trip report--he would probably have had everything he shared in that conversation with Libby.
And he would have had a pretty good idea that Wilson's wife's identity was protected.