The Washington Post has published a story by Dana Priest about a debate within the CIA over holding Muslim terrorists at secret facilities. The story reflects the view of a faction in the agency that opposes this policy and wants to use the Post to convey its view publicly. Once again, the secret war against the Bush Administration is on display for all to see. Will there be an investigation of who in the agency leaked this information to the Post? Or are leaks supposed to be criminal only when Bush Administration officials are behind them?
The indictment of Lewis Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is another dramatic example of the secret war. The indictment includes some tantalizing information about what was happening behind the scenes:
? “On or about June 14, 2003, Libby met with a CIA briefer and expressed displeasure that CIA officials were making comments to reporters critical of the Vice President’s office, and discussed with the briefer, among other things, ‘Joe Wilson’ and his wife ‘Valerie Wilson,’ in the context of Wilson’s trip to Niger.”
? “On or about June 23, 2003, Libby met with Judith Miller of The New York Times. Libby was critical of the CIA and disparaged what he termed ‘selective leaking’ by the CIA concerning intelligence matters. In discussing the CIA’s handling of Wilson’s trip to Niger, Libby informed Miller that Wilson’s wife might work at a bureau of the CIA.”
It is apparent that Libby realized that the Wilson mission was, as former prosecutor Joseph diGenova has put it, a CIA “covert operation” against the Bush Administration. He saw the Wilson mission as just another effort by a faction in the agency to undermine the administration’s Iraq War policy. And Libby was right! That became apparent when Wilson began telling sympathetic press people, such as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, that his trip had uncovered information damaging to the administration. And when Wilson then went public with his own article in the Times, casting doubt on the Iraq-uranium link, the Wilson agenda was on display for the public to see.
If the CIA had sent Wilson on the trip purely for fact-finding purposes, as diGenova noted, it would have insisted that he sign a confidentiality agreement and not go public with his findings. After all, the CIA is supposed to be a secret agency. Instead, it permitted him to eventually go public with a Times op-ed column, not only making himself but his wife into targets for curiosity and concern. Wilson and the CIA had to know what would inevitably follow. Did they really believe that officials of the Bush Administration would stay mute or go into hiding as Wilson mounted his high horse?
As this was unfolding, it was understandable that Libby would be complaining to the CIA and the press about the Wilson mission, saying that he understood that Wilson’s CIA wife was behind the Africa trip. It was clearly Libby’s intention not so much to disclose the “secret identity” of a CIA employee but to expose the secret war that the CIA had been waging against the administration. Wilson’s wife was right in the middle of it and Libby brought this to the attention of the press. What’s more, he had every right to do so. It’s a tragedy that Judith Miller of the Times did not write up the story. She had a potential Pulitzer Prize-winner that would have put the Wilson trip in a different light.
Libby, the chief of staff to the elected Vice President of the United States, was extremely concerned by the actions of a CIA bureaucracy that seemed to be operating independently of the Bush Administration. This is the blockbuster story that has been lost in the media feeding frenzy over the Libby indictment.
Showing deference to their sources in the CIA, as reflected in the Dana Priest article, many journalists have decided to ignore the CIA’s scandalous conduct in the Wilson affair and have decided to concentrate on the Libby indictment. Some commentators have already found Libby guilty of the charges of perjury, lying and obstruction, and have moved on to the subject of why, in their opinion, he lied. The new party line is that he lied to cover up the scandal before the 2004 presidential election. The other new story line is what the Senate Democrats pounced on Tuesday―the issue of the Bush Administration allegedly manipulating intelligence from the CIA, not whether the CIA’s intelligence was flawed from the beginning and whether the agency undermined the administration once the decision to go to war was made.
Viewed in this light, the charges against Libby are almost beside the point. On the surface, they seem serious. But one has to consider that his main accusers, as the indictment makes clear, are members of the Washington press corps. Our journalists have some serious credibility problems of their own. The heart of the case is that Libby has recollections of conversations that differ from those of NBC’s Tim Russert and other journalists.
Sensing that their own credibility is on the line, the media have ganged up on Libby and portrayed him as guilty. It should be obvious that Russert has a vested interest in the outcome, having testified against Libby in front of the grand jury. He is also reported to be a likely prosecution witness. Nevertheless, Russert, a prominent media figure with a background in Democratic Party politics, has been shamelessly influencing the pre-trial coverage on his Meet the Press and CNBC programs in order to guarantee a guilty verdict. Accuracy in Media has been virtually alone in raising the alarm about this unprofessional and unethical conduct.
Libby, currently suffering in silence because of the indictment, hasn’t yet had his say. In his only public statement, he says that he will fight the charges and be exonerated. But prejudicial pre-trial publicity may be too much to overcome. The media onslaught is such that he may feel he has no alternative but to plead guilty to something, in order to get the media off his back. If this happens, it will be a victory for the media lynch mob, led by Tim Russert. It’s another sad chapter in media arrogance and abuse of power.