Accuracy in Media

The true facts in the CIA-leak case are now becoming astonishingly clear.  New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s testimony, as she describes it in the Sunday edition of her paper, proves that the wrong people are under investigation. It’s not really a story about Bush officials Lewis Libby and Karl Rove and their conversations with the press. Rather, it’s a story about a CIA bureaucracy working to undermine the Bush administration through the media and cover up for its own mistakes.

It’s now obvious that Bush officials are spending time before a grand jury and big money on lawyers for the alleged “crime” of trying to use the press to get out their side of the story. They trusted the press and got burned. Now, if the media have their way, these officials may be further punished by being indicted by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. This would be a gross miscarriage of justice.       

The case has been a revealing and disappointing look into how Bush administration officials tried to work with various reporters, in order to counteract false accusations about the administration’s Iraq policy that had appeared in the press. In the end, they failed. It’s a failure that demonstrates the folly of trying to curry favor with the liberal press.

Journalists, by contrast, may come out of this drama with special rights. Senator Arlen Specter’s Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on a proposed federal media “shield law” to protect some journalists from disclosing sources to a grand jury. Miller will be the star witness. Accuracy in Media has been denied the opportunity to testify in person against the bill because of opposition from Democratic congressional staffers.   

In the same way that Democrats still call the shots on Capitol Hill, despite a Republican Senate majority, the Times and other liberal media forced the Bush administration to agree to their demands for an investigation in the CIA leak case. Fitzgerald was appointed by the Bush Justice Department and administration officials have been cooperating from the start. By contrast, the Times and Miller, who just recently left jail to testify before the grand jury in the case, had been obstructing the investigation. All Miller had to do to avoid jail was to tell the truth. She now has done so, and her account of what she told the grand jury under oath turns the media version of this bizarre case completely upside down. 

Most of the coverage had created the impression that the administration was out to damage or destroy an administration opponent, Joseph Wilson, by illegally identifying the identity of his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame. Her name originally appeared in a Robert Novak column citing administration officials.

But Miller’s account indicates that she was in contact with Libby after Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist at the paper, published a claim that Wilson had been sent to Niger to investigate an Iraq-uranium link “at the behest” of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. Libby knew that was false and wanted to get the truth out. But there was much more to it than that. Libby was upset about the CIA’s role in sending Wilson on the trip.

Libby was frustrated and angry, Miller testified, about “selective leaking” by the CIA and other agencies to “distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments.” Miller says Libby believed the “selective leaks” from the CIA were an attempt to “shift blame to the White House” and were part of a “perverted war” over the war in Iraq.

This is the real story of the CIA leak case. We have one or more intelligence agencies planting false stories with the press in order to damage the Bush administration. They wanted to divert attention from the fact that the CIA had gotten the facts wrong about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Taking issue with the President’s charge in his State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, Wilson had written a column for the Times doubting that such a transaction had taken place. On other occasions Wilson said he even doubted the claim that Iraq was interested in obtaining uranium from Niger. Miller says that Libby told her that the Wilson essay “was inaccurate.” Miller adds, “Mr. Libby then proceeded through a lengthy and sharp critique of Mr. Wilson and what Mr. Libby viewed as the CIA’s backpedaling on the intelligence leading to war. According to my notes, he began with a chronology of what he described as credible evidence of Iraq’s efforts to procure uranium. As I told Mr. Fitzgerald and the grand jury, Mr. Libby alluded to the existence of two intelligence reports about Iraq’s uranium procurement efforts. One report dated from February 2002. The other indicated that Iraq was seeking a broad trade relationship with Niger in 1999, a relationship that he said Niger officials had interpreted as an effort by Iraq to obtain uranium.”

What’s more, Miller says, “My notes indicate that Mr. Libby told me the report on the 1999 delegation had been attributed to Joe Wilson.”

In other words, Wilson was denying something that he had actually confirmed. In fact, there had been an Iraqi attempt to procure uranium from Africa. No wonder Libby was upset with Wilson’s article in the Times and the CIA’s role in arranging his trip. Libby had every reason to believe there was a campaign underway to undermine the Bush administration and he must have been desperate to counter it. So desperate that he would talk to Judith Miller and other reporters. That was a big mistake.

In terms of more evidence of an Iraq-uranium link, Miller says that Libby “also cited a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced by American intelligence agencies in October 2002, which he said had firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking uranium.”

The situation was that the administration had evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, based on Wilson and other sources, and yet Wilson was using the Times and other outlets to deny it. Libby, Rove and other administration officials had every reason to conclude that Wilson was part of an effort by some in the CIA to deliberately undermine the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. But other than Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, we still don’t know the names of those CIA officials. They can apparently operate under the cover of anonymity, legal or otherwise. They are media “sources,” now on the verge of getting more protection from the Senate under a media shield law.

Under these circumstances, it was natural, as Miller recounts, for the conversation to turn to Wilson’s wife, a CIA employee who recommended him for that Africa trip. Miller says the following about Fitzgerald’s line of questioning: “Mr. Fitzgerald asked me whether Mr. Libby had mentioned nepotism. I said no.”

This is important because Plame’s role in recommending him for the Africa trip, as documented by the Senate Intelligence Committee, possibly violated federal nepotism laws. According to Miller, Libby apparently didn’t offer an opinion on that. But that gets to the heart of what was going on in the CIA. Who in the CIA was orchestrating the Wilson affair to damage the Bush administration? Is Fitzgerald investigating that?

If not, a major miscarriage of justice is underway. The media, of course, are not interested in probing Wilson and Plame, only the Bush administration. The name of the game was and still is to “get” the administration through concocted scandals. This one involved an alleged effort to smear Wilson, whose wild and reckless charges should never have been published by the Times in the first place, by going after his wife. It’s also probably the case that Plame and other CIA officials are trusted “sources” for the press. So why would reporters want to scrutinize them? 

It’s been repeated endlessly by Miller’s defenders that Miller was ordered to testify about the case but never wrote a story about it. She should have. Her story exonerates the Bush administration and it should put the focus where it belongs?on Wilson, his wife and the duplicitous bureaucrats in the CIA.

The media are now clamoring for indictments of Bush officials, with CBS Evening News anchorman Bob Schieffer saying that it would look foolish for Fitzgerald to essentially drop the case after investigating the matter for so long. This kind of media pressure may be difficult to resist. But Fitzgerald should live up to his reputation and be independent enough to understand that he, too, has been manipulated by the media in this affair and that indictments of Bush administration officials would only serve to distract attention from the real problem?an out-of-control CIA.

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