The media version of the CIA leak case is that the White House illegally revealed a CIA employee’s identity because her husband, Joseph Wilson, was an administration critic. But former prosecutor Joseph E. diGenova says the real story is that the CIA “launched a covert operation” against the President when it sent Wilson on the mission to Africa to investigate the Iraq-uranium link. DiGenova, a former Independent Counsel who prosecuted several high-profile cases and has extensive experience on Capitol Hill, including as counsel to several Senate committees, is optimistic that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will figure it all out.
DiGenova tells this columnist, “It seems to me somewhat strange, in terms of CIA tradecraft, that if you were really attempting to protect the identity of a covert officer, why would you send her husband overseas on a mission, without a confidentiality agreement, and then allow him when he came back to the United States to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times about it.”
That mission, he explained, leads naturally to the questions: Who is this guy? And how did he get this assignment? “That’s not the way you protect the identity of a covert officer,” he said. “If it is, then [CIA director] Porter Goss is doing the right thing in cleaning house” at the agency.
If the CIA is the real villain in the case, then almost everything we have been told about the scandal by the media is wrong. What’s more, it means that the CIA, perhaps the most powerful intelligence agency in the U.S. Government, was deliberately trying to undermine the Bush Administration’s Iraq War policy. The liberals who are anxious for indictments of Bush Administration officials in this case should start paying attention to this aspect of the scandal. They may be opposed to the Iraq War, but since when is the CIA allowed to run covert operations against an elected president of the U.S.?
DiGenova first made his astounding comments about the Wilson affair being a covert operation against the President on the Imus in the Morning Show, carried nationally on radio and MSNBC-TV. I wondered whether these serious charges would be refuted or probed by the media. Imus, a shock jock who has spent several days grieving and joking about the death of his cat, didn’t grasp their significance. But the mainstream press didn’t seem interested, either.
DiGenova told me he believes there has been a “war between the White House and the CIA over intelligence” and that the agency, in the Wilson affair, “was using the sort of tactics it uses in covert actions overseas.” One has to consider the implications of this statement. It means that the CIA was using Wilson for the purpose of undermining the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy.
If this is the case, then one has to conclude that the CIA’s covert operation against the President was successful to a point. It generated an investigation of the White House after officials began trying to set the record straight to the press about the Wilson mission. At this point, it’s still not clear what if anything Fitzgerald has on these officials. If they’re indicted for making inconsistent statements about their discussions with one another or the press, that would seem to be a pathetically weak case. And it would not get to the heart of the issue?the CIA’s war against Bush.
One of those apparently threatened with indictment, as Times reporter Judith Miller’s account of her grand jury testimony revealed, is an agency critic named Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Miller said that Libby was frustrated and angry about “selective leaking” by the CIA and other agencies to “distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments.” Miller said 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.
Wilson was clearly part of that war. He came back from Niger in Africa and wrote the New York Times column insisting there was no Iraqi deal to purchase uranium for a nuclear weapons program. In fact, however, Wlson had misrepresented his own findings, and the Senate Intelligence Committee found there was additional evidence of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium.
DiGenova raises serious questions about the CIA role not only in the Wilson mission but in the referral to the Justice Department that culminated in the appointment of a special prosecutor. At this point in the media feeding frenzy over the story, the issue of how the investigation started has almost been completely lost. The answer is that it came from the CIA. Acting independently and with great secrecy, the CIA contacted the Justice Department with “concern” about articles in the press that included the “disclosure” of “the identity of an employee operating under cover.” The CIA informed the Justice Department that the disclosure was “a possible violation of criminal law.” This started the chain of events that is the subject of speculative news articles almost every day.
The CIA’s version of its contacts with the Justice Department was contained in a 4-paragraph letter to Rep. John Conyers, ranking Democratic Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers and other liberal Democrats had been clamoring for the probe.
DiGenova doubts that the CIA had a case to begin with. He says he would like to see what sworn information was provided to the Justice Department about the status of Wilson’s CIA wife, Valerie Plame, and what “active measures” the CIA was taking to protect her identity. The implication is that her status was not classified or protected and that the agency simply used the stories about her identity to create the scandal that seems to occupy so much attention these days.
But if the purpose was not only to undermine the Iraq War policy but to stop the administration from reforming the agency, it hasn’t completely worked. Indeed, the Washington Post ran a long story by Dafna Linzer on October 19 about the “turmoil” in the agency as personnel either quit or are forced out by CIA Director Goss. Like so many stories about the CIA leak case, this story reflected the views of CIA bureaucrats who despise what Goss is doing and resist supervision or reform of their operations. Members of the press do not want to be seen as too close to the Bush Administration, but acting as scribblers for the CIA bureaucracy, which failed America on 9/11, is perfectly acceptable.
DiGenova’s comments might be dismissed as just the view of an administration defender. But his comments reflect the facts about the case that emerged when the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted an independent investigation. Wilson, who became an adviser to the Kerry for President campaign, had claimed his CIA wife had no role in recommending him for the trip, but the committee determined that was not true. Why would Wilson misrepresent the truth about her if the purpose were not to conceal the curious nature of the CIA role and its hidden agenda in his controversial mission? And who in the CIA besides his wife was behind it?
In this regard, Miller’s account of her testimony to the grand jury disclosed that Fitzgerald had asked whether Libby had complained about nepotism behind the Wilson trip, a reference to the role played by Plame. This is the line of inquiry that could lead, if Fitzgerald pursues it, to unraveling the CIA “covert operation” behind the Wilson affair. There may be rogue elements at the agency who are conducting their own foreign policy, in contravention of the official foreign policy of the U.S. Government elected by the American people. Like it or not, Bush is the President and he is supposed to run the CIA, not the other way around.
Fitzgerald has the opportunity to break this case wide open. Or else he can take the politically correct approach, which is popular with the press, and go after administration officials.
One irony of the case is that Miller is under strong attack by the left as an administration lackey when she didn’t even write an article at the time noting Libby’s criticisms of the CIA and the Wilson trip. Did her “other sources,” perhaps in the CIA, persuade her to drop the story? We may never know because she claims that she got Fitzgerald to agree not to question her about them. But what she did eventually report, after spending 85 days in jail, amounts to an exoneration of the Bush Administration. Libby, Karl Rove and others obviously believed they could not take on the CIA directly but had to get their story out indirectly through the press. They got burned by Miller and other journalists.
Goss’s CIA house-cleaning, of course, has come too late to save the administration from being victimized in the Wilson/Plame affair. Some officials could get indicted because of faulty or inconsistent memories. It is also obvious that liberal journalists are so excited over possible indictments of Bush officials that they are willing to overlook the agency’s manipulation of public policy and the press. But if the CIA has been out-of-control, subverting the democratic process and undermining the president, the American people have a right to know. If Fitzgerald doesn’t blow the whistle on this, the Congress should hold public hearings and do so.