Thursday, September 07, 2006

So, you’re Dick Cheney and you’ve got a war to start

Picture this: You’re the most powerful vice president the country has ever known. In your dark, saturnine view, there are a lot of good reasons to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein, but you need a casus belli. Weapons of mass destruction should do it. You’re sure they’ve got some stuff left over from 1991. It’s just a matter of finding it. You start to pressure the limp-wristed wimps at CIA to do their jobs and dig up the evidence you know is there.

In the summer of 2001, even before 9/11, the agency's Counterproliferation Division expands one of its units and renames it the Joint Task Force on Iraq. They're tasked with finding the evidence. They have a network of covert ops operating under deep cover. But they don’t find squat. It seems to you that the JTFI is ineffectual or worse. They keep debunking WMD claims. Even when hand-picked defectors provided by Ahmad Chalabi are set right in front of them, all they do is discredit them. Two years, and they're still empty-handed. Hopeless.

The war goes forward, no thanks to the JTFI, but you don’t forget. Those crypto-liberals at CIA need to be taught a lesson. You don't want them getting in the way next time -- in Iran, say. You wait for the right opportunity and eventually, that summer, you arrange to have the covert director of operations of JTFI outed. The entire network has to be rolled up and sources are compromised, and the director’s career is ruined. That should be a lesson those weasels in the agency will never forget!

The insiders get the message. For everyone else, you cover your tracks by making it seem that the real target of your little vendetta was the director's spouse. Meanwhile, you've eliminated a lot of the dissenters who disagree with your interpretation of the intelligence. The rest should be much more docile now.

If all this damage had been done by a spy, it would have been a major scandal, but hey -- you’re the vice president and your friends control most of the government. Oh, and the name of the director of operations? Valerie Plame.

A fantasy? Maybe, but the likelihood that something very similar did happen took a quantum leap after David Corn dropped his bombshell about the Plamegate affair in The Nation. The coauthor of "Hubris" (with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff) revealed what Valerie Plame really did for the CIA.
Valerie Wilson was no analyst or paper-pusher. She was an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush Administration. Armitage, Rove and Libby had revealed information about a CIA officer who had searched for proof of the President's case. In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled.
Teresa has a good summary of what the new revelations mean at Making Light, with links to excellent posts by Firedoglake, Digby and Emptywheel, who have all been following Plamegate closely and knowledgeably. Teresa's conclusions:
1. Valerie Plame Wilson's unit honestly couldn't find evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and said so. She was punished for it.

(Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t understand how potentially disastrous it is to force intelligence findings to conform with one's preferred policies? Intelligence asks, What is true? Policy replies, That being true, what are we going to do about it? Reversing their order turns it into: Tell us what we want to hear, so we can justify doing what we've already decided to do. That approach leads to conclusions like “Nobody will object if we march through Belgium,” “our attack at the Somme will produce a great strategic breakthrough,” and “the Iraqis will greet our troops with cheering and flowers.”)

2. Her outing was not, as originally thought, a way of getting back at her husband. It was meant to take her down.

3. This realization isn't mine, I got it from a friend: Cheney and his staff must have known who she was, and what she was working on, at the time they outed her.

4. Bush's relatively recent admission that they were mistaken about the WMDs was a lie from start to finish. The Bush administration knew that well before the war started.

5. Thanks to the magic of global mass communications, the rest of the world now knows it too.
I agree, especially with #2. I always thought that shutting Plame's network down was probably at least as important as whacking her husband -- news reports when this story broke emphasized that the whole network had to be rolled up. Given what these guys were trying to accomplish in the Middle East, and their dislike of the CIA, the idea of "flying blind" when it came to WMD in the area must have had its appeal. Joe Wilson was basically a sideshow. Settling old scores with him was just an added benefit. But it was Valerie Plame and her unit they were trying to shut down.

This must be what Fitzgerald has been chewing on all this time. This isn't some minor misdemeanor. It's serious stuff. If (a big "if," of course) Fitz can prove that Cheney knew who Plame was AND deliberately instigated her outing, that would be about as serious as you can get. The possibility would account for the stonewalling Ashcroft suddenly being convinced to appoint Fitzgerald in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Very good post.

The only point where I disagree is the part about "flying blind." The opening moves of our invasion of Iraq were conducted in a style that made it clear that top military planners weren't worrying about having WMDs used against our troops.

The unpleasant implication is that it was a cynical piece of camouflage to use all our available manpower during the early phases of the war in Iraq to look for WMDs, instead of (say) securing the munitions dumps whose contents have been turning up as improvised roadside bombs ever since, or maintaining civil order and suppressing looting so that the country's infrastructure and economy wouldn't get trashed.


Anonymous said...


"According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran."

Wouldn't want anyone to tell us that Iran really isn't a threat after all now would we?

Madison Guy said...

Wouldn't want anyone to tell us that Iran really isn't a threat after all now would we?

Excellent point -- and thanks for the link. I thought I had read something earlier about her working on Iran, couldn't track down the link. So I settled for the more general statement, "Given what these guys were trying to accomplish in the Middle East, and their dislike of the CIA, the idea of 'flying blind' when it came to WMD in the area must have had its appeal."

But that's what I was trying to suggest -- that payback for failing to find the WMD in Iraq was only part of it. Paving the way toward the next step -- Iran -- had even more to do with it.