Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, October 02, 2003
Blogger Counterrevolutionary has some interesting speculations on the Plame affair. But he (she?) has shown a touch of carelessness with the facts. In this post, CR asks about Wilson's relationship with the CIA. CR makes the rather odd statment, "Wilson claims that he was tasked by the Vice-President himself, a charge that Cheney denies." There seems to be no basis for this claim at all. During a long interview (first part, second part) Wilson said to Josh Marshall:

During the course of briefing them, talking to them about them, they'd brief me on the nature of the report, they also said that it was the office of the vice president that had raised the question. And, at the end of the briefing, they said would you be prepared to go out there to update our information based on this. So I said yes, and then we subsequently discussed--and again, the people I was talking to, there were about a dozen people that I was talking to who represented, I think, the intelligence communities, the cadre, sort of, who followed this...

TPM: And you're going on your understanding of basically how the U.S. government and the nexus of the intelligence community and the executive branch works, and that tells you that since Cheney was the one who asked for the report, the report would have come back to him in some fashion or another.

WILSON: That's correct.

TPM: He may well not have known that you--

WILSON: He wouldn't have known. He would not have known that it was me.

On Nightline, Wilson was even more explicit.

The Vice President's office request was really, "Can you look into this to see if you have any more on it?" It was not, "Send Joe Wilson to Africa."

Koppel: I understand that. The CIA was tasked to find out what happened, and they in turn came to you.

Wilson: That's correct.

So there is no actual contradiction between Cheney's and Wilson's accounts. Even CR seems to notice this because he contradicts himself in saying, "[Wilson] claims that he was asked by a group at the CIA to go on this mission. "

The question of how Wilson was chosen should be looked at because various commentators have suggested his choice is somehow suspicious. The allegation that Wilson was an odd choice was at the heart of Novak's column and the attempt to discredit him by alleging that Plame talked the CIA into the choice. CR says, "But it still does not make sense why he was chosen. Doesn't the CIA have officers in Niger or any other countries of Franco-phone Africa? Why not the Ambassador to Niger? Why was he chosen instead? Why a former State guy instead of CIA? "

The reason for a State veteran rather than CIA should be apparent. CIA officers are either spooks operating under cover or analysts mostly working out of Washington who spend little time on the ground in the area they're analyzing. Wilson had been posted to Niger as a diplomat, he had been posted to other countries in West Africa, including three of the four African countries that export uranium. As Clinton's NSC aide on Africa, he had worked extensively with the key leaders of the Nigerien government at the time the sales were alleged to have taken place. From that work and his earlier work in Niger, he had built personal relationships that few other possible investigators matched. And of the tiny number of candidaates who had Wilson's knowledge of Niger and fluency in French, Wilson was perhaps the only one who had been stationed in Iraq.

Why not the Ambassador? The Ambassador in Niger already had looked into the reports and reached the same conclusions. This has been clear from Wilson's original editorial: "The next morning, I met with Ambassador Owens-Kirkpatrick at the embassy. The embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger's uranium business, so I was not surprised when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq, and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington."

Nor was Wilson the only person who went to Naimey to investigate the story. It's been known since July that Carlton W. Fulford, a Marine Corps General, made a similar trip around the same time and reached similar conclusions. And while there has been much speculation about why a retired official was sent, the advantages of sending an expert now in private life, versus an active employee of comparable seniority who would be away from his normal duties for at least a week, are obvious.

CR also has a theory that Plame worked in the CIA as what is called a Collection Management Officer, or CMO. A CMO is a sort of liaison who works with covert agents and analyzes their results, but does not actually go into the field or run spies. It's a good try, but it falls apart on an obvious point that CR even states: "The cover assumed by both Ops Officers [covert agents] and CMOs when abroad is typically that of State Department employees. This allows them to maintain diplomatic immunity. The CIA runs very few “illegals” (officers without official cover) and they are never CMOs."

There is not the slightest reason to believe that Plame ever worked under official cover - that is, as an employee of the State Department, which would leave a substantial trail of public documents that would by now have been uncovered by enterprising reporters if it were true. There is convincing evidence she was a covert agent. Again in July, Josh Marshall wrote, "My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside." Retired CIA official Vince Cannistrano, as noted on this blog, has gone even further in describing Plame's duties: "She was under corporate cover and a non-governmental affiliation, and she was stationed abroad. [That] meant that she was a clandestine case officer, she was controlling agents."

Plame was a spy - the real thing. She worked on probably the greatest threat to this country's safety, nuclear weapons proliferation. (That's the logical connection between her cover as an 'energy analyst' and her real work in WMD.) The claim that she was an analyst or her work wasn't really secret is nothing but a smoke screen thrown up to hide the damage that was done by blowing her cover.

Update: More evidence, this from the Times, that Plame was a seriously secret operative, using nonofficial cover. This story is the first that has some biographical details about her, but adds no new information on her work, the leak, or the investigation.