"Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors." -- George Herbert Walker Bush, 1999
Karl Rove, senior political advisor to George W. Bush, is a very powerful man. That is not to say he has never been in trouble. Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush Sr. campaign for trashing Robert Mosbacher Jr., who was the chief fundraiser for the campaign and an avowed Bush loyalist. Rove accomplished this trashing of Mosbacher by planting a negative story with columnist Bob Novak. The campaign figured out that Karl had done the dirty deed, and he was given his walking papers.
Demonstrably, Rove is back in the saddle again. The January 2003 edition of Esquire magazine carried an article by Ron Suskind which quoted comments from John DiIulio, a domestic policy advisor to the White House who had just retired from his post. On October 24, 2002, DiIulio had sent a letter to Suskind describing what he had seen while working for the Bush administration. The meat of the letter described an administration far, far more interested in raw political triangulation and ruthless spin than in actual policy and government functionality. Some excerpts from DiIulio's letter:
"Some are inclined to blame the high political-to-policy ratios of this administration on Karl Rove ... some staff members, senior and junior, are awed and cowed by Karl's real or perceived powers. They self-censor lots for fear of upsetting him, and, in turn, few of the president's top people routinely tell the president what they really think if they think that Karl will be brought up short in the bargain. Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office."
Even a casual political observer would have trouble missing the fact that this is one of the sharpest political outfits ever to reside in the Oval Office. Bush's team is a unified wall, cemented to their message-of-the-day, and they have done very well for themselves because of this. All of this can be laid at the feet of Karl Rove, the senior political advisor to George W. Bush. According to DiIulio, the preeminence of political considerations within this administration is so complete that any and all policy considerations or contemplation of actual issues are not so much in the back seat as they are in the trunk below the spare tire and the jack. This, again, can be laid at the feet of Mr. Rove.
All of Washington and the country has been buzzing for the last few days over a report that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the White House regarding a matter of important national security. The wife of a former ambassador named Joseph Wilson, it has been alleged, was "outed" as an active CIA agent to columnist Robert Novak by this White House in an act of political revenge.
Joseph Wilson was the man dispatched to Niger in February of 2002 by the CIA, after Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA to figure out whether there was any substance to the charge that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium "yellow cake" from that nation for the purpose of starting a nuclear weapons program. Ambassador Wilson went, investigated and returned eight days later to state flatly that the evidence was garbage. He has claimed since that his analysis was one of three intelligence reports debunking the Niger story. Ambassador Wilson told this to Cheney's office, the CIA, the State Department and the National Security Council. Despite the fact that Wilson made it clear that these allegations were untrue -- it was revealed that the "evidence" to support the Niger uranium charge was a pile of crudely forged documents -- George W. Bush used the Niger uranium evidence dramatically in his 2003 State of the Union address.
In July, Ambassador Wilson went very public, criticizing the White House for using evidence to support war that they knew was patently false. One week later, Robert Novak reported that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative. As it turns out, two senior White House officials cold-called six different journalists and informed them of Valerie Plame's status as a CIA agent, according to an anonymous administration official quoted by the Washington Post. None of the journalists ran the story. That same administration official was quoted about these revelations as saying, "Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge." Joseph Wilson likewise charges that this act was done as an act of revenge for his vocal criticism of George W. Bush and the administration's actions leading up to the Iraq war. Specifically, he views Karl Rove as being possibly involved in, or at least condoning, the cutting down of his wife.
The facts of this story are singularly grotesque. Taken at the top layer, you have a White House that appears perfectly willing to go after the family members of its critics. Valerie Plame's career is destroyed, period. The act itself displays a level of viciousness that is dangerous to the functioning of this, or any, democracy.
Peel the second layer and you discover the rank illegality of it all. Section 421 of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 reads as follows:
"Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
The third layer is where the darkness truly lurks, and where the deadly importance of this situation lies. Valerie Plame was not simply an analyst or a data cruncher. She was an operative running a network dedicated to tracking any person or nation that might try to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. That sentence deserves to be written twice. She was an operative running a network dedicated to tracking any person or nation that might try to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
The Bush administration pushed very hard the idea that America is in danger from WMDs being placed into the hands of terrorists. This was one of the central arguments behind the war in Iraq. Yet in order to protect Bush's political standing, a couple of "administration officials" blew Valerie Plame, and by proxy her network, completely out of the water in an attempt to shut her husband up. In short, in order to protect Bush from the ramifications of using fake evidence to support his war, this White House destroyed an intelligence network that was protecting us from the threat posed by chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
We are less safe now that Valerie Plame is no longer performing this vital task, and the members of her network are in mortal danger of being revealed and destroyed. Beyond that, we are facing a level of hypocrisy that shatters any and all previously known boundaries. This administration ginned up a war in Iraq based upon manufactured evidence and wildly overstated threats, all of which was painted over with rhetoric about defending the country from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. The fate of Valerie Plame, and her network, shows without doubt that the moral standing of this administration is as empty as Saddam Hussein's WMD cache.
In Ambassador Wilson's words, "Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames."
The current spin from administration defenders within and without the mainstream media is that Valerie Plame was only an analyst, and not an operative. This, somehow, is supposed to lessen the blow of an administration willing to attack the families of its critics. Yet the characterization of Plame as an analyst is factually incorrect. For one, Robert Novak himself indicated that she was an operative in the original report that birthed this scandal. "Wilson never worked for the CIA," wrote Novak, "but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction."
Ray McGovern, who was for 27 years a senior analyst for the CIA, further confirms the status of Plame within the CIA. "I know Joseph Wilson well enough to know," said McGovern in a telephone conversation we had today, "that his wife was in fact a deep cover operative running a network of informants on what is supposedly this administration's first-priority issue: Weapons of mass destruction."
McGovern further elaborated on the damage done when such an agent has their cover blown. "This causes a great deal of damage," said McGovern. "These kinds of networks take ten years to develop. The reason why they operate under deep cover is that the only people who have access to the kind of data we need cannot be associated in any way with the American intelligence community. Our operatives live a lie to maintain these networks, and do so out of patriotism. When they get blown, the operatives themselves are in physical danger. The people they recruit are also in physical danger, because foreign intelligence services can make the connections and find them. Operatives like Valerie Plame are real patriots."
Mr. Rove has done this kind of thing before, specifically using Robert Novak in that one notable attempt to cut down Mosbacher. Rove is a disciple of the undisputed heavyweight champion of political assassins, Lee Atwater, and has often reached into a deep bag of dirty tricks to accomplish his political ends. He knows no ideology beyond power, and has no bones about using it to wreak havoc on anyone who gets in his crosshairs. The Esquire article about DiIulio finds him recounting a singular Rove moment, as he overheard a conversation happening in another room: "Inside, Rove was talking to an aide about some political stratagem in some state that had gone awry and a political operative who had displeased him. I paid it no mind and reviewed a jotted list of questions I hoped to ask. But after a moment, it was like ignoring a tornado flinging parked cars. 'We will f**k him. Do you hear me? We will f**k him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever f**ked him!'"
Guess who was doing the cursing and threatening.
One last bit of inside baseball. When the Niger scandal erupted, the Bush administration went out of its way to blame the CIA for the mess, despite the fact that the CIA, along with the entire intelligence community, had been cut out of the loop by Don Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans. The OSP, and its pet Iraqi Ahmad Chalabi, became the source for all of the information regarding Iraq's weapons capabilities, and a number of intelligence insiders have publicly blamed that group for the preponderance of highly erroneous data about Iraq. For the Bush administration to completely usurp the CIA by depending solely on data manufactured by the Office of Special Plans, and then to turn around and blame CIA when the OSP's data did not turn out to be true, is as insane as it is laughable. Yet this is what they have done. The CIA's calling for this investigation is nothing more or less than the Agency defending itself, proving out the oft-repeated warning that one scapegoats the CIA at their mortal peril.
Also, the fact that this data came to the Washington Post from a White House official means that another Deep Throat may have just been born.
The White House has denied the allegation, and promises a full investigation. A great many people find it laughable to believe this White House is capable of investigating itself, and are demanding an independent investigation. A quick look at the White House telephone logs will reveal who called whom, and when. It may well be the case that Rove was not involved; there are several administration officials -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, Card -- along with a constellation of administration associates and media mouthpieces, who had a vested interest in shutting Ambassador Wilson's mouth. The White House phone logs will be revelatory. If this administration fails to hand those logs over, they will stand in taint of high treason.
William Rivers Pitt is managing editor of truthout.org, where this originally appeared. He is author of three books: War On Iraq, Context Books; The Greatest Sedition is Silence, Pluto Press; and Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available in August from Context Books.