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2003-09-29

Congress Members Call For Independent Probe of White House Leak That Blew CIA Operative’s Cover After CIA Refers Investigation To Justice Dept.

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The CIA operative’s identity was revealed by senior administration officials in July, a week after her husband former ambassador to Iraq, Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa. It is a felony for someone with authorized access to classified information to intentionally disclose a covert operative’s identity [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript The Justice Department is looking into an allegation that senior administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist.

The operative’s identity was published in July, a week after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.

It is a felony for someone with authorized access to classified information to intentionally disclose a covert operative’s identity. Officials said the Justice Department is determining whether a formal investigation is warranted and that they did not know how long that would take. Democracy Now! confirmed this almost two weeks ago when we called the FBI and they said they were looking into it. Yesterday, Bush’s aides told the Washington Post they promised to cooperate with the Department but Democrats charged that the administration cannot credibly investigate itself and called for an independent probe.

White House officials also say they would turn over phone logs if the Justice Department asks them to. But the aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in the outing of Wilson’s wife.

After months of being relegated to the sidelines, the story made the front page of the Washington Post this weekend and was subject of the Sunday talk shows. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on "Fox News Sunday" that she knew "nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate."

The issue first came to light in July when conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote a column in which he cited two senior administration officials and said that Wilson’s wife was a CIA operative. This came a week after Wilson’s account of the Iraq/Niger claim touched off a political firestorm over Bush’s use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

A senior administration official told the Post this weekend that two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. He said the leak " was meant purely and simply for revenge."

Wilson told the Post yesterday that journalists for the three major broadcast networks told him they had been contacted by someone in the White House. He named only one, Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent.

  • Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst.
  • Tape: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in an interview with Fox News Sunday on September 28, 2003.
  • Tape: Ambassador Joseph Wilson speaking at a forum in Seattle, Washington on August 22, 2003.

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TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!, the War and Peace Report.

I’m Amy Goodman. The justice department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer to journalists. The operative’s identity was published in July, a week after her husband, former U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wilson, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had to buy uranium from Niger for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim. It’s a claim he made in his state of the union address. The intentional disclosure of a covert operative’s identity is a felony. Official say the Justice Department is determining whether a formal investigation is warranted and that they do not know how long that will take. Yesterday, Bush’s aides promised to cooperate with the department, but Democrats charge the administration cannot credibly investigate itself and called for an independent probe. White House officials also say they’ll turn over phone logs if the Justice Department asks them to, but the aides say President Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife. Whether they committed a felony. Almost two weeks ago on Democracy Now!, we called the F.B.I., and they said they were looking into the allegations of the burning of the C.I.A. operative, but that they would not yet classify it as an investigation. It appears that’s where the investigation stands now with the Justice Department asking questions. After months of being relegated to the sidelines, the story made the front page of The Washington Post this weekend and was subject to the Sunday talk shows. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice was questioned about the outing of a C.I.A. operative on Fox news Sunday.

TAPE

BRIT HUME: Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was asked to inquire in Africa about what Saddam Hussein might have been doing there in terms of acquiring nuclear materials, ended up with his wife’s name in the paper as a CIA person. There are now suggestions that the name and her identity and her CIA work had been revealed by the White House. What do you know about that?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate. My understanding is that, in matters like this, as a matter of routine, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action, and that’s what’s going to be done.

TONY SNOW: Well, when the story came out — his wife’s name is in the paper — was it known in the White House that she was a CIA employee?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I’m not going to go into this, Tony, because the problem here is this has been referred to the Justice Department. I think that’s the appropriate place...

TONY SNOW: Well, but it is revealing, or it’s important to figure out what the White House reaction was at the time. For years and years and years, for instance, the administrations chased Phillip Agee all around the globe because he had revealed the name of a CIA officer. This is a grave offense, if you have CIA officers. Was there, at least within the White House, a gasp when somebody said, "Uh oh"? And if so, did the White House take any action, back then in June, when the story appeared?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, it was well known that the president of the United States does not expect the White House to get involved in such things. We will see...

BRIT HUME: You mean the revelation of names?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Anything of this kind. But let’s just see what the Justice Department does. It’s with the appropriate channels now, and we’ll see what the Justice Department — how the Justice Department disposes of it.

TONY SNOW: But there was nobody at the White House at the time who was saying, "Oh, we’ve got a problem here"?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Tony, I don’t remember any such conversation. But I will say this: The Justice Department gets these things as a matter of routine. They will determine the facts. They will determine what happened, they will determine if anything happened. And they’ll take appropriate action.

TONY SNOW: Do you think the White House should release phone logs, if necessary, to figure out who talked to whom?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Tony, as a matter of course, when the Justice Department is looking into something, of course the White House cooperates.

TONY SNOW: All right.

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Snow and Brit Hume of Fox News talking with Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor. The issue first came to light in July when conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote a column in which he cited two senior administration officials and said that Wilson’s wife was a C.I.A. operative. This came a week after Wilson’s account of the Iraq Niger claim touched off a political firestorm over Bush’s use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq. A senior administration official told The Washington Post that two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. He said the leak, "was meant purely and simply for revenge." Now, Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post is saying that one of the reporters who was talked to was Andrea Mitchell of NBC. Wilson told The Post yesterday that journalists for the three major broadcast networks told them they were contacted by someone at the White House.
He named only one, Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. We turn now to Ray McGovern. Ray McGovern is a former C.I.A. analyst. He worked under George Bush Sr., both when he was director of central intelligence, as well as when he was Vice President. He was one of his daily briefers. Ray McGovern, welcome to Democracy Now! once again. It’s good to have you back.

RAY MCGOVERN: Thank you. Good to be back.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what do you think of where this story stands today? We spoke with you about two weeks ago when we were talking about the blowing of the cover of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Plame, the wife of Joseph Wilson. What do you think of what has happened over the weekend, the learning that the Justice Department has taken this case on, which we knew two weeks ago that the F.B.I. said they were looking into it, but that the C.I.A. had then verified that one of their operative’s covers had been blown.

RAY MCGOVERN: Yes. Yes, Amy, you pointed out correctly, even though you asked them two weeks ago, they seem no farther along in deciding whether they are going to investigate. Reminds me of Watergate and president Nixon ordering a "thorough investigation". The White House obviously has no wish to have this happen, and the attorney general, of course, will comply with what theWhite House decided to do. The shock and outrage here among intelligence people is really something that cannot be overstated. This is a despicable act. When I first heard of it, I said, you know Ray, there ought to be a law against that. I thought, wait a second, there is a law against that. It’s a felony. And the penalties are automatic and draconian. I hope they find out who this was, because this is a despicable — think of the people who work under deep cover.

Now, the people who work under deep cover are ones who function in a capacity that’s necessary to portray them with no official connection to the United States government. In other words, they’re acting under false pretenses. And so all the informants and all the agents they’re able to enlist or to recruit in this effort, they are now in serious jeopardy, often physical jeopardy, once the foreign intelligence service makes the connections, and the connections are very easy to make in this day and age. So we have people now jeopardized their lives, their livelihoods, their families, and for what? For a petty warning, really. It’s not so much of a debt against ambassador Wilson. It’s a warning, look, anyone else has any ideas of speaking truth here, when you know that the president has not spoken truth, well, just be prepared to have your whole family dragged through the mud, and this is something, you know, going after somebody’s wife that not even Richard Nixon stooped to. The only other thing I’d say is that you could not pick an area of expertise or an account that is more important than weapons of mass destruction.

And here was Valerie Plame, having built up a network of informants who are willing to talk to her on the assumption she was not connected with the United States government. The house committee on intelligence has just pointed out that our ability, that is the C.I.A.'s ability, to collect this kind of information has woefully, woefully impoverished over the years. So here's somebody that’s doing the job on an initial of great moment to the great country and the political people, Karl Rove, play fast and loose with this. I mean, she was not counting banana production in Haiti. She was trying to get a hold, get a bead on how Iraq and others are obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and for Karl Rove to betray, really — I mean, George Bush, I. called those who expose the names of intelligence sources are, "the most insidious of traitors." It looks like we have at least two right there in the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. And when we come back, we’ll continue with Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. analyst. We’re also then going to go to another statement of both Condoleezza Rice yesterday and General Colin Powell as they increasingly have to admit that weapons of mass destruction have not been found. They are using another rational for the invasion of Iraq, increasingly talking about Fallujah, where the people of Fallujah died of poison gas in 1988.

And we’re going to talk about what happened after that gassing under president George Bush Sr. and with the senator Robert Dole, who visited Saddam Hussein afterwards and tried to stop any sanctions against the Iraqi leader. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I am Amy Goodman. As the Bush administration, the White House says they’ll cooperate with a probe by the Justice Department into who blew the cover of a covert C.I.A. operative. Again, White House officials talking to at least six reporters. The reports are that they called the reporters to say that the wife of Joseph Wilson was a C.I.A. operative. He’s the one who blew the cover for the invasion of Iraq, saying that the Niger rationale that Saddam Hussein tried to get uranium from Niger was bogus, and that he was the diplomat who’d been sent on a C.I.A. mission to Niger to investigate in February of 2002. We’re going to play what Joseph Wilson said at the Ensley Forum, a forum held by Congress member Ensley in Washington state this past August.

TAPE >> Hello, Mr. Wilson, assuming what Robert Novak said about your wife was true and the seriousness of that, can we expect the F.B.I. to give a complete, unhindered investigation into that? Find out where that leads to?

JOSEPH WILSON: I’m not sure I know how to answer that. Because we’re talking in hypotheticals. The way the process works is if this were to have been true, the C.I.A. will do an internal investigation and determine whether or not in their judgment the law has been broken. They then refer to the justice department, who takes another look at it, and then it’s referred to the F.B.I. for further investigation. Now, despite the fact that John Ashcroft is in charge of the Justice Department, this violation, if it is, in fact, a violation, is one that is a violation of a profession, and the investigation and looking into this will be done essentially by professionals. Now, there is a lot of interest in congress. Henry Waxman has been keenly interested in this and offered all sorts of support. Chuck Schumer, Mr. Gun-Control, came out and made a statement to the effect that if true, it’s like putting a gun to the head of an agent. John Dean of all people just wrote the other day that the president should have extended a secret service protection to me and my family as a consequence of this. He didn’t, by the way. Although I will tell you, I think they’re scared to death that I might stub my toe. But I have confidence at the professional level that whatever they think is doable will be done.

My own sense is that — and I’ve told the F.B.I. this, that should they decide to undertake an investigation, that I want to talk with them to see how I can best support the investigation, not do anything to impede it, and I think I do have a vote in this since congress has basically said, we’ll do anything we can to support you, and the question is whether or not having Chuck Schumer and Hillary and others go forward and talk about this openly, Dick Durbin, impedes or helps the investigation down the road. But we’ll see. I don’t think we’re going to let this drop. At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me when I use that name, I measure my words.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Joseph Wilson speaking on August 21 in Washington state. Does a felon, Rove, the White House, it’s an interesting question. And with the first leaking of the name of Valerie Plame to a reporter by a "White House official" to Robert Novak, if it is Karl Rove, it is not the first time he and Novak have worked together and it’s gotten Rove in trouble. According to an article by Ron Suskin in "Esquire" January 2003, "sources close to the former president, George H.W. Bush, say Rove was fired from the 1992 bush presidential campaign after he planted a negative story with columnist Robert Novak about dissatisfaction with campaign fundraising chief and Bush loyalist, Robert Mosbacher Jr. It was smoked out, and he was … ousted." The difference now is that this is a felony. Ray McGovern?

RAY MCGOVERN: Amy, I would call attention to how ambassador Wilson ended up. He said, bear in mind, I measure my words. This leads me to believe that ambassador Wilson, being the consummate diplomat and the very experienced Washington hand, that he has his ducks in a row.

He measures his words carefully. At least one White House official now similarly outraged is speaking out, and I’m sure, I’m morally certain, that ambassador Wilson has the wherewithal to make this charge stick. Another time he used, measuring his words, when the story really broke here in Washington and appeared on the front page of The Times and The Post, he allowed himself to tell a "Washington Post" reporter that the whole Iraq seeking uranium from Niger, Kenard, begs the questions, in Joe’s words, "begs the question as to what else they’re lying about." Now, diplomats usually don’t talk about people lying, still less the president of the United States lying, and that threw the gantlet down. That’s beyond the pale, and that’s when Karl Rove decided, we need to do something, not so much to teach Joe a lesson, he’s beyond repair, but we need to warn people, other people, who know how this whole war was predicated and how the intelligence was cooked. We need to dissuade them. We need to tell them, look, we can go after not only you, but those near and dear to you, and we’ll think up something. So be deterred, folks, be deterred.

AMY GOODMAN: And Ray McGovern, it is not only Joseph Wilson who reported back to the C.I.A. that the documents were bogus, that the Niger connection wasn’t true. As he told the story, and we have talked to him several times, last on Friday, Wilson arrived in Niger and in late February 2002, and he learned that the U.S. ambassador to Niger, Barbara Owens KirkPatrick, knew of the allegations of the uranium sales to Iraq, had already debunked them in they are own reports back to Washington, and it was not only Owens Kirkpatrick who had filed a report, but also the four-star marine general, the deputy commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, Carlton Fulford. So there are at least three reports back. What’s so interesting about this is another point that we have discussed when you were in our studio, is that after this point, and "The Washington Post" exposed this a few months ago, that Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides repeatedly went to the C.I.A. And as you pointed out, highly unusual, you never experienced it in 27 years when you were at the C.I.A., to have a Vice President going to the C.I.A. And he said it was to have hands-on, you know, take a hands-on approach to gathering together the information. Well, what was the information at the C.I.A. but this, that this wasn’t true? And yet still this statement appears and it’s the rationale given, a very, very compelling rationale, the fear of the mushroom cloud, rationale given for the invasion of Iraq.

RAY MCGOVERN: That’s exactly right, Amy. We’re not talking about — you know, this may seem sort of arcane to people who are listening, you know, what is this whole story all about? But in a nutshell, you put your finger on it. It’s one thing to say, well, the president said something that was wrong in his state of the union address, and that is unfortunate. And it is unfortunate, especially the way it happened. But the real crime was committed at exactly this time last year when the administration had decided on war, needed to persuade Congress to approve that war, had nothing in the way of persuasive evidence, intelligence, to justify the need for war and dredged up this bogus report, false on its face, be aware that the government of Niger does not have it in its power to give or to sell uranium to Iraq. All the uranium mined in Niger is tightly controlled by an international consortium led by the French. Every ounce is accounted for. And so it was false on its face. And when it was revealed to be based on a forgery, you know, what is called …a false lie, OK. So, what this was used as was to persuade the Congress, as you appointed out, that there would be a mushroom cloud as the first indication that Saddam Hussein had nuclear arms in his hands. And that was enough — that was seduced then on October 7 by the president, October October 8 by Condoleezza Rice, October 9 by Victoria Clarke, spokeman for the Pentagon. October 11, congress cedes its power to make war to the president of the United States. That was the crime. That’s how that information was used. That’s why it’s so significant.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Ray McGovern, who is a former C.I.A. analyst. We also hear the words of Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, she basically repeated what McClellan had said when questioned by, among others, Russell MacKiverer of the corporate crime reporter, one of the few reporters to raise this in the White House press briefing. He asked about, when we played Joseph Wilson’s clip, talking about seeing Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. But the line that they use is very carefully stated. They never outright denied that this took place. Scott McClellan said, I’m telling you flatly that is not the way this White House operates. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, as we just heard, said very much the same thing. Never denying it was done, just saying it’s ridiculous or that it’s not the way the White House operates.

RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah, Amy, this is the nail in the coffin for me. This suggests to me that the White House people know that ambassador Wilson’s friends have the goods on Karl Rove, and they want to create a little bit of space between them and Karl Rove. You had been talking about weapons of mass destruction just a few minutes ago, and I have a new insight or a new warning on that, if you want to change the subject a little bit, or whatever is best for you, Amy.


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