As administration allies seek to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson as a partisan critic disregarding his commendation by President Bush Sr. for his "heroism" in the 1991 Persian Gulf War we speak with former intelligence officer Larry Johnson who worked with Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, at the CIA. [Includes transcript]
Click here to read to full transcript According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 69% of Americans believe there should be a special counsel independent of the administration investigating the allegations that Bush administration officials illegally leaked the name of an undercover CIA agent.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle and three other Senators wrote to the president repeating their call for a special counsel and asked for all White House senior staff members to sign a statement saying they were not responsible for the leak. Separately, Sen. Chuck Hagel said that Bush "needs to get this behind him" by taking a more active role.
Bush remained quiet on the topic, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan was besieged by questions from reporters with the Wilson affair filling 22 of 24 pages in the transcript of yesterday’s White House press briefing.
The White House left open the possibility that administration officials could submit to lie detector tests as part of the investigation. McClellan did not directly answer questions about whether White House staff would take polygraph tests saying "Full co-operation is full co-operation."
Meanwhile, administration allies are seeking to discredit Wilson, whose wife was named as a CIA operative. RNC Director Ed Gillespie said Wilson is prone to "rash statements" and is "someone–given his politics–who is obviously prone to think the worst of this White House."
However, as the former US ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson was formally commended by the Bush Sr. administration for his bravery and heroism in the weeks leading up to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. At that time Wilson was the only open line of communication between Washington and Saddam Hussein and the White House consulted Wilson daily. Wilson also helped evacuate thousands of foreigners from Kuwait, negotiated the release of more than 120 American hostages and sheltered nearly 800 Americans in the embassy compound. President Bush the First wrote Wilson in a letter which read in part: "Your courageous leadership during this period of great danger for American interests and American citizens has my admiration and respect."
- Larry Johnson, former intelligence officer at the CIA where he worked with Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame. He served as deputy director of the U.S. State Department Office of Counterterrorism, 1989-1993. He is now CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC ,an international business-consulting firm.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us.
Well, can you first respond to what has taken place? The outing of your colleague, Valerie Plame, Joseph Wilson’s wife.
LARRY JOHNSON: It was just a cheap political shot. Unfortunately there are elements of the Bush administration that seem intent upon plain and intense partisan politics and smearing people without dealing with the substance of issues.
I don’t care if Joe Wilson was an overt communist, that has nothing, no relevance to the fact that he delivered a report which was backed up by the other U.S. ambassador as well as backed up by Marine General who also conducted an investigation that there was no uranium being sold out of Niger.
So, instead of focusing on the substance of the issue what is underway we continue to see Scott McClellan engage in this to suggest that because of some political beliefs by ambassador Wilson that that discredits the substance of his report.
Unfortunately, that is what has become typical of politics. We saw it under the Clinton administration and now we’re seeing it under the Bush administration. George Bush promised a new tone in town and got the same old note.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, what was your relationship with Valerie Plame? Did you work directly with her?
LARRY JOHNSON: We went through special training program together, starting in 1985.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you understand about what she was doing?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, I don’t understand much about what she’s doing, but what is certain, she has been undercover since 1985.
Now, what the nature of that cover is, I don’t know, nor do I need to know. The spin that’s been put out by people like Bob Novack to suggest that she was "just an analyst", all I can say is that I was an analyst for the four years I was at the CIA. I was in an undercover capacity the entire time, which meant that the only person who was really aware of where I was actually working was my wife. The other members of my family thought I was working with another government agency.
AMY GOODMAN: The reports and Bob Novack’s piece, watching him yesterday on CNN saying, yeah, he used the word "operative" but he was using it loosely he didn’t quite understand, he sort of thought analyst, not really sure.
LARRY JOHNSON: Doesn’t matter. That is a red herring. That is completely irrelevant to the issue. Issue’s not was she an analyst or was she a cleaning lady, if she’s undercover she’s undercover, period.
If the media allows themselves to get distracted with those kinds of curve balls, they ignore the issue. Unfortunately there’s a lot of ignorance, that’s understandable.
To refer to Joe’s wife as an agent, she’s not an agent. Agents are people from other countries who are paid by the United States to betray their country; they’re spies. Intelligence officers, case officers, run agents. Joe’s wife is an intelligence officer not an agent.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, maybe you could just clarify for us as we take this look at the C.I.A. as a whole country peeks in, what does it mean to work under the Directorate of Operation?
LARRY JOHNSON: The Directorate of Operations, well as the name implies, is responsible for conducting operations. Those are clandestine operations, there’s need for being able to do some things which are not necessarily attributed to the United States, or people who are gathering information, or being asked to carry out actions on behalf of the United States can do so without necessarily being any attribution to the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your sense of where this leak came from, Larry Johnson?
LARRY JOHNSON: I’ve been told by someone who I believe has direct knowledge that it came out of the old executive office building.
I’m not going to identify specific individuals because I think that has to be carried out by the Justice Department to investigate.
I don’t want to try people in public, but I think we’ve seen a parsing of words, "No, it didn’t come out of the White House".
Well, the reporter are just doing their job. How about asking the follow-up question: Well did it come out of the old executive office building?
AMY GOODMAN: And who is in the old executive office building?
LARRY JOHNSON: Well, more of the President’s staff; people that work for the President; that work on national security issues. You have other senior officials from different agencies, the Vice President’s staff is there. You’ve got a whole host of people who might possibly — what we know for certain based upon what Bob Novack has said, is that two senior administration officials gave him this name.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson, it was interesting to watch the Vice President, Dick Cheney, on "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert a couple of weeks ago, because when he was asked about Joe Wilson he said, I never met Joe Wilson, I don’t know Joe Wilson.
We did a piece called "Does a Felon Rove the White House" I did with fellow producer Jeremy Scahill.
Looking at what Cheney said, he then went on to say when Russert told him, "Well he was sent by the C.I.A. " he said, "Who sent him?" clearly raising this question of his wife, I think is the suggestion.
But what about Dick Cheney going to the C.I.A. with Scooter Libby, his top aide, I believe Scooter Libby went, "Washington Post" reported, many times perhaps close to 20, the Vice President went a number of times as well during the period after Joe Wilson gave his report. He says he never heard about this, which is quite hard to believe considering the unprecedented nature of his visits as well as Scooter Libby’s. Do you think they have anything to do with this?
LARRY JOHNSON: Specifically to meet with analysts and/or operations folks and on these particular issues and to do it multiple times is unprecedented in my memory.
I’ve got two exceptional performance plaques sitting on my wall from my last year there. One is given for series of briefings I did for then Vice President Quayle over a four-day period.
Usually if you’re going to talk to the Vice President you go down to him he doesn’t come out to you.
What I am told by people who were inside working on intelligence issues at the time, is that there was direct pressure being brought by variety of people who were — they had a world-view of what they wanted to see. And they were insistent upon trying to get evidence to corroborate that world-view.
At the end of the day they were unsuccessful; there were some frustration on their part and I think there was some belief, I think it’s false, but a perception that the C.I.A. analysts and some of the C.I.A. operators were sandbagging them, that they really had the information they just weren’t sharing it with them.
It’s unfortunate, naive view of the world. That’s just not how it operates.
AMY GOODMAN: Larry Johnson to say the least, this is a political firestorm. You’re a Republican. Why are you speaking out?
LARRY JOHNSON: There’s right and wrong in this. I was disgusted by a lot of things I saw happening under the Clinton administration, and I expected a new tone and new direction. Instead we’re getting a level of thuggery with — the White House continues to do it.
What’s unfortunate, when I say White House I mean Scott McClellan by raising questions about Joe Wilson’s political affiliation. It’s not relevant The simple question is, who revealed the name of his wife and compromised her cover status; and why are they attacking Joe Wilson for bringing the news that was available also in other sources which told them that that report that the President based his State of the Union message on was erroneous; and that there was in fact no credible evidence that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear material. That was used as a pretext for war. That’s wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Was it common knowledge, as some had put forth, that Valerie Plame worked for the C.I.A.?
LARRY JOHNSON: No, it’s not. That is ludicrous. That’s more of the spin machine working back here, unfortunately.
She was undercover, by virtue of being undercover; she claimed to work for some other organization, and would not go out and say, "wink, nudge, I work for a government agency". That is not how it is done.
AMY GOODMAN: What did she work for? You’ve got people who say they work for another government agency as it sounds like you did or even though you were former intelligence officer…
LARRY JOHNSON: I’m not going to get into the specifics of how the cover works.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask one thing, in general I mean we have done pieces on, for example, the NOC program, which means Non-Official Cover, when a C.I.A. operative will say they’re working for, say Campbell’s soup or something overseas and Campbell’s soup provides that cover for them.
But in fact they are working — they are a C.I.A. operative. Could you explain that system? How that works?
LARRY JOHNSON: No. I’m not going to get into discussing what would be the sources and methods. It’s public knowledge that there are two systems of cover, that there’s official and not official. They’re both designed to provide a protection to the individual who’s put undercover as to well to allow them to perform their activities.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Larry Johnson, former intelligence officer at the C.I.A. where he worked with Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame. He served as deputy director of the U.S. State Department of Counter Terrorism,1989-1993; now C.E.O. and co-founder of Berg Associates, a business consulting firm. We’re about to speak with former C.I.A. agent Phillip Agee in Cuba, would you stay with us?
LARRY JOHNSON: I don’t really care to be on air with Mr. Agee. I think he’s a traitor and has already cost the lives of some Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks for joining us. We’ll ask Phillip about that. Thank you.
Stay with us. We’ll be back in a minute with Phillip Agee in Cuba.