Zell Miller is my favorite Democrat. I started this long-running series in March 2003 (with this post); in the series I’ve noted Miller’s speeches, columns, books and other items that reflect his excellence. Yesterday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an important column by Senator Miller on the subject that is the current focus of my interest: “Rule can head off dirty tricks at CIA.” Senator Miller’s proposed rule is of less interest than Senator Miller’s observation that the story underlying the saga of Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame is the story of the dirty tricks they have undertaken courtesy of the CIA to defeat the Bush administration.
Within the journalistic trade, only Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard and Clifford May at National Review Online have devoted significant attention to this story. The story has received extraordinarily little attention from the bigfoot journalists of the mainstream media, who have by and large contented themselves with peddling the canard that the Bush administration was out to “punish” Wilson by “outing” his wife.
Today’s Wall Street Journal provides yet another instance of a journalistic outsider — Washington attorney Victoria Toensing — pursuing the relevant facts in the underlying story: “Investigate the CIA” (subscription may be necessary for access to this column). Ms. Toensing puts me in mind of the little boy who pointed out that the emperor wore no clothes. Toensing outlines the facts hiding in plain sight that point to the real scandal the lamestream media have declined to cover or pursue:
First: The CIA sent her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a sensitive mission regarding WMD. He was to determine whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake, an essential ingredient for nonconventional weapons. However, it was Ms. Plame, not Mr. Wilson, who was the WMD expert. Moreover, Mr. Wilson had no intelligence background, was never a senior person in Niger when he was in the State Department, and was opposed to the administration’s Iraq policy. The assignment was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, at Ms. Plame’s suggestion.
Second: Mr. Wilson was not required to sign a confidentiality agreement, a mandatory act for the rest of us who either carry out any similar CIA assignment or who represent CIA clients.
Third: When he returned from Niger, Mr. Wilson was not required to write a report, but rather merely to provide an oral briefing. That information was not sent to the White House. If this mission to Niger were so important, wouldn’t a competent intelligence agency want a thoughtful written assessment from the “missionary,” if for no other reason than to establish a record to refute any subsequent misrepresentation of that assessment? Because it was the vice president who initially inquired about Niger and the yellowcake (although he had nothing to do with Mr. Wilson being sent), it is curious that neither his office nor the president’s were privy to the fruits of Mr. Wilson’s oral report.
Fourth: Although Mr. Wilson did not have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at taxpayer’s expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us, writing about such an assignment would mean we’d have to bring our proposed op-ed before the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board and spend countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with the thrust of Mr. Wilson’s oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in his op-ed.
Fifth: More important than the inaccuracies is the fact that, if the CIA truly, truly, truly had wanted Ms. Plame’s identity to be secret, it never would have permitted her spouse to write the op-ed. Did no one at Langley think that her identity could be compromised if her spouse wrote a piece discussing a foreign mission about a volatile political issue that focused on her expertise? The obvious question a sophisticated journalist such as Mr. Novak asked after “Why did the CIA send Wilson?” was “Who is Wilson?” After being told by a still-unnamed administration source that Mr. Wilson’s “wife” suggested him for the assignment, Mr. Novak went to Who’s Who, which reveals “Valerie Plame” as Mr. Wilson’s spouse.
Sixth: CIA incompetence did not end there. When Mr. Novak called the agency to verify Ms. Plame’s employment, it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.
Seventh: Although high-ranking Justice Department officials are prohibited from political activity, the CIA had no problem permitting its deep cover or classified employee from making political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” information publicly available at the FEC.
The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. It is up to Congress to decide which.