Breakthrough on Valerie Plame: The CIA Goes Nuclear

And now, the moment all you Valerie Plame fans have been waiting for: the CIA has made a formal referral to the Justice Department. [*]

Summary of the affair here.

Thread starts here.

All of the previous speculation, in this space and others, about whether Ms. Plame was or was not covert is now obsolete: she must have been, or there would be no offense for the Justice Department to investigate. And thus all the chatter about Joseph Wilson’s character and motives is also irrelevant.

(Which doesn’t make this interview between Wilson and Josh Marshall any less interesting. I look forward to the day when journalists routinely publish transcripts of their interviews.)

The eerie wall of silence from the right side of the blogosphere is starting to crack: Drudge, of all sites, is leading with this story. (I’m now willing to bet that the equally eerie silence from the major dailies will also end.) Update Time has it, and reports that DoJ has started a preliminary inquiry.

And I think we can count on Howard Dean, who has already broached the issue, and Wesley Clark and Bob Graham to keep this issue boiling.

Some of Atrios’s commentators [*] make cynical remarks about the “Ashcroft Justice Department.” It’s not that simple.

Formally, as Josh Marshall notes [*], Ashcroft has to make a decision whether to refer the matter to the FBI for investigation. But if he tries to refuse, he will face a firestorm, internally as well as externally. Six months or a year ago, with Bush riding high, Ashcroft might have been able to get away with it. But not now.

[Update As Tom Maguire points out [*], David Corn of The Nation, who broke the story in the first place, predicted a month ago [*] that George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, would kill the investigation out of loyalty to Bush. That he didn’t could be the result of (1) personal outrage at what was done, (2) institutional loyalty to a wronged subordinate and to the need to keep covert things covert; (3) fear of what his career employees would think, say, and do if he tried to bury the matter; (4) self-interest in his reputation as a straight shooter; or (5) a simple desire to do his job according to the law. Of those, all but #2 will operate, to a greater or lesser extent, on Ashcroft. It’s important to remember that not everyone who works for the Bush Administration is a melodrama villain, curling his moustaches as he snickers over the evil he is about to do. Most of these folks think of themselves, and want others to think of them, as patriots and decent human beings, and what seems to have been done to Valerie Plame is an affront both to decency and to patriotism.]

Once Ashcroft asks for an investigation, it gets carried out by career people in the FBI, people with reputations to protect. Someone will ask Rove the straight-up question whether he ever talked to Novak or anyone else about Plame, and whether he knows of anyone else having done so. When Rove answers those questions, he will know that lying to the Bureau is itself a federal crime. He will also know that the press shield laws may not apply in this case, and that reporters who refused the bait may not feel as bound to protect their sources as Novak does.

Wilson’s stated ambition to “see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs” no longer seems out of reach.

CIA seeks probe of White House

Agency asks Justice to investigate leak of employee’s identity



WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the White House broke federal laws by revealing the identity of one of its undercover employees in retaliation against the woman’s husband, a former ambassador who publicly criticized President Bush’s since-discredited claim that Iraq had sought weapons-grade uranium from Africa, NBC News has learned.

THE FORMER ENVOY, Joseph Wilson, who was acting ambassador to Iraq before the first Gulf War, was dispatched to Niger in 2002 to investigate a British intelligence report that Iraq sought to buy uranium there. Although Wilson discredited the report, Bush cited it in his State of the Union address in January among the evidence he said justified military action in Iraq.

The administration has since had to repudiate the claim. CIA Director George Tenet said the 16-word sentence should not have been included in Bush’s Jan. 28 speech and publicly accepted responsibility for allowing it to remain in the president’s text.

Wilson published an article in July alleging, however, that the White House recklessly made the charge knowing it was false.

“We spend billions of dollars on intelligence,” Wilson wrote. “But we end up putting something in the State of the Union address, something we got from another intelligence agency, something we cannot independently verify, in an area of Africa where the British have no on-the-ground presence.”


The next week, columnist Robert Novak published an article in which he revealed that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative specializing in weapons of mass destruction. “Two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate,” Novak wrote.

The White House has denied being Novak’s source, whom he has refused to identify. But Wilson has said other reporters have told him White House officials leaked Plame’s identity.

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell reported Friday night that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether White House officials blew Plame’s cover in retaliation against Wilson. Revealing the identities of covert officials is a violation of two laws, the National Agents’ Identity Act and the Unauthorized Release of Classified Information Act.


When the Niger claim first arose, in February 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to

Africa to investigate. He reported finding no credible evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

The CIA’s doubts about the uranium claim were reported through routine intelligence traffic throughout the government, U.S. intelligence officials said. Those doubts were also reported to the British.

The Niger report included a notation that it was unconfirmed when it was published in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the classified summary of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs.

The CIA had the Niger claim removed from at least two speeches before they were given: Bush’s October address on the Iraqi threat, and a speech by U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte.

As the State of the Union address was being written, CIA officials protested over how the alleged uranium connection was being portrayed, so the administration changed it to attribute it to the British, who had made the assertion in a Sept. 24 dossier.

By’s Alex Johnson with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: