Like my old friend Bill Ockham, I like simple explanations.
It has seemed to me that the simplest explanation of how Valerie Plame’s name wound up in the newspapers is that the Mayberry Machiavellis were angry at Joseph Wilson for raining on the Yellowcake parade, that they were looking for anything that might seem to discredit him, and that they decided to try suggesting that he was only sent on the mission due to his wife’s influence.
That leaves the problem of why they were willing to commit a serious crime (revealing the identity of a covert agent) for such a petty purpose. It’s barely possible that whoever did the leaking knew her name but didn’t know she was covert. That seems implausible, but is no farther-fetched than the idea that two senior people in the Bush White House just decided they were above the law and to Hell with it.
But that simple theory isn’t the only possible theory. Joseph Wilson has said that he thinks that the revelation was deliberate, a way of getting back at him by wrecking his wife’s career. That would be consistent with Karl Rove’s known methods of operation. An alternative theory offered by some of my readers is that Plame herself was the target, perhaps because she, or the CIA group of which she was part, was perceived as insufficiently willing to bend intelligence to the needs of the war-marketing effort.
Now Vincent Cannistraro, former Director of Operatiosn for the CIA’s counterterrorism group (of which Plame was a member) offers the most astounding theory yet: That the target wasn’t Plame herself, bu the CIA as an institution.
Naming of agent ‘was aimed at discrediting CIA’
By Edward Alden in Washington
Published: October 25 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: October 25 2003 5:00
The Bush administration’s exposure of a clandestine Central Intelligence Agency operative was part of a campaign aimed at discrediting US intelligence agencies for not supporting White House claims that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme, former agency officials said yesterday.
In a rare hearing called by Senate Democratic leaders, the officials said the White House engaged in pressure and intimidation aimed at generating intelligence evidence to support the decision to make war on Iraq.
Senior administration officials in July revealed the name of Valerie Plame, a former clandestine CIA officer and the wife of Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA in 2002 to assess claims that Iraq was trying to buy enriched uranium from Niger.
Mr Wilson had angered the White House by concluding that there was no evidence to support the claim, and then going public with that information after the war.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation to determine the source of the leak, which in effect ended Ms Plame’s career as a CIA operative and may have endangered agency sources who came in contact with her.
Vince Cannistraro, former CIA operations chief, charged yesterday: “She was outed as a vindictive act because the agency was not providing support for policy statements that Saddam Hussein was reviving his nuclear programme.”
The leak was a way to “demonstrate an underlying contempt for the intelligence community, the CIA in particular”.
He said that in the run-up to the Iraq war, the White House had exerted unprecedented pressure on the CIA and other intelligence agencies to find evidence that Iraq had links to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and that Baghdad was trying to build a nuclear bomb.
While the intelligence agencies believe their mission is to provide accurate analysis to the president to aid policy decisions, in the case of Iraq “we had policies that were already adopted and they were looking for those selective pieces of intelligence that would support the policy”, Mr Cannistraro said.
In written testimony, he said that Vice-President Dick Cheney and his top aide Lewis Libby went to CIA headquarters to press mid-level analysts to provide support for the claim. Mr Cheney, he said, “insisted that desk analysts were not looking hard enough for the evidence”. Mr Cannistraro said his information came from current agency analysts.
Other agency officials, who said they had been colleagues of Ms Plame when she was trained as a CIA agent, said the leak could do severe damage to the morale of the intelligence agencies. “The US government has never before released the name of a clandestine officer,” said Jim Marcinkowski, a former CIA case officer. “My classmates and I have been betrayed.”
Note that this turns neatly on its head the idea that the Plame scandal was cooked up by the CIA as a means of attacking the White House. What seems hard to deny is that the level of bad blood between the career CIA staff and the Bush team is so high as to pose a significant impediment to the process of figuring out what’s actually going on in the world.
I’m waiting to hear all about how Cannistraro, who served on the NSC staff under Reagan, is just another partisan Democrat.