Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Prelude to a Leak -( Treasonous cover-up of treason, if ya ask us?......

Yeah, yeah...we know, no one did ask us.)
By John Barry, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

Oct. 31, 2005 issue - It is the nature of bureaucracies that reports are ordered up and then ignored. In February 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney received a CIA briefing that touched on Saddam Hussein's attempts to build nuclear bombs. Cheney, who was looking for evidence to support an Iraq invasion, was especially interested in one detail: a report that claimed Saddam attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. At the end of the briefing, Cheney or an aide told the CIA man that the vice president wanted to know more about the subject. It was a common enough request. "Principals" often ask briefers for this sort of thing. But when the vice president of the United States makes a request, underlings jump. Midlevel officials in the CIA's clandestine service quickly arranged to send Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate the uranium claims. A seasoned diplomat, Wilson had good connections in the region. He would later say his week in Africa convinced him that the story was bogus, and said so to his CIA de-briefers. The agency handed the information up the chain, but there is no record that it ever reached Cheney. Like hundreds of other reports that slosh through the bureaucracy each day, Wilson's findings likely made their way to the middle of a pile. The vice president has said he never knew about Wilson's trip, and never saw any report. If he had, Cheney might not have been inclined to believe a word of it anyway. At the time of Wilson's debunking, the vice president was the Bush administration's leading advocate of war with Iraq. Cheney had long distrusted the apparatchiks who sat in offices at the CIA, FBI and Pentagon. He regarded them as dim, timid timeservers who would always choose inaction over action. Instead, the vice president relied on the counsel of a small number of advisers. The group included Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and two Wolfowitz proteges: I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, and Douglas Feith, Rumsfeld's under secretary for policy. Together, the group largely despised the on-the-one-hand/on-the-other analyses handed up by the intelligence bureaucracy. Instead, they went in search of intel that helped to advance their case for war.

Central to that case was the belief that Saddam was determined to get nukes—a claim helped by the Niger story, which the White House doggedly pushed. A prideful man who enjoys the spotlight, Joseph Wilson grew increasingly agitated that the White House had not come clean about how the African-uranium claim made it into George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address. In June, Condoleezza Rice went on TV and denied she knew that documents underlying the uranium story were, in fact, crude forgeries: "Maybe somebody in the bowels of the agency knew something about this," she said, "but nobody in my circles." For Wilson, that was it. "That was a slap in the face," he told NEWSWEEK. "She was saying 'F--- you, Washington, we don't care.' Or rather 'F--- you, America'." On July 6, Wilson went public about his Niger trip in his landmark New York Times op-ed piece.

From there, as we now know, things got a bit out of hand. Within the White House inner circle, Wilson's op-ed was seen as an act of aggression against Bush and Cheney. Someone, perhaps to punish the loose-lipped diplomat, let it be known to columnist Robert Novak and other reporters that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative, a revelation that is a possible violation of laws protecting classified information. This week the two-year-long investigation of that leak could finally end. It is widely expected that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor appointed in the case, may issue indictments of one or more top administration officials, possibly including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Of course, Fitzgerald could always pack up without issuing a single indictment, or even an explanation why. Tight-lipped, Fitzgerald has not said a word about his intentions. That has left Washington breathlessly reading into the flimsiest clues. Last week bloggers seized on the discovery that Fitzgerald had set up a Web site, which was taken as a sure sign that indictments were around the corner. Lawyers who have had dealings with Fitzgerald's office, who spoke anonymously because the investigation is ongoing, say the prosecutor appears to be exploring the option of bringing broad conspiracy charges against Libby, Rove and perhaps others, though it's still unclear whether Fitzgerald can prove an underlying crime.

Some lawyers close to the case are convinced Fitzgerald has a mysterious "Mr. X"—a yet unknown principal target or cooperating witness. Some press reports identified John Hannah, Cheney's deputy national-security adviser, as a potentially key figure in the investigation. Hannah played a central policymaking role on Iraq and was known to be particularly close to Ahmad Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress supplied some of the faulty intelligence about WMD embraced by the vice president in the run-up to the invasion. Lawyers for Rove and Libby have said their clients did nothing wrong and broke no laws. Last week Hannah's lawyer Thomas Green told NEWSWEEK his client "knew nothing" about the leak and is not a target of Fitzgerald's probe. "This is craziness," he said. Whatever news Fitzgerald makes this week, however, the case has shed light on how Cheney and his clique of advisers cleared the way to war, and how they obsessed over critics who got in the way.



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