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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 12th, 2007 - 00:28:08

The Libby case: Cover for a fiasco
By John B. Peebles
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 12, 2007, 00:24

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The I Lewis �Scooter� Libby jury has convicted the vice president�s former chief-of-staff on four of the five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI and grand jurors investigating who outed CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Libby is hardly a common criminal, so he�s free on bail pending appeal. Assuming appeals fail and no retrial is granted, he will lose his law license as a felon. Libby will probably receive a prison sentence of perhaps 18 months or so, likely to be served in the proverbial federal �country club.�

Meanwhile, the massive right-wing conspiracy, which built a bogus case for war, goes unpunished, even as the consequences of its �intelligence failure� cost Americans and Iraqis a stream of blood and wasted treasure in Iraq. True accountability for using lies to justify war has not been forthcoming. The major contributor in limiting accountability has been the corporate media that failed to question the integrity of pre-invasion claims. No effort was made to understand the process by which intelligence was supposed to be vetted.

Like George W. Bush, the media share some shame for the debacle now unfolding in Iraq. By diminishing the scope of our failure until well after the 2004 election, the media shielded the president from political repercussions. Contradictions in the administration�s case for war had emerged by then, but by 2004 the US had become mired in Iraq.

By 2006, Bush�s party wasn�t so lucky, perhaps in part to more critical media coverage disseminating more of the truth out of Iraq to the American public. It would have been far more valiant to have been critical four years ago, before 3170 flag-draped coffins were sent home and more than 600,000 Iraqis lost their lives.

The media have avoided any deeper analysis of the root of the Plame scandal. Libby played only one part in the outing. The White House hasn�t been directly confronted for its role in orchestrating the campaign to expose Plame.

The corporate media has quickly morphed the �CIA Leak� coverage away from the awkward details raised in the trial that implicate higher-ups. The standard for proving criminal conduct is high, and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald�s investigation showed the limits of prosecuting leaks. Still, many ethical barriers were crossed in the revealing of Valerie Plame�s secret identity.

It wasn�t by coincidence that the flow of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) tall tales and fanciful Al-Qaeda connections made its way into the media; they�d been directed there by the war�s crafters and the people in the media to whom they routinely fed information. A group including Scooter Libby worked to promote the war as part of the White House Iraq Group. Reporter Judith Miller exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq on the front pages of The New York Times. The same reporter would go on to serve jail time in order to keep Fitzgerald and the grand jury from finding out the identity of the source who outed Plame to her.

The corporate media continue to talk about presidential candidacies for an election 18 months away. They�re tired of celebrity doting, but will certainly return to issues other than how and why Plame was outed or, more importantly, by whom.

The media ignore the difference between �faulty intelligence� and outright lies which were planted to serve a narrow political agenda: to wage war on Iraq and obtain a second term in the White House.

What�s in a title?

The corporate media have put the Plame story in a box, sealed it, and let it join the steady flow down the black hole. The story of Libby�s conviction is barely 24 hours old before it�s sandwiched by coverage of a huge lottery payout to a New Jersey resident and ActiveOn commercials.

Sometimes the media dance gets to be too much. I stopped watching CNN�s coverage when the scrolling text described Plame as a �CIA analyst� in a gross distortion of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson�s wife�s job description. Plame, in fact, directed a unit that was actively fighting the proliferation of WMD. Her unit worked through the front company of Brewster Jennings & Associates.

Plame�s unit had rejected neocon darling Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the Iraqi National Congress and a convicted embezzler, who provided a stream of lies, or �faulty intelligence� as the media likes to put it. The media (through some of the same channels used to expose Plame) fanned pieces of information fed to the White House through Chalabi.

Plame�s counterproliferation unit had discredited Chalabi as an intelligence asset. The State Department, which had assigned a team to do post-invasion planning on Iraq, similarly learned to ignore Chalabi.

Meanwhile, the neocons in the Pentagon and White House eagerly swallowed Chalabi�s claims. Chalabi had said that the Americans would be welcomed with open arms [1]. The State Department and CIA disregarded Chalabi�s assertions based on the grounds the source was biased.

The Pentagon, however, welcomed Chalabi�s cheery predictions. Neocon advocates for war were eager for any intelligence that built a case against Hussein for WMD. It had been funding Chalabi�s exile group, the Iraq National Congress [2]. His identity cloaked, quoted as an anonymous defector, Chalabi helped make the case for war, which scored political points with the neocon agenda within the administration.

The Pentagon, headed by Donald Rumsfeld, had become highly politicized. The intelligence-gathering responsibilities had shifted from traditional intelligence rivals at the CIA and State and closer to the defense secretary and Pentagon.

To the war-hungry neocons, the CIA was seen as weak, underestimating the threat and thus undermining the imperative for preemption. It�s no wonder the CIA lost favor, as its higher standards had made it unable to appease the administration�s demand for friendly intelligence. Intelligence that failed to make a �slam-dunk� case for war with Iraq simply wasn�t acceptable. More rational voices were drowned by the shrill calls of the chickenhawks for war.

The enabling strategies came from a national security apparatus masterminded by Dick Cheney. After 9/11, the military and executive were closer than ever before; tentacles of the executive burrowed deep within the military decision-making apparatus and command structure, constricting the flow of information.

Under Bush, the chain of command underpinning the intelligence gathering process has been politicized and shifted from the CIA and State to the Pentagon. Dissent from subordinate intelligence gathering organs was suppressed alongside any nonconforming intelligence from rival agencies.

Still, the neocons were not content to rely on the Pentagon for its intelligence to promote the Iraq War. Neocons assigned two primary objectives for the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a shadowy, pro-war contingent of mostly Republican consultants operating within the Pentagon. The OSP was tasked with gathering news and information that referred to WMD in Iraq, or implicated the country in terrorism. It�s been accused of cherry-picking intelligence that supported the war. [3]

The vice president, with Libby in tow, held meetings at Langley, where Cheney�s been accused of arm-twisting the CIA.

Plame�s name reportedly came up in the course of those meetings. Cheney appears unable to have been able to entirely shut down intelligence that contravened the case for war. Instead, by intimidating the CIA, he�d been able to staunch the flow of countervailing information, which included reports like Wilson�s, which undermined the credibility of the lies (�false intelligence�) that the White House Iraq Group peddled.

The intelligence that Plame�s unit gathered eventually collided with spin churned out by neocon operatives at the Office of Special Plans, which had been assigned to build the case for war by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG).

Were Plame�s unit not brought down, they threatened to contradict the findings of the OSP and implicate the administration for planting false intelligence. Thus Plame -- and more importantly her husband -- presented a political threat to the administration, especially once Wilson�s op-ed in The New York Times, �What I Didn�t Find in Africa,� affirmed the former ambassador�s intent to make the issue public. (Wilson has allegedly sought redress through private channels and was rebuffed.)

At some point the White House mandate shifted to an effort to contain criticism of its case for war. Key to its defense was the idea that �false intelligence� had made its way into the decision-making tree. In fact, we now know the intelligence was known to have been unsubstantiated, from sources like Chalabi and �Curveball,� a defector with no credibility [2].

The packaging of the case for war required making taking shortcuts that could, in turn, become problems for the administration if the liberties it had taken with the intelligence gathering process were revealed. Wilson dared to attack the case for war, an important political objective for the White House. The only issue is how far the White House went to stem criticism of the intelligence it has used to make its case for war.

More to it?

Perhaps there�s more to the �CIA Leak� than discrediting Joe Wilson. There�s certainly far more to the scandal than the guilty verdict for a mid-level operative in the White House�s core cadre.

Plame�s group is rumored to have prevented a real life clandestine deal that may have brought live WMD to Iraq from Turkey. The White House would have been eager to discover WMD after the invasion. With an election a year away, the political consequences of an unraveling of false intelligence could have been costly. In this respect, Joe Wilson presented a clear and present danger to the administration�s re-election.

If there had been an effort to smuggle WMD into Iraq -- and the motive was certainly there -- it may have been interdicted through Plame�s counterproliferation group. A scheme to smuggle WMD into Iraq would backfire if it were exposed, causing tremendous damage.

Maybe Wilson�s report on Niger�s yellowcake was a Trojan Horse planted by the CIA as payback to the White House. Based on Wilson�s report, the CIA must have known at the time that Iraq had not acquired yellowcake uranium from Niger, and that its oversight responsibility had been subverted or been intentionally ignored.

The CIA may have even gone so far as to keep Cheney in the dark on Wilson�s findings. This might explain why Cheney was so eager to hear that Wilson had gone on a junket, not a real trip to verify claims that Iraq had bought yellowcake in Niger.

The CIA is responsible for overseeing the accuracy of content in the president�s State of the Union Address, so the inclusion of the 16 words broke established protocol. The leadership at CIA had known about Wilson�s report and the lack of a Niger connection. The infamous 16 words were added subsequently. By not intervening in the 16 words--something Tenet was clearly pressured to do -- the CIA let the administration birth a clear falsehood, one which Wilson would dutifully expose.

An abridgement of the CIA�s role in confirming the validity of intelligence circumvented the normal system of check and balances on the State of the Union. If Bush�s claims were inaccurate, the system for confirming them had been mismanaged, demonstrating, at a minimum, gross negligence or quite possibly a conspiracy to produce and spread fake intelligence.

Eager to make its case, the White House had been suppressing any intelligence that was contradictory to that manufactured by the OSP and spread by the WHIG, which included many of the same people who are suspected of leaking Plame�s identity to reporters: Cheney, Libby, Armitage, and Rove.

Wilson�s report on Niger uranium was only one flash point where truth and the administration�s positions failed to meet. Jailed on a contempt charge for refusing to disclose the source who told her about Plame, reporter Judith Miller wrote numerous articles based on questionable intelligence. One of her primary sources may have been Libby; if not why had she tried so hard to keep Libby�s role out of Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald�s reach?

Many questions remain unanswered concerning the White House�s role in building the case for war, the shortcuts it took, and perhaps even the outright lies it told to get its war in Iraq.

Plame exposure

Plame�s outing sent the message that the administration was willing to go to extreme lengths, even betrayal, to protect the intelligence on which it had made its case for war.

Plame�s secret identity was pumped into the symbiotic relationship between the press and the White House, where secret channels turn secrets into gossip. Libby, Armitage, Rove, and other White House operatives were able to spread information about Plame. By leaking simultaneously, through multiple reporters, all but Libby have managed to avoid any legal consequences, which is no great challenge considering the difficulty of prosecuting leaks.

It�s worth remembering that Libby has faced no charges related directly to revealing Plame�s identity, and he may even be pardoned despite his recent conviction.

The media were quick to discuss the probability of a pardon. The coverage I saw raised no debate on the fairness of Libby walking free, or the injustice done Plame, her livelihood, or our national security, instead, time was given over to discussion of whether one participant in her outing would escape punishment through a late-term Bush pardon, such as Clinton�s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Under the notion of a �unitary executive,� the powers of the executive are unlimited. One example of this exercise of absolute power is the use of signing statements by the president. President Bush claims that he is able to take any action, on whatever grounds necessary, in order to protect the American people from terrorism.

The exercise of absolute power -- called in its many forms tyranny -- tends to lead most tyrants to magnify their own authority to mammoth proportions. The sense of superiority leads to overestimating the power of the regime. In time, aggression is constrained by geopolitical and military limitations, like those faced by the US in the bogus �War on Terror.�

The result of the Libby trial fails to demonstrate that any legal limits have been established in the Bush presidency�s presumption of preeminent authority. The White House hasn�t been held accountable for its role in revealing the identity of a covert agent, which is illegal under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.)

It will come down to Congress to hold the White House accountable. A full inquiry into the Plame leak scandal must be arranged promptly. To weaken Republican aspirations for the presidency in 2008, Democrats have plenty of political ammunition. The Plame betrayal presents one more bullet, alongside the prominent failures in Katrina and Iraq.

If our political systems still functions, Congress must confront the White House for its fabricated justifications for war.


1. �Post-war planning non-existent� By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott; Knight Ridder Newspapers; Oct.17, 2004; � . . . officials, advisers and consultants in and around the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney�s office bet on Iraqi exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, who assured them that Iraqis would welcome American troops as liberators.�

2. Excerpt, NBC News� Meet the Press, May 16, 2004
Russert: You mentioned Mr. Ahmad Chalabi. He was the person responsible for the agent Curveball, that I talked about with Secretary Powell, who gave discredited information. Mr. Chalabi is still on the payroll of the United States government for three . . .
Biden: Almost 400 a month.
Russert: Four hundred thousand dollars . . .
Biden: A month.�

3. �The New Pentagon Papers� by Karen Kwiatkowski; March 3, 2004

Other Sources:

The spies who pushed for war� by Julian Borger

What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA� David Corn

Plame Games Expose WMD �Intelligence Failure� Scam� by Ahmed Amr

Wolfowitz Committee Told White House to Hype Dubious Uranium Claims� by Jason Leopold

Postwar Planning: �Pentagon Civilians� Lack of Planning Contributed to Chaos in Iraq� by Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel

Selective Intelligence� by Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker May 6, 2003; �The Special Plans Office developed a close working relationship with the I.N.C., and this strengthened its position in disputes with the C.I.A. and gave the Pentagon�s pro-war leadership added leverage in its constant disputes with the State Department. Special Plans also became a conduit for intelligence reports from the I.N.C. to officials in the White House.�

John B. Peebles writes for his blog,, where he follows global, political and economic issues.

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