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News Media Last Updated: Dec 31st, 2005 - 13:52:10

Questions Bob Woodward has not answered
By Margie Burns
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 25, 2005, 22:21

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One ingenious theory about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative comes from a spookily alert reader who suggests that former CIA Director George Tenet may have played Vice President Cheney for a sucker.

In this ingenious scenario, Tenet could have told top-security-clearance Cheney that Wilson's wife recommended Wilson for the Niger inquiry, "BUT [in the reader's words] (cough,cough) 'FAILED TO MENTION' she was a clandestine N.O.C. working for the operations' side (not the public CIA analytical side)." In this delicious surmise, to use my reader's words, "Did Tenet anticipate that Cheney couldn't resist using this [item] in a 'black op' to hatchet a critic?"

No proof that that's what happened, of course, but what a reckoning: "No wonder when Powell showed Bush and Cheney (only) the INR memo with Plame's info marked 'SECRET NFE,' Cheney (to quote Powell) 'zeroed in on it!' At that fateful moment on AF1 (ironically over Africa), Cheney knew he had swallowed Tenet's poison pill and his 'kill the messenger' plan, being implemented by Scooter, was 'outing' a secret clandestine CIA operative . . . Surprise, surprise!"

Further delights: as the public knows, after Novak's column came out, "outing a CIA NOC & her front company," it was Tenet himself who "carefully reviewed the facts" and insisted that the DOJ investigate this "treasonous act."

Thus, "-- game, set, match point -- the CIA wins a 10-year bitter feud with Cheney's cabal." Hell hath no fury like "a DCI scorned," or words to that effect.

Many questions arise from the text of Bob Woodward's guarded but revealing statement ("Testifying in the CIA Leak Case," Washington Post Nov.16, 2005). Emailed and telephoned messages for Woodward at the paper have not been answered. Here are some of the questions that come to mind:

  • When Mrs. Wilson was mentioned, was the CIA front company Brewster Jennings mentioned as well? Was Brewster Jennings mentioned by any administration officials in the same period?

  • Who was the administration official who first told Woodward about Mrs. Wilson?

  • Now that that official has gone to the prosecutor himself, why is (only) the public not allowed to know his name? Is that secrecy to protect material for Woodward's upcoming book on Bush's second term?

  • The pertinent interview is said to have taken place "in mid-June 2003." What was the date? Could the conversation have been provoked by the June 14, 2003, conference on the Iraq war held at the Capitol, where Wilson gave the keynote speech? Could it have been in response to Wilson's saying, at that conference, that he was about to go public with his Niger information?

  • Was the interview on the phone or in person?

  • Who initiated the interview, the reporter or the unnamed official?

  • In retrospect, doesn't it seem odd that more than one government official mentioned that Wilson's wife was a CIA analyst, and also referred to her only as Wilson's wife rather than by name? Since those mentions were similar in style as in substance, don't they seem concerted, especially in light of later excuses that 'we didn't use her name'?

  • Did this official also drop the impression that Wilson's Niger trip had been arranged by Mrs. Wilson? Why doesn't Woodward's statement clarify that point, either way?

  • Was any documentation provided with the information, by the unnamed administration official?

  • Woodward's statement says that the reference seemed "casual and offhand." An administration official dropped an item about a CIA analyst to Bob Woodward, who has maintained contacts in the CIA for years and has written a book about the CIA, and he took the reference to be "casual and offhand"? Why?

  • The statement says Woodward then told Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus about the item. How soon after? Was it before July 13? In other words, was Woodward rather than Novak the first media person to transmit this item?

  • Bob Woodward, who has been criticized widely for years for being in bed with the CIA, and who is also management at the Post, idly dropped this item about a CIA analyst to one of his reporters? Why?

  • Did Woodward also pass along the item about Brewster Jennings?

  • Did he imply or express to Pincus that Mrs. Wilson arranged the trip?

  • The statement makes clear that Woodward had at least four conversations pertinent to the Plame inquiry, with at least three administration officials. Who initiated these interviews? Were they all recorded, and in their entirety?

  • According to the statement, "Though neither Wilson nor Wilson's wife's name had surfaced publicly at this point, Pincus had published a story the day before, Sunday, June 22, about the Iraq intelligence before the war. I testified that I had read the story, which referred to the CIA mission by "a former senior American diplomat to visit Niger." Although his name was not used in the story, I knew that referred to Wilson." How? From the unnamed official, or from elsewhere?

  • According to the statement, "I also testified that I had a conversation with a third person on June 23, 2003. The person was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and we talked on the phone." Was this in response to the Pincus article the day before?

  • According to the statement, "I testified that on June 27, 2003, I met with Libby at 5:10 p.m. in his office adjacent to the White House . . . Libby discussed the October 2002 [NIE] on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, mentioned 'yellowcake'and said there was an 'effort by the Iraqis to get it from Africa. It goes back to February '02.' This was the time of Wilson's trip to Niger." What does this item from Woodward's notes mean? Was it being suggested that the purported attempt to buy yellowcake came from Wilson's trip, rather than the other way around?

Joseph Wilson had replied, in response to emailed questions, that Woodward was not present at the EPIC (Education for Peace in Iraq) conference on June 14, and that he was also not present when Wilson was interviewed by the Post on July 6, 2003, the day his op-ed came out.

As has been pointed out by other writers, many of the same questions arise for Woodward as arose for Judith Miller at the New York Times. Since the story here is obviously that the administration went gunning for Wilson, why didn't Woodward report that? (Time magazine suggested on July 18 that the administration had "declared war" against Wilson.)

Since Woodward was not writing about this story, how is an official who planted items with him a "source"? Woodward's statement does not assert that he in any way solicited information about Mrs. Wilson in these conversations; quite the contrary. Is Woodward claiming blanket confidentiality for all items he hears, whether in journalistic context or not? Wouldn't that be rather like a priest's claiming the confidentiality of the confessional if someone revealed a crime to him while he was sitting at a bus stop?

Obviously it cannot be stated with certainty what difference it would have made, had Woodward published an item at that time, that an administration official had told him about Wilson's wife working for the CIA. We could already see that the White House was attacking its critics, although this would have been a particularly pointed example.

For what it is worth, I have read Woodward's book Plan of Attack, and no senior government official in it comes off as casual or offhand. But then, the book does not include June or July of 2003.

Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be reached at

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