Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Case of the Crimeless Investigation

And the Mystery of the Unseen Forgeries

Byron York, posting at National Review Online, described his meeting tonight with two of Valerie Plame’s neighbors. With the Plame leak grand jury set to expire on Friday, David Tillotson and Marc Lefkowitz told York that Monday was the first time any of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators contacted either one of them to ask if they knew that Plame worked for the CIA. Even though they considered themselves friends of Plame, they were unaware of her true employment.

Isn’t this a fundamental background check that should have been performed, say, in December 2003 or January 2004 when Fitzgerald took over the investigation? If he could have established then that Plame’s CIA cover was porous and had been compromised more than once before Robert Novak cited her name in his July 14, 2003 column, couldn't he have saved us from an unnecessary, unwarranted investigation that wasted scads of money and launched a First Amendment crisis?

Well, apparently it’s not too late in the investigation for a fact check. Here are some other leads for Fitzgerald to chase down.

Joe Wilson was one of the keynote speakers at the EPIC Iraq Forum in Washington, D.C. on June 14, 2003, one month before Novak’s column was published. The EPIC website listed the forum presenters and their brief biographies, including Wilson’s, which included this nugget: “He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has four children.” The entire blurb reads like a Who’s Who entry - perhaps the one Novak mentioned in his October 1, 2003 column, for instance?

Bill Gertz reported on July 22, 2004 that Plame’s undercover identity had been disclosed on two occasions unrelated to Novak’s column: once in the mid-1990s and again more recently.

On September 29, 2003, Clifford D. May asked, “Who leaked the fact that the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA? What also might be worth asking: ‘Who didn't know?’ I believe I was the first to publicly question the credibility of Mr. Wilson, a retired diplomat sent to Niger to look into reports that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium for his nuclear-weapons program. On July 6, Mr. Wilson wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: ‘I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.’ On July 11, I wrote a piece for NRO arguing that Mr. Wilson had no basis for that conclusion - and that his political leanings and associations (not disclosed by the Times and others journalists interviewing him) cast serious doubt on his objectivity. On July 14, Robert Novak wrote a column in the Post and other newspapers naming Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. That wasn't news to me. I had been told that - but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhanded manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.”

On July 21, 2004, Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of the New Republic, blew the lid off of Plame’s cover. “I myself had wondered why the CIA had been so dumb--such dumbness is something to which we should have long ago become accustomed!--as to send a low-level diplomat to check on yellowcake sales from Niger to Iraq when it should have dispatched a real spook. Well, it turns out that a ‘real spook’ had recommended him to her boss, that spook being Valerie Plame, who happens also to be Wilson's wife. He has long denied that she had anything to do with his going to Niger and that, alas, was a lie. It appears, in fact, that this is the sole reason he was sent. Still, in a lot of dining rooms where I am a guest here, there is outrage that someone in the vice president's office ‘outed’ Ms. Plame, as though everybody in Georgetown hadn't already known she was under cover, so to speak. Under cover, but not really. One guest even asserted that someone in the vice president's office is surely guilty of treason, no less--an offense this person certainly wouldn't have attributed to the Rosenbergs or Alger Hiss, Daniel Ellsberg or Philip Agee. But for the person who confirmed for Robert Novak what he already knew, nothing but high crimes would do.”

When Patrick Fitzgerald sends his investigators to interview May and Peretz, as a conscientious prosecutor should do, he can also ascertain what they know about how Wilson got his Niger assignment and if it was a boondoggle to benefit his consulting business. If Fitzgerald wants to investigate how Wilson learned that the “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong” on the alleged Niger forgeries, he should debrief Kevin Drum.

On July 24, 2004, Drum posted the rumor that Wilson learned the Niger documents were deemed by the CIA to be forgeries from an inside CIA source – wink wink, nudge nudge – before the agency issued its official findings in the final draft of an internal memorandum on June 17, 2003. Drum speculated that Wilson first accessed the classified information in May 2003, fed it anonymously to Nicholas Kristof for his May 6th column, and went public to claim the credit in the New York Times op-ed that he wrote under his own name on June 22.

If Fitzgerald is interested in CIA leaks that actually harmed national security, he should start with the Blowhard Ambassador and the Case of the Classified Forgeries.