Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek review the bidding in the Woodward leak mystery, and single out former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as a likely suspect:
So who is Novak's source—and Woodward's source—and why will his identity take the wind out of the brewing storm? One by one last week, a parade of current and former senior officials, including the CIA's George Tenet and national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, denied being the source. A conspicuous exception was former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage, whose office would only say, "We're not commenting." He was one of a handful of top officials who had access to the information. He is an old source and friend of Woodward's, and he fits Novak's description of his source as "not a partisan gunslinger." Woodward has indicated that he knows the identity of Novak's source, which further suggests his source and Novak's were one and the same.
If Armitage was the original leaker, that undercuts the argument that outing Plame was a plot by the hard-liners in the veep's office to "out" Plame. Armitage was, if anything, a foe of the neocons who did not want to go to war in Iraq. He had no motive to discredit Wilson.
Motive and opportunity. Let's start with opportunity - was Armitage in a position to pass along news of a Wilson and wife connection by mid-June? From Jeralyn Merritt, we get this from the Aug 25 LA Times:
After a June 12 Washington Post story made reference to the Niger uranium inquiry, Armitage asked intelligence officers in the State Department for more information. He was forwarded a copy of a memo classified "Secret" that included a description of Wilson's trip for the CIA, his findings, a brief description of the origin of the trip and a reference to "Wilson's wife."
Fair enough - Washington was buzzing about the June 12 Pincus story and the Kristof columns of May 6 and June 13 on the secret envoy that debunked the uranium reporting and discredited the Sixteen Words, and Armitage wanted the inside scoop.
And how about motive? Let's accept their assertion that "[Armitage] had no motive to discredit Wilson." However, the State Dept. had a strong motive to discredit the CIA.
As excerpted in this post, the State Dept (INR) representative at the meeting that launched the Wilson trip was skeptical that the trip would provide any useful intelligence, and was not impressed by the resulting Wilson report.
Furthermore, the INR / State Dept had been consistently more skeptical of the uranium reporting than the CIA. However, in the hastily marshalled October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the INR dissent on the uranium reporting was lost in a footnote in a different section (SSCI Report, conclusion 17).
So, if asked about the Wilson trip being glorified by Kristof and Pincus, what might an informed person at State say? After snorting derisively, they might say that on the uranium question, it was amateur hour at the CIA - they put together an ill-conceived and inconclusive trip, misplaced the timely INR dissent, mishandled the forgeries, and generally bungled the issue.
And as further evidence of the amateur-hour approach, the tidbit that Wilson was tapped for the trip by his wife may have been tossed in an amusing bit of supportive gossip intended to discredit the CIA, not Wilson.
Is that what happened? Might be - Newsweek seems to be leaning that way.
MORE: Add Condi Rice to the denials list.