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October 02, 2003

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Swopa

I thought the Ambassador was a bad penny before the Novak column, and before the Corn article, and I have the blog to prove it.

I read this and thought, "Geez, he keeps harping on this, I suppose I should go back and check out what he's talking about."

I've looked now, and you need to rethink this, because your position doesn't stand up.

Your complaints about Wilson's credibility are based on two points:

1. He didn't report every single detail of his trip to Niger in his NYT op-ed. Well, there's a shocker.

Both the Wilson op-ed and the Tenet description are abbreviated summaries of his trip. If you compare Wilson's description in the TPM interview with the Tenet summary, you can see that Tenet chose to play up a tidbit that Wilson found insignificant (a Niger official who declined a secondhand invitation to meet with an Iraqi delegation, then told Wilson in retrospect that maybe the Iraqis would have wanted to talk about uranium if the meeting had taken place).

Ascribing this to Wilson being dishonest rather than Tenet adding spin is a judgment call on your part -- and a somewhat curious one, since the CIA's opinions on Iraqi WMD have been rather obviously proven to be overstated.

2. He claimed that mentioning his wife's maiden name was damaging and intimidation, but he himself has mentioned it elsewhere. This is a rather sizable misinterpretation on your part.

Just saying "Joe Wilson is married to Valerie Plame" in isolation is no big deal, because there's nothing to connect her name to her CIA work.

What Wilson is saying is that given the decision to tell reporters, "Pssst, Joe Wilson's wife is a CIA operative," including her maiden name in the leak is especially insidious because doing so makes it easier for overseas baddies to connect the dots. Isn't that kind of obvious?

And think about this for a moment: What good reason could there be for including her maiden name as part of the leak?

TM

On the maiden name question, first of all, if its in Who's Who, maybe Novak looked it up (I haven't double checked to see if he says this).

Secondly, if its in Who's Who and on the web, the bad guys could connect the dots without any help from the WH. Isn't that obvious?

If leaking "Wilson's wife is CIA" is bad, then adding "her maiden name is Plame" does not compound the damage, since that is easily available.

On the fundamental Niger trip, Wilson wrote about what he found in Niger. He left out that he reported to the CIA about Saddam's people sniffing around for possible business ventures, which would probably mean uranium.

He then tells people "I didn't find anything". What he means is, "I found something that, evidently, the CIA thought was important, but I disagree with their assessment". Not the same at all, and a very reasonable point for a WH staffer to point out.

Swopa

. . . a very reasonable point for a WH staffer to point out.

Perhaps so, but that's not how you're using it, is it? You're saying that it makes Wilson "a bad penny," someone of dubious credibility.

That's not a fair interpretation, especially since subsequently known facts -- e.g., the lack of any Iraqi nuclear program -- weigh in the favor of Wilson, not the CIA.


Regarding Plame, you skipped over the main point -- Wilson was not saying that merely mentioning his wife's maiden name (without connecting her to the CIA) was a damaging leak. So it's wrong to impugn his credibility for mentioning her name elsewhere.

About the other aspects ... whatever the source, Novak and/or the leaker still went out of their way to say "Valerie Plame" rather than "Wilson's wife, Valerie." Why do you think that was?

And IIRC, Novak didn't identify her as "the former" Valerie Plame, so he wasn't just copying the institute bio. What's the language in "Who's Who"?

Cecil Turner

Wilson's main credibility problem is not that he left stuff out of his NYT article, it's that he wrote it at all. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I prefer not to read about CIA operations in the NYT op-ed pages.

Add that to the strange assignment (pro bono, by his wife or one of her co-workers, no written report), and you have to wonder what's going on at the CIA WMD shop.

His subsequent publicity tour and fingering Rove and then having to back off doesn't help.

Wind Rider

I have a hard time buying in on the intentional smear angle. It doesn't really fit with the pattern of behavior so far from this White House, empty proclamations to the contrary aside. They don't seem to be the tit-for-tat bunch. Also, since Wilson's allegations really didn't get that much traction once closely examined the first time around, revisiting a story that had pretty much disappeared from the mainstream headlines seems a pointless waste of time, another exercise that this White House doesn't really seem to spend a lot of time doing.

As for Wilson's credibility, in my mind he pretty much shredded it himself by making such a definate statement based on what in reality was a very, very narrow look at the issue - even if it was in country, with mint tea in hand. He admitted himself that he neither saw the document/report that he was assigned to check out, so hence, he makes the assumption that it was the discreditted 'Italian' documents. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But anyone willing to make such broad generalizations based upon the limited information he was privvy to, concerning the entire state of intelligence concerning Iraqi Uranium procurement efforts, was immensly irresponsible. That those proclaimations also dovetail into the political agenda of those he has kept company with of late only serves to make his credibility on the matter even more suspect.

I could find it credible that Plame's employment status with the CIA (merely the fact of) but not the details of her exact status, and the implications thereof, being close to common knowledge, and passed along on background during an interview, without specific agenda attached, is plausible. While Novak has been mum on the topic of who he talked to, so far, I'm not sure what the motivations are of the journalists that supposedly received the unsolicited contacts specifically identifying Plame. One would think that a journalist in that position, with the ability to name names and garner the headlines thereof, would be screaming those names as loudly as possible. Given the whole 'cloak and dagger' approach that the people weilding these particular blades have adopted, it raises more interest in my mind as to who these un-named journos are slinging this allegation, than who it might be that they'd 'rat out' for making the calls. And once they did name names, if the names were at a certain level, then there would of course be the scrutiny available of phone logs and diaries, which might just rain all over the parade of direct quotes currently being generated with anonymous abandon.

The entire thing has had the aura of a media induced and generated feeding frenzy - with stuffed sharks, freeze-dried water, and powdered blood.

Eric M

Though I agree with Swopa, TM is probably right, they were trying to get at Wilson's credibility. The stupid thing is, Wilson was right, the whole thing was a hoax.

Anybody who speaks truth to power on Iraq is going to get a Fox News camera up his ass, so we can't tell from the news reports if Wilson is qualified or not. We can tell from the physical evidence that he was right on this issue.

Novak's source was maybe trying to say that Bush never should have sent a Democrat for this job, which I guess is fine, but even if you accept it, so what? So if it was news management, it was a poor effort. What else could it be but poor? The uranium-from-Niger story was a fake.

Cecil Turner

The documents were fake, uranium from Niger is probably true.

And Bush never sent Wilson--it seems likely his wife did. Without showing him the documents he was supposed to be checking, making him sign a non-disclosure agreement, or with any real plan to produce useful information, by all accounts.

CIA agents are not supposed to "speak truth" to uncleared personnel. And certainly not in the NYT op-ed pages. If this turns out to be CIA analyst wars between differing factions on Iraq WMD, played out in the newspapers, everyone involved should be fired. Including Plame.

Swopa

Cecil,

You might want to re-check your understanding of the facts. From Wilson's op-ed in the NYT:

The mission I undertook was discreet but by no means secret. . . . I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.

As he explained further in an interview with Joshua Marshall:

They asked me if I would be prepared to go out. I said sure, but they need to understand a couple of things. One, I don't do clandestine. I'm not a trained operative. . . . I don't have a very low profile in West Africa, because I was--I'd been the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council, and because during my tenure we had taken the president of the United States to Africa, which was considered by Africans to be a visit of historic importance throughout the continent, even in those countries he didn't visit. Because I speak very good French, I was often interviewed by French-speaking African magazines, so I was well-known in Africa. . . . as was demonstrated when I went on this trip. By the time I got to the hotel--just in the time it took for me to get from the airport to the hotel--there were already a couple of people at the hotel whom I knew, or who knew me, and who wanted to say hello to me. Wanted to talk to me about this, that, or another thing.

So, it was impossible for me to be low-profile on something like this.

Just a thought: You may be misinformed on a few other aspects of this controversy as well. Perhaps you should check. :-)

TM

Just to demonstrate that I read spy novels - suppose the CIA was curious (or had been asked by the Brits) to find out whether Saddam was sniffing around Africa **attempting** to purchase uranium.

Plan A - send an operative, see what they find.

Plan B,the low budget alternative - send a pro bono former diplomat on a slightly different mission, and see if he stumbles across anything useful. Possible benefits - low budget, and, since they have read the Russia House (Le Carre) they know that asking questions reveals ignorance.

Having Wilson ask questions about how Niger controls its uranium gives away no ignorance. And we note that Wilson himself wondered why the CIA sent him, since the current Ambassador to Niger had already covered the point Wilson was ostensibly sent to address.

But, voila, Wilson stumbles across a seemingly minor and unrelated point, which appears totally insignificant to him, but which is exactly what the CIA (or at least some of the analysts) was hoping to dig up.

Does Wilson write in the NY Times "I also mentioned an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, but I didn't take it seriously, and no one else should either"? That would be the truth, combined with his evaluation.

No. He writes, roughly, "I found no evidence connecting uranium, Niger, and Iraq". That is his evaluation, minus the facts.

That, plus the maiden name, plus It's Karl Rove, well, maybe not, strike me as evidence that he exaggerates.

Now, here is the Ambassador with Katie Couric:

Mr. WILSON: Well, you know, what was left out of my interview with Andrea Mitchell was--was my comment that I would not answer any specific questions about my wife. But hypothetically speaking, as others have reported, including TODAY, it would be--it would be damaging not just to her career, since she's been married to me, but since **they mentioned her by her maiden name**, to her entire career. So it would be her entire network that she may have established, any operations, any programs or projects she was working on. It's a--it's a breach of national security. My understanding is it may, in fact, be a violation of American law.

Now, reading that, he seems to think that things were made worse by the release of her maiden name. They were not made worse - the news that his wife is CIA combined with Who's Who or the internet, does as much damage as Novak reporting her name.

Eric M

Cecil, honestly your first comment is just faith-based. I understand how it's hard to let go of these things. At some point in your life (the sooner the better), you'll realize that there is a higher standard than your political side, there is a standard of truth. I'm sorry but I don't think you're matching that standard here.

Cecil Turner

Swopa,
I read Wilson. He said he worked pro-bono, didn't file a written report, and never got to read the documents he was supposedly checking. I didn't find the tale very credible. .

According to Novak:
"The CIA's decision to send retired diplomat Joseph C. Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate possible Iraqi purchases of uranium was made routinely at a
low level without Director George Tenet's knowledge."

I think it's a perfectly reasonable question to ask why we're sending people on CIA missions and later reading about it in the NYTimes. It's also perfectly reasonable to ask if his wife assigned him, and if so, why.

As to being misinformed, please point out a specific case. While you're at it, you might check into your previous claim of Ms Plame joining the CIA at 22. According to the NYT, she got two advanced degrees, a one-year failed marriage, and worked in a department store for a bit before joining.

TM

If this turns out to be CIA analyst wars between differing factions on Iraq WMD, played out in the newspapers, everyone involved should be fired. Including Plame.

That is an easy theory to develop. If there were Iraqi hawks in the CIA in the 90's, they were lifted up by Cheney in 2001. In which case, you could have an annoyed old guard, and the new kids on the block sniping at each other.

Tricky to suck the WH into it, but possible.

Cecil Turner

Wilson's article would certainly have gotten White House attention. And some quick checking by them to the CIA would have turned up the fact his wife worked there. At that point, you'd expect some very irritated management.

What doesn't make sense is outing her. How much more satisfying would it have been to say: "Plame, pack your bags, we're sending you to Niamey where you can investigate yellowcake to your heart's content. We'll pay your hubby's air fare if he wants to join you."?

Jim Wilson has a similar theory up on his site. He goes on to say:
If this is what happened, then there is one large outrage here, and one very small one. The very small one, the revealing of Plame's CIA job, is getting all the attention. The larger one is getting almost none, even from conservatives. It is always wrong for bureaucrats to undermine legitimate policies of elected officials. We want the CIA and every other agency to put forward its ideas; we can not, in a democracy, have them sabotaging the policies of the president.
http://www.seanet.com/~jimxc/Politics/index.html

Swopa

TM,

IMO, there's little doubt that the WH is involved, and at a fairly high level.

Don't take my word for it -- just read the transcripts of the WH press briefings, and the evasiveness when either Rove or Bush's response to the leak comes up.

On Wednesday, for example, the poor spokesman had another of his freeze-up moments when a reporter asked him whether Rove denied saying, "Wilson's wife is fair game."

He also was forced to say, after repeated questioning over two days, that the White House didn't know what Bush's reaction was to the leak, or when he found out -- and this is a guy whose job it is to speak to Bush daily. They couldn't even come up with a decent cover story!

Which means that Bush's response was at best a shrug, and at worst a question about how they would keep from getting busted for it.

Swopa

Does Wilson write in the NY Times "I also mentioned an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, but I didn't take it seriously, and no one else should either"? That would be the truth, combined with his evaluation.

No. He writes, roughly, "I found no evidence connecting uranium, Niger, and Iraq". That is his evaluation, minus the facts.

You have curious definitions of "facts" and "evaluation."

The factual statement is that there was no attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium. You can make the evaluation that one meeting that didn't happen MIGHT have been about uranium IF it had happened, but you cannot properly assert that as fact.

I might also note that the CIA's differing evaluation, which you call Wilson dishonest for not citing, was issued in the Tenet statement five days AFTER Wilson's NYT op-ed. Is Wilson a phony because he hasn't mastered time travel?


reading that, he seems to think that things were made worse by the release of her maiden name. They were not made worse - the news that his wife is CIA combined with Who's Who or the internet, does as much damage as Novak reporting her name.

Please; you must know how disingenuous this comes across.

If nothing else, you could acknowledge what a far cry this is from your original argument.

Swopa

You can make the evaluation that one meeting that didn't happen MIGHT have been about uranium IF it had happened, but you cannot properly assert that as fact.

To clarify my own statement -- I mean that you cannot properly assert that as a factual "attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium."

Swopa

you might check into your previous claim of Ms Plame joining the CIA at 22. According to the NYT, she got two advanced degrees, a one-year failed marriage, and worked in a department store for a bit before joining.

This is a definite discrepancy between the NYT article and the first-hand testimony of someone who said he trained with her in 1985. However, I might note that the latter didn't crawl out the woodwork; he's a widely known counterterrorism expert (and self-identified Republican) who served in a high-level post in the first Bush administration.

So perhaps the article has it wrong. My guess is that its reference to "finishing her studies" means her undergraduate degree, and she was already a CIA employee when she went overseas to do her graduate work.

Cecil Turner

My guess is that Johnson got it wrong (he wasn't very definite in his initial statement, and the NYT piece seemed consistent). But the point is that there are several discrepancies in the reporting, and you can't read any story uncritically.

The now-infamous six journalists who supposedly took calls from White House staffers has been reported as fact so many times nobody questions it. But they could easily come forward to admit they were contacted without revealing the source . . . and haven't. And the only basis is a single, anonymous source quoting the effort second-hand, who didn't materialize until weeks after the story broke. If the silence continues, that'd tend to bolster Novak's later column, which tends toward the news management interpretation, which would seem to support a theory like Jim Wilson's.

I'm not saying that's true. But it might be. And while we're investigating, I don't see any reason not to look into who at the CIA sent Wilson to Africa, and why.

TM

Well,let's put my original post in there and we can see how "disingenuous" I have been:


Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, our man in Niger and star of "The Valerie Plame Wilson Affair", demonstrates that the "C." does not stand for "Credibility". Seamole points us to the July 21 Newsday article:

Wilson, while refusing to confirm his wife's employment, said the release to the press of her relationship to him and even her maiden name was an attempt to intimidate others like him from talking about Bush administration intelligence failures.

"It's a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we'll take your family and drag them through the mud as well," he said in an interview.

Seamole then finds another shot across the bow, evidently meant to intimidate adjunct scholars at the Middle East Institute. From Ambassador Wilson's on-line bio:

He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters.

Bullies. And get a screen shot.

Seamole has more.

UPDATE 1: With help from Barry, whose kung fu dwarfs mine on this sort of thing, I learn that Ambassador Wilson made the "maiden name claim" on Katie Couric's Today Show. I don't know where he got the transcript, but you can find it here. So, did the Ambassador lie on national television? Well, he was pretty misleading, since he does cast it as "hypothetically", but he must know (assuming he is aware of his own bio) that his hypothetical does not hold up.

Since Newsday dropped the "hypothetically" qualifier, either he "lied" to them, or they engaged in sloppy reporting. In his defense, on the Today Show he corrected Andrea Mitchell's report, which dropped the "hypothetically", so I can believe he used the qualifier with Newsday, if they are reporting a separate interview. But what pattern is emerging? The Ambassador is presenting a "hypothetical" that he ought to know is false, and reporters are dropping the qualifier. That is a lie, or pretty close. I'll tell you what I think - this Ambassador is spinning it mighty fine, here.


OK, let's repeat the Today transcript:

Mr. WILSON: Well, you know, what was left out of my interview with Andrea Mitchell was--was my comment that I would not answer any specific questions about my wife. But hypothetically speaking, as others have reported, including TODAY, it would be--it would be damaging not just to her career, since she's been married to me, but since **they mentioned her by her maiden name**, to her entire career. So it would be her entire network that she may have established, any operations, any programs or projects she was working on. It's a--it's a breach of national security. My understanding is it may, in fact, be a violation of American law.

And I stand by my original post - hypothetically speaking, adding the maiden name did not add any damage at all. And Newsday clearly picked up on that as a key point.

Now, perhaps I am confused as to what "disingenuous" means, but I do weary of this.

Swopa

One question: Where in the original post do you refer to adding the maiden name?

The answer is, you don't. In fact, you don't mention the CIA angle at all. You pretend that Wilson is complaining about mentioning his wife's maiden name all by itself, then blast him for doing the same in a couple of personal biographies.

Which is a bogus attack.

Getting clearer for you yet?

Swopa

Hello?

TM

If your point is that it is possible to misinterpret my words, well, that is very often the case.

If your point is that I am being unreasonable in saying that the hooting and hollering revolved around the exaggerated nature of this claim, rather than your interpretation, well, I disagree.

Swopa

I can see how people often "misinterpret" your words if you insist that their meaning includes things you didn't say. Silly of me to think that you might bear some responsibility for that. I'll try to read your mind better from now on. :-)

But let's take your revised claim at face value: Adding the maiden name did not add any damage at all.

Well, mathematically, that's possible -- maybe every single bad actor overseas who saw Plame mentioned in Novak's column would have found her name through other means. But is it certain? 100% certain? So certain that any claim to the contrary makes someone dishonest?

I'll tell you what is 100% certain -- putting her maiden name right next to the revelation of her CIA employment made sure that no one would miss it.

And since her maiden name was a conscious part of the leak, it's entirely accurate to say (as Wilson does) that the leak damages the security of her entire career.


Any response to the Tenet point, by the way?

Swopa

And, lest you forget, I'm still interested in your opinion on this:

... whatever the source, Novak and/or the leaker still went out of their way to say "Valerie Plame" rather than "Wilson's wife, Valerie." Why do you think that was?

Especially since this question is basically doubled by Novak's bizarre Brewster-Jennings charge on TV. Could interested parties have found out this information (like Mrs. Wilson's maiden name) through their own efforts? Yes. But it sure seems like someone -- whether it's Novak or the people who are leaking to him -- is determined to broadcast it as widely as possible, as if to rub in the CIA's face that its secrets are being exposed.

Care to address this issue of malicious vindictiveness (or vindictive maliciousness)?

TM

I am more inclined to address the question of whether you think putting a smiley face at the end of a paragraph suggesting I am a liar makes everything all right.

I am trying to be civil here. What I left out in my earlier post was "wilfully misinterpret" my words. Subject to that revision, what I meant to post was,

"If your point is that it is possible to misinterpret my words, well, that is very often the case.".

Your concern seems to be that I did not clearly and explicitly state that revealing the Ambassador's wife to be CIA was, in itself, a breach of security. My presumption was that my readers are smart enough to deduce that on their own, although evidence to the contrary is certainly accumulating. :-)

Swopa

Well, others can read the above exchanges and come to their own conclusions as to whether I was "willfully misinterpreting" your post.

They can also see that I've raised several substantive issues in this thread, and you've now run away from every single one of them.

That may lead them to some kind of conclusion as to who's being dishonest here.

Cecil Turner

Swopa,

If you google on JCWilsonIV/bio, the first hit is the bio that states he's married to the former Valerie Plame. Pretending you can read deep dark significance into the use of her maiden name is just silly. Either the leaker or Novak might just be a lazy googler.

Wilson's harping on the point is equally silly. Unless he's clairvoyant, there's no way he could know why "Plame" was used, and the simplest possible search connects the dots in less than a minute. If the leak were nothing more than "Wilson's wife sent him . . . she works at CIA as a WMD analyst," the article could easily end up the way it's written.

Finally, continued nitpicking of Tom's word usage (on his blog) is unnecessary and tedious. I had no difficulty following his meaning, and can't believe you did, either. Repeatedly calling him a liar is rude and would be wrong even if it wasn't his blog. It also gets in the way of the discussion. If you'd like a debate on substantive issues, bring them up without the ad hominems. Right now they're lost in the noise.

TM

Thank you Mr. Turner. And good point, Swopa - I am relying on people to form their own conclusions.

TM

Oh, and onthe short list of constructive suggestions, Swopa - you have a blog. Take a moment to articulate your concerns, and post them. I have linked to you before, and the odds are I will do so again, probably in an update to this post.

Swopa

If the leak were nothing more than "Wilson's wife sent him . . . she works at CIA as a WMD analyst," the article could easily end up the way it's written.

But Novak has consistently stated -- and repeated again on Meet the Press this morning -- that the "senior administration official" gave him the name. (As the Jennings-Brewster fiasco shows, research isn't Novak's forte.)

And as I've pointed out above (twice, with no response), Novak and/or the leaker made a conscious choice to say "Valerie Plame" rather than "Wilson's wife, Valerie."

So the Novak article intentionally included information that would connect Wilson's wife to her previous overseas work. Which is exactly what Wilson said in the quote TM says shows him to be dishonest -- even though Wilson's statement is 100% accurate.

Cecil Turner

Well, to start I don't think Novak's careful enough in his word choices to be parsed that precisely. And as you note, his errors and misstatements are not uncommon.

And on the use of "Plame" instead of "Mrs Wilson," it removes confusion when using a one-word identifier for one of the pair, and is convenient. I notice most of us, including you, have done that in this thread.

And while there may be nefarious intent, I don't see how you could reasonably conclude it from the available evidence. Wilson's apparent view that it was an aggravating factor doesn't, in my opinion, hold up under scrutiny. Especially since it is so readily available from on-line sources. It seems to me once you say "Wilson's wife is a WMD spook," you've done all the damage you can. Any interested professional could be expected to extrapolate the rest.

However, I tend to agree with you that this isn't a great indicator of Wilson's truthfulness. He may well believe it, or just be using it because it reinforces the "picking-on-the-wife" issue. Which, if she's not involved, is a perfectly legitimate gripe. (And at any rate it plays well.) There are other parts of his story I find much harder to credit.

Alex

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Max

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Wilson/Plame