Inconvenient Truth: Why Plame had to Go

Occam's Hatchet
Original Publication Date
Why Plame had to Go

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. - John 8:32

There is no doubt that the Bush Cheney neo-con cabal believes in an unfettered marketplace. Certainly, in the case of selling a war to Congress and the public, they believe in a marketplace, though one unfettered by truth.

Which is why, when selling the war in Iraq, and with an eye to the distant but upcoming war against Iran, Valerie Plame Wilson had to go.

Valerie Plame Wilson was working on counter-proliferation of nuclear arms in Iraq and Iran until she was outed by someone in the White House. When her cover was blown, so was the entire "brass-plate" cover operation she worked for - Brewster-Jennings.

With the destruction of Brewster-Jennings, so went the career of a key player in the CIA's human intelligence apparatus, her value investigating nuclear programs in the Middle East went with it also. -- This, more than revenge against Joe Wilson, appears to be exactly what the neo-con cabal in the White House wanted.

By stifling the gathering of contradictory intelligence on nuclear proliferation in Iran, the Bush Cheney administration, which has long sought war with Tehran, could put forth all manner of faulty and/or fabricated "intelligence" with regard to the Iranians' nuclear capabilities and intentions. Without any credible means to refute such assertions, selling a war with Iran would be that much easier.

It was exactly this methodology that they used in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Even earlier, it's exactly what many of the same cast of characters did with respect to the "threat" posed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Yet its roots go even deeper than that, back to the 1950s.

So, follow me, as we travel back in time . . .

It was the late 1950s. The Cold War was in full swing. Sputnik orbited menacingly over the United States, an innocuous bit of hardware in itself - kind of cute, actually - but a reminder to those with more active imaginations of the horrors certain to befall America if the threat of imminent Soviet nuclear attack were not addressed. A turf war was raging in the Pentagon over budget (Plus 衠change, plus c' est la m뮥 chose , eh?). The Air Force wanted to make the case that the Soviet Union possessed a huge number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) so that the Strategic Air Command could lay claim to a larger portion of the defense budget relative to the Army and Navy for their respective ground and sea forces. So the Air Force and its SAC component each laid out their case:

Air Force Intelligence was estimating that Soviets would deploy 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles by the early '60s. The intelligence branch of the Strategic Air Command figured the Soviets would, or might already, have 1,000 or more.

Ahh, yes. Well. Unfortunately, the intelligence experts, who had no such axe to grind, had reached a different conclusion (emphases added throughout, unless otherwise noted):

The CIA, on the other hand, calculated the number at about 50.

And, not surprisingly, even that conservative estimate was too high - by a factor of 12:

(By the time John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, photos from spy satellites revealed that the Soviets had just four ICBMs.)

Darn that Reality!

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, President Richard Nixon was pursuing a policy of détente with the Soviets. This did not sit well with some of the more rabid right-wing elements in the United States. The proto-neo-cons, already firmly entrenched in the national political machinery of Nixon's White House (and, subsequently, Ford's) decided they needed to "take matters into their own hands":

In the mid-1970s, a group of well-known hawks, mainly former policy-makers and retired officers, started clamoring that the Soviets were acquiring a first-strike capability and that the CIA was gravely underestimating their prowess and might. President Gerald Ford, under growing pressure from the right, succumbed to what seemed a modest demand to let a team of their analysts examine the same data that the CIA had been examining and come up with alternative findings. It was sold as an "exercise" in intelligence analysis, an interesting competition Team A (the CIA) versus Team B (the critics). Yet once allowed an institutional footing, the Team B players presented their conclusions and leaked them to friendly reporters as the truth, which the pro-detente administration was trying to hide.

Who were the players behind Team B? Perhaps its major driving force was Richard Perle, who at the time served on the staff of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson:

Although Richard Perle played no direct role in Team B, he was instrumental in setting it up. It was Perle who had introduced Richard Pipes, a Polish immigrant who taught Czarist Russian history at Harvard, to Sen. Henry Jackson, catapulting Pipes into a clique of fanatically anti-Soviet hawks. Pipes, who served as Team B's chairman, later said he chose Wolfowitz as his principal Team B adviser because Richard Perle recommended him so highly.

Perle would go on to become assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, where he was joined in 1982 by a young Douglas Feith, who served as his counsel. Other familiar names were included in Team B during its 1975-76 tenure:

Ford administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were among those challenging the CIA's estimate of Moscow's military power as too soft. . . Cheney, as White House chief of staff, and Rumsfeld, as secretary of Defense, championed Team B, whose members included the young defense strategist Paul Wolfowitz, who a quarter-century later would be one of the chief architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. source

CIA Director William Colby rejected the Team B concept and was fired. Colby's successor as head of the spy agency, George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, accepted it. source

Of course he did. I mean, who wouldn't love a group that was created solely to fabricate rationales to support their calls for military escalation, by using only whatever scraps of information or misinformation - no matter how dubious or thoroughly discredited by the intelligence establishment - they could lay their hands on, or make up? Needless to say, ultimately truth will out - but only after billions of dollars have been spent and, in many cases, lives have been lost.

And just what did Team B's "intelligence" conclude about the Soviet nuclear threat?

The Team B report read like one long air-raid siren: The Soviets were spending practically all their GNP on the military[!!!]; they were perfecting charged-particle beams that could knock our warheads out of the sky[!!!!]; their express policy and practical goal was to fight and win a nuclear war[!!!!!].

Blah, blah, blah - SADDAM HUSSEIN!!!!

Oops, wrong decade, wrong Enemy. Heh. Sorry.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah -

So what did the slavering neo-cons of Team B do with this cooked-up batch of Cold War baloney?

Team B's conclusion that the CIA was indeed soft on the Soviets was leaked to sympathetic journalists [cough--Judith Miller--cough] and generated public support for a new round of military spending, particularly on missiles.

Only one small problem;

Almost everything in the Team B report turned out to be false. source

In 1978, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the selection of Team B members yielded a flawed composition of political views and biases. Consequently, the Team B analysis was deemed a gross exaggeration and completely inaccurate.

source "In retrospect, and with the Team B report and records now largely declassified, it is possible to see that virtually all of Team B's criticisms ... proved to be wrong," Raymond Garthoff, a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, wrote in a paper for the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence [in 2002]. "On several important specific points it wrongly criticized and 'corrected' the official estimates, always in the direction of enlarging the impression of danger and threat." source

When challenged, the neocons responded as only they could:

Team B also claimed that the Soviets were working on an anti-acoustic submarine, though they failed to find any evidence of one. The hawks explained away this lack of evidence by stating that -

- wait for it -

"the submarine may have already been deployed because it appeared to have evaded detection."

Which brings us, quite naturally, to Iraq.

The name "Team B" was so '70s; this time, Doug Feith needed a new moniker, something official-sounding and weighty. Besides, with a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, there was no need to give the appearance of an adversarial, off-the-plantation group of devil's advocates; whatever "intelligence" "analysis" this new group came up with, would almost certainly receive the imprimatur of the White House and become official U.S. policy.

Hmm, what to call it, what to call it? Hey! How about (ahem) the Office of Special Plans. Sounds impressive and well considered, a group to be taken seriously. Makes it sound like they'll actually be doing some planning. Perfect!

Thus is the OSP created in October 2001 to sell to Congress and the American public the idea of an already-decided-upon invasion of Iraq, an invasion the neo-cons and the Bush Cheney cabal hand been hankering for since at least 1997. The OSP runs independent of all other intelligence agencies, scraping up whatever it finds on the bottom of every Iraqi defector's shoes, trumping up, for example, charges that Mohammed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, and deciding that Iraq attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger - anything that would support Bush Cheney's sales pitch, which - it has been decided - would be that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, which pose an imminent threat to the United States.

Never mind that

the consensus within the intelligence community in 2002 -- that Iraq's ties with Al Qaeda were inconsequential; that its nuclear weapons program was minimal at best; and that its chemical and biological weapons programs, which had yielded significant stocks of dangerous weapons in the past, may or may not have been ongoing -

- all of that could be gotten around, just as it was with Team B. Vice President Dick Cheney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich paid visits to CIA headquarters several times.

In the summer of 2002, Vice President Cheney made several visits to the CIA's Langley headquarters, which were understood within the agency as an attempt to pressure the low-level specialists interpreting the raw intelligence. "That would freak people out," says one former CIA official. "It is supposed to be an ivory tower. And that kind of pressure would be enormous on these young guys." source

Mr. Gingrich visited Langley three times before the war and, according to accounts, the political veteran sought to browbeat analysts into toughening up their assessments of Saddam's menace.

Mr. Gingrich gained access to the CIA headquarters and was listened to because he was seen as a personal emissary of the Pentagon and, in particular, of the OSP. source

- and, as a result, the CIA's analysis was shaped to the administration's wishes, at the behest of Cheney and OSP's proxy, Gingrich.

So where does CIA agent Valerie Plame - married name Valerie Wilson - fit into all of this? Pretty simply, she headed up the work that CIA was doing investigating Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program:

But that summer [of 2001] -- before 9/11 -- word came down from the brass: We're ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.

There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists--in America and abroad--looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi immigrants to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.

"We knew nothing about what was going on in Iraq," a CIA official recalled. "We were way behind the eight ball. We had to look under every rock." Wilson, too, occasionally flew overseas to monitor operations. She also went to Jordan to work with Jordanian intelligence officials who had intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes heading to Iraq that CIA analysts were claiming--wrongly--were for a nuclear weapons program. (The analysts rolled over the government's top nuclear experts, who had concluded the tubes were not destined for a nuclear program.)

The JTFI found nothing. The few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Task force officers sent reports detailing the denials into the CIA bureaucracy. The defectors were duds--fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.) The results were frustrating for the officers. Were they not doing their job well enough--or did Saddam not have an arsenal of unconventional weapons? Valerie Wilson and other JTFI officers were almost too overwhelmed to consider the possibility that their small number of operations was, in a way, coming up with the correct answer: There was no intelligence to find on Saddam's WMDs because the weapons did not exist. Still, she and her colleagues kept looking. (She also assisted operations involving Iran and WMDs.)

(Note that last sentence; it'll become more important.)

So Valerie Plame Wilson heads up the CIA unit investigating the status of Iraq's nuclear program, beginning in summer 2001, before 9/11. After more than a year of diligent digging, her unit, JTFI, finds nothing.

Bush Cheney is not happy.

But - no matter! As stated earlier, their "Team B" boys - now going by the cool, 21st-century handle, "Office of Special Plans" - will create their own reality, being part of an empire and all.

So they did.

The OSP "got busy" -

There was a mountain of documentation to look through and not much time. The administration wanted to use the momentum gained in Afghanistan to deal with Iraq once and for all. The OSP itself had less than 10 full-time staff, so to help deal with the load, the office hired scores of temporary "consultants". They included lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous rightwing think tanks in Washington. Few had experience in intelligence.


"They surveyed data and picked out what they liked," said Gregory Thielmann, a senior official in the state department's intelligence bureau until his retirement in September. "The whole thing was bizarre. The secretary of defence had this huge defence intelligence agency, and he went around it."


The civilian agencies had the same impression of the OSP sleuths. "They were a pretty shadowy presence," Mr. Thielmann said. "Normally when you compile an intelligence document, all the agencies get together to discuss it. The OSP was never present at any of the meetings I attended."

The OSP's particular witches' brew of hearsay, wishful thinking, lies, distortions and personally and politically motivated out-and-out horse manure won the day. Of course, the fact that they utterly circumvented normal channels to get the ear of the White House helped, too.

Most remarkably, on September 16, 2002, two days before the CIA was to produce its postponed assessment, Mr. Feith's cell went directly to the White House and gave an alternative briefing to Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff [Scooter Libby], and to the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's deputy [Stephen Hadley].

The briefing contained the section alleging "fundamental problems" with CIA intelligence-gathering. It also gave a detailed breakdown of the alleged meeting between [9/11 hijacker Mohammed ]Atta and an Iraqi agent [in Prague].

The following week, senior Bush officials made confident statements on the existence of a link between Saddam and al-Qa'eda. Mr Tenet would learn of the secret briefing only in March 2004.

And - voila! - Shock and Awe, Sold! to Congress and the American public.

Then Joe Wilson has to go and shoot his big fat mouth off.

Well, some bright neocon may have thought, maybe this time the administration can get a two-fer: Discredit Wilson, and get rid of his pesky wife, whose JTFI unit needs to shut up about the lack of WMD in Iraq - and, by July 2003, they're undoubtedly working on investigating Iran. And what odds would you give that they're coming up with a similar lack of credible evidence about any nuclear programs in Iran?

The OSP, true to its name, does indeed have "plans" for Iran:

War with Iran has been in the works for the past five years, shaped in almost complete secrecy by a small group of senior Pentagon officials attached to the Office of Special Plans. The man who created the OSP was Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy. A former Middle East specialist on the National Security Council in the Reagan administration, Feith had long urged Israel to secure its borders in the Middle East by attacking Iraq and Iran. After Bush's election, Feith went to work to make that vision a reality, putting together a team of neoconservative hawks determined to drive the U.S. to attack Tehran. Before Bush had been in office a year, Feith's team had arranged a covert meeting in Rome with a group of Iranians to discuss their clandestine help. . . .

In the end, the work of Franklin and the other members of Feith's secret office had the desired effect. Working behind the scenes, the members of the Office of Special Plans succeeded in setting the United States on the path to all-out war with Iran.

Uh, that "Franklin" would be, um, one Larry Franklin, who was sentenced a year ago to 12 years in federal prison for passing classified information to Israel in the AIPAC scandal. Yes, these are the guys who're driving our policy toward Iran.

Well, hey, here's some more on this wacky bunch, from April 2004:

Leading the charge against Iran is [American Enterprise Institute]'s Michael Ledeen, perhaps best known for setting in motion the US-Israeli arms deal with Iran in the mid-1980s that became known as Iran/contra. Supporting Ledeen's position are two other AEI fellows: Richard Perle, the ringleader of the neocons and a former member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, and David Frum, a Weekly Standard contributing editor and the former White House speechwriter who coined the phrase "axis of evil." In their new book, An End to Evil, Perle and Frum call for a covert operation to "overthrow the terrorist mullahs of Iran." Speaking to retired US intelligence officers in McLean, Virginia, in January, Ledeen called Iran the "throbbing heart of terrorism" and urged the Bush Administration to support revolutionary change. "Tehran," he said, "is a city just waiting for us." . . .

So! Given the Feith-based initiative that's hell-bent on whipping up an anti-Iranian frenzy just like the one that got us into our current situation in Iraq, is it any wonder at all that Valerie Plame Wilson, whose JTIF group working within the CIA found no evidence of an ongoing nuclear program in Iraq that posed any kind of a threat to the United States - in short, whose group unocovered reality and the truth - would be a prime target for the BushCheney neocon cabal that has been so intent for so many years on invading Iran, just as they were on Iraq?

Of course it's no wonder. It makes perfect sense; anyone willing and able to get at the truth is an impediment to most all of the actions of this administration and its criminal enterprises. And the beauty of outing Valerie Plame Wilson is that in doing so, so much damage could be wrought to Enemies of the BushCheney administration - or, more accurately, to Friends of The Truth.

On the other hand, if revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative isn't an impeachable offense, then I don't know what is.

About the Author: Occam's Hatchet is a blogger living in Southern California. He is a regular contributor to DailyKos and My Left Wing.

Other ePluribus Contributors and Fact Checkers: Aaron Barlow, silence, kfred, roxy, standingup