News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Raw Story | Court filings shed more light on CIA leak investigation

02/02/2006 @ 12:28 pm
Filed by John Byrne and Ron Brynaert

Third Time reporter, named in filings, says he has not testified in case

A series of striking revelations have emerged after the release of dozens of pages of court files in the CIA leak investigation that have gone unnoticed by the mainstream media, RAW STORY has found.

Some of them have been uncovered by astute bloggers – including the fact that the outed agent’s husband will not testify at a trial, and that a third Time reporter has been fingered as having information potentially relevant to some aspects of the case.

Moreover, the documents reveal that no formal damage assessment has been done with regard to how the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame affected the agency’s operations worldwide. They also hint that Vice President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby may have outed Plame on the orders of his “superiors.”

Fitzgerald’s Jan. 23 letter was penned in response to a series of telephone conversations, letters, and motions filed by Libby, who was indicted for obstructing justice in the Plame investigation. Libby has sought to force the prosecutor to turn over more information about his case to bolster his defense.

In the letter, Fitzgerald notes that a third Time Magazine reporter – who now serves as Slate’s chief political correspondent – had conversations with Administration officials about a trip conducted by Plame’s husband to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger.

"We also advise you that we understand that reporter John Dickerson of Time magazine discussed the trip by Mr. Wilson with government officials at some time on July 11 or after, subsequent to Mr. Cooper learning about Mr. Wilson’s wife," Fitzgerald writes. "Any conversations involving Mr. Dickerson likely took place in Africa and occurred after July 11."

Matt Cooper, also a Time reporter, testified that Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove had cautioned him to play down the Wilson trip. Wilson, an ardent Bush critic, said he found no evidence to support claims that Iraq had sought to obtain uranium in order to build a nuclear weapon. Such claims were a keystone in the Administration’s efforts to convince the United States and Congress to support a pre-emptive war.

Reporter says he hasn’t been contacted in case

Dickerson told RAW STORY in an email message Thursday morning that he has not been contacted by the prosecutor.

“I didn't know I was mentioned in the court filings until I saw it on the web,” he said. “I've never been contacted by anyone in Fitzgerald's office.”

From July 8 to July 12, 2003, President Bush took a five-country tour of Africa, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. A pool of reporters, including Dickerson, accompanied the President’s retinue.

Although the White House correspondent made no mention of any such conversations in his series of articles on the trip (link), Dickerson did contribute to a Time online report published on July 17, 2003.

From A War on Wilson?: "And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices."

Dickerson left Time in May 2005 for Slate. After Libby was indicted, he wrote about conversations he had with Fleischer at the time.

"He walked reporters, including me, up to the fact, suggesting they look into who sent Wilson, but never used her name or talked about her position," Dickerson wrote.

According to Newsday, Dickerson’s name appeared in a January, 2004 subpoena sent to the White House in search of “administrative contacts” with reporters regarding Plame or other elements of the probe.

Regardless, Fitzgerald says he’ll tell Libby by tomorrow which journalists he expects to call at trial.

"We will be providing to you prior to February 3 copies of subpoenas and pertinent correspondence relating to reporters referenced in the Indictment and/or whom we expect to call at trial," Fitzgerald wrote Libby.

Prosecutor won’t call Wilson; Says no CIA damage assessment

In response to Libby's motion to gather more information on Wilson, Fitzgerald said he doesn't "expect" to call the former Ambassador to testify at trial. He advises Libby to instead refer to Wilson's many media appearances and written accounts.

Also of note is the fact that Fitzgerald asserts that the CIA has conducted no formal damage assessment with regard to Plame’s outing.

“A formal assessment has not been done of the damage caused by the disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s status as a CIA employee, and thus we possess no such document,” Fitzgerald writes. “In any event, we would not view an assessment of the damage caused by the disclosure as relevant to the issue of whether or not Mr. Libby intentionally lied when he made the statements and gave the grand jury testimony which the grand jury alleged was false.”

Finally, Fitzgerald alludes to "authorization" by Libby's "superiors" – who may include President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney – who may have allowed him to disclose information about a then-classified report on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to the media. Previous reports have indicated that Cheney and Bush are not targets of the probe.

Fitzgerald writes, "As we discussed during our telephone conversation, Mr. Libby testified in the grand jury that he had contact with reporters in which he disclosed the content of the National Intelligence Estimate (“NIE”) to such reporters in the course of his interaction with reporters in June and July 2003 (and caused at least one other government official to discuss the NIE with the media in July 2003). We also note that it is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about the NIE to the press by his superiors."

Read Fitzgerald's letter in PDF format here.

Raw Story researcher Muriel Kane contributed to this report.

NATIONAL JOURNAL: Iraq, Niger, And The CIA (01/02/2006)

By Murray Waas, special to National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials. The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

The campaign against Joseph Wilson continued even after the CIA concluded that Iraq had not tried to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, "We no longer believe there is sufficient" credible information to "conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The memo was titled: "In Response to Your Questions for Our Current Assessment and Additional Details on Iraq's Alleged Pursuits of Uranium From Abroad."

The campaign against Wilson led to the outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA officer -- less than a month after the CIA assessment was completed. Libby resigned as Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser on October 28, 2005, after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice for concealing his role in leaking Plame's identity to the media.

Tenet requested the previously undisclosed intelligence assessment in large part because of repeated inquiries from Cheney and Libby regarding the Niger matter and Wilson's mission, although neither Cheney nor Libby specifically asked that the new review be conducted, according to government records and to current and former government officials. Tenet also asked for the assessment because information about Wilson's mission to Niger had begun to appear in the media, and Tenet thought that the press or Capitol Hill might raise additional questions about the matter.

The new disclosures raise questions as to why Libby and other Bush administration officials continued their efforts to discredit Wilson -- even as they were told that claims about Iraq's having procured uranium from Niger were most likely a hoax.

The answer may lie in part with the already well-known misgivings about the CIA by Cheney, Libby, and other senior Bush administration officials. At one point during that period -- the summer of 2003 -- Libby confronted a senior intelligence analyst briefing him and the vice president and accused the CIA of willfully misleading him and the administration on Niger. Libby was said to be upset that the CIA, in his view, had routinely minimized the extent to which Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction and was now prematurely attempting to distance itself from the Niger allegations.

Libby had also complained about the CIA's Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control. WINPAC, as the center is known, scrutinizes unconventional-weapons threats to the United States, including the pursuit by both foreign nations and terrorist groups of nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons.

Libby, according to people with knowledge of the events, said that he and Cheney had come to believe that WINPAC was presenting Saddam Hussein's pursuit of such weapons in a far more benign light than Iraq's intents and capabilities reflected. Libby cited CIA bureaucratic inertia and caution and his view that many of WINPAC's analysts were aligned with foreign-policy elites who did not support the war with Iraq.

Libby and others in the office of the vice president apparently were even more suspicious because they mistakenly believed that Plame worked for WINPAC, according to these sources. When they also learned that Plame possibly played a role in Wilson's selection for the Niger mission, their suspicions only intensified.

One indication of Cheney's personal interest in the subject was that some of Libby's earliest and most detailed information regarding Plame's CIA employment came directly from the vice president, according to information contained in Libby's grand jury indictment.

"On or about June 12, 2003," the indictment stated, "Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division. Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

It would not have been improper or illegal for Cheney to discuss Plame's CIA employment with Libby or other government officials with high security clearances. No public evidence has emerged during the two-year grand jury probe by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby acted at the vice president's behest in leaking details of Plame's CIA employment to the press, or that Cheney even knew that Libby was doing so.

Contemporaneous notes of Libby's that were obtained by federal investigators in the CIA leak case indicate that Cheney had originally learned about Plame from then-CIA Director Tenet. Tenet has confirmed that Fitzgerald interviewed him, but Tenet has refused to make public any details of what he told investigators. He declined to comment for this story.

Sources said that Tenet may have discussed Plame with Cheney because of requests from Cheney, Libby, and other administration officials for more information about the Niger matter and Wilson's mission. Cheney's and Libby's interest in Niger was apparently rekindled after New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote on May 6, 2003, that the CIA had sent an unnamed former ambassador to the African nation in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. Kristof wrote that the ex-ambassador reported back to the CIA and the State Department that the allegations were "unequivocally wrong" and "based on forged documents."

The column led Cheney and Libby to inquire about the then-still-unnamed ambassador and his trip to Niger. On May 29, 2003, Libby asked then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman for information about the mission. Grossman in turn assigned the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to prepare a report on the matter. Cheney's and Libby's interest in the issue led Tenet to seek more information as well.

On June 11 or 12, according to the grand jury indictment of Libby, Grossman reported back that "in sum and substance Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and the State Department personnel were saying that Wilson's wife was involved in the planning of his trip."

Also on June 11, 2003, according to the indictment, "Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson's trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip." On the very next day, June 12, the indictment said, Cheney more specifically informed Libby that Plame worked at the CIA's "Counterproliferation Division."

Tenet received the highly classified memo on Niger from his analysts on June 17, 2003, five days after Cheney and Libby spoke with each other about Plame's working for the CIA. Sources familiar with the matter say that both Cheney and Libby were informed of the findings in the June 17 memo only days after Tenet himself read and reviewed it.

In the memo, the CIA analysts wrote: "Since learning that the Iraqi-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq purchased uranium from abroad."

The memo also related that there had been other, earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin; these claims predated the Niger allegations. It was that past intelligence that had led CIA analysts, in part, to consider the Niger claims as plausible.

But the memo said that after a thorough review of those earlier reports, the CIA had concluded that they were no longer credible. Indeed, the previous intelligence reports citing those claims had long since been "recalled" -- meaning that the CIA had formally repudiated them.

The memo's findings were considered so significant that they were not only quickly shared with Cheney and Libby but also with Congress, albeit on a classified basis, according to government records and interviews.

On June 18, 2003, the day after the new Niger assessment was sent to Tenet, Robert D. Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, briefed members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the findings. And on the following day, June 19, 2003, Walpole briefed members of the House Select Committee on Intelligence as well.

Six days after the memo was sent to Tenet, on June 23, 2003, Libby met with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller and -- as part of an effort to discredit Wilson -- passed along to her what prosecutors have said was classified information that Wilson's wife, Plame, worked for the CIA, according to allegations contained in Libby's indictment.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson himself went public with his allegations that the Bush administration had misused the Niger claims to make the case to go to war. Wilson made his arguments in an op-ed in The New York Times and an appearance that same morning on NBC's Meet the Press.

On July 8, 2003, Libby and Miller met again. During a two-hour breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, according to testimony Miller gave to the federal grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case, Libby first told her that Plame worked for the CIA's Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Office.

Around the same time, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and at least one other senior Bush administration official leaked information to a number of journalists about Plame's CIA employment and her role in recommending her husband for the Niger mission.

Columnist Robert Novak, on July 14, 2003, published his now-famous column identifying Plame as a CIA "operative" and alleging that she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger.

The disclosure did little to discredit Wilson. Instead, it had unintended and unforeseen consequences for Libby and the Bush administration: A special prosecutor would be named to investigate the leak; Judith Miller would spend 85 days in jail for refusing to testify regarding her conversations with Libby before ultimately relenting; and a federal grand jury would indict Libby on charges that he obstructed justice and committed perjury to conceal his own role in the leak of Plame's CIA status to the press.

As Libby awaits trial, one of the unresolved mysteries is why Libby insisted in interviews with the FBI and during his grand jury testimony that he learned about Plame's employment from journalists, when investigators already had Libby's own copious notes indicating that he had first learned many of the details of Plame's CIA employment from Cheney and other senior government officials.

One possibility examined by investigators is that Libby was attempting to cover for Cheney because of the political or legal fallout that might occur if it was determined that the vice president had been involved in the effort to discredit Wilson.

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said, "The prosecutor's implicit inference before the jury may well likely be that Libby lied to protect the vice president. Even in a plain vanilla case, a prosecutor always wants to be able to demonstrate a motive."

That Cheney was one of the first people to tell Libby about Plame, and that Libby had written in his notes that Cheney had heard the information from the CIA director, Gillers said, might make it more difficult for Libby to mount a credible defense of a faulty memory. "From a prosecutor's point of view, and perhaps a jury's as well, the conversation [during which Libby learned about Plame] is the more dramatic and the more memorable because the conversation was with the vice president" and because the CIA director's name also came up, Gillers said.

The disclosure that Cheney and Libby were told of a CIA assessment that the agency considered the Niger allegations to be untrue, and that Tenet requested the assessment as a result of the personal interest of Cheney and Libby, would "demonstrate even further that Niger was a central issue for Libby," said Gillers, and would "make it even harder, although not impossible, to claim a faulty memory."

-- Murray Waas is a Washington-based journalist.

Print Story: Fitzgerald Hints White House Records Lost on Yahoo! News

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is raising the possibility that records sought in the CIA leak investigation could be missing because of an e-mail archiving problem at the White House.

The prosecutor in the criminal case against Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff said in a Jan. 23 letter that not all e-mail was archived in 2003, the year the Bush administration exposed the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Lawyers for defendant I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby this week accused prosecutors of withholding evidence the Libby camp says it needs to mount a defense.

"We are aware of no evidence pertinent to the charges against defendant Libby which has been destroyed," Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to the defense team.

But the prosecutor added: "In an abundance of caution, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." His letter was an exhibit attached to Libby's demand for more information from the prosecution.

Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, said the vice president's office is cooperating fully with the investigation, and referred questions to Fitzgerald's office.

Libby is charged with five counts of perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI regarding how he learned of Plame's identity and what he did with the information.

The Presidential Records Act, passed by Congress in 1978, made it clear that records generated in the conduct of official duties did not belong to the president or vice president, but were the property of the government.

The National Archives takes custody of the records when the president leaves office.

"Bottom line: Accidents happen and there could be a benign explanation, but this is highly irregular and invites suspicion," said Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists government secrecy project.

"A particular subset of records sought in a controversial prosecution have gone missing," Aftergood said. "I think what is needed is for the national archivist to ascertain what went wrong and how to ensure it won't happen again."