November 3, 2005
The Wilson GambitBy Clarice Feldman
Senate Democrats employed a stealthy maneuver the other day, to reinforce their demand into an affair they like to call "Plamegate." They are right that an investigation is required. But they have gotten the subject matter wrong.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that the real scandal is the genesis, not the unmasking, of an irregular and highly questionable mission: "the Wilson Gambit." It is time for serious examination, equipped with the tools of subpoena and testimony under oath, into the genesis and conduct of this anomalous operation.
The mainstream media, of course, is entirely uninterested in determining why the Wilson Gambit was undertaken. Once upon a time, the New York Times and the rest of the American liberal establishment worried about CIA dirty tricks aimed at influencing domestic politics. The more effervescent leftists fulminated about a 'secret government' and muttered darkly about a threat to democracy itself, emanating from Langley.
How times (and The Times) have changed! Today, the darlings of the American left and its house organ are a CIA employee and her husband, who set up and implemented a highly irregular operation which, if not explicitly designed to do so, has had the net effect of discrediting an elected leader and his foreign policy. The Wilson Gambit was a stealth operation undertaken outside normal procedures and supervision, used as a political weapon, complete with lies spread by a cooperative media establishment interested in bringing down a leader and his policies which they detest.
Former Senator Zell Miller, a man of enormous stature, has done the nation a great service in publicly raising questions about the intent behind about the Wilson Gambit.
Senator Miller has substantial circumstantial evidence on his side when he infers that the Plame/Wilson imbroglio may have been just such a set up. The list of irregularities surrounding the Wilson Gambit is formidable. Here are just a few:
Why didn't the Agency require Wilson to sign a non disclosure agreement respecting his trip to Niger?
A good question, indeed, because this stunning lapse allowed him to make false charges about it, to which the Administration could offer only a limited, ineffective response without first declassifying information. I don't know the answer to the question, but it certainly does suggest that those who believe this jaunt was a set up against the Administration have more than a little basis for that belief. Congress should make this question a prominent part of its inquiries into the matter.
Why did they send him at all?
The U.S. Ambassador to Niger said it was unnecessary and, as we know, Cheney didn't ask for this mission, despite Wilson's intimations to the contrary.
Who determined the specific questions to be asked in Niger?
The questions Wilson posed were essentially meaningless. He asked the same questions General Fulford had just asked. And those questions (drafted by the CIA) were hardly intended to elicit meaningful information. Moreover, Fulford had asked current officials and Wilson did not. The inquiries never were about whether the Nigerien officials had been approached by any countries to purchase uranium. The Ambassador to Niger noted "we raised the issue in more general terms rather than specifics." Even with these limitations, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence notes, Wilson learned there had been a visit by a trade delegation from Iraq.
And since Niger's other major export is cow peas, the Commission felt his report strengthened, rather than undercut the British report that Iraq had been attempting to buy yellowcake in Africa.:
Why did the Agency pay only his expenses?
If Wilson's services were required — and they certainly appear to me not to have been — why was he only reimbursed for his expenses? I think it not impossible (having worked for the government myself) that doing so would avoid having to go through the bureaucracy, having to justify the trip, and leaving a paper trail in the personnel and accounting offices. Paying only his expenses, which might be hidden in the discretionary expenses of such an operation, would have further disguised the Mission from superior officials in the Agency.
Indeed, when Wilson leveled his charges, George Tenet seemed to have been unprepared immediately to respond, as if he had no knowledge of the Mission. And this gave Wilson more time to spread his lies unchecked by a quick refutation.
Why have his report remain oral?
This also seems inexplicable to me and certainly adds to my suspicions that the Mission was designed to minimize its paper trial. If minimizing a paper trail was important, for what purpose? To sandbag the Administration remains after all this time my best guess.
Why refer this to Department of Justice before completing an in—house inquiry?
Indeed, why refer it at all, since it doesn't appear she was covert and the Mission itself ceased to be a secret once Wilson started talking about it in May of 2003? It is my understanding that, generally, a full in— house assessment is made before a decision to refer the matter outside for investigation, and to the best of my knowledge that wasn't done here. Again, if my factual predicate is right, what other conclusion but a deliberate plot to tie up key Administration officials could there be?
Who leaked the referral letter from the CIA to the DoJ requesting an investigation of the leak? And why was this information, itself apparently classified, leaked?
Andrea Mitchell (who works for Tim Russert, a key witness in the Libby case) first reported the transmittal letter. She also has publicly admitted that she knew of Plame's employment with the agency before Novak's "outing" of Plame. From whom did she get this classified information? Was it from the CIA or the DoJ? And why was this leaked so quickly except to maximize the damage to the Administration?
Why did the Agency not do more to prevent the publication of the Plame story by Novak after it knew he intended to publish it?
As Tom Maguire notes, re the latest leak about the Al Qaeda prisons, the CIA called the editor of the Washington Post and asked that certain details not be published for national security reasons and the paper complied with that request. There's a great deal more than who Novak's sources were that we don't know. But at the moment it appears to me that Miller's proposed Plame Rule, applying the same limits to piblic comments by spouses of CIA employees as to employees themselves, is both warranted and more than two years overdue.
Congress needs to hold hearings promptly.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC.