Predicate for a Pardon

The background of the Scooter Libby affair is the collapse of intelligence over the last 15 years.  It is useful to revisit this very briefly in order to put the Libby conviction - and the propriety of a presidential pardon - in perspective.

The PBS show Frontline has a number of its past programs available for viewing online at its website.  Yes, Frontline does lean left - it takes Joe Wilson's narrative at face value, for instance - but it is that rare media creature: left-leaning but remaining honest.  It is a very good source on, for instance, pre-Iraq War controversies in planning and intelligence.

One of the shows that focuses on pre-war intelligence is called "The Dark Side" from an infelicitous quote by Dick Cheney that "we will have to spend time on the dark side."  Don't be put off by that; it is an excellent, if not entirely neutral, program.  It is available here.

Cheney is a central figure in the program, as, indeed, he was in the build-up to the Iraq War.  In the course of the program, there is this most interesting segment of clips from interviews with David Kay, the former weapons inspector, and Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism advisor.  Neither man is regarded as an acolyte of the Administration.

Frontline (PBS)

"The Dark Side" (originally aired June 20, 2006)

Section Two: "Behind Closed Doors"

05:15 into Section Two:

Narrator voiceover
"...but Cheney had no faith in the CIA."
David Kay

"I think there is one thing that influences him [Cheney], at least in our conversations.  He remembered as clearly as I remembered how wrong intelligence had been in 1991." [emphasis added]
Narrator voiceover
"They had been wrong about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iranian revolution, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and more."
Richard Clarke
"There was a massive nuclear program in Iraq [in 1991], nuclear weapons development program, that was probably 9 - 18 months away from having its first nuclear weapon detonation.  And that CIA had totally missed it.  We had bombed everything we could bomb in Iraq, but missed an enormous nuclear weapons development facility; didn't know it was there; never dropped one bomb on it."  {emphasis added]
David Kay
"That's at the forefront, at least in my conversations with him [Cheney], about Iraq.  ‘They were wrong before; they didn't get the evidence; how do we know what they know now?'"
Richard Clarke
"There's no doubt that the Dick Cheney that comes back into office eight years later - nine years later - has that as one of the things burned into his memory: that Iraq wants a nuclear weapon; Iraq was ‘that close' (holding up thumb and forefinger) to getting a nuclear weapon; and CIA hadn't a clue." [emphasis added]           
The problem that the Administration faced after 9/11 was that intelligence was not providing an early-warning system for the nation on issues of weapons and attacks.  This left the Administration essentially blind to what to expect next from the bad guys, particularly al-Qaeda, but by extension, any opponent that wished us ill.

The significance of 9/11 from a strategic standpoint was that deterrence failed.  Deterrence was the cork that kept the nuclear genie in the bottle during the Cold War.  There were rules, and both we and the Soviet Union followed them - most especially, we didn't attack each other.  The Russians didn't cross our quarantine of Cuba; we didn't bomb their ships in Haiphong harbor. 

But that arrangement with our enemies was nullified by the radical Islamic attack on the U.S. mainland on 9/11.  And it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that the Capitol would also have been destroyed if the passengers on Flight 93 had not risen to heroic heights and brought the plane down.

Once deterrence failed, Pandora's Box was opened from a strategic standpoint.  Which brought back the primacy of intelligence - the necessity of knowing beforehand what the bad guys were planning.  And we didn't know that. 

There has been some effort by the Left to portray Cheney's visits to Langley in the pursuit of intelligence on Iraq as part of some mysterious plot to manufacture evidence on the apparent assumption that no normal person would do what he did. 

But what else could he have done, given the inadequacy of the intelligence product? 

One of the unattractive aspects of a self-regarding bureaucracy is its ability to be unembarrassed by failing in its mission and being affronted by being called to account for it. Which is essentially the position the CIA has taken. 

Cheney was trying to find out if CIA analysts were up to their job and if so, to get them to do it, as they had not done it in failing to  warn us of any of the previous attacks by al-Qaeda, whether the East Africa embassies, the Cole or 9/11.  (And keep in mind the only reason there was still a Langley to go to was because the bad guys did not get hold of another plane!) 

And so we come to Joe Wilson's op-ed in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 "What I Didn't Find in Africa."  With the nuclear genie out of the bottle and the CIA unable to account for its whereabouts, ultimately, the survival of the country was at risk.  How did the CIA respond to this crisis?  By sending the spouse of one of its employees to investigate the possible sale of a significant unit of uranium to a hostile party.  Is it possible to imagine a more casual attitude toward national security?  And then the envoy himself took a lax attitude to his duties:
"I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business."
Is this how you want your family protected?  Is this how anyone thinks our affairs should be handled when the fate of the nation is at stake?  Is it any wonder that Cheney was surprised...and dismayed when he read about this in the NY Times? 

What were Mr. Wilson's qualifications upon which the fate of the nation was to be staked? 

Expertise in nuclear weapons?  No. 

Expertise in intelligence?  No. 

His wife worked for the CIA! 

Wilson had been stationed as a diplomat in Niger a generation earlier and been ambassador to Gabon.  So, he had experience in Africa, but not in the field of nuclear weapons.  The major problem of nepotism is that it results in unqualified or lesser qualified people getting positions to which their own reputation and achievements would not have entitled them. 

But the mission went forward and then what happened?

No report by Joe Wilson.  A debriefing, but no report.  The question under consideration is whether a hostile power is attempting to acquire the most dangerous substance on earth and we get from the man assigned to the mission a debriefing.  So there is no paper trail of exactly what the mission was, how it was carried out, and what its conclusion was.  Just some chitchat.  At home.  Not even in the office. 

Is your confidence in this mission waning yet?   Would your confidence be waning if, like the vice president, you were part of the very small team who is responsible for protecting the country from nuclear attack?  After we have already been attacked in a totally unexpected way on 9/11?  

The purpose of the Wilson narrative was to discredit the Administration by discrediting part of its case for war made in Bush's State of the Union speech of January 29, 2003.  And with no report having been filed - no paper trail - Wilson was subtly able to alter the terms of the debate to the question of whether a uranium transaction had occurred - not the point at issue - instead of the original British claim, repeated by the Administration, that a uranium transaction had been sought.   

Wilson's column was an attack on the Administration and, when you think about it, a CIA attack on the Administration.  The CIA neither restrained Wilson from publicizing his mission nor punished him for doing so.  His column came at a time when Wilson wanted to establish a position with the Dems for the upcoming election, but principally in the wake of the failure to find WMDs in Iraq following the combat phase of the war.  Who had said there would be WMDs in Iraq?  The CIA.  And who worked in the WMD section of the CIA?  Mr. Wilson's wife!

What is the most significant secret that was revealed by the Wilson narrative?  Wilson's trip itself!  In intelligence, the fact that you are asking a question is significant - sometimes as significant as the answer.  So the fact that Wilson was sent on a mission by the CIA was itself a secret of some magnitude.  As was his conclusion, since, if the conclusion were accepted by the Administration, then the opposition would know on what basis we were proceeding.  Why the revelation in public of a mission assigned by the CIA and the alleged result of that mission were not crimes to be prosecuted remains a mystery of this affair.

In a deft a piece of jiu-jitsu, Joe Wilson made himself the injured party by claiming that his personal relationship with the CIA was off-limits - off-limits when it was his only claim to credibility in the whole issue.  But this only worked because the MSM carried his water.  None of the principal claims of Wilson - that Cheney was aware of his mission; that he debunked the interest of Iraq in acquiring uranium; that his wife was not involved in his getting the mission; that he had seen fraudulent documents related to the uranium transaction - were true.  But the MSM has treated them as if they were, except for the occasional times when the Washington Post clears the record.

Scooter Libby, as Cheney's chief of staff, was sucked into the Wilson controversy.  Most unwisely, the Administration did not require the CIA to explain itself publicly as to its conduct in assigning Wilson to this task and then permitting him to discuss it in public.  So the Administration was left grumping in private mostly confirming information already acquired elsewhere by reporters. 

I will not review the Fitzgerald prosecution, which has been covered at AT admirably by Clarice Feldman in many articles and blog posts.  Suffice it to say that from the beginning of Fitzgerald's assignment, there has been no doubt as to who leaked Mrs. Wilson's name as an employee of the CIA to Robert Novak.  It was Richard Armitage (who, so far as I know, was completely within his rights to do so - certainly he has never been charged with a crime for doing so) and not Scooter Libby.  As a senior member of the Administration, did Libby become involved in discussions with the press of who Wilson was and what his bona fides were?  Yes.  Was it appropriate to defend Administration policy from calumny in the middle of a war that had been declared by Congress and with our troops exposed in the field?  Yes.  The First Amendment has not been repealed.

Fitzgerald acted as if he were unaware that in a free political system, one of the functions, one of the requirements, of political leadership is to make its case with the public through every channel at its disposal.  And that still includes - for now - the mainstream press.  There is nothing either nefarious or mysterious about an Administration official - here the chief of staff to the vice president - responding to or initiating contact with the press to make the Administration's case.  That is called politics.  It is how we conduct our public affairs.  It is no more a criminal activity than is making a profit for a private business, although the Left thinks that both are illegitimate unless in the service of socialism.

And this becomes the predicate for a Libby pardon.  If we expect to remain secure, if we expect our leaders to be vigilant and pro-active, we must support them when they are manning the ramparts on our behalf and protecting us within the law.  Support them particularly from clamor that results in a miscarriage of justice.  As it did here. 

No one now living can imagine, let alone justify, what Fitzgerald was doing from a legal standpoint when, month after month, year after year, he pressed forward with his investigation when he knew at the outset the answers to the only two relevant questions with which he was charged - was revealing Mrs. Wilson's name to the public a crime?   He has charged no one with such a crime.  And who revealed her name?  He knew when he started.  Fitzgerald embarrassed himself with this case, never establishing the claims he made about it in his public press conferences.  He was carried along by the narrative of the Left, which he imagined naively to be coterminous with the truth.  But prosecutors are not free to abuse their high office on personal whim in order to entrap a citizen in a snare or to settle an old score.  In doing so he made himself a party to the CIA's attack on the Administration and to the Wilsons' caper to end their careers with a flourish - to not go quietly into "that good night" of retirement.

The President was given the power to pardon by the Founding Fathers.  They were silent as to why, but we can assume that it was to protect the orderly processes of government in particular and society at large by being an appeal against public clamor - after all, they had the precedent of the Salem Witch Trials to hand, if not in living memory. 

President Bush said after the last election that he had acquired political capital in the process and he meant to spend it.  Time to break out the check book.