Watch this space for daily posts from the DNC in Boston.
"The American people appreciate being told the truth," announced Cynthia McKinney, as she and her cheering supporters celebrated what the former Georgia congresswoman described as "one of the greatest political comebacks in history."
Swept from office in a 2002 Democratic primary that saw thousands of Republicans cross party lines with the specific goal of defeating the woman whose fierce criticism of President Bush shocked Republicans and frightened timid Democrats, McKinney on Tuesday won the Democratic nod to retake her Atlanta-area seat. Running against a field of five other Democratic contenders that included a former Atlanta City Council president and a prominent state senator, McKinney stunned pundits by securing 51 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary election.
Because she won more than 50 percent of the vote, McKinney will not have to face a run-off election against a more moderate Democrat. In an overwhelmingly Democratic district, McKinney's chances of returning to the Congress next January look exceptionally good.
And McKinney's got some issues she would like to discuss with her former colleagues -- and the American people.
"We've got to make America, America again," McKinney declared in a victory speech that echoed the themes of the poet Langston Hughes. "We've got to reject backsliding on civil rights and human rights. We've got to get our troops out of harm's way and bring them home. We've got to turn around this Bush economy and get the American people back to work. In fact, while we're at it, let's just turn the whole Bush administration around and install a new resident in the White House!"
McKinney's antipathy toward the Bush administration made her a target in 2002, after she charged the president had failed to respond to warnings of terrorist threats and that allies of the president and vice president would benefit financially from a war in Iraq. Campaigning less than a year after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with much of the Democratic political establishment arrayed against her, with Jewish groups criticizing her for supporting Palestinian rights, and with Republicans taking advantage of open primary laws to cross over and vote against the president's noisiest Congressional critic, McKinney lost the primary that year. After her defeat, she was written off by most political observers as a "conspiracy theorist" who was too radical and too outspoken on hot-button issues to ever make a comeback.
But a funny thing happened between 2002 and 2004.
Many of the concerns that McKinney had been attacked for addressing two years ago fit comfortably in the mainstream of the political discourse this year. Indeed, after former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke testified before the national 9-11 Commission about how the president and his aides had neglected warnings that Osama bin Laden and his followers intended to attack the United States, and after all the revelations regarding no-bid contracts and war profiteering by Dick Cheney's former employees at Halliburton, McKinney was able to campaign as truth teller who had been punished -- and then vindicated.
Still, most Democratic party leaders and her primary opponents presumed that McKinney could not secure the nomination. Two of her opponents raised more money than McKinney did, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the dominant newspaper in the region, continued to editorialize against her with a vengeance. McKinney eschewed television advertising and relied instead on an army of volunteers that concentrated on getting out the vote among African-Americans and white progressives, and on her flair for highlighting the issues.
McKinney and her backers campaigned at theaters that featured Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 911," a showing of which the candidate attended with a crowd of backers that included the mother of a Georgia soldier killed in Iraq. Outside the theater, McKinney told reporters that Moore's movie was "a truth celebration." And, at screenings of the film in Atlanta, crowds cheered when the former congresswoman appeared to decry voter disenfranchisement during a segment dealing with the contested Florida presidential vote of 2000.
In an election that did not see substantial Republican cross-over voting -- a contested GOP Senate primary kept partisans in line -- McKinney ran well not only in African-American neighborhoods where she has traditionally been strong but in white precincts where many Democrats have come to see her as someone with the courage to take on the Bush administration. "She has the guts to speak truth to the government, and she's trying to help poor people and youth," Jesse McNulty, a teacher from Decatur, Georgia, explained when asked why he had voted for McKinney. "If Bush was to win. God forbid, at least we have McKinney up there (in Washington)."
So this is what the campaign against former ambassador Joseph Wilson is about? In a long editorial yesterday, the hawks of The Wall Street Journal called for Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney investigating the Bush administration leak that identified Wilson's wife as a CIA officer, to "fold up his tent." The goal of the WSJ conservatives--and perhaps that of the other GOPers who have been bashing Wilson--is to get the Bush White House off the hook for the leak that outed Valerie Wilson (nee Plame). This leak, which appeared in a Robert Novak column a year ago, ruined the career of a government employee who worked to prevent the spread of unconventional weapons. It may have undermined national security by impairing her operations and threatening her contacts. And it was a possible violation of the federal law that prohibits government officials from disclosing the identities of covert government officers.
"Mr. Wilson had been denying any involvement at all on Ms. Plame's part, in order to suggest that her identity was disclosed by a still-unknown Administration official out of pure malice. If instead an Administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson's selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime. Motive is crucial under the controlling statute."
Much is wrong in this short paragraph. First, Wilson did not deny "any involvement at all on Plame's part." He denied that she had specifically recommended him to be an envoy for the CIA. He has said she was involved in bringing him to a meeting at the CIA that led to his assignment. But Wilson and his detractors are now arguing over the details of this minor matter. But if there is going to be a nitpickfest, the Journal should be careful to get its facts straight.
Second, did Wilson deny his wife's involvement so he could suggest the leak was done out of pure malice? I doubt it. His family was hit hard by the leak. He didn't need to downplay--if that is what he did--his wife's participation to accuse the leakers of thuggish behavior. He would have had a strong argument even if she had signed his travel orders. His trip was no junket. He was not paid for it. Her involvement--in any capacity--did not justify the leak.
Third, there was nothing odd about the CIA dispatching Wilson on an informal mission to Niger to check out the allegation that Saddam Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. Wilson, an old African hand who had worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, had the experience and the contacts in Niger to do what he was asked. (By the way, at the time of the trip, he was no Democratic or anti-Bush partisan. He had even made a political contribution to George W. Bush during the 2000 primaries.)
Fourth, the Journal's claim that the leak was legal if Wilson's wife was involved in his trip is--to be kind--wacky. Here's what the law says:
"Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
It does not say it is okay to identify a CIA officer if that officer engaged in an act of nepotism (as if sending your spouse to Niger for a no-pay job is an act of nepotism). Motive, contrary to the editorial, is not addressed in the above passage. Intentionality does matter, as does the state of knowledge of the offender (regarding the status of the covert officer). But surely the geniuses of the WSJ know the difference between motivation and intentionality. Whether the leakers outed Valerie Wilson to undermine Wilson's credibility ( his wife sent him, so how much could he really know about this stuff?) or to punish him for challenging Bush's claim that Hussein had been caught trying to buy yellowcake uranium in Africa, the law applies just the same.
Pointing to supposed discrepancies in Wilson's account is not a defense--and does not mitigate the need for a criminal investigation.
"The entire leak probe now looks like a familiar Beltway case of criminalizing political differences," the editorial maintains. This is the canard often pressed into service when Republicans are accused of illegal activity. For years, the rightwing has dismissed the Iran-contra scandal as merely an instance of when political differences were "criminalized." And in the case of the Wilson leak, the use of this rhetoric is especially absurd. The probe was requested by the CIA. The Justice Department initiated it. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself, and his deputy handed the case to Fitzgerald, who set up a quasi-independent inquiry. Where are the political motivations in all this?
As other Wilson critics have done in recent days, the Journal selectively picks material out of the Senate intelligence committee's report on the prewar intelligence to accuse Wilson of having misrepresented his trip to Niger. Wilson declared that what he learned there showed that the allegation about Iraq purchasing uranium from Niger was "highly doubtful." His foes at the Journal (and elsewhere) note that the Senate report maintains his trip was seen by intelligence analysts as partially confirming the allegation. But the Journal and the others conveniently ignore the fact (contained in the report) that analysts split on this point, and that the lead analyst at the State Department saw Wilson's report as confirmation of the State Department's view that the allegation was improbable.
The Journal and the rest also make much of Wilson's statement that he had concluded documents purporting to outline a uranium deal between Iraq and Niger were forgeries. A-ha, they say, these documents did not appear until eight months after his trip. Wilson has acknowledging misspeaking about the forgeries. Still, the Journal writes, "Joe Wilson didn't tell the truth about how he supposedly came to realize that it was 'highly doubtful' there was anything to the story he'd been sent to Niger to investigate. He told everyone that he'd recognized as obvious forgeries the documents purporting to show an Iraq-Niger uranium deal" But this is another misrepresentation.
Wilson went public about his trip to Niger by publishing an op-ed piece in The New York Times on July 6, 2003. In that piece, he specifically noted that his conclusions had had nothing to do with the forged documents that appeared months after his trip. Here is the key portion of that piece:
"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. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."
"Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger's uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired. (As for the actual memorandum, I never saw it. But news accounts have pointed out that the documents had glaring errors -- they were signed, for example, by officials who were no longer in government -- and were probably forged. And then there's the fact that Niger formally denied the charges.)"
Again, the Journal got it wrong. Wilson's determination that the charge was "highly doubtful" was unconnected to the forged documents (or anything he might have subsequently said about the documents).
The Journal ended the editorial with what has become the chorus of conservative war-backers: the Senate report is proof that Bush did not oversell the case for war. It notes that a British inquiry released days ago found that Bush's use of the uranium-shopping allegation was "well-founded." But as have other conservatives, the Journal's editorialists ignore the portion of the report that says there was no intelligence to back up Bush's prewar assertion that Hussein was a threat because he was "dealing" with al Qaeda. (If that wasn't overselling, please define the term.) They also fail to address the extensive parts of the report that show that the intelligence on WMDs in Iraq was much weaker than Bush told the public during the run-up to the war.
It's too bad that one cannot say it is surprising that the conservatives of The Wall Street Journal care more about the supposed inconsistencies of Joe Wilson than either the leaking of classified information that might have harmed national security or the dramatic overstatements Bush peddled to grease the way for war. The Journal and other rightwingers, eager to strike an ideological foe and protect the Bush White House, are trying to recast the Wilson episode by blaming and impugning the victims (the Wilsons). In doing so, these law-and-order conservatives are mounting a disingenuous attempt to politicize--and excuse--possible criminal behavior.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
Bush put ideology and religion above all in making this decision, and three years later his terrible policy choice is haunting him. Just last week, Ron Reagan Jr. announced that he would criticize Bush's restrictions on stem cell research at the Democratic convention; more than four thousand scientists (a good number of whom have served both Democratic and Republican administrations) have now signed a statement--first released in February--attacking the Administration's unprecedented politicization of science, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently updated its groundbreaking report on "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making," which examines the methods that the Bush Administration uses to manipulate and distort "the work done by scientists at federal agencies and on scientific advisory panels."
"The Administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientist's letter warned, "placing people who are professionally unqualified in official posts; disbanding existing advisory committees; censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice."
The UCS's report rigorously documents the equivalent of Bush's little shop of anti-enlightenment policy horrors, demonstrating how Bush has twisted facts and suppressed research to enact retrograde policies on such issues as climate change, mercury emissions and emergency contraception. An example: When the EPA discovered that Bush's Clear Skies Act would be "less effective" than a "bipartisan Senate clean air proposal" in guarding the air we breathe, the Administration simply suppressed the EPA study.
The UCS also charges that scientists are now getting blackballed for their political views. The report cites instances in which nominees to scientific advisory panels have been questioned about whether they had voted for Bush. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's office rejected nineteen of the twenty-six appointments that Dr. Gerald Keusch, who served as director of the NIH's Fogarty International Center until he resigned in frustration, had recommended. Bush's policy has demoralized the scientific community, and prevented our nation's smartest, most experienced scientists from serving on panels devoted to safeguarding public health.
One of the nineteen rejected, the Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel, happens to be my stepfather. When Keusch questioned HHS's decision on Wiesel, he was told that he "had signed too many full-page letters in the New York Times critical of President Bush." (When did petition-signing qualify as a measure of scientific expertise?) Ironically, this Administration can't get its facts straight--whether it's in the arena of war, budget deficits or science. In a recent email, Torsten told me, "I have not signed a statement against Bush but nonetheless for some reason I am on the Administration's blacklist. Perhaps [it is because of] my human rights activities and being contrary in general."
Torsten, who served as president of the prestigious Rockefeller University for nearly a decade, added, the Administration's "science policy has been bad in general. Instead of choosing the best scientific advice the preference is given to individuals with the right religious or philosophical pedigrees."
Preference is also given to those with big business pedigrees. As Robert Kennedy Jr. pointed out in a Nation cover story last March, Bush's agenda is "to systematically turn government science over to private industry by contracting out thousands of science jobs to compliant consultants already in the habit of massaging data to support corporate profits." This Administration's war on science "is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition," he argued.
In the last few weeks alone, Bush's assault on science has intensified. In an unprecedented move, the White House has announced that scientists now need approval from senior Bush political appointees to participate in World Health Organization (WHO) meetings. This has outraged the WHO and others in the scientific community, who believe this decision opens the door for the Administration to blackball scientists who don't follow the line on controversial health issues.
In an April memo, William Steiger, who serves as director of the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs (and has a Ph.D. in Latin American history), also announced a new policy on notices of foreign travel (NFTs). Steiger instructed that any NIH scientist who wants to attend "technical consultations, advisory groups, expert committees and workshops" located in the US and sponsored by "multilateral organizations" must first obtain permission by filing an NFT with his office. (Previously, such requests were routine and perfunctory; scientists filed them simply to alert US embassies to their travel to meetings abroad.)
Under Bush, the NFTs have become a tool to leverage control over government scientists. The changes, said Keusch in an interview this week, are intended to "escalate the levels of control over who can attend" scientific meetings and "what they can say" when there.
Dr. Kurt Gottfried, the chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview last week that a second Bush term would "further the demoralization of the professional staff now in service...If Bush is reelected, they would lose hope," Gottfried argued, and "the people most likely to leave [in a second Bush Administration] are the most valuable scientists at the NIH and the CDC, an exodus from which it would take decades for America to recover.
If Bush wins in November, the quality of science that informs policy making will be undermined by the suppression, manipulation and distortion of scientific knowledge. If you want to understand what's at stake, click here to read the UCS's report.
As the media world prepares to head to Boston for the Democratic National Convention next week, one of the most interesting related events is likely to receive little coverage outside of the invaluable IndyMedia sites and alternative radio and TV outfits like Democracy Now! and Free Speech TV.
Planned for this coming weekend, July 23rd to 25th, the Boston Social Forum will feature workshops, break-out sessions, presentations, panels and parties, all designed to hash out a helpful vision of how progressives can better work together to promote our common goals and interests. (Click here to register and for more info and click here if you're interesting in volunteering.)
Taking place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, the BSF has hundreds of events and exhibits planned for the three-day confab. Confirmed speakers include Jim Hightower, Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Manning Marable, Maude Barlow, Walden Bello, Harry Belafonte, Frances Moore Lappe, Michael Lerner and many others. Other special BSF events include a Saturday afternoon screening of John Sayle's new film, followed by a discussion with the director; an Alternative Media Summit being organized by Take Back the Media and a benefit concert on Saturday night in Cambridge featuring Billy Bragg, the Reagan Babies, the Foundation and Juliana Hatfield.
The BSF--co-sponsored by The Nation along with scores of other good outfits, organizations and publications--promises a good start to what will hopefully a fruitful period of collaboration between progressive groups. So check it out if you'll be in Beantown this weekend.
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies which I subsequently published. I received the letter below after my mailbag.
I'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination and I'll keep publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Sam Lorber, Nashville, TN
The good news in Nashville is the formation of MRD-Music Row Democrats. This group is a reaction to the perception that country music is the exclusive domain of the Republican Party. Sixteen Independent, Democrat and Republican producers, artists, songwriters, publishers, managers and promotion people got together in December 2003 to respond to the appropriation of our music and, to many, their faith, by the Right. Six months later there are over one thousand members who have organized to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Kerry campaign and start Kerry-oke, roving bands of well known artists and songwriters raising money and consciousness all over the place. We are determined to "Take Back Our Country." (Click here for more information on what we're doing.)
The Sudanese government is directly responsible for crimes against humanity in its strife-torn western region of Darfur, including the widespread rape of women, Amnesty International charged yesterday in a stinging report.
Refugees from Darfur described a pattern of "systematic and unlawful attacks" against civilians by both a government-sponsored Arab militia and the Sudanese military forces, the international London-based human-rights group said.
Ten years ago, the international community stood by as the Rwandan genocide claimed 800,000 lives. Today, as world leaders remember that human catastrophe with empty expressions of "Never Again," the people of Sudan face a similar fate. In concert with groups like Africa Action as well as the Congressional Black Caucus, The Nation is sponsoring a petition drive calling on Colin Powell as secretary of state to immediately recognize the genocide occurring in Darfur and organize internationally to bring it to an end. Click here to add your name.
Amnesty is calling for an end to the conflict, better protection of civilians, disarmament of the paramilitaries, trials for those carrying out the attacks, and the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to examine war crimes in Darfur. Click here to find out more about AI's work on this issue, click here to read Salih Booker and Ann Louise Colgan's recent Nation editorial for background on Darfur and click here to read Sudan expert Eric Reeves' Nation magazine article, Rapacious Instincts in Sudan, from the magazine's June 4, 2001 issue, for a broader look at the country's political troubles.
What with all the controversy that arose after one of President Bush's appointees to the federal Election Assistance Commission sought to establish guidelines for suspending the November presidential election in case of a terrorist incident, citizens can be excused for presuming that this is a radical new notion. But it's not.
Borrowing several pages from the Joe Stalin Manual of Electoral Etiquette, the president's Republican allies canceled party primary elections in states across the country during the current election season -- often claiming that voting was pointless because President Bush was going to win anyway.
Last year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Kansas, Colorado and Utah canceled their state-run 2004 presidential primaries. The pattern continued even after the presidential campaign got going, with the suspension this year of presidential primaries in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Puerto Rico.
So it was that, while Democratic voters went to the polls to express their presidential preferences and select delegates to their party convention, the Republican process in many of the same states was effectively shut down. Instead of selecting delegates in primaries that attract significant numbers of voters, some of whom might dissent from party orthodoxy, Republicans in key states chose to play things out behind closed doors -- in caucuses or other "official" settings.
Why were so many Republican primaries canceled? Officially, the line was that Republican legislators and party leaders wanted to save the money it would cost to hold the primaries that President Bush would surely win.
Aside from the fact that canceling elections because someone is expected to win creates a democratic Catch-22, the cost-cutting talk is as bogus as the claim that a clear Bush victory could be divined from all those uncounted ballots from Florida's contested 2000 voting. The savings that can be achieved by canceling an election are small, while the cost to democracy is large. Indeed, when legislators voted to cancel the party primaries in Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed the measure and declared, "Arizona can well afford the price of democracy."
That is true of every state. So why did the cancellations really occur?
Because Republican party bosses did not want President Bush to be embarrassed by evidence of Republican opposition.
As it turns out, the concern was well founded. In several states that held Republican primaries this year, significant numbers of GOP voters rejected Bush.
In New Hampshire, for instance, 22 percent of citizens who selected Republican presidential primary ballots voted for someone other than Bush. (More than 3,000 New Hampshire Republican primary voters wrote in the name of Democrat John Kerry.) In Rhode Island, more than 15 percent of Republican primary voters rejected Bush. In Idaho and Oklahoma, more than 10 percent of Republicans cast Anyone-But-Bush votes, while almost 10 percent did so in Massachusetts. Even in the president's home state of Texas, more than 50,000 Republican primary voters refused to back Bush.
Despite the convention show that Republican leaders will put on in New York next month, Bush has inspired a good deal of grumbling among the faithful. The results from a number of the states that actually held Republican primaries reflect that embarrassing fact. There are no embarrassing results from states that canceled Republican primaries -- which, of course, was the point of the cancellations.
No wonder so many Americans got scared when Bush appointees started talking about plans to cancel the November elections. Perhaps they have come to the conclusion, based on all those canceled primaries, that this administration and its minions believe democracy is a tidier enterprise when the voters are excluded.
I've always thought of Donald Trump as a mega-developer with an oversized ego and a really bad dye job.
So, I haven't paid much attention to his grotesquely successful "reality" show The Apprentice, in which the billionaire vamps shamelessly as a hardworking CEO, or to his latest best-selling how-to-manual, Trump: How to Get Rich.
But "The Donald" did get my attention with his interview in the August issue of Esquire, where he makes it clear that he'd treat Bush like the incompetent guy he is and fire him for his mishandling of Iraq.
"Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in." Trump tells Esquire. "What was the purpose of the whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!," Trump said.
Trump to Bush: "You're Fired!" Not a bad bumper sticker. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
The Senate intelligence committee's report on prewar intelligence demonstrates that George W. Bush launched a war predicated on false assertions about weapons of mass destruction and misled the country when he claimed Saddam Hussein was in cahoots in al Qaeda. But what has caused outrage within conservative quarters? Passages in the report that they claim undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson, if you need to be reminded, embarrassed the Bush administration a year ago when he revealed that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush had referred to Iraq's supposed attempt to obtain uranium in Africa to suggest Hussein was close to possessing a nuclear weapon. When Bush's use of this allegation become a matter of controversy last summer, Wilson went public with a New York Times op-ed piece in which he noted his private mission to Niger--which he had taken on behalf of the CIA--had led him to conclude the allegation was highly unlikely. After Wilson's article appeared, the White House conceded that Bush should not have included this charge in his speech.
A week later, Wilson received the payback. Conservative columnist Robert Novak, quoting two unnamed administration sources, reported that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson (nee Plame), was a CIA operative working in the counterproliferation field. Novak revealed her identity to suggest that Wilson had been sent to Niger due to nepotism not his experience. The point of Novak's column was to call Wilson's trip and his findings into question.
The real story was that Novak's sources--presumably White House officials--might have violated the law prohibiting government officials from identifying a covert officer of the United States government. Outing Valerie Wilson was a possible felony and--to boot--compromised national security. Two months later, the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the Wilson leak. And a US attorney named Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the case since the start of this year, leading an investigation that has included questioning Bush.
But now Wilson's detractor on the right claim the critical issue is Wilson's credibility on two points: whether his wife was involved in the decision to send him to Niger and whether he accurately portrayed his findings regarding his Niger trip. And they have made use of the Senate intelligence report--particularly additional comments filed by committee chairman Pat Roberts and two other Republican members of the committee, Kit Bond and Orrin Hatch--to pound Wilson. But not only does the get-Wilson crusade ignore the main question--did White House officials break the law and damage national security to take a swing at a critic?--it overstates and manipulates the material in the Senate report.
The first shot at Wilson actually came from The Washington Post. The day after the Senate report was released, Post reporter Susan Schmidt did an entire piece on the portion of the report related to the Niger episode. (By the way, the Post devoted more space to the Wilson affair than to the report's conclusion that there was no intelligence to back up Bush's assertion that Iraq and al Qaeda had maintained a working relationship.) In this story, Schmidt claimed that Wilson was "specifically recommended for the [Niger] mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly." She also reported that the intelligence committee "found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts." Schmidt added, "The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson's bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction."
Within days, Tim Graham, an analyst at the conservative Media Research Center, wrote a piece for The National Review pointing to the Schmidt article and decrying the "truth-telling problems" of Wilson, whose recent best-selling book is titled The Politics of Truth. Then Novak, returning to the scene of the (possible) crime, cited the committee report and the Republicans' additional comments to prove that he had been right to report in his original column that Wilson's wife had been behind the move to send Wilson to Niger. And Novak approvingly quoted Senator Roberts blast at Wilson: "Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided....Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people, that the vice president had lied, and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. . . . [N]ot only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true." (In this column, Novak did not explore the ethics or legality of White House officials identifying CIA officers.) And then, of course, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page piled on. So did the Republican National COmmittee.
Wilson has written a response to Roberts that addresses many of the criticisms being hurled at him. (See it here. And read Roberts comments here and decide who makes the better case.) But let's sort out some of the various claims. First, what the report says about Valerie Wilson's role in this business. In his book, Wilson writes,
"Apart from being the conduit for a message from a colleague in her office asking if I would be willing to have a conversation about Niger's uranium industry [with CIA counterproliferation experts], Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter. Though she worked on weapons of mass destruction issues, she was not at the meeting I attended where the subject of Niger's uranium was discussed, when the possibility of my actually traveling to the country was broached. She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
So what if she had? A week in Niamey for no pay was hardly a junket. What would have been wrong with a CIA officer telling another CIA officer, hey my husband, a former ambassador, is an Africa expert with experience in Niger, perhaps you should send him to Niger to see what he can learn? But because Wilson is on record saying it did not happen this way, the question is whether he has been truthful.
The intelligence committee report says, "Some [CIA Counterproliferation Division] officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife 'offered up his name' and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from [Valerie Wilson] says, 'my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.'...The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA."
The report also notes, "On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR [the State Department's intelligence unit], and several individuals from the [Directorate of Operations'] Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of [Wilson] traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was 'apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue. The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes."
This is not what ex-CIA chief George Tenet would call a slam-dunk case against Wilson. Sure, some of the evidence seems to contradict his account. But Valerie Wilson could have "offered up" his name as a handy person to contact about allegations concerning Niger's uranium trade without suggesting he get on a plane to Niger. And it is certainly imaginable that an INR analyst sitting in a meeting in which there is talk of dispatching a CIA officer's husband to Africa could have received the impression that his wife had initiated the mission. But if that was the case, why did Valerie Wilson attend for only a few minutes? If Valerie Wilson's account of this meeting is not accurate, where are the contradicting accounts from the other participants? Why does the report not quote them on this topic? Since only a week elapsed between the time Valerie Wilson "offered up" her husband and a meeting was held to consider sending him to Niger, it is possible that someone participating in the matter might have thought that Valerie Wilson's original advice--talk to my husband--was related to question of sending an unofficial envoy to Niger to seek out additional information.
When Wilson returned from Niger two CIA officers debriefed him. "The debriefing," the Senate report says, "took place in the former ambassador's home and although his wife was there, according to the reports officer, she acted as a hostess and did not participate in the debrief." If Valerie Wilson had played a key role in sending Joseph Wilson to Niger, would she have skipped out on this debriefing? Perhaps. But this scene reinforces Wilson's claim that she was not deeply involved in his Niger trip.
It may be that in some of his public remarks, Wilson underplayed his wife's involvement in his trip. After all, according to the Senate intelligence committee's report, she did write at least one memo on the subject. But it is not clear from the report that she specifically advocated he be sent to Niger. Again, it makes little difference--or it should make little difference--whether Valerie Wilson said to her CIA colleagues "contact my husband" or said to them "you should put him on a plane to Niamey immediately." The report notes that the CIA people in charge of investigating the Niger allegation deliberated over what to do and then reached the decision to ask Wilson to perform a pro bono act of public service. And he said yes. He had the experience for the job. His trip was not a boondoggle arranged by his wife for his or their benefit.
Now on to the claim that Wilson's report to the CIA actually provided more reason to believe Iraq had been seeking yellowcake uranium. In his debriefing Wilson reported that former Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki had told him that in 1999 he had been asked to meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. Mayaki said he assumed the delegation wanted to discuss uranium sales. But he said that although he had met with the delegation he had not been interested in pursuing any commercial dealings with Iraq. The intelligence report based on Wilson's debriefing also noted that the former minister of mines explained to Wilson that given the tight controls maintained by the French consortium in charge of uranium mining in Niger, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a shipment of uranium to a pariah state.
What did this report mean to the intelligence community? A CIA reports officer told the Senate intelligence committee that he took it as indirect confirmation of the allegation since Nigerian officials had admitted that an Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999 and since the former prime minister had said he believed Iraq was interested in purchasing uranium. But an INR analyst said that he considered the report to be corroboration of INR's position, which was that the allegation was "highly suspect" because Niger would be unlikely to engage in such a transaction and unable to transfer uranium to Iraq due to the strict controls maintained by the French consortium. But the INR analyst added, the "report could be read in different ways."
Wilson's work was thrown into the stew. The CIA continued to disseminate a report noting that a foreign intelligence service had told US intelligence that Niger had agreed to supply Iraq with hundreds of tons of uranium. And in the National Intelligence Estimate produced in October 2002, the intelligence community reported that Iraq had been trying to strike a uranium deal with Niger in 2001. But the NIE noted that INR strongly disagreed with this assessment. And when the National Security Council drafted a speech for Bush in October 2002 the CIA recommended the address not include the Niger allegation because it was "debatable" whether the yellowcake could be obtained from Niger. In a follow-up fax to the NSC, the CIA said "the evidence is weak" and "the procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory." Still, in late January 2003--after the INR's Iraq analyst had concluded that papers recently obtained by US intelligence related to the supposed Iraqi-Niger uranium deal were "clearly a forgery"--Bush went ahead and accused Iraq of seeking uranium in Africa.
But on April 5, 2003, the National Intelligence Council issued a memo that noted, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years." It added that the government of Niger was unlikely to proceed with such a deal. And on June 17, 2003, the CIA produced a memo that said, "since learning that the Iraq-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 pursued uranium from aboard."
So Wilson's assessment ended up being accepted by the CIA. His reporting may not have been conclusive. But as we have been told repeatedly this past week, such is often the case in intelligence collection. After coming back from Niger, Wilson's view--which he did not express publicly for nearly a year and a half--was different from that held by CIA analysts. Yet his conclusion--that the Niger allegation was probably bunk--was in line with the thinking of the State Department's lead analyst on this matter. And Wilson's reasoning came to prevail and to be shared by the intelligence community. For some reason, Novak does not mention this in his recent column.
Finally, let's address Schmidt's claim that the Senate intelligence committee's report "may bolster" the defense of the leakers--whoever they are. Whether their motivation was to punish Wilson for speaking out or to try to undermine his credibility by suggesting his only bona fides for the Niger trip was his marriage license, blowing Valerie Wilson's cover still was a possible crime and an odious act. The law does not allow a government official to reveal a CIA officer--and jeopardizing the officer, her contacts, and her operations--to score political points.
What Wilson told his CIA contacts, what he told reporters, what he said in public--accurate or not--did not justify disclosing Valerie Wilson's identity. Nor did it justify the subsequent White House effort to encourage other reporters to pursue the Valerie Wilson story. The leak was thuggish and possibly felonious. And the Wilsons and others are waiting to see what comes from Fitzgerald's investigation. (NBC News reported recently that the probe had expanded to examine possible acts of perjury and lying to investigators.) There is no telling if the investigation will end with indictments or whitewashing. It has been a mostly leak-free probe, and even senior people at the Justice Department say they have no idea where Fitzgerald is heading--if anywhere.
Whatever Fitzgerald's criminal investigation produces, the Wilsons were wronged. And Bush and his White House crew did nothing to seek out or punish the Novak-enabled leakers who placed politics ahead of national security and decency. Instead, White House officials peddled the leak further to discredit Wilson, and GOPers have been seeking to blast him ever since. Roberts and other Republicans are using the intelligence committee's report to whack Wilson, a prominent opponent of the Iraq war and a foreign policy adviser to Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. If only Roberts' committee had applied as much time and energy into investigating the Wilson leak (and how the White House reacted to the leak) as it did to the actions of Valerie Wilson. But the leak is a subject that, for some odd reason, has escaped the attention of Roberts' investigators. And Roberts and his ideological comrades are exploiting the release of the committee's report to blame the victims of the leak. They are far more angered by alleged (or trumped-up) inconsistencies in Wilson's account than by Bush's misrepresentation of the prewar intelligence. Talk about overstating a problem.
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Seeking to bolster support for his USA Patriot Act against Congressional attempts to weaken it, Attorney General John Ashcroft recently called the Act "al-Qaeda's worst nightmare." and delivered a 29-page report to Congress citing ways in which the Act has, according to Ashcroft, been instrumental in helping to combat terrorism.
The Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, gave the government significant new powers to conduct searches and surveillance in terrorism investigations and allowed more information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The release of Ashcroft's report is part of an effort by the Bush Administration to shore up support for the law in the wake of numerous reports and critics's suggestions that many of the Act's provisions are both ineffective and unconstitutional.
One of the most effective (and creative) critiques of the abuses of the Ashcroft Justice Department was recently released by the DC-based group Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations. AFJ has created an online animated movie, Spy-der-man, which uses humor to convey the grave danger of Ashcroft's intrusions on free speech, privacy, due process and religious pluralism.