David Corn’s “What Valerie Plame Really Did at the CIA,” in The Nation this week, offers a preview of his forthcoming book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, cowritten with Michael Isikoff.
A background refresher: columnist Robert Novak unmasked Valerie Wilson, nee Plame, as a CIA operative in a July 2003 article. Novak denied that the revelation was retribution for her husband’s New York Times op-ed that accused the Bush administration of twisting WMD intelligence to bolster support for the war. The Novak column, recalls Corn:
triggered a scandal and a criminal investigation. At issue was whether Novak’s sources had violated a little-known law that makes it a federal crime for a government official to disclose identifying information about a covert U.S. officer (if that official knew the officer was undercover). A key question was, what did Valerie Wilson do at the CIA? Was she truly undercover? In a subsequent column, Novak reported that she was “an analyst, not in covert operations.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested that her employment at the CIA was no secret. Jonah Goldberg of National Review claimed, “Wilson’s wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already.”
Corn reveals that, contrary to the administration’s assertions, Plame had headed up the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a group under pressure from the Vice President and others in the administration to justify invasion of Iraq by delivering evidence that Saddam had a WMD program.
“Is there anyone reading this,” Teresa Nielsen-Hayden asks,
who does’t understand how potentially disastrous it is to force intelligence findings to conform with one’s preferred policies? Intelligence asks, What is true? Policy replies, That being true, what are we going to do about it? Reversing their order turns it into: Tell us what we want to hear, so we can justify doing what we’ve already decided to do. That approach leads to conclusions like “Nobody will object if we march through Belgium,” “our attack at the Somme will produce a great strategic breakthrough,” and “the Iraqis will greet our troops with cheering and flowers.”
See also Mother Jones’ brilliant Iraq timeline. (Thanks, Michael.)