David Corn has posted the scoop that should have been the first teaser from his and Isikoff's Hubris--a post detailing Valerie Plame's role in the CIA. It turns out Plame managed the group tasked with studying Iraq's WMDs, the Joint Iraq Task Force.
Though Cheney was already looking toward war, the officers of the agency's Joint Task Force on Iraq--part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations--were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie Wilson.
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division. (About this time, she moved in with Joseph Wilson; they later married.) She was eventually given a choice: North Korea or Iraq. She selected the latter. Come the spring of 2001, she was in the CPD's modest Iraq branch. But that summer--before 9/11--word came down from the brass: We're ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.
Valerie Plame, Corn says, was in charge of the group that tried to develop assets who could tell them about Saddam's WMD program.
Will Corn Satisfy the Wingnuts?
Hopefully, this post will receive the same attention that Isikoff and Corn's non-scoop about Armitage received. It challenges one of the fundamental claims trotted about by wingnuts trying to exonerate Libby for his actions--the suggestion that Plame wasn't really still working as a spy.
Unfortunately, I fear Corn hasn't given the frothy wingnuts the detail they'll demand. He provides just a few details, for example, of the harm Plame's outing caused.
In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled.
Similarly, Corn doesn't provide the wingnuts the details they'll want to determine whether Plame qualified for protection under the IIPA (presuming, as they always have, that the "runaway prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald" would pursue a case for two and a half years that didn't fit the statute). He reveals Plame returned to the US in 1997, but continued to travel overseas.
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division. (About this time, she moved in with Joseph Wilson; they later married.)
Wilson, too, occasionally flew overseas to monitor operations. She also went to Jordan to work with Jordanian intelligence officials who had intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes heading to Iraq that CIA analysts were claiming--wrongly--were for a nuclear weapons program. (The analysts rolled over the government's top nuclear experts, who had concluded the tubes were not destined for a nuclear program.)
And finally, I imagine the wingnuts will cling to their claim that Plame didn't deserve IIPA protection based on a technicality, though Corn describes the transition she was undergoing to be that from NOC status to official cover.
When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator--to rise up a notch or two--and then return to secret operations.
It'll be interesting to see whether the wingnuts--the same people crowing last week that the lefty blogs didn't get excited over news we had had for almost six months, show this piece of news much attention. It'll be interesting to see whether the wingnuts treat this with the same credibility as they did the claim that Armitage was the "primary" source for Novak.
The Really Interesting Details
But I'm interested by the details that put Valerie Plame at the center of so many issues central to the run-up to the war. The SSCI reports our interception of the aluminum tubes, for example (we know this to be Jordan from other reporting).
Although China, [redacted], a shipment of about 2,000 tubes had already been sent [redacted]. In [redacted] June, 2001, the tubes arrived [redacted], seized [redacted]. A [redacted] intelligence assessment disseminated on July 2, 2001 said [redacted] personnel had inspected the tubes [redacted] and said, "The tubes are constructed from high strength aluminum (7075-T6) and are manufactured to the tight tolerances necessary for gas centrifuges. The dimensions of the tubes match those of a publicly available gas centrifuge design from the 1950s, known as the Zippe centrifuge.
The assessment concluded that "the specifications for the tubes far exceed any known conventional weapons application, including rocket motor casings for 81 -mm multiple rocket launchers."
But it doesn't mention Plame's involvement. Not that it should, but given how insistent the Republicans have been that Plame wasn't involved in overseas work, you'd think they might mention it.
Similarly, Plame appears to have been in charge of a program described at length in James Risen's State of War.
While other top CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, dithered and failed to mount any serious operations to get more spies into Iraq to find out what was going on, [Charlie] Allen, an old hand who had little time for Tenet and the circle of yes-men and yes-women on Tenet's senior staff, began a renegade effort to search for new sources of information.
He pushed for several new collection programs, including one that called for approaching members of families of Iraqi scientists who were believed to be involved in secret weapons programs. At the time, the CIA had no direct access to key Iraqi scientists, and so using family members as intermediaries to find out what the scientists were doing seemed like the next best thing.
Corn describes Plame as managing this effort.
There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists--in America and abroad--looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi émigrés to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA.
And finally, perhaps most ominous given the subsequent players in the story, Plame's unit also debriefed the walk-in sources presenting themselves around the world.
The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.
The defectors were duds--fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.)
Now, I have always been hesitant to assume that Judy Miller, the INC's favorite mouthpiece, had direct information leading to Plame's identity. Most of Judy's sources were higher-level partisan stalwarts, people like Libby and John Bolton.
Except for the defectors. Judy was often the defectors' second stop in the US, just after they had been discredited by the CIA. Judy publicized their claims even after the CIA had labeled them fabricators. So it is not unreasonable to wonder whether one of those defectors, particularly one with a strong INC affiliation, might have passed some details to Judy. And at the very least, this connection might explain Judy's fierce anger at the Wilsons. Because Plame did her job (presumably) well, Judy had to work extra hard at building these defectors' credibility. And in fact, Judy became doubly necessary--since they couldn't get the defectors past the CIA's lie detectors, Judy had to introduce their claims into the debate.
While I doubt the wingnuts will believe a word Corn says, these revelations add a whole new importance to the outing of Valerie Plame. As many have speculated in the past, Plame's outing punished not just Wilson, but also a key CIA figure who had proven, before the war, that there were no WMDs.