Frog March, Day 9

Hmmm, seems like the WSJ has a bit of good info. The so-called smoking memo was marked as 'sensitive'. Ooops. Sorry, country, Political fealty to the Republican Party is more important than national security, don't you know. Glad we straightened that out. - Memo Underscored Issue of Shielding Plame's Identity:

A classified State Department memo that may be pivotal to the CIA leak case made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared, according to a person familiar with the document.

News that the memo was marked for its sensitivity emerged as President Bush yesterday appeared to backtrack from his 2004 pledge to fire any member of his staff involved in the leaking of the CIA agent's name. In a news conference yesterday that followed disclosures that his top strategist, Karl Rove, had discussed Ms. Wilson's CIA employment with two reporters, Mr. Bush adopted a different formulation, specifying criminality as the standard for firing.

“If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration,” Mr. Bush said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan later disputed the suggestion that the president had shifted his position.

The memo's details are significant because they will make it harder for officials who saw the document to claim that they didn't realize the identity of the CIA officer was a sensitive matter. Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, may also be looking at whether other crimes -- such as perjury, obstruction of justice or leaking classified information -- were committed.

and from the WSJ archives:

That Ms. Plame recommended her husband doesn't undercut Mr. Wilson's credentials for the job of trying to figure out whether Saddam Hussein was seeking the raw material for a nuclear weapon in Africa. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Gabon and National Security Council expert on Africa in the Clinton administration.
The decision to send Mr. Wilson to Niger came after months of efforts by the CIA, urged on by the Bush White House, to try to discover whether the Iraqi dictator was back in the business of pursuing nuclear weapons. Indeed, two other U.S. officials -- the U.S. ambassador to Niger and a top Marine general -- were asked to make inquiries, and came back similarly dubious
The investigation was given a big push in early 2002 after Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for an assessment of the reports. According to Mr. Cheney's spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, the CIA reported back quickly that it was possible Iraq had made attempts to purchase yellowcake, but the agency couldn't be sure because it said the information “was fragmentary and lacked detail.”


more excerpts from the WSJ below the fold:

On July 6, 2003, former diplomat Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times, disputing administration arguments that Iraq had sought to buy uranium ore from Africa to make nuclear weapons. The following day, President Bush and top cabinet officials left for Africa, and the memo was aboard Air Force One. The paragraph in the memo discussing Ms. Wilson's involvement in her husband's trip is marked at the beginning with a letter designation in brackets to indicate the information shouldn't be shared, according to the person familiar with the memo. Such a designation would indicate to a reader that the information was sensitive. The memo, though, doesn't specifically describe Ms. Wilson as an undercover agent, the person familiar with the memo said. Generally, the federal government has three levels of classified information -- top secret, secret and confidential -- all indicating various levels of “damage” to national security if disclosed. There also is an unclassified designation -- indicating information that wouldn't harm national security if shared with the public -- but that wasn't the case for the material on the Wilsons prepared by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It isn't known what level of classification was assigned to the information in the memo....

Mr. Fitzgerald has subpoenaed the phone logs from Air Force One for the week of the Africa tour, which precedes the revelation of Ms. Wilson's CIA identity in a column by Robert Novak on July 14. In that piece, Mr. Novak identified Valerie Plame, using Ms. Wilson's maiden name, saying that “two senior administration officials” had told him that Ms. Wilson suggested sending her husband to Niger.

Mr. Novak attempted to reach Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, in the days before his column appeared. However, Mr. Fleischer didn't respond to Mr. Novak's inquiries, according to a person familiar with his account. Mr. Fleischer, who has since left the administration, is one of several officials who testified before the grand jury.
In an October 2003 article4 on the memo, The Wall Street Journal reported that it details a meeting in early 2002 in which CIA officials discussed how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium ore from Niger. Ms. Wilson, an agent working on issues related to weapons of mass destruction, recommended her husband, an expert on Africa, to travel to Niger to investigate the matter.

White House officials had been warning reporters off the notion that the trip to Niger was ordered by Vice President Dick Cheney, as Mr. Wilson had suggested. Emails and a first-person account published this week of his grand-jury testimony by Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper support this notion. The grand jury is set to expire in October in this case, though its tenure could be extended for six months.
It is possible that reporters learned Ms. Wilson's identity from government officials who hadn't seen the memo. Mr. Cooper has testified and written that he was first told of Mr. Wilson's wife by Mr. Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff. Mr. Rove didn't identify Ms. Wilson by name. Similarly, one of Mr. Cooper's other sources, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, said he had heard Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, but he didn't identify her any further, according to Mr. Cooper.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on July 19, 2005 1:26 PM.

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