Skip to comments.MARK STEYN: Lack of intelligence-What's behind the outing of a CIA spy?
Posted on 10/21/2003 5:27:24 AM PDT by SJackson
The Plame affair is the Washington scandal du jour and as such has a lot of inside baseball of no interest to 99.99% of the American people, never mind anybody else. But underneath the surface flimflam are matters of profound importance.
Early last year, the Bush Administration dispatched a career diplomat to Niger to check out whether there was anything to the rumors that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Africa. The former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, returned from the Dark Continent, reported his findings, and was distressed to discover from this January's State of the Union address that the White House still inclined to the British view of the situation that Saddam had indeed been looking to Africa to advance his nuclear program.
So in July Ambassador Wilson wrote a column for The New York Times headlined "What I Didn't Find In Africa." By Africa, the Times meant Niger, which is the only country Ambassador Wilson visited. Shortly thereafter, two SAOs (Senior Administration Officials) leaked the name of Wilson's wife to my Chicago Sun-Times colleague Robert Novak: her name is Valerie Plame and she works for the CIA. Nobody paid any attention for two months. Then another SAO from some other faction in the Administration counter-leaked details of the original leak from the original SAOs. And now it's Watergate. In theory.
And if you watch the US network news that's pretty much where the facts stop. London's Independent summed up the angle most of the press seems to be interested in: "Disclosed CIA Officer Fears For Her Life" i.e. Plame's name was leaked in order to put her in danger. This theory is somewhat undermined by the fact that her gabby hubby, currently on TV, radio and sympathetic Web sites 22 hours a day, is clearly having a ball, loving the attention, and happy to yuk it up about how he and the missus have been "discussing who would play her in the movie."
Moreover, despite the media's efforts to oomph it up into Watergate, it doesn't make any sense as a conventional political scandal. Even if you accept that it's technically possible to leak something that's widely known around town and published in the guy's Who's Who entry, if the object was to discredit Joe Wilson why leak the name of his wife?
On his own, Wilson comes over like a total flake not a sober striped-pants diplomat but an ideologically-driven kook. This is a guy who says things like: "Neoconservatives and religious conservatives have hijacked this administration, and I consider myself on a personal mission to destroy both."
Even his original New York Times piece must rank as one of the paper's weakest efforts to damage Bush: in Niger, Ambassador Wilson says he spent "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." He concedes he never filed a written report, and most of the rest of the column reads like a travelogue ("Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger River"). As a claim to expertise, it's laughable. By revealing the fact that Mrs. Wilson is a cool blonde CIA agent, all you do is give him a credibility lacking in almost every aspect of his speech, mien and shaggy-maned coiffure.
No, this isn't Watergate; it's bigger than that. The version of the story that still fits the facts is in that Bob Novak Sun-Times column from July. Novak wanted to know why Wilson had been chosen to go to Africa. It's one thing not to be a card-carrying neocon, quite another to be as antipathetic to the administration and the war as this fellow. The White House asked the CIA, the CIA recommended Wilson, and their recommendation was accepted automatically. But what the original leakers told Novak was that it was Mrs. Wilson who'd proposed her husband for the job.
So an agency known to be opposed to war in Iraq sent an employee's spouse also known to be opposed to war in Iraq on a perfunctory joke mission. And, after eight days sipping tea and meeting government officials in one city of one country, Ambassador Wilson gave a verbal report to the CIA and was horrified to switch on his TV and see Bush going on about what British intelligence had learned about Saddam and Africa.
AS I wrote last July: "The intel bureaucracy got the Sudanese aspirin factory wrong, failed to spot 9/11 coming, and insisted it was impossible for any American to penetrate bin Laden's network only to have Johnnie bin Joss-Stick from hippy-dippy Marin County on a self-discovery jaunt round the region stroll into the cave and be sharing the executive latrine with the A-list jihadi within 20 minutes.
"So, if you're the President and the same intelligence bureaucrats who got all the above wrong say the Brits are way off the mark, there's nothing going on with Saddam and Africa, what do you do? Do you say, 'Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day'? Or do you make the reasonable assumption that, given what you've learned about the state of your humint (human intelligence) in the CIA, is it likely they've got much of a clue about what's going on in French Africa? Isn't this one of those deals where the Brits and the shifty French are more plugged in?"
I'll stand by that, as does Her Majesty's Government. No political leader is obliged to accept a particular intelligence finding. If President Bush chooses to believe British and French intelligence over the CIA, that's his prerogative. It's also a telling comment on the state of the agency. Everything about Mr. Wilson's day trip to the heart of darkness suggests either willful obstruction or sheer ineptness by the CIA.
Why is this important? Because, in a nutshell, Iraq is the last war. That's to say, the last war in which the Bush Administration will spend the months beforehand amassing a quarter of a million troops on an enemy's borders. Doing it that way gives the enemy too long to enlist his own forces the Western media, the UN and the moth-eaten French pantomime mule of Messrs Chirac and de Villepin.
All these parties are dedicated to ensuring that, even when the Americans win, they lose. The speed with which they've managed to taint victory in Iraq is impressive, though it bears no relation to anything so tiresome as reality. So from hereon in engagements in the war of terror will be swift, sudden and as low-key as can be managed.
But such engagements will depend on good intelligence. If the Third Infantry Division roll across the Syrian border, they can handle anything Boy Assad can throw at them. But, if you're sending in a few Delta Force guys to take discreet care of a small problem, you need to be very well informed of the facts on the ground. Two years after 9/11, the CIA is still not up to the job of human intelligence. It has no idea of what's going on in Iran or North Korea. It relies on aerial photographs and chatter which is a sexed-up spook term for monitoring e-mail.
If sending Joseph C. Wilson IV to Niger for a week is the best the world's only hyperpower can do, that's a serious problem. If the Company knew it was a joke all along, that's a worse problem. It means Bush is in the same position with the CIA as General Musharraf is with Pakistan's ISI: when he makes a routine request, he has to figure out whether they're going to use it to try and set him up. This is no way to win a terror war.
The writer is senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc.
Note that Mr. Meyer gave this speech before Mr. and Mrs. Wilson became big news.
I have been befouled by this author.
To think that, in this day and age of political correctness, I should be subjected to this blatant racists terminology is preposterous!
Yea. What's that all about?
Anyone listening to Wilson for five minutes can tell he's a moronic, self serving flunky.
Mark Steyn is dead on here.
I would like the full and honest "investigation" published, however with enemies within and without, I won't hold my breath.
I'm sure that the CIA is possessed of some very good people, true Americans, trying to do a good job, however, it has become obvious that its middle mangement at the very least is infested with a political agenda which is anathema to what this president is trying to accomplish.
As Laurie Mylroie explains in her book Bush Against The Beltway, the CIA has been in full CYA mode as relates to uncovering state sponsorship of any terror event. Evidence is piling up that they missed definite ties to state sponsorship of the 1993 WTC bombing (Iraq), and possible ties in the Oklahoma City bombing, the anthrax mailings post 9-11, maybe others.
Under Clinton, their mission seemed to be to make damned sure these things could not be blamed on a foreign political entity, as this would require a forceful response, something which would disrupt Bill's little utopia, and prevent him from blaming it on the 'radical right wing'.
I have been asking why he hasn't fired George Tenet for some time now.
It's entirely possible that he sees Tenet as part of the solution, we don't know that the problem people aren't being weeded out, the goings on at the agency traditionally not being very public.
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