Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson: A potted history
Here's a quick roundup of what this is all about. Before the invasion of Iraq, the US government made strenuous efforts to collect as much evidence concerning Saddam's WMD as was humanly possible. This proved to be extremely difficult and a lesser man than George Bush might have been forced to question their own conviction that they existed. Dubya is made of sterner stuff though.
The US and UK government's had alleged that Saddam had been trying to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. The office of the Vice President asked the CIA to conduct an investigation into this affair. The CIA appointed an investigator to travel to Niger to conduct that investigation. The person they chose for this task was Jo Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon. One assumes that they were convinced that he had the necessary qualifications to carry out this task in a professional manner. Mr Wilson carried out his investigation into the claims and found them to be completely unfounded. He concluded that the small yellowcake industry (only two mines) in Niger is too tightly monitored (including by the IAEA) for these sales to have been feasible. As is now common knowledge, Mr Wilson was undisputably correct in his conclusion. The initial allegations were baed on obviously false ducuments.
He reported his conclusions to the US government but these conclusions were not what the administration wanted to hear. The response of the Whitehouse was to do what any responsible organisation would do in similar circumstances; they ignored Mr Wilson's report completely. It didn't fit with the narrative they were attempting to present so they discarded it as irrelevant. The "smoking gun of a mushroom cloud" continued to be used as an argument in favour of the imminent invasion.
Mr Wilson was, as you might imagine, somewhat concerned about this state of affairs and attempted to use normal procedures to correct the erroneous information being presented by the Whitehouse. These attempts were unsuccessful and Mr Wilson, now frustrated and angry at the deception being perpetrated by his government, and with the invasion now underway, went public with his conclusions. In his article, he presents the facts of the case and they are undeniably damning.
The Whitehouse obviously felt it had to respond in some way. Eight days after Mr Wilson's article appeared, a column written by Robert Novak revealed details about Mr Wilson which appear to have been designed to cast doubts on his ability and judgement.
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.It is claimed that the Whitehouse had a hand in this column. The clear implication is that Mr Wilson was given the job on the advice of his wife but that he was not actually qualified for the task.* The tone of the article is clearly very much one of support for the position of the Whitehouse. The controversy concerns Novak's knowledge of the fact that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA; this is highly confidential information and not normally something journalist would reveal. It is considered to be a threat to national security to reveal details about the identity of CIA agents. It is alleged that this information was supplied to Novak by someone working at the Whitehouse. It is further alleged that this was a deliberate attempt to discredit Mr Wilson and to extract revenge on him and his family for speaking out against the government. A US grand jury has been investigating these allegations.
Today, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been charged with several offences in relation to the investigation. He faces the possibility of up to thirty years in prison if found guilty. In response, he immediately resigned from his position. Karl Rove, the President's chief of staff, who was also under investigation, has not been charged (although he remains under investigation by the grand jury).
It's tempting to jump to conclusions, but until the trial is completed it isn't possible to say conclusively that "Scooter" Libby is guilty. I'll stick to "innocent until proven guilty" even if the Whitehouse does not. So, at this stage this is still only an alleged case of appalling, unscrupulous, bullying behaviour from someone at the heart of the US administration.
If true though, it will prove what many people have long thought: that this US administration is incompetant, corrupt, and completely without morals. Bush, like Blair, is a man who likes to express his deeply held convictions. Bush, like Blair, used those convictions as a means to persuade the people they represent of the need to invade Iraq. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but if someone refuses to reconsider their convictions in the face of substantial evidence that they are incorrect, then they're either an idiot or a liar (or both).
* Accusations of cronyism from the Whitehouse? What's that you say about pots and kettles?