CIA Officer Speaks Out Against White House Leak
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 13, 2003
- Interview with Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/mcgovern101703.ram
As attacks on American troops continue in U.S.-occupied Iraq and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians spills over into neighboring Syria, the White House is also being forced to deal with growing scandals at home. The Justice Department and FBI have begun an investigation into allegations that Bush administration officials leaked the identity of a covert CIA operative to a conservative columnist. Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose identity was exposed, is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had publicly refuted President Bush's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium in the African nation of Niger for a nuclear weapons program. The White House had sent Wilson to Africa in 2002 to investigate the matter, but ignored his findings. President Bush repeated the charge in his January State of the Union speech, using it as a key justification for war on Iraq.
Ambassador Wilson has accused White House officials, including the president's chief political advisor, Karl Rove of engineering or condoning the leak to punish him and to intimidate other government officials from going public with criticism of President Bush's manipulation of intelligence to gain support for his war on Iraq.
The Justice Department-FBI investigation of the matter has come under attack from Democrats who point out the obvious conflict of interest Attorney General John Ashcroft has in leading an inquiry against his boss President Bush. But thus far the White House has resisted demands from congressional Democrats to appoint a special counsel to conduct the probe.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with retired 27-year veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who assesses the unfolding scandal surrounding the White House, which he says presents the nation with a serious constitutional crisis.
Ray McGovern: I think it's probably worth reminding ourselves who Ambassador Joseph Wilson is. He was our acting ambassador in Baghdad during the first Gulf War. There were hundreds of American refugees in the embassy compound in Baghdad. Joe Wilson faced down Saddam Hussein and secured the release -- the free release, almost immediate release -- of all those Westerners, primarily Americans. He just showed incredible courage and received all kinds of commendations from George Herbert Walker Bush, who was the president at the time. So he knows Iraq.
Now he also has a special place in his heart for Africa, where he served in several countries and he served in Niger. So he was the quintessential person qualified to go down there and look at these reports that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. He went down there and discovered that it was impossible, that they couldn't have been, because the government of Niger couldn't have given it to them anyway.
Well, when Joe came back, he reported that mostly to Vice President Cheney's office, because it was Cheney's office who was most interested in this report. Imagine Joe Wilson's surprise when the president of the United States, 11 months later, namely on Jan. 20, of this year, included in the State of the Union Address that same report, saying that, the way he put it was "The British have learned that Iraq was seeking uranium in an African country."
Well, Joe was horrified, as were all these people who knew what the real story was. But Joe, you know, he took the initiative. He checked around with all his State Department colleagues, and found out, Is there some other African country that … ? No, no. It was all based on that same one.
Well, now Joe has a choice, OK? He said, this is an important matter. They're talking about war and peace. This is what the president used to justify this war. I need to make public the fact that this was not right, and so he did. This article. Not only that, but in an interview coincident with the article, he told a Washington Post reporter this, he said, This whole escapade begs the question with respect to what else they're lying about.
But in doing that, saying what he did, he threw down the gauntlet and the White House, looking at this, said, My god, you know, can we let Wilson get away with this? What are the risks? Well, the risks are great because there are hundreds of people who know what Joe Wilson is referring to when he says what else they're lying about. They know about all the lies. Now if we let Wilson say this kind of thing, and do not retaliate against him, let him do this with impunity, that's going to send the wrong message. So how do we get at him?
Well, one of the reporters was told by a White House official that wives are "fair game." Well, that's what turned out to be the case. They found out that Joe Wilson's wife was a deep cover official working on weapons of mass destruction, a precise priority one issue facing the United States government. Well, they decided to retaliate for what, Ambassador Wilson had said, and make this an abject lesson to all others who might be tempted to speak out about the lies.
Between The Lines: Ray McGovern, CIA Director George Tenet has asked for an investigation and the Justice Department is now working with the FBI to conduct an investigation into who revealed Ambassador Wilson's wife's name to the press as a CIA operative. How credible and aggressive will this investigation be, in your opinion?
Ray McGovern: I think it will be just as credible and just as intense as the one that President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General John Mitchell to undertake. I think he called it a "full and thorough investigation of Watergate." Let's not deceive ourselves. The FBI answers to the Justice Department. Indeed, the fellow who has been named to head up this investigation is well-known in intelligence circles as he would hardly go to the bathroom without checking with his superiors in the Justice Department.
Between The Lines: Who is that?
Ray McGovern: That's John Dion. What you've got here is a situation with John Ashcroft calling all the shots. I leave the rest to your imagination. It doesn't take a lot of imagination.
Between The Lines: Given that you feel we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, what should Congress be doing and what should the public be demanding they do?
Ray McGovern: Well, there's the ideal and there's the practical. The ideal is that there are ample grounds for impeachment. This is clearly an impeachable offense. Lying to the Congress and the American people on the matter of war and peace, starting an unprovoked war. America had never done that before, not on a scale like this. Orchestrating a plan of deceit over a period of several months. So, an impeachable offense? Of course it is.
Number two, the practical. The president's party controls both the House and Senate. There's no way, no way that any of his colleagues are going to rise above their partisan affiliation and demand his impeachment. So it's a practical call. Do you waste a lot of energy trying to raise articles of impeachment? Or do you turn your attention to the other part of the Constitution, which says the president has to be elected every four years. And I think that for practical reasons, and since the president is so vulnerable now that we'll this see this played out in the political arena as the Democrats get their act together, perhaps, if they ever can and field a candidate who can sharpen these issues and make them abundantly clear to the American people.
CIA analyst Ray McGovern led one of two CIA teams conducting the most secret daily intelligence briefings at the White House until his retirement in 1990. His recent article, "Conscience Before Career," can be read online at http://www.tompaine.com
Staffers under previous administrations speak out on CIA leak and criticize the George W. Bush administration's pre-emptive war doctrine: Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl101703.html#1hed:
- "More vicious than Tricky Dick," John Dean says the Bush team's leaks are even viler than his former boss's -- and that Plame and Wilson should file a civil suit, Salon.com, Oct. 3, 2003
-"The Bush Administration Adopts a Worse-than-Nixonian Tactic: The Deadly Serious Crime Of Naming CIA Operatives," by John W. Dean, Aug. 15, 2003
-"The Iraq War and The Bush Administration's Pursuit of Global Domination," interview with former U.N. Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter, Sept. 15, 2003.
- "The Crazies Are Back": Bush Sr.'s CIA Briefer Discusses How Wolfowitz & Allies Falsely Led the U.S. To War, Democracy Now! interview transcript with former CIA analysts Ray McGovern and David McMichael, by Amy Goodman, Sept. 17, 2003
- "What I Didn't Find in Africa," by Joseph C. Wilson 4th, New York Times, July 6, 2003
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 30 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Oct. 17, 2003. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.