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Leopold: Woodward Provides Clues About His Source

Woodward Provides Clues About His Source

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Tuesday 22 November 2005

Embattled Washington Post editor Bob Woodward provided an important clue that may help shed light on the identity of the person who told him in June 2003 that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent.

In an interview with "Larry King Live" Monday night, Woodward said he realized that he was the first journalist to learn of Plame Wilson's covert CIA status when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictment last month of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, contradicting evidence that said former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed for 85 days for refusing to testify to a grand jury about her source, was the first reporter who was told about Plame Wilson.

At that news conference, Fitzgerald said that Libby was the first known government official to disclose Plame Wilson's identity to a member of the media - Judith Miller - on June 23, 2003.

"I went, 'Whoa,' because I knew I'd learned about this in mid-June, a week, 10 days before," Woodward said. "I then went into incredibly aggressive reporting mode and called the source the beginning of the next week," and the source said to Woodward at least three times "I have to go to the prosecutor."

During that time, specifically on June 12, 2003, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus had written an in-depth account of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's - Plame Wilson's husband - fact-finding trip to Niger a year earlier to investigate what turned out to be false claims that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from the African country. Wilson told Pincus that the administration knowingly included the phony uranium claims in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address to get Congress and the American public to back the Iraq war.

Pincus didn't name Wilson in his story, but his report set off a chain of events that angered top aides in Cheney's office and led many of those officials to leak Plame Wilson's identity and CIA status to a handful of reporters, including Woodward, in an attempt to silence Wilson from speaking out against the administration.

Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter whose investigative stories on the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon, made a stunning announcement last week when he revealed that he was told about Plame Wilson in mid-June 2003 by "current or former administration officials."

Now that Woodward has narrowed the date of his conversation with the unnamed administration official to June 13 and June 16, 2003, the list of potential suspects can easily be boiled down to two: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

On June 10, 2003, a classified State Department memo containing information about Plame Wilson was drafted by Bureau of Intelligence and Research head Carl Ford for Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman and was sent to Libby. Plame, who in this memo was identified by her married name, Valerie Wilson, is listed in the second paragraph of the three-page memo, which was marked "(SNF)" for secret, non-foreign.

The INR memo was promptly sent to Libby that day. Libby, according to attorneys close to Fitzgerald's investigation, had shared its contents with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy at the time, Stephen Hadley, who a month later would take responsibility for not omitting the reference to Niger and Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium there from Bush's State of the Union address. Rice, through her spokeswoman, has denied speaking to Woodward about Plame Wilson. Hadley would neither confirm nor deny that he was Woodward's source when pressed by reporters last week.

However, attorneys close to Fitzgerald's probe have fingered Hadley as Woodward's source. Still, there are media reports citing Armitage as being Woodward's source because, unlike other key administration officials, including President Bush, his Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Armitage hasn't issued a vehement denial saying otherwise. But Armitage was out of the country last week and Hadley is a known source for Woodward's previous books that were written after 9/11.

Two days after the INR memo was sent to Libby, June 12, 2003, Pincus published his story about Wilson's Niger trip in the Post. The same day, Armitage asked INR to draft a memo on what Pincus had reported. Ford sent Armitage the same memo he had sent to Libby, which was also sent to John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador who at the time had been Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

"After Pincus," a former intelligence officer told Time magazine in a story published July 31, "there was general discussion with the National Security Council and the White House and State Department and others" about Wilson's trip and its origins.

Time reported that a source familiar with the memo says neither Powell nor Armitage spoke to the White House about it until after July 6.

Since the catalyst for the leak had been the Niger allegations Wilson had called into question, it's important to note that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research had long expressed doubts about the veracity of the documents purporting to show an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium from Niger.

Greg Thielmann, a former official at the INR, had said he was "quite confident" that the INR had shared its doubts about the authenticity of the Niger documents with top officials at the State Department, including Powell and Armitage, who, behind the scenes had been battling with senior officials in the Defense Department and at the White House over dubious intelligence it was forced to rely upon before the war that showed Iraq as being an imminent threat as well as having a cache of biological and chemical weapons, all of which has been proven to be untrue.

That makes it difficult to comprehend Armitage being Woodward's source on Plame Wilson. Although Woodward says he believed the information about Plame Wilson was passed on to him in a "casual" manner by his source while he was doing research for his book Plan of Attack, it seems more likely that if Armitage told him anything it would have been something along the lines of how his agency disagreed with the administration's intelligence on Iraq and the infighting that took place behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Hadley's role in the Niger forgeries has been well-documented, and it would appear that a successful campaign to discredit Wilson by leaking information about his wife's CIA status to Woodward, and perhaps other reporters, would save the former Deputy National Security Adviser from being publicly humiliated a month later.

It was after all the authenticity of the Niger documents that Wilson had challenged that led to his wife's outing.

In September 2002, Hadley had met with the head of Italian intelligence, Nicollo Pollari, who was implicated in pushing the bogus claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. Hadley denied that he discussed uranium, but numerous reports say otherwise.

Pollari had been trying to provide the CIA with evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, citing the now-debunked documents. The CIA had previously rebuffed his claims, asserting they were unfounded.

On January 28, 2003, Bush claimed that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa in his State of the Union address. It is the very claim that Hadley had seen from Pollari and the very claim that the CIA rejected.

Two days later, the Washington Post reported that Hadley was acting as liaison between the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee in helping to "sift through intelligence with the help of the CIA, and trying to determine what can be released without damaging the agency's ability to gather similar information."

In a June 13, 2003, column written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff in response - a month before Plame Wilson's name was published for the first time by conservative columnist Robert Novak and around the time that Woodward says his source revealed her identity to him - to public claims by Rice that the NSC was totally unaware the Niger documents were forgeries, Kristoff said he was told by his sources that the NSC, particularly Stephen Hadley, knew all along the documents were phony.

"My understanding is that while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told Mr. Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower CIA officials did tell both the Vice President's office and National Security Council staff members."

Armitage may very well issue that denial when he returns to the US.


Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak invesigation, and will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t.

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