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Plame Whistleblowers Targeted by Administration

Plame Whistleblowers Targeted by Administration

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Friday 24 February 2006

Two top Bush administration officials who played an active role in the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, have been removing from their jobs, career State Deptartment weapons experts who have spoken to investigators during the past two years about the officials role in the leak, according to a half-dozen State Department officials.

The State Department officials requested anonymity for fear of further retribution. They said they believe they are being sidelined because they have been cooperating with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and have disagreed with the Bush administration's intelligence that claimed Iraq sought 500 tons of yellowcake uranium ore from Niger - an explosive piece of intelligence that was included in President Bush's January 2003, State of the Union address that was found to be based on crude forgeries, but helped pave the way to war.

The reshuffling, which has been conducted in secret since late last year, has led to a mini-revolt inside the State Department, numerous officials who work there said.

The officials who have been leading the State Department reorganization plan are Frederick Fleitz and Robert Joseph. Fleitz now works for Joseph. Both men were appointed to their positions by President Bush. They have claimed publicly that the State Department reshuffle has nothing to do with retribution, rather it is aimed at helping that branch of the federal government to better deal with 21st century threats.

Both men were directly involved in the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson, and have been targeted by Fitzgerald's probe as possible sources that unmasked Plame Wilson's identity to reporters, according to several people knowledgeable about the Fitzgerald probe and the roles Fleitz and Joseph played in the Plame Wilson leak.

At the time of the leak, Fleitz was a senior CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control official as well as the chief of staff to John Bolton, the former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, a position that Joseph was appointed to when Bolton was selected to be Ambassador to the United Nations by President Bush.

Beltway rumors have swirled for more than a year that Bolton, too, played a role in the leak, specifically, that Bolton enlisted Fleitz to obtain information from the CIA regarding Wilson's Niger trip and asked him to find out who at the agency was responsible for sending him there, sources at the CIA and State Department said.

State Department officials and other people knowledgeable about the events leading up to the Plame Wilson leak said Fleitz is the unnamed CIA official identified in the federal indictment handed up by a grand jury in October against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to investigators relating to his role in the leak.

The indictment states: "on or about June 11, 2003, Libby spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson's trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip."

State Department officials said Fleitz was in a position to obtain Plame Wilson's status as a covert CIA operative. These officials said Fleitz had told Bolton about Plame Wilson, and Bolton then shared that information with Libby and other senior aides in Vice President Cheney's office.

Moreover, State Department officials said Fleitz was one of the CIA officials who attended a meeting in February 2002, at CIA headquarters where Plame Wilson had accompanied her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was selected to travel to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger, according to several State Department officials who also attended the meeting.

Fleitz has been a trusted source of information to Bolton for some time. In his book, Peacekeeping Fiascoes of the 1990's: Causes, Solutions, and US Interests, Fleitz thanked Bolton for advising him on research and providing him with guidance in writing the book.

It has long been rumored that Bolton had his own connections to agents at the CIA who shared his political philosophy on Iraq. Greg Thielman, a former director at the State Department who was assigned to Bolton and entrusted with providing the former under secretary of state with intelligence information, told New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh that Bolton had become frustrated that Thielman was not providing him the smoking gun intelligence information on Iraq that he wanted to hear.

"He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get CIA information directly," Thielman said in Hersh's book, Chain of Command. (Page 223)

"In essence, the undersecretary (Bolton) would be running his own intelligence operation, without any guidance or support," Hersh wrote. "Eventually, Thielmann said, Bolton demanded that he and his staff have direct electronic access to sensitive intelligence, such as foreign agent reports and electronic intercepts. In previous administrations, such data had been made available to undersecretaries only after it was analyzed, usually in the specific secured offices of the INR." (Page 222)

Robert Joseph was identified last week by CIA and State Department officials as one of a handful of administration officials who was instrumental in an effort to attack the credibility of Wilson when the former ambassador started to criticize the administration's use of the Niger claims in Bush's State of the Union address.

Joseph is the former director of nonproliferation at the National Security Council who was responsible for placing the infamous "sixteen words" about Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium from Niger in Bush's speech.

Sources close to the probe said witnesses involved in the case told FBI investigators that Joseph was one of the recipients of a classified State Department memo in June 2003 that not only debunked the Niger allegations but also included a top-secret reference to Valerie Plame Wilson's work for the CIA, and that she may have been responsible for recommending that the CIA send her husband to Niger to investigate the uranium claims in February 2002.

The sources added that the witnesses testified that Joseph and then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had worked directly with senior officials from Vice President Cheney's office - including Libby, Cheney's National Security Adviser John Hannah, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove - during the month of June to coordinate a response to reporters who had phoned the vice president's office and the NSC about the administration's use of the Niger documents.

The State Department had disagreed with the White House's intelligence on Niger, saying in a number of classified documents sent to the White House since 2002 that the intelligence was suspect and should not be cited by the Bush administration to make a case that the country was attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Now some State Department officials believe that Joseph and Fleitz are working to ensure the State Department is staffed with individuals who will support the Bush administration's foreign policies.

Fleitz and Joseph have been working in secret with other Bush appointees since last year to revamp the State Department by pushing out career weapons experts, many of whom have been interviewed by FBI investigators during the past two years probing the leak.

"The process has been gravely flawed from the outset and smacks plainly of a political vendetta against career Foreign Service and Civil Service (personnel) by political appointees," a group of employees told Undersecretary of State for Management Henrietta Fore on December 9, according to notes prepared for the meeting, Knight Ridder reported on February 7.

In response to the unprecedented shake-up, a dozen State Department officials drafted a dissent letter to Fore and W. Robert Pearson, the director general of the Foreign Service, on October 11, and "sought, but failed to get, a stay from the Justice Department to stop the plan," Knight Ridder reported.

"An inquiry by Knight Ridder has found evidence that the reorganization was highly politicized and devastated morale: One of the government's top experts on the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, which helps stem the spread of nuclear weapons but disputed the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's weapons programs, returned from two and a half years at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and was blocked from assuming an office directorship that had been offered to him, the officials and a complaint document said," Knight Ridder added.

The position, which oversees US diplomacy related to international efforts to contain suspected nuclear-weapons programs in countries such as Iran and North Korea, went to a less qualified officer who officials said shared Bolton's views.

In the interest of fairness, if any individual named in this article believes the information written about them is untrue they will be afforded an opportunity to respond to this story in writing.


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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