Monday, November 12, 2007

The leaker speaks

The definition of internecine is "of or relating to conflict within a nation, an organization, or a group". Many have used the term to describe what happened to the Bush administration during the CIA leak case.

One of the primary players was finally interviewed about his role yesterday. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage appeared with Wolf Blizter on CNN Late Edition, whereupon he agreed with Valerie Plame that leaking her name was indeed "foolish". Among other things.

Similar to Sandy Berger's reputation as a disorganized bumbler, we've been told that Armitage was a 'gossip'. That should say something about the issuance of top level security clearances, if true (and that's a big if). Certainly his admission to Blitzer leaves the gossip meme intact but he also repeated a claim to have never seen a covered agent listed in print. This leaves the Plame mystery intact as well.

The document he's referring to was the fabled INR memo, prepared by his own bureau in response to the initial anonymous Joe Wilson columns showing up in the Times and elsewhere before Novak's column hit the fan:
The description of Wilson's wife and her role in the Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA was considered "a footnote" in a background paragraph in the memo, according to an official who was aware of the process. It records that the INR analyst at the meeting opposed Wilson's trip to Niger because the State Department, through other inquiries, already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Attached to the INR memo were the notes taken by the senior INR analyst who attended the 2002 meeting at the CIA.
Sounds rather interneciney. There seem to be a lot of footnotes--like the fact Joe Wilson and Marc Grossman both graduated from UCSB the same year and worked at State in areas where they would have had contact.

The Woodward leak has also been relegated to near-footnote status. Here's a reprise of Armitage's gossipy conversation (transcript here). Notice he says the CIA would not be hurt, nor would State (on the mention of Yellowcake in the State of the Union) and mentions Condi in conjunction with it. Tenet would later say it was left in the speech by one of his top analysts by mistake, if you care to believe in fairy tales.

Too bad we don't have a recording of that pivotal February 19 meeting in the bowels of Langley because so many things seemed to transpire--Valerie introduced everyone; the unnamed State staffer claimed INR had already debunked the yellowcake claim; and CIA branch chiefs decided to send Joe to Africer anyway. Who knows, there might have been a few quips made that would clear everything up, such as who would take blame should Saddam's weapons not turn up, or what they really thought of the White House.

But we're left to settle for information received through leaks to people like Andrea Mitchell, who was not heard from at the Libby trial despite her involvement with just about every top player. Consider this:
1. In June who had the classified INR report, details of which she leaked? We know Carl Ford and Marc Grossman of the State Department had it. Anyone else? No one in the White House is known to have seen if before the 2d pressing on July 7 when for mysterious reasons instead of putting a cover letter on it, Grossman caused it to be reprinted with a new date and more broadly distributed.
The funny thing is Armitage apparently saw the first printing on June 10 since he immediately leaked to Woodward, yet we're to believe Colin Powell didn't discover his own agency's feelings about Saddam until reading the second memo on Air Force One on July 7. This was the same guy who stood in front of the world several months earlier at the UN with a simulated anthrax vial in his hand. All quite strange and interesting and twisted.

But perhaps more interesting were Armitage's thoughts to Wolf on pressing world issues. At various intervals of the interview he said:

  • We should talk with Iran (not Bush, but Rice)
  • Pakistan isn't as scary as people are saying and their nukes are safe
  • Iraq is getting better but we're not winning
  • The war on terra is a misnomer, should be "extremism"
  • The war on extremism is causing us to project poorly to the world at the expense of other more important issues
  • Terrorists (or should it be extremists?) win when we deny them habeas corpus and use torture on them
  • Extreme Terrorists aren't an existential threat unless they get WMDs
Quite similar to the Iraq Study Group participants and others less hawkish. Funny, on looks alone you'd more suspect a "bombed back to the stone age" type of personality. Ironically he told Blitzer he never said that, not even in a gossipy fashion. Guess looks can be deceiving.

MORE 11/12/07

Video here.

As Bryan said, 'foolish' was the word used to describe the actual leaker yet criminal is normally thrown around when describing the Bush crowd. Weird. Of course, the whole thing is weird.

What comes across in the video that doesn't in the transcript are the facial tics, flinches and gestures Armitage made when Blitzer introduced the segment. Not sure if that's abnormal with him--maybe O'Reilly can get the body language lady to take a look. More likely the story will sink back to the bottom due to the concrete life jacket it's been saddled with. Even Tom Maguire has lost interest.

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