She was operations chief of the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit of the Counterproliferation Division of the clandestine Directorate of Operations. For the two years prior to her outing, Valerie Wilson worked to gather intelligence that would support the Bush White House’s assertion that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was loaded with WMDs. This means that Armitage–as well as Karl Rove and Scooter Libby–leaked classified information about a CIA officer whose job it had been to look for evidence of Saddam’s WMD programs. During this part of her career, Valerie Wilson traveled overseas to monitor operations she and her staff at JTFI were mounting. She was no analyst, no desk-jockey, no paper-pusher. She was an undercover officer in charge of running critical covert operations.
I’ve taken some time to sift through the particulars a bit, and contemplate the angles and implications. But I keep coming back to a segment of the Corn article in The Nation that needs to be highlighted:
But that summer–before 9/11–word came down from the brass: We’re ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.
There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. JTFI officers, under Wilson’s supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists–in America and abroad–looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi émigrés to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam’s WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.
"We knew nothing about what was going on in Iraq," a CIA official recalled. "We were way behind the eight ball. We had to look under every rock." Wilson, too, occasionally flew overseas to monitor operations. She also went to Jordan to work with Jordanian intelligence officials who had intercepted a shipment of aluminum tubes heading to Iraq that CIA analysts were claiming–wrongly–were for a nuclear weapons program. (The analysts rolled over the government’s top nuclear experts, who had concluded the tubes were not destined for a nuclear program.)
The JTFI found nothing. The few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Task force officers sent reports detailing the denials into the CIA bureaucracy. The defectors were duds–fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.) The results were frustrating for the officers. Were they not doing their job well enough–or did Saddam not have an arsenal of unconventional weapons? Valerie Wilson and other JTFI officers were almost too overwhelmed to consider the possibility that their small number of operations was, in a way, coming up with the correct answer: There was no intelligence to find on Saddam’s WMDs because the weapons did not exist. Still, she and her colleagues kept looking. (She also assisted operations involving Iran and WMDs.)
Did you catch it? The JTFI was ramped up several months before 9/11 even occurred. Well, THAT is new, isn’t it? I do not recall that ever being discussed in any of the Senate Intel reports or the 9/11 Commission report or anywhere else for that matter. Does anyone else? I spent a little time yesterday going back through my notes and some of the documents, and I cannot find a reference to this pre-9/11 ramp up on Iraq at the CIA anywhere. Anyone find a reference to that anywhere that I may have missed — if so, please share it.
Just how many trips to the CIA did Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and David Addington make prior to 9/11 asking about Iraq, pushing analysts toward conclusions that they wanted? How much of that information that Judy Miller was gleefully printing up in the NYTimes during this period came from Chalabi and the Cheney cabal in an effort to push the JTFI to back them up? Why is Pat Roberts still sitting on Phase II of the Intel Report — reportedly at Dick Cheney’s urging — and how complicit has Pat Roberts been in all of this? What don’t they want us to know?
When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator–to rise up a notch or two–and then return to secret operations. But with her cover blown, she could never be undercover again. Moreover, she would now be pulled into the partisan warfare of Washington. As a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn’t able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration’s justification for war and had come up empty.
Ginning up a war, before the 9/11 attacks had even occurred, before the Twin Towers fell, but because they simply wanted war with Iraq…but they never wanted any of us to find out about their rush to Baghdad starting in that summer of 2001. At least, not until we were already there.
Digby had some thoughts on this yesterday well worth considering:
Armitage may have just been a gossipy little busybody from way back, but that doesn’t explain LIbby and Judy and Rove and Cooper or the "two senior administration officials" who tried to get the Washington Post to print that Wilson’s CIA "wife" had sent Wilson on a "boondoggle." Rove said she was "fair game." You simply cannot persuade me that every last person involved in this did not know that the head of the Joint Task Force on Iraq’s WMD at the CIA in 2003 was the person they were busy making sure was publicly outed.
Wilson scared the hell out of them because they knew who his wife was and knew what she knew. This is about Cheney and the CIA, whom he and all the neocons have thought were a bunch of liberal appeasers for decades because they have so often failed to back up the wingnuts’ most fanciful, paranoid wet dreams about the boogeyman of the day — wet dreams, by the way, which were always, everytime, proven false in the end.
In the end, this has always been about shutting up every critic of the Bush Administration, through whatever means were necessary, so that they could continue to do whatever they damn well pleased, and the hell with the consequences and the petty little laws and regulations.
How many other Washington power couples know things that they are now keeping to themselves about the Bush Administration’s illegal, immoral, or otherwise indefensible actions because of the payback exacted on Joe Wilson for calling the President on his public lie in the State of the Union? The President stood before Congress and spoke those sixteen words that he had been told well beforehand were false and unsubstantiated – and he and his cronies and surrogate mouthpieces have spent years now trying to keep the genie in the bottle on the facts surrounding those words and all the other lies.
It’s funny that the facts keep dribbling out anyway.
Emptywheel has done an amazing dissection of this news over at Next Hurrah, and I encourage everyone to go and read it, if you haven’t done so already. But I still keep going back in my mind, over and over again — they ramped up the JTFI the summer BEFORE 9/11, just a few months (5? 6?) after George Bush took office in January of 2001.
How long had this war with Iraq been on the planning table for George Bush and Dick Cheney? Before Bush was ever elected President? How far were they willing to go to get it — was there some triggering event that caused them to be more concerned about Iraq that led to this ramp up, or was this put in motion from the moment Bush took the oath of office as President as some personal payback for Saddam Hussein or as a means for Junior to prove he was more of a man than his dad because he’d go all the way to Baghdad? What was the motivation behind ramping up for war with Iraq during the summer of 2001?
And why haven’t the press and the Congress been asking these questions all along?