Sunday, August 14, 2005

Valerie Plame's Sources: The Usual Suspects

Originally posted on the Daily Kos, July 30th

A lot of speculation has been going on lately about Rove, Libby, Bolton and how Valerie Wilson's identity first got out.  Was it the press that leaked it to Rove and Libby?  How did the press learn about Valerie Plame and her front company?  All we really know is that it all seems to boil down to Judith Miller and who her source is.

Judith Miller, the N.Y. Times primary WMD reporter and the woman in jail for refusing to reveal her source in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  What do we know about her?  What do we know about her sources?  I must admit that frankly I knew next to nothing  when I set out to learn the answers.  It seems, however, that somebody up there likes me and they were guiding my hand as the first place   I stumbled upon not only establishes one of Ms. Millers primary sources, but sends me down a path of discovery that ultimately  brings Ms. Miller and her primary source face to face with those people I've come to call The Usual Suspects.

What do we know about Judith Miller?

It seems Judith Millers role at the N.Y. Times was to be the Propaganda Minister for the White House in its successful attempt to drag us into a preemptive war with Iraq.  Jack Shafer tells us of Judith Millers role in his excellent article here .

But thanks to the reporting of the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, we now know Miller was a true believer who grew fat on WMD tips from her sources inside Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress organization, and that once in-country she threw a bit and saddle on the WMD detectives and rode them like Julie Krone from one end of Iraq to the other to investigate those tips.

That none of the official tips or the ones provided by Miller revealed WMDs indicates that 1) the Iraqis perfectly expunged every site Miller ever mentioned in her reporting prior to the U.S. invasion; or 2) her sources were full of bunk. Either way, if Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller's many credulous pieces. Thanks to the power of the Nexis Wayback Machine, we can give the Times a few tips on which Miller stories need revision, redaction, or retraction.

Not only was Judith Miller feeding the rumor mill with unsubstantiated stories, but as the site above shows, her greatest scoop ever

Miller files her biggest scoop ever: "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said To Assert," April 21, 2003. Traversing Iraq with a Mobile Exploitation Team in search of WMD, they tell her of the extraordinary claims by an Iraqi scientist in their custody. They say he claims Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment just before the war started and that he has led them to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made.

And more! He says Iraq secretly sent its unconventional weapons and technology to Syria in the mid-1990s; it had recently been cooperating with al-Qaida and turning its focus to weapons R & D and concealment. These are described to Miller by officials as the most important discoveries in the WMD hunt so far.

totally came apart when Ms. Miller   admitted herself that the key source of her story, the Iraqi scientist, was in fact a "military intelligence officer".  Yet no where does she explain how she mistook a military intelligence officer for an Iraqi scientist, how this officer could have known where precursor materials were buried, where he pointed out these burial sites were or what has become of him.

A quick perusal of Ms. Millers work shows us a vast array of "scoops" all of which helped the White House's argument for war and all of which relied upon "defectors".  Everyone of these "scoops" have turned out to have been, as Jack Shafer put it,  wrong, very wrong, or very, very wrong.

One of the named defectors...told officials...chem/bio weapons labs could be found beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces.

An unnamed Iraqi defector claims Saddam Hussein is trying to create new chemical weapons.

"All of Iraq is one large storage facility" for WMD chemical agents.

"Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment have told American officials that acquiring nuclear arms is again a top Iraqi priority."

What we see here is Judith Millers MO.  She cites "defectors" as the source of these claims.  The CIA always doubts the veracity of these claims but the Pentagon always embraces them.  None of her stories ever turn out to be true or verifiable and now we know that in one instance, at least, her supposed "defector" was in fact a military intelligence officer who she has not named.

All of which tells us that Ms. Miller is not a credible reporter but a White House propaganda tool.  

Remember how some of the key figures amongst The Usual Suspects are tied to AEI?  Well, it turns out, Ms. Miller is too:

Publishing a series of books dealing with both Islam and weapons of mass destruction, Miller established her reputation within an interlocking group of right-wing think tanks that have long promoted US war against Iraq and the defense of Israel. The leading figures in these organizations now dominate the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. She co-authored a book on Iraq with Laurie Mylroie, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who is identified with the thoroughly discredited theories that the Saddam Hussein regime was behind not only the September 11, 2001 attacks, but subsequent anthrax attacks on the US Capitol as well as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Both Mylroie and Miller are connected to the Middle East Forum, a right-wing pro-Israeli lobbying group that describes its mission as "promoting American interests in the Middle East." The key figure in this organization is Daniel Pipes, who argues in a recent article that the US has no "moral obligation" to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people and that the war in Iraq must be judged less by "the welfare of the defeated than by the gains of the victors." The organization lists as its key goals "strong ties to Israel" and a "stable supply and cheap price of oil."

Note that David Wurmser, of the Office of Special Plans and aide to Dick Cheney, is a former Director of Middle East studies at AEI and assistant to John Bolton.  More on that later on.

Who were Judith Millers sources?

One man that knows a bit about Judith Miller is   Howard Kurtz,    host of CNN's Reliable Sources, a weekly that casts "a critical lens on the media".  In Kurtz May 26th article in the Washington Post, he produces an internal Times memo in which Miller described her main WMD source as none other than Ahmed Chalabi.  In a June 25th article, he follows up on this trail with:

More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi's headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law, these sources say.

Since interrogating Iraqis was not the mission of the unit, these officials said, it became a "Judith Miller team," in the words of one officer close to the situation.

 Military officers critical of the unit's conduct say its members were not trained in the art of human intelligence -- that is, eliciting information from prisoners and potential defectors. Specialists in such interrogations say the initial hours of questioning are crucial, and several Army and Pentagon officials were upset that MET Alpha officers were debriefing Hussein son-in-law Jamal Sultan Tikriti.

  "This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence," said one military officer who, like several others interviewed, declined to be named because he is not an authorized spokesman. But, the officer said of Miller, "this woman came in with a plan. She was leading them. . . . She ended up almost hijacking the mission."

Said a senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, of which MET Alpha is a part: "It's impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better."

The April trip to Chalabi's headquarters took place "at Judy's direction," one officer said.

Chalabi said in a brief interview that he had not arranged the handoff with Miller in advance and that her presence that day was "a total coincidence. . . . She happened to be there."

One military officer, who says that Miller sometimes "intimidated" Army soldiers by invoking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Undersecretary Douglas Feith, was sharply critical of the note. "Essentially, she threatened them," the officer said, describing the threat as that "she would publish a negative story."

An Army officer, who regarded Miller's presence as "detrimental," said: "Judith was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat," this person said, and MET Alpha "was allowed to bend the rules."

Is it no surprise that The Usual Suspects show themselves once again?  Feith, of the Office of Special Plans, Chalabi's biggest champion, is the man who's name Judith Miller uses to intimidate troops.  Chalabi, who's main contact with the White House is Harold Rhode, of the Office of Special Plans, not only makes the transfer to Judith Miller of one of Iraq's most wanted men, but is her main source for WMD's.  How strong is Millers tie to Chalabi?

Kurtz disclosed an internal e-mail exchange between Miller and John Burns, the Times' Baghdad bureau chief:

Miller fired back that she was entitled to the interview as she had forged a relationship with Chalabi over the course of a decade. She noted, "He [Chalabi] has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD in our paper."

Kurtz also tells us that:

In another case, Miller wrote of her exclusive interview with Nassir Hindawi, a former top official in Iraq's biological warfare program. The interview took place while Hindawi was "in the protective custody of Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi," Miller wrote.

In early May, Miller reported on MET Alpha's search for an ancient Jewish text that wound up unearthing Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel. In this case, too, Sethna said, the information was passed from Chalabi's group to Miller.

And then there's this article which shows that of all the unreliable sources Miller used, she relied upon none more than Chalabi.

But - one would hope - Chalabi wouldn't have access to the identity of Valerie Plame.  His access to Harold Rhode notwithstanding.  So who else is a Miller source?

The Salon article above goes on to shed some light on this question:

a former CIA analyst, who has observed Miller's professional products and relationships for years, explained to me how simple it was to manipulate the correspondent and her newspaper.

"The White House had a perfect deal with Miller," he said. "Chalabi is providing the Bush people with the information they need to support their political objectives with Iraq, and he is supplying the same material to Judy Miller. Chalabi tips her on something and then she goes to the White House, which has already heard the same thing from Chalabi, and she gets it corroborated by some insider she always describes as a 'senior administration official.' She also got the Pentagon to confirm things for her, which made sense, since they were working so closely with Chalabi. Too bad Judy didn't spend a little more time talking to those of us in the intelligence community who had information that contradicted almost everything Chalabi said."

Much can be learned about Judith Millers role in spreading propaganda for the WH here , but what really springs out is this quote from Ms. Miller herself

My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction.

As Jack Shafer is correct in pointing out, Miller is describing her role as that of a "conveyor of official news rather than as a skeptical reporter."  But what Miller has told us here is that she has sources within the government "with very high security clearances".  It stands to reason that it was one of those people who would have had access to Valerie Plames identity.  Who might that be?

Obviously, since Millers role was to get info to support the war from Chalabi and have it confirmed by her senior administration official with high security clearance, then there must be a conduit from Chalabi to this senior administration official. As we already know, that man was Harold Rhode, the main liason between the White House and Chalabi.

"According to one former senior U.S. intelligence official who maintained excellent contacts with serving U.S. intelligence

officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, "Rhode practically lived out of (Ahmad) Chalab's office." This same source quoted the intelligence official with the CPA as saying, "Rhode was observed by CIA operatives as being constantly on his cell phone to Israel," and that the information that the intelligence officials overheard him passing to Israel was "mind-boggling," this source said. It dealt with U.S. plans, military deployments, political projects, discussion of Iraq assets, and a host of other sensitive topics, the former senior U.S. intelligence official said." FBI probes DOD office - (United Press International)

Let's get back to that in a minute, but first, let's look at how Miller got assigned to MET during the Iraq war.  It was, afterall, the prime assignment of any reporter embedded in Iraq during the war.  MET was assigned to be the guys who found the WMD's.  Who signed off on having Miller be the frontline reporter in the discovery of WMD's?  

According to this

According to Pomeroy, as well as an editor at the Times, Miller had helped negotiate her own embedding agreement with the Pentagon--an agreement so sensitive that, according to one Times editor, Rumsfeld himself signed off on it.

So there can be no doubt that the White House intended to use her as a propaganda tool from the get go.  But while there is a relationship there, Rumsfeld is not a known source of any Miller articles as far as I can tell and Rumsfeld doesn't come up in any circles as a possible source of the Plame leak.

Miller also used Richard Perle, the longtime Chalabi ally, as a source.  But as a civilian, he would lack the proper clearances.

Did she use Col. William Bruner, liason to the Iraqi National Coalition and yet another member of the Office of Special Plans?  While he would seem to be her logical source for several of her articles in which she attributed her source to have been from within the INC, he doesn't look to be the logical choice for having knowledge about the identity of Valerie Wilson.

There's also more to consider here:

Witnesses told a federal grand jury President George W. Bush knew about, and took no action to stop, the release of a covert CIA operative's name to a journalist in an attempt to discredit her husband, a critic of administration policy in Iraq.

Their damning testimony has prompted Bush to contact an outside lawyer for legal advice because evidence increasingly points to his involvement in the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Whoever Millers source is, the information first went past people very close to Bush.  Who?

Well, there's David Wurmser, former Director of Middle East studies at AEI.  In late 2001 he was part of the Secret Intelligence Unit tasked with finding an Al Queda-Iran link, that was incorporated into the Office of Special Plans in 2002.  In Sept. 2003, Wurmser became aide to Dick Cheney.  

Let's take a moment to consider something: Where did The Usual Suspects get their information about Valerie Plame?  Who in the administration would have had access to Top Secret information pertaining to Valerie Wilson/Plame's role in nuclear proliferation?  The only logical person to turn to for such information would have been John Bolton, State Dept. deputy secretary in charge of WMD's.  Bolton played a central role in the Niger Yellowcake story.

And who are two of Bolton's assistants?  David Wurmser and John Hannah, both of whom conveniently also worked in Dick Cheney's office.  And according to a Richard Sale article on Insight Mag saved here Federal investigators have solid evidence against John Hannah:

Federal law-enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year. The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were the two Cheney employees. "We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law-enforcement officer said. Calls to the vice president's office were not returned, nor did Hannah and Libby return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time" as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said.

This gives us a direct connection to Cheney and from there to Bush.  From Hannah to Wurmser and then to Miller?  Or even straight from Hannah to Miller?

Now I said I'd get back to the Rhode angle. Rhode was not just a conduit for Chalabi to the White House and therefore, part of the echo chamber that Miller worked in, he was witnessed by a CIA analyst as being "constantly on his cell phone to Israel" discussing U.S. plans, military deployments, political projects, discussion of Iraq assets, and a host of other sensitive topics.  But what's even more alarming is this article which states

Hannah is a neoconservative and old cold warrior who is really more of a Soviet expert than a Middle East expert. But in the 90s he for a while headed up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank that represents the interests of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).

Once again, both FBI investigations seem to be crossing paths.  This brings up a completely new possibility:  AIPAC is under investigation for espionage against the United States.  Could the trail go from Bolton to Hannah to AIPAC to Miller?  If so, she would definately never give out her source in THAT case.

But this article would indicate that Miller could go straight to Bolton.

One thing is for sure, you can count on The Usual Suspects to have been the ultimate source of the leak of Valerie Plames name.

As an aside, Russ Baker, who has written critically of Miller for the Nation, lays the lions share of the blame on Judith Miller and the N.Y. Times. "I am convinced there would not have been a war without Judy Miller," he said.


Arianna has this tidbit to add to the "who was the source" question:

Howard Kurtz reported that Miller and Libby spoke a few days before Novak outed Plame -- and I'm hearing that the Libby/Miller conversation occurred over breakfast in Washington. Did Valerie Plame come up -- and, if so, who brought her up?

Of course, the spin doctoring has already begun.  As Arianna also writes

The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.

This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House -- because she was the source. Sure, she first got the info from someone else, and the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove (the State Dept. memo likely played a role too)... but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it.

Except, of course, that there's that one nagging little part I boldened above.  Who were Millers friends in the intelligence community?  Why, as I've already shown, none other than The Usual Suspects.  Therefore, the whole "they got it from Miller" spin doesn't really work does it?  We are still left wondering which of the Usual Suspects are the original source of the leak.

It was a fantastic spin job by the N.Y.Times, however, and even Arianna seems to be unwittingly helping in spreading this new spin.  At least she goes on to show how culpable the entire Times was in this making a mockery of the free press.

The latest spin, posted here on KOS, is that Miller protecting her source is somehow equivalent to Woodward protecting Mark Felt.  There's a huge Grand Canyon of difference, however, between the two cases:

Woodwards case involves protecting a source who is a whistleblower of government wrongdoing.  Woodward is a genuine journalist, investigating a story in which the whistleblower provides critical information uncovering wrongdoing.

Millers case involves protecting a source who is committing a crime.  Miller is not a genuine journalist, only a propaganda mouthpiece.  Her role in this affair is to help cover up her own wrongdoing and the wrongdoing of others.  She is a co-conspirator to the crime being investigated.  Her source has committed a criminal act.

Forget Grand Canyon, it's a world of difference.


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