"Waterlogged" Continued...

Issue: "Samuel Alito," Nov. 12, 2005

That catalog was later confirmed (and here quoted) in the Senate's 2004 "Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq." That report concluded (but in an election year when bipartisanship was boring) that the Senate found "no evidence" that the intelligence community's "mischaracterization or exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of political pressure."

Looking for weapons in Iraq, it turns out, was less glamorous to most reporters than living by leaks at home. July is crazy-hot in Baghdad, anyway, and July 2003 saw U.S. military deaths spike from 30 the previous month to 48. Lead reporters fixated on the Niger controversy-the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, New York Times' Judith Miller, Time magazine's Matt Cooper, syndicated columnist Robert Novak, and others.

White House officials, too, had reason to ask why the CIA sent a retired career diplomat to investigate a potential WMD link, and they had to learn about it in the papers. All drips of new information led to Valerie Plame Wilson.

In the days immediately following Mr. Wilson's op-ed piece, Mr. Libby, according to the indictment, discussed Mr. Wilson's wife with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and with "Official A"-who, if you listen to the leaks, is presidential aide Karl Rove. Official A also discussed Mrs. Wilson with veteran columnist Novak. When Mr. Novak named Valerie Plame Wilson in a July 14 column as the impetus behind her husband's trip and a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction," a new wrinkle emerged: Who revealed Mrs. Wilson's identity? If White House officials sworn to protect classified information had done so, they'd broken the law. That question, however, is not resolved in the indictment handed down by Mr. Fitzgerald and his grand jury.

White House frustration, then and now, is understandable. Given Saddam's decade of thwarting UN weapons inspections and the growing acknowledgement that he had embezzled billions in Oil for Food receipts, it was black comedy to have a mission focused on finding both him and his arsenals suddenly in political hot water over a no-name CIA officer sending her retired-diplomat husband on a dubious errand.

And the Plame-Wilsons, for all their fuming and civil-suit threats over Mrs. Wilson's now-breached identity, appeared oddly at ease with limelight. They posed as serenely as Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Mr. Wilson's black Jaguar convertible for a cover story in Vanity Fair. She showed up conspicuously for an October luncheon at the National Press Club, where her husband received a "truth-telling" award from The Nation magazine. He choked on tears (a comparison comes to mind) and declared to her from the podium, "If I could give you back your anonymity. . ." He later launched a website endorsing Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, paid for by Kerry campaign funds.

If White House officials at some point in the melodrama engaged in illegal payback, they should pay. If Mr. Libby lied to a federal grand jury, he has committed a crime. Ideally the fact-finding should prod a debate not only if the disclosure of Mrs. Wilson's identity compromised her CIA mission, but also if her husband's advocacy detracted from the U.S. mission and a now-cold weapons trail in Iraq.

Longtime Iraq weapons inspector Richard Spertzel used to lament the difficulty of finding the true nature of Iraq's WMD arsenal "unless Saddam actually used them." Many at the White House and in the intelligence community have for four years been preoccupied with preventing that kind of raw proof. Too bad political arsenals are easier to build yet almost as resistant to non-proliferation.


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