There's a more scandalous question hovering in the background of Valerie Plame affair than whether presidential adviser Karl Rove intentionally or inadvertently blew the cover of a CIA agent -- namely, the question of how Plame's husband Joe Wilson wound up as point man to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium from Africa.
It was Wilson, recall, who claimed in July 2003 op-ed for the New York Times that the agency had dispatched him to Niger -- at the personal request, he insinuated, of Vice President Cheney -- to look into the Iraq-Africa connection. Wilson insisted that he'd found no link and accused President Bush of lying in his 2003 State of the Union when he said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Wilson's conclusion that Iraq had never sought to buy uranium from Niger, we now know, wasn't borne out by his own sketchy, hearsay-filled report; indeed, the British government still stands by the intelligence Bush cited. Wilson, in short, misrepresented his own findings in order to undermine the re-election of the president. In the words of Pat Roberts (R. Kansas), chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee which looked into the matter, "[Wilson] seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the intelligence community would have or should have handled the information he provided...Time and again Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people...and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa....Not only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe [the British report was] true."
Equally troubling, we now know for certain that Wilson was recommended for the job not by the Vice President but by his own wife, the aforementioned Plame -- whom Wilson has always vehemently denied had anything to do with his assignment. Plame told CIA director George Tenet, in an interagency memo which has been made public, that her husband was the man for the Niger job because he "has good relations with the both the PM (prime minister) and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention a lot of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity."
The deeper scandal, thus, doesn't involve Rove but the CIA itself: How did Plame manage to wangle an assignment of such magnitude for her husband? The agency, after all, signed off on Wilson's fact-finding expedition...and the guy turned out to be a congenital liar and partisan moonbat.
Think about that for a moment.
It's not as if Wilson was sent off to investigate the impact of reggae on Niger's music industry. He was looking into the possibility that Saddam had sought to acquire uranium for WMDs.
So Plame put in a good word for her husband. How rampant is nepotism inside the agency? So Wilson had contacts in Niger. Whatever happened to psych profiles? Heads should have rolled at the CIA, chief among them Tenet's, the moment Wilson published his loopy Times op-ed.
If, in the end, Rove's head winds up in the basket, the Bush Administration will have no one but themselves to blame.
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