- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The
CIA leak inquiry that threatens senior White House aides has now widened
to include the forgery of documents on African uranium that started the
investigation, according to NAT0 intelligence sources.
- This suggests the inquiry by special prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald into the leaking of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie
Plame has now widened to embrace part of the broader question about the
way the Iraq war was justified by the Bush administration.
- Fitzgerald's inquiry is expected to conclude this
week and despite feverish speculation in Washington, there have been no
leaks about his decision whether to issue indictments and against whom
and on what charges.
- Two facts are, however, now known and between them
they do not bode well for the deputy chief of staff at the White House,
Karl Rove, President George W Bush's senior political aide, not for Vice
President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
- The first is that Fitzgerald last year sought and
obtained from the Justice Department permission to widen his investigation
from the leak itself to the possibility of cover-ups, perjury and obstruction
of justice by witnesses. This has renewed the old saying from the days
of the Watergate scandal, that the cover-up can be more legally and politically
dangerous than the crime.
- The second is that NATO sources have confirmed to
United Press International that Fitzgerald's team of investigators has
sought and obtained documentation on the forgeries from the Italian government.
- Fitzgerald's team has been given the full, and as
yet unpublished report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair,
which started when an Italian journalist obtained documents that appeared
to show officials of the government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi
regime of Saddam Hussein with Yellowcake uranium. This claim, which made
its way into President Bush's State of the Union address in January, 2003,
was based on falsified documents from Niger and was later withdrawn by
the White House.
- This opens the door to what has always been the most
serious implication of the CIA leak case, that the Bush administration
could face a brutally damaging and public inquiry into the case for war
against Iraq being false or artificially exaggerated. This was the same
charge that imperiled the government of Bush's closest ally, British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, after a BBC Radio program claimed Blair's aides has
"sexed up" the evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
- There can be few more serious charges against a government
than going to war on false pretences, or having deliberately inflated or
suppressed the evidence that justified the war.
- And since no WMD were found in Iraq after the 2003
war, despite the evidence from the U.N. inspections of the 1990s that demonstrated
that Saddam Hussein had initiated both a nuclear and a biological weapons
program, the strongest plank in the Bush administration's case for war
has crumbled beneath its feet.
- The reply of both the Bush and Blair administrations
was that they made their assertions about Iraq's WMD in good faith, and
that other intelligence agencies like the French and German were equally
mistaken in their belief that Iraq retained chemical weapons, along with
the ambition and some of technological basis to restart the nuclear and
- It is this central issue of good faith that the CIA
leak affair brings into question. The initial claims Iraq was seeking raw
uranium in the west African state of Niger aroused the interest of vice-president
Cheney, who asked for more investigation. At a meeting of CIA and other
officials, a CIA officer working under cover in the office that dealt with
nuclear proliferation, Valerie Plame, suggested her husband, James Wilson,
a former ambassador to several African states, enjoyed good contacts in
Niger and could make a preliminary inquiry. He did so, and returned concluding
that the claims were untrue. In July 2003, he wrote an article for The
New York Times making his mission - and his disbelief - public.
- But by then Elisabetta Burba, a journalist for the
Italian magazine Panorama (owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) had
been contacted by a "security consultant" named Rocco Martoni,
offering to sell documents that "proved" Iraq was obtaining uranium
in Niger for $10,000. Rather than pay the money, Burba's editor passed
photocopies of the documents to the U.S. Embassy, which forwarded them
to Washington, where the forgery was later detected. Signatures were false,
and the government ministers and officials who had signed them were no
longer in office on the dates on which the documents were supposedly written.
- Nonetheless, the forged documents appeared, on the
face of it, to shore up the case for war, and to discredit Wilson. The
origin of the forgeries is therefore of real importance, and any link between
the forgeries and Bush administration aides would be highly damaging and
almost certainly criminal.
- The letterheads and official seals that appeared
to authenticate the documents apparently came from a burglary at the Niger
Embassy in Rome in 2001. At this point, the facts start dribbling away
into conspiracy theories that involve membership of shadowy Masonic lodges,
Iranian go-betweens, right-wing cabals inside Italian Intelligence and
so on. It is not yet known how far Fitzgerald, in his two years of inquiries,
has fished in these murky waters.
- There is one line of inquiry with an American connection
that Fitzgerald would have found it difficult to ignore. This is the claim
that a mid-ranking Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, held talks with some
Italian intelligence and defense officials in Rome in late 2001. Franklin
has since been arrested on charges of passing classified information to
staff of the pro-Israel lobby group, the American-Israel Public Affairs
Committee. Franklin has reportedly reached a plea bargain with his prosecutor,
Paul McNulty, and it would be odd if McNulty and Fitzgerald had not conferred
to see if their inquiries connected.
- Where all this leads will not be clear until Fitzgerald
breaks his silence, widely expected to occur this week when the term of
his grand jury expires.
- If Fitzgerald issues indictments, then the hounds
that are currently baying across the blogosphere will leap into the mainstream
media and whole affair, Iranian go-betweens and Rome burglaries included,
will come into the mainstream of the mass media and network news where
Mr. and Mrs. America can see it.
- If Fitzgerald issues no indictments, the matter will
not simply die away, in part because the press is now hotly engaged, after
the new embarrassment of the Times over the imprisonment of the paper's
Judith Miller. There is also an uncomfortable sense that the press had
given the Bush administration too easy a ride after 9/11. And the Bush
team is now on the ropes and its internal discipline breaking down, making
it an easier target.
- Then there is a separate Senate Select Intelligence
Committee inquiry under way, and while the Republican chairman Pat Roberts
of Kansas seems to be dragging his feet, the ranking Democrat, Jay Rockefeller
of West Virginia, is now under growing Democratic Party pressure to pursue
this question of falsifying the case for war.
- And last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio,
introduced a resolution to require the president and secretary of state
to furnish to Congress documents relating to the so-called White House
Iraq Group. Chief of staff Andrew Card formed the WHIG task force in August
2002 - seven months before the invasion of Iraq, and Kucinich claims they
were charged "with the mission of marketing a war in Iraq."
- The group included: Rove, Libby, Condoleezza Rice,
Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and Stephen Hadley (now Bush's national security
adviser) and produced white papers that put into dramatic form the intelligence
on Iraq's supposed nuclear threat. WHIG launched its media blitz in September
2002, six months before the war. Rice memorably spoke of the prospect of
"a mushroom cloud," and Card revealingly explained why he chose
September, saying "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce
new products in August."
- The marketing is over but the war goes on. The press
is baying and the law closes in. The team of Bush loyalists in the White
House is demoralized and braced for disaster.