White House braced for latest assault by hardback
A former US ambassador will this week 'out' a government official who named his wife as a CIA operative. Andrew Buncombe examines the latest 'must-read' memoir tackling the Bush administration
29 April 2004
The Bush administration is bracing itself for the latest memoir by a former insider. Joe Wilson, a former ambassador, will this week reveal the name of the government official who "outed" his wife - revealing her identity as a CIA operative in apparent revenge for his role in proving the White House made false claims about Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
But in what has increasingly becoming the habit during Mr Bush's presidency, Mr Wilson will not make his claims on television, at a press conference or even in a newspaper column but between the covers of a "must-read" book. His memoir, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, is published tomorrow.
Tomorrow is going to be a busy day for Mr Wilson, a former ambassador to several African countries and a member of President Bill Clinton's national security council. For while the initial "scoop" will appear in his book, if precedent is any guide the revelation will quickly be devoured by all other media and Mr Wilson will likely be filling the airwaves and broadcasts that day.
This is dependent, of course, on the "scoop"not being leaked in advance of publication. Mr Wilson knows the score on this and yesterday he declined to spill the beans. "No, I can't do that," he said. He did, however, "reveal" that the movie project of the book was not so far advanced that actors had been selected. "I will say that if this becomes a movie I am happy with that," he added. "This is a story that people should be told."
The story in question has, to a large extent, already been told. A publisher's breathless blurb might read: "Handsome and worldly Joe Wilson - the last US official to meet Saddam Hussein before the Beast of Baghdad was ousted - was dispatched to Niger at the bequest of Vice-President Dick Cheney to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from the African country to develop its nuclear weapons programme.
"Mr Wilson found the claims to be demonstrably false and told senior CIA officials.
"Last summer, after President Bush repeated the false claim in his State of the Union address, Mr Wilson revealed his trip to Niger and his conclusion to the Independent on Sunday and then in a signed op-ed piece in the New York Times". But it is the what happened next that is gripping Washington. After Mr Wilson went public, the White House leaked to the right-wing newspaper columnist, Bob Novak, that the ambassador's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative and that she may have suggested the mission. Both Mr Wilson and the CIA were furious, claiming that Ms Plame had been compromised and her career severely damaged.
Leaking the identity of a CIA operative is a federal offence and the FBI, headed by an outside prosecutor, has for several months been conducting an investigation and has put together a grand jury to consider evidence and hear from witnesses.
Mr Wilson initially claimed it was Mr Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, who leaked his wife's identity, though he has since stepped back somewhat from that allegation. Reports suggest that other potential leakers could be Mr Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby or else John Hannah, a senior national security aide on the Vice-President's staff. Either way, if anyone in the White House is found guilty of the leak to Mr Novak and others, it would be very damaging to Mr Bush as he campaigns for reelection.
While Mr Wilson's book will receive a flurry of attention - and no doubt earn him a nice sum - it is just the latest in a series of "insider accounts" that seek to reveal the truth about what is going on at the White House. While the administrations of both Clinton and Mr Bush Snr (at least towards the end) were as leaky as the proverbial sieve, the current administration has remained remarkably water-tight, with few genuine leaks appearing in newspapers. As a result, books written by former officials such as the Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, have received unprecedented attention and there have been at least half a dozen such tomes published in recent months. Sir Harold Evans, the former Times editor and Random Books publisher, told The New York Times: "In my experience it is quite phenomenal that so many books are coming at us with such force and candour. Normally there is quite a time gap before such books start to appear, so the reconstruction of events has lost some of its bite."
Publishers are responding to the demand and the willingness of readers to buy such titles, many of which have topped the best-seller lists. Editing, production and distribution of volumes is now being done in almost as little time as it takes for a long magazine article to be produced.
Michael Korda, an editor with Simon & Schuster, said: "The mores have changed. Who on earth would say people have to wait a proper period of time before writing their memoirs?"
Less an insider's account of what has happened in the White House than an insider's account of what should happen in the White House and, by extension of the administration's power, elsewhere. The book, by the former chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board and a former White House speechwriter, calls for those who pose a threat to be neutralised or destroyed. Mr Frum, the speechwriter credited with coining the term "axis of evil," and Mr Perle, a former assistant Secretary of Defence, advocates "an aggressive, activist approach to stomping out terrorism both within America's borders and in other countries as well".
Their plan calls for the US to overthrow the government of Iran, abandon support of a Palestinian state, blockade North Korea, use strong-arm tactics with Syria and China, disregard much of Europe as allies, and sever ties with Saudi Arabia. The book had a limited impact but was seen as a support from the political right for the strike against Iraq at a time when the controversy over the failure to discover WMD continued to rage.
An End to Evil, by Richard Perle and David Frum. Published by Random House, December 2003
Though written by Mr Suskind, the main and most important source for this book was former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who was fired by the White House in late 2002 after what it considered a series of gaffes. His supporters claimed he was a scapegoat. Mr O'Neill's main claim was that from his very first days in the White House, Mr Bush was planning the ousting of Saddam Hussein, even though there was no evidence that the Iraqi regime had the weapons of mass destruction it was alleged to possess. "In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterise as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," said Mr O'Neill. "There were allegations and assertions by people. I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterise as real evidence." The White House was forced onto the defensive, claiming Mr O'Neill was "trying to justify personal views." The Treasury Department requested an investigation.
The Price of Loyalty: George W Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill, by Ron Suskind. Published by Simon and Schuster, January 2004
Written by the White House's former counter-terrorism chief, this book alleged that the Bush administration had repeatedly ignored his warnings about the threat posed by al-Qa'ida in the spring and summer of 2001 and that the plan to invade Iraq diverted attention from the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It claimed that on September 12, having been informed that al-Qa'ida was behind the attacks, Mr Bush demanded: "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you to, as soon as you can, go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he slinked in anyway." Again told that al-Qa'ida was responsible, Mr Bush continued: "I know, I know ... but see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred." The book's publication coincided with Mr Clarke's testimony to the commission investigating the attacks and added to a growing public perspective that the administration could have done more to prevent the attacks - something that Mr Bush and his senior officials were forced to deny.
Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, by Richard Clarke. Published by Simon and Schuster, March 2004
Mrs Hughes was, and probably still is, one of the most powerful women in Washington. A counsellor to President Bush since, as she says, "the motorcade was only one car and he was sometimes the one driving it", she has had an unparalleled view of the operation of power. The book, published as Mr Bush's re-election campaign restarts, is a largely hagiographic account of the US President and his supposed strengths. In it, Mr Bush appears as bold and decisive and yet someone who was prepared to listen. Mrs Hughes left the White House in 2002 to return to Texas and spend more time with her family but will be back in Washington to help Mr Bush's re-election campaign. She said at the time of the book's publication: "I think more highly of the president today and of Mrs Bush than the day I went to work for him." Perhaps because there were no "scoops" in the book, most reviewers of the volume have focused on its portrayal of the difficulties facing women juggling families and all-consuming jobs.
Ten Minutes from Normal, by Karen Hughes. Published by Viking, March 2003
Mr Woodward may not technically be an insider but he is such a part of the Washington establishment that he has unique access to those who are. This volume involved interviews with 75 sources, only two of which - Mr Bush himself and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - are named. It has already created a huge furore in Washington, revealing as it does that Mr Bush secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after US forces attacked Afghanistan and was so worried the decision would be controversial that he did not tell all his senior officials. In the book, Mr Bush is quoted as saying: "I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq. It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war." The book has also placed Secretary of State Colin Powell in a difficult position, showing him to be ineffective in preventing the war he opposed.
Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward. Published by Simon and Schuster, April 2004
Mr Wilson, the former US ambassador to several African countries and the deputy head of mission in Baghdad during the build-up to the 1991 Gulf War, has written what is likely to be a hugely controversial memoir detailing his wife's outing as a CIA operative by the White House. Mr Wilson went to Niger at the request of the Vice-President's office to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium. He reported that the claims were false and that documents on which they were based must be fakes. His account was confirmed by the UN nuclear watchdog. Mr Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, are a glamorous fixture in the more liberal circles of Washington and he has been held up as someone who dared expose the false claims. His memoir could be the most damaging yet as it deals with a topic that is currently the focus of a criminal investigation. If a senior White House official is even charged with leaking Ms Plame's identity it would be very awkward for Mr Bush and Dick Cheney.
The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, by Joseph Wilson. Published by Avalon, April 2004