The Valerie Plame case

On July 14, 2003, the name of Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was exposed by columnist Robert Novak as a CIA covert agent - Wilson charged that his wife's CIA association had been deliberately exposed by the White House in order to destroy her career, in retaliation for his public charge that the Bush administration had lied to the American people about U.S. intelligence concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In an article in The New York Times "What I didn't find in Africa" on July 6, 2003, Wilson denounced the Bush administration, saying that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."

Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The issue resulted in a Justice Department investigation and it seemed possible that this investigation might lead to a major scandal involving members of the Bush administration.

See also

Daniel Ellsberg

Weblog Entry
October 1, 2003

Edited transcript of Daniel Ellsberg talk with Dick Gordon on NPR's "The Connection," about the White House/Joseph Wilson/Valerie Plame Affair:

(To hear the audio clip, go to the Streaming Audio page. See also Dan's interview with on this subject, linked from the Writing & Interviews page)


What's going through your mind as you watch this story unfold?

I'm reliving my own experience 32 years ago and 30 years ago--it went on for a couple of years. Joe Wilson is standing exactly where I stood thirty years ago, in the cross-hairs of an Oval Office determined to punish him for having told the truth about White House lies, the most dangerous kind of unauthorized disclosure from the point of view of the White House.

It was a disclosure that had to be unauthorized, because the President wasn't going to authorize the release of information that would give the lie to his own statements. That's what I'd been doing, for a succession of presidents, with the Pentagon Papers, and its what Joseph Wilson admirably did--very courageously and boldly did--by putting his own name to an op-ed piece that asserted that information he had personally given the White House contradicted the statements they were then making, or were to make shortly thereafter, in order to get us into this war, and thus, that we were being lied into a war.

Do you make anything of the fact that, in the case of the Pentagon Papers, you were dealing with an unpopular war, and in this case, Ambassador Wilson is dealing with a case for war which is also controversial?

Yes, I think there is that connection. People have given this President an unwarranted benefit of the doubt this past year; people want to believe their president is not lying to them, and they particularly they want to believe that a war that he's lead us into, with great personal leadership, against opposition in this country and abroad, was just and necessary and successful and worthwhile. It wasn't, actually, and that means that the President has been following a policy that's depended on lies, and on secrets. And that means that he's been vulnerable to a truth-teller at every step of the way, and Joseph Wilson is one of those who did step forward, and provided an example that obviously this White House is very afraid will be followed by others. I hope it will be followed by others.

But they set out him to intimidate him, and to intimidate others who might emulate him, to show what can happen to you. In my case, I was facing twelve felony counts, and 115 years in prison, but we now know from the Nixon tapes that the White House remained very concerned that I would put out more information about their own administration, which I was prepared to do. To stop that, they started a team under the White House, made of former CIA agents and officials, called the Plumbers, to stop leaks. Their purpose was to stop leaks by any means necessary, including criminal means, and they proceeded to carry out crimes to intimidate me and intimidate others. Obviously this is happening now.

There's a difference here I want you to address for us, and that is that in the case of the Pentagon Papers, looking at it with the value of hindsight, we can say that was a leak that was put out there for the public good. In the case of the story we're following in Washington now, albeit we're still trying to make sense of what's true and what's not, you could make the case that this is a leak that's not put out there for the public good, but one that simply got an ambassador's wife in some difficulty in her role as a CIA agent. Does that mean things are reversed here?

Not really, because both kinds occurred at that time, and let me be very clear here. Joseph Wilson's revealation in the op-ed piece, of his role, officially for the CIA--he a retired official sent over to do CIA work--undoubtedly was and still is classified. It deserved to be revealed to us at that point. It showed that the President was still lying to us, just as the Pentagon Papers did. In other words, both his leak and mine were unauthorized disclosures that I believe served the public good, and that's why he did it, undoubtedly realizing that he was taking a risk by doing so, though not perhaps realizing that his wife would suffer for it. And that was true as well in my case.

At the same time, an administration which claims of course that "all leaks are bad in principle," that only authorized disclosures can be made according to the rules--like all administrations--leaks when it serves their purposes. Not all those leaks are criminal. In this case, the leak of the name of Valeria Plame, Wilson's wife, as an undercover CIA agent--and we can assume that's what's happened, because the CIA has set legal processes in motion, and they wouldn't have done so otherwise--that leak was a clear crime.

It so happens that neither Joseph Wilson's disclosure nor mine was a clear-cut crime, because we don't have an Official Secrets Act covering all classified information or covering what we put out. But the release of this information is a clear-cut domestic crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act passed in 1982. The fact that the Justice Department is opening a full inquiry, at the request of the CIA, indicates that both of them believe now that somebody has clearly now broken that law. Revealing a still-covert name, whether she's still actively engaged in field work, or is now doing analysis at the CIA, means that her past networks could be rolled up with the knowledge that they had been dealing with a covert CIA agent. So her covert identity is still definitely protected by that law.

And that means the line they have crossed is not just a prudential line that's been crossed by journalists, it's a law. And the parallel that suggests to me--which is pretty unusual, it doesn't happen everyday--is that someone in the White House, we don't yet know who, has been led to use criminal means to punish the leaker of a truth that he didn't want told. Undoubtedly I would say, based on my own experience, this person was led to do so at very high level direction, whether it's Karl Rove, or whether it's the President himself, as in the case of Nixon. The Plumbers are back.

The analogy to Watergate suggests the scenario that might develop. There haven't been many analogies since; this is one of the first in 30 years I would say, where the White House has brought back plumbers engaged in breaking the law in order to intimidate a leaker. I can't think of an incident that I know of in between, that's been proven. And the potential for that, not based on what's been done so far, but on what they're about to do, I would guess--and it's a strong guess--in the way of coverup, and lies, and obstruction of justice, and obstruction of the FBI process, may bring this administration down. It has the potential for doing that, not just because of this one act, but because I donít' believe, with a legal process having been instituted, that the senior administration officials who these journalists cite as responsible for the leak are going to be thrown over the side, or go quietly, any more than Mitchell did.

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Weblog Entry
January 23, 2003

Daniel Ellsberg answers questions on Iraq for Metall (Germany Metalworkers Union newspaper) and Freitag

1. "What threat does Iraq now pose or could pose in the future to essential US objectives in the Middle East or globally?"

No threat at all, so long as Saddam is not faced with overthrow or death by attack or invasion. Saddam has been weakened by a decade of sanctions, contained and deterred by the readiness and even strong desire of the US to attack Iraq on any excuse. Unattacked, he poses no threat at all to his neighbors or the US. To call him "the number one danger to US security and interests" is not just questionable, it's absurd. On any reasonable list of outstanding dangers, he isn't on the list.

This would remain true even if he acquired more gas and biological weapons than he may now have (or could soon have), and even if he acquired nuclear weapons! He would be better equipped to deter unprovoked attack than now, but to a reasonable opponent his ability to deter attack should be strong now (see below). But invading Iraq, however desirable in the eyes of American oil-men, is not an "essential" US objective. Otherwise, it is absurd to say that it is less feasible to contain or deter Saddam, even armed with nuclear weapons, from aggression than to seek to do the same with Stalin, Mao or the two Kims.

If he is attacked with the prospect of overthrow and death, that's another matter. Then he goes up near the top of the list, given his probable willingness to launch nerve gas on invading US troops (produced under bombing, if necessary; Scott Ritter believes he can and will do this, though he believes that Iraq has no such weapons operational now), his possible ability to launch such weapons on Israel (Ritter believes he has no delivery ability for this now, given the effectiveness of past inspections, but perhaps he's wrong), and the likelihood that he would give such weapons or their precursors to Al Qaeda or other terrorists as a legacy (not otherwise). The first two contingencies have a strong possibility of evoking US (or Israeli) first-use of nuclear weapons. That might arise also from a strong city-fighting defense of Baghdad, with large US casualties and stalemate.

2. "What, in your opinion, are the objectives of the Bush administration in pursuing its current policy toward Iraq?"

(a) oil.

(b) oil.

(c) oil.

(d) US elections: distraction and rally-round-the-President in November 2002 and November 2004; and with the hope of:

(e) shifting American Jews from the Democrats to the Republicans, semi-permanently, by total backing of Sharon's (Greater Israel) policy, while gratifying the Christian Right by the same policy, in their current alliance with Likud and Likud-supporters in the US, reflecting the Christian Right's bizarre apocalyptic beliefs (about the necessary in-gathering of Jews in Israel as a precursor to Armageddon: at which time, incidentally, the Jews either convert, belatedly, or are doomed along with other unbelievers).

Control of Iraq's oil, by US occupation, is seen as instrumental to a number of other desiderata by the oilagarchy that is the dominant influence on US foreign policy: control of the rest of the oil reserves of the Middle East and the Caspian: Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.; this to the end, not only of assuring access to cheap oil for the American market but to control the oil needed by Germany, Japan, China, etc., as a basis for all kinds of diplomatic and economic leverage; direct profits from development and sale of oil and gas in the region; assurance of the regime of petrodollars, to sustain the US economy.

3. "How united is the administration/Bush government about this war?"

Not united at all. Large parts of the government - unprecedentedly large, in dissent from White House policy - indicate great skepticism, reservations, even fear of the risks of the policy. Unprecedented leaks about the plans and about internal dissent indicate that large parts, perhaps large majorities, of the State Department (not only Powell), the CIA and the JCS do not believe in the necessity or prudence or even legitimacy of this war, and do not want it. That doesn't mean they won't obey orders and do their part for the President when he orders it. It does mean that a journalistic search for heroes who would not only leak but testify against it, at the cost of their careers, might be rewarded.

4. "What do you think about the planned military strategy?"

We don't know that much about it. It might be quickly successful, as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle, and others who, like these, have never been near a war, appear to expect with high confidence. It is certainly possible that Saddam (including all his doubles) will quickly be assassinated, by us or his officers, that the Revolutionary Guard will quickly defect along with the regulars and draftees, that command and control will be totally disrupted, that city-fighting in Baghdad will prove unnecessary, that Saddam's efforts to launch gas attacks will be preempted or that they will fail, perhaps because our protective clothing will prove effective, that Saddam will be preempted or prevented from destroying or setting on fire the oil-fields of Iraq (and perhaps Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), and that there will be no major terrorist attacks on our occupation troops after we take Baghdad. In other words, everything could go right, fast, and the war could be quick and cheap in American lives (and even, relatively speaking - i.e. no more than 10 to one - in Iraqi lives, not that the administration cares).

I don't think this is very likely. Certainly, to have high confidence in this, as the top Administration officials appear to possess (except for Powell and the JCS, the only ones with experience of war), bespeaks ignorance and foolishness. To gamble on it, which is the best that can be said for them, even if it had a likelihood as high as 80 or 90%, is reckless and irresponsible, given the actual stakes in terms of lives and American interests (including control of oil).

5. What kind of scenario do you envision: what kind of weapons will be used, will there be urban warfare? Some military strategists talk about a 'cakewalk.' Are they underestimating the Iraqi forces?

I think I've just answered this above, pretty adequately. I will add only that I fear there is a significant chance (2% would be significant, and I think it is well above that) that the US will use nuclear weapons at some point: in response to nerve gas, or (to set a precedent for the future, with an apparently "legitimate" and "limited" use) against "deep underground bunkers for production or storage of chemical or biological weapons" or for black-out effects on command and control (high-altitude low-yield bursts).

No one can say that there will not be heavy urban fighting. City-fighting is something that no one does well. The movies "Black Hawk Down" (Somalia) and "The Pianist" (Warsaw) give a good depiction of what this means for cities, civilians, and for the casualties on both sides among fighters. (Recall also "Full Metal Jacket" for a depiction of the battle for Hue in 1968). The chickenhawks simply have no answer for how we deal with this; nor do the real military, which is doubtless one reason they do not want this war.

6. Who or what could prevent the Bush administration from going to war?

I would be happy to see Saddam yield to inducements from his Arab neighbors and others to seek asylum somewhere, with assurance against war crimes prosecution if necessary. It would mean a success for threats of US aggression, but it would be a much better prospect for all than a war. France's warning that it might veto a UN-authorized attack for at least the next several months, while the inspections proceed, is both appropriate and could be effective; it should be joined by Russia and China (it would be too much to expect of Blair), while other members of the Security Council, starting with Germany, should warn in advance of a "no" vote in the absence of obstruction of inspection by Sadddam or positive findings of forbidden weapons (not empty casings) by the inspectors.

Even one to three vetoes would not guarantee that the US would not attack on the basis of a claimed "provocation" - a Tonkin Gulf incident, manufactured or simply claimed - but it might actually slow down the US attack by months, long enough for the illegality and recklessness of the whole project to become a matter of consensus, even in the US. The chance of this is small, but not zero: definitely worth pursuing.

I hope that officials with access to official documentation - IN ANY COUNTRY - which gives the lie to official US/UK rationales for war, including a possible Tonkin Gulf incident, will consider doing what I wish I had done on August 5, 1965, or soon thereafter before the bombs had started falling: Go to the world press, WITH DOCUMENTS, and reveal the truth. This is a global crisis; many, many individuals in many countries could do more than has been done to avert it, if they are willing to risk or sacrifice their own careers to do so. They might save a war's worth of lives, and avert a downward worldwide spiral. This applies above all to averting a first-use of nuclear weapons, under any circumstances whatever: by the US, Israel, UK (whose soldiers will also be at risk in Iraq), Pakistan, India, Al Qaeda (far more likely to acquire nuclear weapons - the worst possible prospect - from Russia's inadequately-guarded hoards, or from Pakistan or even North Korea-than from Iraq, UNLESS Iraq is attacked!), or from any other nuclear weapons state, currently or in the future.

With or without first-use in this conflict, I fear that an attack on Iraq will spur other nations into acquiring nuclear weapons for deterrence in the future. In the guise of averting proliferation in Iraq, this bullying attack by the world's preeminent nuclear power will accelerate proliferation dramatically. (It may already have had that effect in North Korea). The black market price for Russian (or Pakistani, or North Korean) nuclear materials or, better, operational nuclear weapons, will skyrocket. If a market and international trade in such materials and weapons does not develop in response to this, then the assumptions underlying the theory of markets and free trade need radical overhaul.

7. "How should he be dealt with?"

I won't give a general answer to how the international community should "deal" with tyrannous, brutal regimes (such as China - to mention one permanent member of the Security Council - or Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan). Pre-emprive war is NOT the answer, any more than it was for the Soviet Union, though even that had its advocates, including some nut-cases who say now that that's what we should have done then.

The inspection process, perhaps continued indefinitely, is quite reliable in preventing Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, even from proceeding with that development. That's certainly desirable, though not the highest priority in the world. Keeping al Qaeda from getting nuclear weapons is an infinitely higher priority, and attacking Saddam will make it much much more likely that this will come to pass. Keeping al Qaeda from getting nuclear material goes hand in hand with two other top security priorities for the US, safeguarding Russian weapons and materials, and ending the North Korean program by negotiation (in effect, meeting their not-unreasonable terms!) The Pakistani program and stockpile is also very dangerous in this respect. So: keep inspecting! And meanwhile, while the inspections keep coming up negative, end the sanctions on non-military imports entirely.

One danger posed by the planned war against Iraq is not raised by your questions. The notion that a war against Iraq is any way part of a "war against terror" is a dangerous hoax. On the contrary: the war against Iraq inevitably conflicts with the supposed campaign against terrorism, to the point of virtually nullifying the latter. The inevitable spectacle of massive US and UK killing of Muslim civilians - and for that matter, draftees, defending against an aggressive invasion - will, I believe, mean surrendering to the prospect of endless, escalating stalemate (not unlike Vietnam, but with less prospect of an eventual end or lessening, and with much higher consequences for the US civilian population) in the "war on terrorism."

This will happen for three reasons: 1) the number of recruits for suicide bombing against the US and its allies (including, possibly, Germany) will increase a hundredfold; 2) regimes with sizeable Muslim populations (including Indonesia, the Philippines, France and Germany, not only in the Middle East) will find it politically almost impossible to be seen collaborating with the US on the anti-terrorism intelligence and police operations that are essential to lessening the terrorist threat (to which Saddam Hussein is not even contributing); 3) Iraq, under attack (and conceivably segments of the Pakistani Army) will finally share directly with Al Qaeda and others a capability for "weapons of mass destruction."

The only prospect of avoiding all of these effects, or minimizing them, is if the most wishful hopes of the warhawks are all realized, and the war really is very quick; and, what is most unlikely, this would have to preclude not only any city-fighting, but any sizeable killing of Iraqis. That's not impossible. But the likely military plans will probably be designed to minimize US and UK military casualties, with heavy air bombardment (possibly from high altitudes), and that points toward heavy Iraqi casualties, military and civilian, even if there is an inclination of the Iraqi military to defect early. Thus, the price of this reckless policy is likely to be measured in civilian lives in America and its allied homelands, as well as in lives of innocent Iraqis. We should not, must not, imitate US (and Israeli Likud) policy in answering terrorism with terrorism, nor seek to prevent terroristic aggression with terrorism. On the other hand, no non-violent measures of opposition could come too soon, or be too "extreme," if they held any prospect - at whatever personal or institutional costs - of averting the disastrous risks of this war.