In all the pandemonium surrounding the White House’s leak of classified information, very few are talking about motive. Everyone is fixated on the whodunit, but the “whydidtheydoit” is just as important. Why would the Bush Administration choose to expose an undercover CIA officer? And why, if they are so intent on finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would they out a person who was helping the hunt for those very weapons? The most prominent theory says the White House leaked the information to make it seem that the officer’s husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, got a job purely through nepotism.
Some background: After President Bush and Vice President Cheney repeatedly said the threat of Saddam Hussein’s supposed nuclear arsenal was basis for war, Wilson was dispatched by the US government to verify the claims. The fear within the intelligence community was that the Bush Administration was employing a dangerous “claim-first, ask-questions-later” strategy in hyping the “Iraqi threat” and misleading the American public. And Wilson’s report confirmed the suspicion: he found Bush’s claim that Iraq was trying to “purchase uranium from Africa” was 100% false. The theory goes that exposing Wilson’s wife as a CIA officer who worked on weapons of mass destruction would tarnish his report because it would appear he was unqualified for the job, only having received the position because of nepotism.
The problem with this theory is that Wilson was uniquely qualified for the job. He was one of the few diplomats who had firsthand experience with Saddam Hussein’s government. As the Washington Times reported (2 October 2003), Wilson served as US ambassador in Bahgdad and “acted heroically to protect American citizens and keep Saddam’s thugs at bay.” Wilson also had Africa experience as ambassador to Gabon (he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush). This is essential because his investigation took place in Niger. Not surprisingly, his report was considered accurate and the White House was forced to acknowledge its deception.
The Bush Administration is not stupid. They knew Wilson was a serious guy well before he ever reported back from Niger, and they knew a nepotism charge would do nothing to damage his credibility. So, if the nepotism theory is out, what’s left? Intimidation.
The leak of classified information was a coded threat to former CIA officials and others that they better keep their mouths shut and stay silent about what they know is true: much of the evidence Bush presented as basis for war was false. The scandal has been aptly named “Intimigate” because, as former CIA officer Larry Johnson told Nightline, “The message that’s being sent is, if you take a policy position that’s in opposition to this White House, they’ll out you.”
Some may say that this is conspiracy theory, but let’s remember the axiom of Ockham’s Razor the simplest explanation is usually correct. And when one considers the historical record, it is hard to conclude anything different.
In the last two years, those who were honest about Iraq have been fired, disparaged and defamed by the Bush Administration’s attack machine. While Bush’s spokesman Scott McClellan claims in a 7 October Whitehouse press briefing, “It is absurd to suggest that this White House would seek to punish someone for speaking out with a different view”, the facts show that truth-tellers face “slime and defend” treatment, as one Republican aide told the New York Times. When White House economist Lawrence Lindsey said the war would cost at least $100-200 billion (which has proven to be accurate), he was fired because the White House was trying to blur the cost estimates. When Mideast envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni said that the Administration had more important national security concerns than Iraq, he too was fired. When Gen. Eric Shinseki (accurately) refuted the Administration by admitting an Iraq occupation would require “several hundred thousand troops.” Shinseki was publicly disparaged by the Pentagon. When US soldiers told ABC News they were misled about the length of their tours in Iraq, they were threatened with court martials, and the Administration told other reporters the ABC correspondent was a gay Canadian (as if that mattered).
While these purges/smears were going on, the White House was promoting the most dishonest in its ranks. Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly ignored intelligence by telling the American people that Iraq had nuclear weapons. For his efforts, he was rewarded with huge influence over Iraq policymaking so much so that US News and World Report now calls him the “the most powerful vice president in history” (13 October 2003). Similarly, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the decision to go to war was based on “new evidence” of an Iraqi threat that came to light after 2001. She said this knowing that most pre-war intelligence came from before 1998 Washington Post 27 September 2003), knowing that Colin Powell admitted in 2001 that Saddam was not a threat and knowing that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that the war decision was not made “because we had discovered dramatic new evidence.” For her dishonesty, she was recently named head of a new panel that will oversee rebuilding in Iraq.
So now we have a government that places value on lies and treats honesty like a crime. It doesn’t matter that outing a CIA agent endangers agents in the field and weakens American security. It doesn’t matter that intelligence was distorted to mislead the American people into a war. What matters above everything is loyalty to the White House. Anything else national security, integrity is secondary.
There is a term for this kind of thing in the dictionary, and it is not “democracy”. An administration that “forcibly suppresses opposition” and shows a “tendency toward strong autocratic control” like the one in power is called facism. And, as former White House counsel and Watergate figure John Dean notes, we are only glimpsing the abyss. “I thought I had seen political dirty tricks as foul as they could get, but I was wrong,” he recently wrote. “Bush’s people have out-Nixoned Nixon’s people. And my former colleagues were not amateurs by any means.” (Salon.com 3 October 2003). The only thing surprising about Dean’s comments is that they were not made far earlier by more people when America had the chance to change course.