Thursday, November 03, 2005

Time To Investigate The CIA

The Wilson/Plame affair is disquieting because it reveals the CIA to have been grossly incompetent in 2002. Which explains how they let 9/11 happen.

The Brit Intel

In 2002, the Brit SIS reported that Saddam was trying to buy Uranium ore from Niger. This was interesting but not critical - turning ore into bomb-grade Uranium or Plutonium takes acres af factories easily spotted by satellite. But it wasn't trivial either - here's how the lefty New Yorker saw the issue at that time:

There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter forever the balance of power in the Middle East.

Niger

Niger, an ex-colony of France:

...is one of the poorest countries in the world, a landlocked Sub-Saharan nation, whose economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits.

Uranium is 72% of its exports, and guess who owns and runs that business?

Niger's two uranium mines--SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine--are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French interests.

France

Uses Niger's Uranium to fuel the nuclear power plants that provide almost all French electricity. In 2002, France was in the "unreliable ally" category - they'd leaked NATO targeting to the Serbs during the Kosovo bombing campaign.

The CIA's Response

In early 2002, the CIA decided to run an independent check on the Brit intel. This was the only thing it did right.

Since the French owned Niger's Uranium, and since they couldn't be trusted, a professional would have planned covert penetration of the contacts between Iraq and Niger's French Uranium exporters .

They don't do this. Instead, on the recommendation of an employee (Valerie Plame), they selected her husband, Wilson, to go to talk to the Niger government - which would know nothing of Iraqi/French contacts.

Wilson has since proved to be a liar, but even assuming he wasn't known to be one then, he was clearly not suitable as a covert agent - he was politically active:

In the mid-eighties, Wilson worked for Gore as a congressional staffer.

And since then he'd been a diplomat, so would be on the database of every intelligence agency in the world.

Subsequent criticism has focused on his wife's role in getting him this mission. But, much more importantly, why did the CIA with its massive resources choose to send an amateur?

It Gets Worse

Every aspect of Wilson's mission shows CIA incompetence (WSJ subscription).

1. Wilson was not required to sign a confidentiality agreement, or bound by the equivalent of the Brit Official Secrets Act. So when he later publicized his mission as the centerpiece of an attack on the administration, he broke no law.

2. Wilson was not required to file a written report - he just gave the CIA an oral briefing, which doesn't seem to have amounted to more than a "maybe the Iraqis tried to get Uranium three years earlier".

3. When he went public with his attack on the administration, many of his statements were false. The CIA did not rebut these, leaving the impression that he was telling the truth.

4. By allowing Wilson to go public, the CIA compromised his wife's identity. OK, she was a desk-jockey in Langley, but they subsequently asked for a criminal investigation into her name being published. Here's how she was identified:

- Wilson's Who's Who entry identified his wife as "Valerie Plame". When journalists asked the obvious "why was an amateur like Wilson chosen?" question, the obvious starting points were his contacts, including his wife. When one of them, Bob Novak:

...called the agency to verify Ms. Plame's employment, it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.

So until Bush changed the management, the CIA had insufficient covert agents, no security controls on its contractors, and no security around the identities of its staffers. It sounds like the same CIA that was massively compromised by Aldrich Ames, who gave the Soviets the identities of all the CIA's Soviet-based agents. They were all tortured and at least 10 killed.

"Plamegate" is an irrelevance. We need a proper investigation of this shower's failures to prevent 9/11.