‘Wilsongate’ could become Pres. Bush’s Waterloo

Karl Noyes

There is a developing story about intentional leaks of sensitive CIA personnel information, which might become “Wilsongate.” Although it took a few months for the story to catch fire, events are easy enough to follow: On Jan. 28, President George W. Bush gave the now infamous “16 words” State of the Union speech claiming that Iraq was seeking “yellow-cake” uranium ore for nukes in Niger. Six months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson writes a New York Times column exposing the “yellow-cake” claim as bogus.

Eight days after Wilson’s column, citing “two administration

officials,” Robert Novak of The Washington Post wrote a column exposing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA operative.

The fallout thus far is easy to follow as well. Plame’s secret CIA status is destroyed, her life is endangered, as well as those of her clandestine contacts and, according to CIA statements, exposing Plame “did indeed damage national security.”

The accusations become more serious considering Plame was not just a CIA lackey but, according to CNN, in a “managerial role over other covert operatives.” In other words, revealing Plame’s identity exposed her to potential atrocities of torture or even assassination.

Also up for assessment is the apparent determination by which the Bush administration went to expose Plame as a CIA agent. According to The Washington Post, Bush administration officials made multiple phone calls to reporters revealing Plame’s identity and urging her exposure. However, only Novak decided to blow Plame’s cover in print. Now the crucial task is to identify who gave Novak the information.

Journalists who received phone calls are not talking for fear of discrediting themselves, but many pundits are already pointing a circumstantial finger at GOP strategy boss Karl Rove. Rove, the political mastermind who orchestrated Bush’s governor and presidential runs, is at the center of the controversy because of Wilson’s and anonymous journalists’ implications that Rove ordered Plame’s exposure and “in the least condoned it.” Interestingly, according to the Houston Chronicle, Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign for allegedly leaking information to none other than the same Novak.

For the leaker or leakers, penalties include fines up to $50,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

But the political damage the Bush administration could suffer is more severe, as Democrats, smelling traces of former President Richard Nixon’s corpse, are eager to act. They will rightfully be aggressive, but turning it into a purely partisan expedition would undermine the sheer seriousness of the accusation.

If the “Wilsongate” accusations continue to develop along their current lines, they will reveal an

extremist level of political intimidation. The seedy underbelly of Bush’s strategy is nothing new. This administration – which slapped around Colin Powell for considering the United Nations, forced CIA Director George Tenet to fall on his own sword and doesn’t think twice about making dozens of officials resign – is led by Rove, who ordered the gerrymandering of Texas district lines and chose the candidates for senator and governor of Minnesota.

Even though those tactics were coldly harsh and reek of the political fist, they are nothing compared to basically ordering a hit on the wife of a politically dissident ambassador.

Karl Noyes is an editorial board member. He welcomes comments at [email protected]