Woodward's Book and the CIA/Plame Leak Case

Woodward gets close to his high-level sources, almost becoming a player in the narrative he is chronicling. Consequently, he becomes entangled in the story and cannot disclose to the reader all he knows.
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Here's an interesting scene from Bob Woodward's new book. It's the summer of 2004 and George Tenet has resigned as CIA chief:

[White House chief of staff] Andy Card called [Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage to see if he was interested in taking over the CIA.

No, Armitage replied emphatically.

"Can I ask the reason? We're disappointed."

Armitage replied that he could give the reason but he would prefer not to because it might hurt Cards feelings.

Card knew the problem for Armitage was Cheney and Rumsfeld. He nonetheless asked Powell if there was a way to persuade Armitage.

"You can ask him again," Powell replied, "but he doesn't fool around." An Armitage no is a no. "My personal view is he won't do it."

What's missing from Woodward's account? One significant fact disclosed by Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (which I wrote with Michael Isikoff): that Armitage had leaked Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak and had been under investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. At the time he was offered the CIA job, Armitage, who had cooperated with the investigation, might have no longer been a primary target of Fitzgerald (though he would later be reinvestigated by Fitzgerald for having failed to disclose to the special prosecutor that he had also discussed Valerie Wilson's CIA employment with Woodward weeks before mentioning it to Novak), but his role in the leak was still a big secret.

He knew he had leaked classified information that had led to the outing of a CIA officer. Could he accept the CIA position and go through the confirmation process, knowing that at any moment the news could emerge that he had blown the cover of an undercover CIA employee? (And what if a senator asked him about the leak at the confirmation hearing?) There was no way he could place himself in such a possibly perilous position. It was dicey enough for him to remain at the State Department, realizing the Plame time bomb could detonate any time. And Woodward reports that months later--after the 2004 presidential election--the White House considered naming Armitage to the new position of national director of intelligence. Armitage was not interested. Woodward notes this was because, as Armitage told National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, "I just don't know how I can work in an administration that lets Secretary Powell walk and keeps Mr. Rumsfeld." But once again, he could not have accepted this position for the same reasons.

While writing the book, Woodward knew that Armitage had disclosed information to him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection and, as we report in Hubris, Woodward had suspected his source had been Novak's source. And over a month before his book was published, a Newsweek article based on Hubris disclosed that Armitage had been the source for both Novak and Woodward.

This brief section of State of Denial--a book that does contain important (and sometimes entertaining) disclosures--illustrates a side-problem of Woodward's methodology. He gets close to his high-level sources, almost becoming a player in the narrative he is chronicling. Consequently, he becomes entangled in the story and cannot disclose to the reader all he knows. Woodward came under criticism last year when the news broke that he, too, had been leaked information about Valerie Wilson but had not told his editors (or readers) about this. What compounded his problem was that Woodward had gone on television and radio shows to dismiss the leak investigation and criticize Fitzgerald, without revealing that he had had a personal stake in the matter because a source of his had been a target.

No doubt, Armitage, who was damn fed-up with the White House and the Pentagon, didn't want these jobs. In Hubris, he's quoted referring to the armchair warriors of the White House and the Defense Department as "a bunch of jerks." Woodward's depiction of these episodes places Armitage squarely in a place of principle. Regardless of his feelings toward the White House and the Pentagon leadership, Armitage couldn't accept either post because of his central role in the Plame scandal. Woodward had reason to know that, but he didn't report it.

Woodward's book has little in it about the Plame affair--just a few short mentions. That was his choice. But he does provide an interesting nugget related to the case. He reports that after 2005, Cheney no longer had a visible role in the management of Iraq. Once Scooter Libby was indicted in the leak case in October 2005 and resigned, Woodward writes,

Cheney was lost without Libby, many of the vice president's close associates felt. Libby had done so much of the preparation for the vice president's meetings and events, and so much of the hard work. He had been almost part of Cheney's brain.

So one consequence of the leak case, according to Woodward's account, was that it took Cheney out of the game. Readers of Woodward's book can decide whether that was a positive or negative development.


For information on HUBRIS, click here.

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