Judith Miller is no martyr and Sulzberger is no saint

This should be considered the real trial of the century -” a trial that could re-chart the political map of America. If the mass media wasn’t putting up so much resistance, we could all be watching a blockbuster of a diabolical political soap opera -” played before a canvass of a real live war.

Every character in this epic saga is a serious power player -” men and women who ultimately decide how to use and misuse raw American military might. When convenient -” the actors in this show play together and share the same sandbox. On rare occasions, they start throwing sand at each other. That’s when things get interesting.

At the heart of this drama, is a professional couple with government careers -” one an Ambassador the other a covert CIA agent. The first scene opens with Ambassador Joseph Wilson getting a call from the Secretary of State -” Colin Powell. After the usual pleasantries, Powell asks Ambassador Wilson to go on a fact-finding mission in Niger -” a little country in Central Africa.

Wilson has been chosen because he was one of the few State Department officials familiar with the region. Powell asks the Ambassador to check out a suspect intelligence report that Saddam’s regime was attempting to procure Yellow Uranium from Niger. Wilson’s mission -” if he chooses to take it -” is to go to Niger and investigate the veracity of the story.

Powell’s request took Wilson by surprise -” because he was aware of the pre-war and pro-war environment that was flourishing in Washington and across the nation. Everyone in the administration was playing by the book and lining up behind the President and his neo-con praetorian guards. The Bush team wanted war and anyone who stood in the way was tossed out of the sandbox. General Eric Shenseki, the army chief of Staff, was unceremoniously ushered out of the Pentagon for challenging the conventional wisdom of his neo-con lords at the Defense Department -” Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. Given the charged environment, It took a few minutes for Wilson to grasp that Powell was serious -” he really did want to know if there was any substance to the ‘Yellow Uranium’ hoax.

Wilson refrained from probing Powell’s motives for assigning him such a critical mission. He knew that the state department had an in-house intelligence operation and he had now doubt about their capabilities. Why choose him? He didn’t ask and Powell didn’t tell.

Giving his wife’s chosen occupation, Wilson probably believed that “intelligence work was best left to women”. He was just a professional diplomat -” not a secret agent like Valerie Plame. So, He certainly must have grasped that the Secretary of State wanted to circumvent the normal channels.

Wilson couldn’t resist the temptation and accepted Powell’s offer. Before he set out for his first spy mission -” the Ambassador must have spent a couple of days getting a few pointers from his wife -” who was involved in undercover work to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction. After arriving in Niger -” he spent time with the French consortium responsible for the safe handling of Yellow Uranium. Wilson also met with other foreign intelligence officers in both the American Embassy and other Western delegations. He got in touch with Niger officials -” including the Foreign Minister. Within a few weeks, he delivered ‘the facts’ to Powell. There was no substance to the story. It was all a hoax based on a few crudely forged documents.

The source of the hoax was eventually traced to a journalist in an Italian newspaper -” and was based on leaks by Italian intelligence. A few months later -” someone in the Italian intelligence community made another ‘leak’. Apparently the Niger hoax was cooked up by a rouge Israeli intelligence outfit operating out of the office of Ariel Sharon in Tel Aviv. The embarrassed Italians pointed a finger at a Mossad sting operation that duped them into ‘uncovering’ crude forgeries of imaginary correspondence between Iraqi and Niger officials. These documents were intended to ‘prove’ that Saddam was trying to build a nuclear arsenal. The Mossad did not take kindly to the Italian accusations and insisted that they would never produce such low quality forgeries. So, they in turn pointed the finger at the amateur Israeli spooks working out of Sharon’s ‘Office of Special Plans’.

At his point, Wilson’s mission was a complete success. The Niger hoax should have been put to rest and this story would have ended right here. Colin Powell got the answers he needed and Wilson went back to being an ex-diplomat.

But fast forward to Bush’s State of the Union address in 2003, in which the president attempted to revive the Niger Hoax. This is what convinced Wilson to go public and confront the administration with an article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003 -” in which he asserted "some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." That might not sound like news today. But, Ambassador Wilson was the first insider to reveal exactly how intelligence was fixed to make the case for war.

All hell broke out -” for a few days. A few pundits notice his column and wrote ‘gotcha’ articles to put Bush and his neo-cons on the defensive. Not to be outdone, the neo-con faithful decide to flex their substantial media muscle to teach Wilson a lesson. They decide to leak the identity of Valerie Plame and expose her as a covert CIA agent. Big mistake. Because – instead of backing down -” Wilson again decided to go public and demanded an investigation to determine the exact identity of the neo-cons who leaked the information. Other voices in the intelligence community were up in arms -” incensed that one of their own had been outed.

On Sept. 28, 2003, the Post reported that "two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife." At this point, nearly two years ago, all we needed was an answer to determine the identity and motive of the leakers. So, attention focused on the few privileged journalists -” like Judith Miller -” who had been leaked upon. Had they cooperated, this case would already have been over and the culprits would be behind bars.

But Judith Miller and The New York Times took a firm stand that they would not cooperate with the investigation. From the beginning of this farce, they have adamantly refused to identify the administration felons -” who are probably still collecting fat government paychecks and making policy decisions.

Arthur Sulzberger, the Publisher of the New York Times, has taken to playing the role of the martyr -” ever ready to risk his media empire so that future generations of journalists can protect confidential sources. Sulzberger has always cut a pathetic figure as the owner of the ‘paper of record’. Even so, he should not be so casually dismissed. As a designated power player with substantial political clout, he spared no effort to sell the nation on the need to invade Iraq. The journalist he is defending -” Judith Miller -” is also a political animal and a bona fide member of the War Party. It would be a monumental mistake to treat her as just another working journalist out to protect her sources.

Judith Miller is the author of ‘Germ’ -” a book that gave wide credence to the canard that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons. Never shy of media attention and self-promotion, she even claimed that she was herself a recipient of an envelope that might have contained anthrax spores. She is no stranger to the Washington power game and her connections to the neo-cons are well established. In fact, she is one of their poster girls.

Miller’s war resume is impressive. She played a major role in marketing the tall tales of Ahmed Chalabi and other suspect Iraqi exiles. Her paws are all over the campaign to sell the war to a very vulnerable American public -” still shaken by the assaults of 9/11. She was constantly leaking suspect intelligence cooked up by the Office of Special Plans, the rogue Pentagon intelligence outfit that manufactured one hoax after another to make the case for war. Like her fellow travelers at the American Enterprise Institute, Miller shared the philosophy that “you go to war with the intelligence you fix -” not the intelligence you have.”

There was no intelligence failure. Rather, there was a government campaign to unleash weapons of mass deception on the American people. And the New York Times signed up as a willing, able and ready partner in a propaganda campaign to mobilize public opinion for the invasion of Iraq. Even after the war, Miller went to Iraq as an imbedded journalist with the American inspection team. Apparently, she was unimpressed with their work and at one site reportedly challenged the officers on the team and threatened to report them to Rumsfeld. As the New York Times expert on WMDs, she felt she had enough rank to bring down heat on American officers in the field.

For nearly two years, Sulzberger and Judith Miller have tied down the Plame case in court. The ‘war president’ has also consistently displayed a suspicious lack of interest in the investigation. After John Ashcroft recused himself from the case, Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to pursue the investigation. And we haven’t heard much about it since then.

It isn’t that Fitzgerald wasn’t trying. But Sulzberger -” who went so far as to take the case to the Supreme Court – derailed his efforts. His paper has painted Miller as a patriot willing to go to jail to protect the integrity of the fourth estate. According to Sulzberger, The New York Times is doing Americans a huge public service by protecting our rights of free speech against a judicial system that would cripple the efforts of journalists to expose government wrong doing. This is utter nonsense. Judith Miller is no martyr and Sulzberger is no saint. The leakers who leaked on Miller had a political ax to grind. They wanted to punish a government servant, Ambassador Wilson, for doing his job. And they satisfied their vindictiveness by exposing the identity of his wife -” a vulnerable covert CIA agent.

Wilson was tasked by Colin Powell to investigate a hoax that was used to defraud the people of the United States with the objective of coercing them to send young American soldiers half way around the world to kill and die for a suspect neo-con agenda. No one can fault the Ambassador’s job performance. As a result of his commendable work, we got an early glimpse of the mechanics of a premeditated intelligence ‘fix’. Yet, someone high up in the Bush administration set out to destroy his wife’s career in retaliation for the integrity of Wilson’s work.

The Iraq war is Miller’s war. And it is very much Sulzberger’s war. His media empire -” a bastion of neo-con ideology – was actively engaged in promoting the invasion and in disseminating misinformation about Iraqi WMDs. Miller wasn’t just a reporter -” she was an insider who shared a political agenda with the leakers. The unidentified sources she is protecting were not on a mission to reveal government wrongdoing -” they were doing wrong by the government and by the people of the United States. The leakers were not out to expose some government conspiracy -” they were themselves conspirators who used their high security government jobs to expose and endanger Valerie Plame – a public servant working covertly to safeguard the nation from the adverse effects of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

After Sulzberger takes off his clown suit and ends his First Amendment circus crusade -” maybe he can start covering this story instead of covering up for his in-house neo-con cabal. He has already had to apologize once for Miller’s atrocious journalism.

The real heroes of this drama are Ambassador Wilson and Patrick Fitzgerald who both seem unfazed by the political clout of the neo-cons and the New York Times. The essence of this political drama has been obscured long enough. The New York Times is using the First Amendment to deprive the public of their right to know the identity of a felon who committed a national security crime. Sulzberger’s antics are an obscene distraction to cover up Judith Miller’s political motives in actively participating in the production and delivery of weapons of mass deception. If we can only shove Sulzberger and Miller out of the way, we might actually get a chance to move on and get some genuine insight and some important news about who the men in the shadows are and why they took us to war.