Articles on State Dept. memo on Plame ignored that CIA officials have challenged its claim that Plame suggested Wilson for Niger trip

In the last four days, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine have all reported on a classified State Department memo that may have been where White House officials first learned the identity of then-covert CIA operative Valerie Plame before that information was leaked to syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, Time correspondent Matthew Cooper, and possibly others. While all these articles reported that the memo and/or its accompanying materials mention that it was Plame who recommended her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, all failed to note that CIA officials reportedly dispute this part of the document.

The memo, written by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), contained an intelligence assessment disputing the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, as well as an attachment with an INR analyst's notes from a February 19, 2002, meeting where the CIA discussed sending Wilson to Niger to investigate the allegation. The notes reported that Plame recommended Wilson for the trip. (It's not clear whether the claim that Plame suggested her husband for the trip was also included in the memo itself, or only in the accompanying notes.) But CIA officials reportedly dispute this part of the document because, they claim, the CIA agent whom the notes record as describing Plame's role at the 2002 meeting could not have attended it.

While reporting on the central role that the classified memo may have played in Plame's exposure, all the articles have noted its claim that Plame recommended her husband for the Niger trip:

  • The Washington Post: “The memo 'identifies her as having selected or recommended her husband' for the Niger assignment, according to a person who has seen it.” [ 7/16/05]
  • The New York Times “The memorandum was prepared at the State Department, relying on notes by an analyst who was involved in meetings in early 2002 to discuss whether to send someone to Africa to investigate allegations that Iraq was pursuing uranium purchases. ... The notes, which did not identify Ms. Wilson or her husband by name, said the meeting was 'apparently convened by' the wife of a former ambassador 'who had the idea to dispatch' him to Niger because of his contacts in the region.” [7/16/05]
  • The Los Angeles Times: "The memo was written by the State Department's intelligence and research bureau. It outlined the history of the Niger uranium controversy and emphasized the bureau's view that there was no substance to reports that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. A State Department analyst who had attended the meeting at which the CIA decided to dispatch Wilson to Africa to check out the story kept the notes from that session, the former [State Department] official [“who because of the sensitive nature of the case asked not to be named”] said. The notes mentioned that Wilson's wife had suggested sending Wilson. After getting [former Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage's request, the State Department's then-intelligence chief, Carl Ford, ordered the original memo -- along with the analyst's notes about that meeting -- to be sent to [former Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell, the former official said." [7/17/05]
  • The Wall Street Journal: "[The memo] details a meeting in early 2002 in which CIA officials discussed how to verify reports that Iraq had sought uranium ore from Niger. Ms. Wilson, an agent working on issues related to weapons of mass destruction, recommended her husband, an expert on Africa, to travel to Niger to investigate the matter." [7/19/05]
  • Time: “The memo, originally dated June 10, 2003, identified Plame and discussed her role in recommending her husband for the mission to Niger.” [7/17/05]

All these articles, however, failed to mention that CIA officials have reportedly disputed the memo's accuracy on this point. The Washington Post reported on December 26, 2003:

Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.

CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting.

In addition, as Media Matters for America has previously noted, other intelligence officials have told Newsday and the Los Angeles Times that Plame did not suggest Wilson for the trip.