Iraq Is Real Issue Behind CIA Leak Case

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that the public should not become bogged down in the details of the investigation into who leaked the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. He argues that the underlying issue is the Bush administration's effort to justify going to war in Iraq.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

News analyst Daniel Schorr is not ready to turn the page on last week's indictment of former vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby. Libby faces five counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak case.

DANIEL SCHORR:

The fascination with which official knew what about Valerie Plame and how they peddled it should not distract us from contemplating the great con game that the administration played with the American people on the road to war in Iraq. Clearly the principals chose to believe, whether true or not, that only an invasion would spare America from the imminent danger of Iraqi nuclear and/or biological weapons. From early on, they bought and retailed a dubious bill of goods.

Let's go back to October 2002, when Vice President Dick Cheney received an Italian report about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium in the African country of Niger. The report came to the CIA from a shady Italian businessman who produced a forged Nigerian document. The CIA doubted the authenticity of that document; the White House seemed more willing to credit it. You can understand, then, how furious the White House Iraq group must have been when Ambassador Joseph Wilson, sent to Niger to gather support for the story of Iraq's effort to buy uranium, instead returned with word that there was no evidence to support that supposition and then went public with his conclusion.

The Pentagon had one other source, equally dubious, on weapons of mass destruction. That was the smooth-talking Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, who offered a lot of inside information, including word from Iraqi scientists. Chalabi had not only a product, but a market, a friendly relationship with Judith Miller of The New York Times. She wrote a series of stories about Iraqi weapons that her paper ultimately had to disown and apologize for. But the Bush administration continued to assert Iraqi weapons programs in speeches by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and a presentation to the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell that he now bitterly regrets.

So let's not get too bogged down in details of the cover-up of the leak. At stake here is what was being covered up, a sometimes frantic effort to justify a war that didn't seem to have much justification. This is Daniel Schorr.

BLOCK: And this is NPR, National Public Radio.

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