As compelling as Frank Rich's Sunday piece "Eight Days in July" was, it failed to answer, much less raise, a number of other important questions.
For example, who at Justice decided to wait until 8:30 pm to tell Gonzales of the investigation, and who decided to give Gonzales 12 hours before he officially notified the staff?
What's more, why did the investigation begin three months after the Novak column appeared that outed Judith Plame as a C.I.A. operative? Did the C.I.A. wait three months before asking Justice to conduct an investigation? If so, who made that decision, and did that decision have anything to do with him receiving the Medal of Freedom?
Why did then Attorney General John Ashcroft take another three months to recuse himself from the case because of "potential conflicts of interest?" And what, specifically, would those potential conflicts of interest be?
Cut to the chase, which, as Frank Rich aptly points out, is that "The real crime here remains the sending of American men and women to Iraq on fictitious grounds."
Premier among these fictitious grounds is the phony intelligence on the Niger uranium that prompted Mr. Bush's sixteen words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
More questions on that score need asking and answering.
Who in the administration knew the Niger intelligence was false?
When did they know it?
How did the C.I.A. not see immediately that some of the documents were forged? (Apparently, the forgeries were laughably amateurish.)
Who forged the document?
An article from the UK's Guardian Unlimited posted last Saturday says that:
"...A parallel investigation is under way into who forged the Niger documents.... A source familiar with the inquiry said investigators were examining whether former US intelligence agents may have been involved in possible collaboration with Iraqi exiles determined to prove that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear programme."
The bad news--the "parallel investigation" is being conducted by the FBI, and according to some, the FBI is dragging its feet. In September of 2004, Josh Marshall of The Hill wrote that the identity of the man who gave the forgeries to Italian reporter Elisabetta Burber is known, the FBI has never bothered to interview him.
And according to Daily Kos, they still haven't. In a Friday article titled "Niger Yellowcake and The Man Who Forged Too Much", Pen weaves a tale worthy of LeCarre that follows the forgery trail that ultimately "leads us to Washington D.C., past a Federal Investigation into Israeli espionage and right up to the steps of the White House and Dick Cheney's Office of Special Plans.
The Office of Special Plans was, in the words of Guardian Unlimited's Julian Borger,
"...A shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defence Intelligence Agency. [It was] was set up by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney.
"The ideologically driven network functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight. But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war."
A 2003 Mother Jones article titled "The Lie Factory" gives a chilling account of the OSP's activities.
Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the Pentagon during the run up to war, says, "It wasn't intelligence--it was propaganda. They'd take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong together."
The party line was enforced at OSP, and anyone who didn't go along with it was purged.
Somewhere along this trail, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and unknown others become involved in a scheme to discredit Joe Wilson's mission to Niger in an effort to preserve the basis for Mister Bush's "sixteen words."
The size and impact of this deception defies imagination. And yet, it looks more and more like there was hardly a key figure in the Bush administration who wasn't in on it.