Is Libby the Phantom Bigfoot?

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 17 2003 6:46 PM

Is Libby the Phantom Bigfoot?

An exclusive report from Slate's guesswork unit.

(Continued from Page 1)

Before the speech, the crucial conversations between the C.I.A. and White House over whether to include the African reference in the State of the Union address were held between Robert G. Joseph, a nuclear proliferation expert at the National Security Council, and Alan Foley, a proliferation expert at the C.I.A., according to government officials.

There is still a dispute over what exactly was said in their conversations. Mr. Foley was said to recall that before the speech, Mr. Joseph called him to ask about putting into the speech a reference to reports that Iraq was trying to buy hundreds of tons of yellowcake from Niger. Mr. Foley replied that the C.I.A. was not sure that the information was right.

Mr. Joseph then came back to Mr. Foley and pointed out that the British had already included the information in a report. Mr. Foley said yes, but noted that the C.I.A. had told the British that they were not sure that the information was correct. Mr. Joseph then asked whether it was accurate that the British reported the information. Mr. Foley said yes.

Other government officials said, however, that Mr. Joseph did not recall Mr. Foley's raising any concerns about the reliability of the information. If he had, they said, Mr. Joseph would have made sure that the reference was not included in the speech.

Conceivably, Joseph would have been acting on his own (assuming Foley's version is the correct one). But knowing how fully engaged Libby was in collecting and assessing Iraq intelligence, Chatterbox has a hard time imagining Libby would have stayed away. Remember: Nobody had an inkling at the time that this would cause any controversy. So Chatterbox is going to guess that Scooter is PB.

[Update, 8:50 p.m.: Reports are trickling out that the person Sen. Durbin spoke of was the National Security Council's Robert Joseph. The unnamed sources quoted in the pieces say the person who fingered Joseph wasn't Tenet but the CIA's Alan Foley, who also testified at the hearing. Foley identified Joseph after being pressed to do so by Durbin. The story Foley told was more or less identical to what David Sanger and James Risen previously reported in the New York Times (see boldfaced passage, above) but with less funky sourcing.

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Chatterbox would still like to know whether Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney leaned on Joseph—or (if Joseph needed no encouragement) egged him on. And then there's Joseph's boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. ...]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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