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Three Years of the Condor

Whose side is the CIA on, anyway?

11:00 PM, Nov 7, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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WATERGATE spawned its own subgenre of suspense films featuring various arms of the United States government as the hidden masterminds of evil schemes. The first of these post-Watergate films was 1975's Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA researcher (Joe Turner, codename "Condor") caught up in a dangerous plot. Turner works in a Manhattan CIA-front operation scanning books, newspapers, and magazines for the traces of agency operations. One day he sneaks out to lunch and returns to the office, only to find his colleagues have been assassinated.

Turner realizes he is in danger, phones his Agency contact, follows his directions and soon discovers that this contact is part of the plot. Turner kidnaps and hides out with his victim/love interest (Faye Dunaway) while working to unravel the plot in which he's been ensnared. He tracks down the assassin who murdered his CIA coworkers and deduces that a rogue element within the agency is undertaking covert operations. This rogue element had hired an assassin to terminate the research office with extreme prejudice because Turner had stumbled onto this rogue group's plot to invade a Middle Eastern country for oil. The crux of the plot dawns on Turner as a revelation: "Oil fields. Oil. That's it, isn't it? This whole damn thing was about oil! Wasn't it? Wasn't it?"

The Joseph Wilson affair appears to enact a postmodern variation of Three Days of the Condor, with Joe Wilson a decadent version of Robert Redford's Turner. Valerie Plame holds up the Faye Dunaway role nicely. In this variation of the plot, however, Wilson is a co-conspirator, rather than an innocent victim, of the rogue element within the CIA.

THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT on pre-war intelligence devotes 45 pages to intelligence on Saddam Hussein's possible efforts to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger; of these, roughly 8 pages are devoted to events relating to Wilson's trip to Niger in February 2002. The report rebuts the claims Wilson peddled--first on background to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and others, in May and June of 2003, and then publicly under his own name, beginning with his Times op-ed column in July 2003.

According to Wilson, the oral report he made to the CIA discredited the evidence of any Iraq-Niger yellowcake deal and showed related documents might have been forged. Wilson to the contrary notwithstanding, the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that, "For most analysts, the information in the report [of Wilson's trip to Niger] lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal"--although the State Department disagreed.

In any event, Vice President Cheney had not been advised of Wilson's findings. As for the forged documents, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, the intelligence community didn't acquire them until October 2002, long after Wilson's oral accounting on his trip. According to the "additional views" section of the Senate report (written by Senator Pat Roberts), Wilson had baldly fabricated his alleged disclosure of the forged documents:

On at least two occasions [Wilson] admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims and that he was drawing on unrelated past experiences or no information. For example, when asked how he knew that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."

In a WEEKLY STANDARD article "A Little Literary Flair," Matthew Continetti made another interesting observation:

What's puzzling is that at times intelligence officials, quoted on background, also supported Wilson's claims. In a July 9, 2003, Newsday story by Timothy M. Phelps, for example, a "senior intelligence official" agreed with Wilson that his report "was widely disseminated" throughout the Bush administration. This wasn't the case.

Last week in a column for the Wall Street Journal, Victoria Toensing questioned whether the CIA's conduct in the Wilson matter was a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. She asked why Wilson hadn't been required to sign the agency's standard confidentiality agreement regarding his trip and noted that