Friday, February 11, 2005

That Jeff Gannon Story: British Angle

Hear that clattering of keyboards racing in from the east? See the blackly glittering screens? It could only be the Kossacks charging after a story. And, of course, they got one. The whole sorry tale about "Jeff Gannon", the pseudonymous conservative who mysteriously got a White House press pass in his false name whilst working for a news agency owned by the same Texan Republicans as a website called "GOPUSA", was somehow given the memo identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, and turns out to have registered a whole wedge of gay porn domain names, has been rumbling away in the Kos comment threads and several blogs for weeks. They identified his real name. They uncovered the porno sites. They discovered naked pictures of the man himself.

Finally, he resigned from his "news agency" - at least, the pseudonym did. You might think this was a parochial Washington story, but it affects us too. In two ways: for a start, the substance of the whole sordid business (the link above leads to a summary) is of interest. For those of us who remember, Valerie Plame is the wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, the official who was sent to Niger to verify the truth or otherwise of the claim that Iraq had been buying yellowcake (uranium ore) there. That claim was first published in the now-legendary British dossier on "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction", although the CIA (it turned out) thought at the time that Britain was exaggerating. It turned out that the only documentation for the claim was a risibly poor forgery, which seems to have been given by Italian military intelligence to the UK and US intelligence services (and also some of the people involved in the AIPAC scandal. Complicated, innit?). When Wilson went public with the fact that his mission had effectively debunked the yellowcake story, efforts were made to discredit him.

Amongst other things, a journalist was somehow allowed to discover that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative, a fact that was promptly published. (Recall that at the time the administration was spinning that The Company was dangerously liberal and off-message.) This in turn led to the opening of a criminal investigation into how her cover was blown. Crucially, "Gannon" seems to have received the same classified document as the first journo (Robert Novak). Under his real name, he is one of those who were subpoenaed by the FBI investigation into the leak. How he got the memo is a mystery.

Almost as mysterious as how and why he came to claim that he "entertained the Prime Minister of Great Britain". An alleged man-whore turned propagandist for the Republican Party - and Tony Blair. What a gathering that must have been. (Insert your own how-did-they-tell-the-difference joke.) More seriously, Guckert/Gannon is associated with Clifford May's "Foundation for the Defence of Democracies" - that's right, the guys who employed the Iraqi woman who appeared at Bush's State of the Union address (post). What on earth could they have been discussing? Those of you with really long memories may recall this story from the Ranter of April, 2004, regarding the role of two matching spin-doctor teams in the UK and US in the run-up to war with Iraq.

In London, the "Iraq Communications Group" chaired by Alastair Campbell included the chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett, the No. 10 Downing St. foreign policy adviser David Manning, and also Edward Chaplin - now UK Ambassador to Iraq, it strikes me with coffee-spilling force. In Washington, something called the White House Iraq Group was established in August, 2003 - shortly before the ICG - headed by Karl Rove. The two organisations' mission would seem to have been identical: the ICG wrote the September 2003 dossier, and WHIG wrote a National Intelligence Estimate that, according to the Washington Post, was rejected by Condoleeza Rice because it wasn't "strong" enough. That wasn't the last example of curiously similar trans-atlantic spin; we've already touched on those very grateful Iraqis at party conferences, and then there's this perceptive blog entry on Bush's sudden taste for "conversations" in town halls as a form of campaigning.

Not necessarily big conversations, but it's still uncannily similar.

Update: this story in the Google cache would suggest they had quite a bit to discuss.

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