On Friday Guy Dinmore of London’s Financial Times profiled ‘Scooter’ Libby, the first serving White House official to be criminally indicted in 130 years.  --  Libby is no mere aide, but a key neoconservative, “at the heart of the conservative movement during [Cheney’s and Libby’s] eight years in the political wilderness.”  --  Dinmore calls him a man who has been “one of Washington's most influential backroom foreign policy operators.”  --  “Together with the vice-president, Mr. Libby launched the push to invade Iraq,” Dinmore wrote.  --  And, together with Cheney, Libby has “worked hard to block signs of engagement with Iran, resist direct talks with North Korea, and undermine U.S. legislation prohibiting torture and degrading treatment of detainees.” ...


CIA Leak

By Guy Dinmore

Financial Times (UK)
October 28, 2005


Friday's indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby removes one of Washington's most influential backroom foreign policy operators. It also raises questions over whether the man known for his devotion to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is taking the fall for his boss.

As Mr. Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser since 2001, Mr. Libby has capitalized on his closeness to arguably the most powerful and unbending vice-president in U.S. history. "I'm a great fan of the vice-president. I think he is one of the smartest, most honorable people I've ever met," Mr. Libby has said.

In the same interview with CNN's Larry King, following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, Mr. Libby also spoke of how Mr. Cheney's "eyes get a little bluer" when he talks about the need for protecting the presidency's "confidential communications" -- and about how the courts recognized reporters' privilege to protect their sources.

Together with the vice-president, Mr. Libby launched the push to invade Iraq. Officials say Mr Cheney and Mr Libby have worked hard to block signs of engagement with Iran, resist direct talks with North Korea, and undermine U.S. legislation prohibiting torture and degrading treatment of detainees.

A lawyer once associated with Mr. Libby, recalling the controversy over the vice-president's refusal to disclose his big-energy sources while gathering advice on energy policy, says that secrecy has characterized their operations since Mr. Cheney came to office.

During the Bush administration's first term, constant backroom manoeuvring over foreign policy pitted Colin Powell, then secretary of state, against Mr. Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. This rivalry exploded into public view last week when Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Mr. Powell, railed against the "cabal" of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, whom he accused of hijacking U.S. foreign policy in secret.

Another former aide revealed that the main reason Mr. Powell had travelled less than expected outside the U.S. was that he was too busy "putting out fires" in Washington.

Those battles went back at least as far as 1991. James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans, said Mr. Cheney, then defense secretary, hatched in secret an alternative and far riskier military plan to oust Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.

The plan, put together with Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense, and his assistant, Mr. Libby, was eventually ditched in favor of the strategy favoured by General Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Mr. Mann recounts that Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Libby were "deeply disappointed" when then-President George H.W. Bush, at Gen Powell's urging, called for a halt to the pursuit of Iraq's routed army after just 100 hours.

A softly-spoken man with an attention to etiquette, Mr. Libby would tell guests he saw the vice-president's office as "making sure the ship of state is on course."

He is known to have a legalistic mind, particularly on policy matters. In one conversation with reporters at the White House, Mr. Libby told them the invasion of Iraq had not been a pre-emptive war: "Iraq was a violation of a ceasefire agreement, not strictly a pre-emption policy."

As for the Geneva Convention and prohibitions on torture, there were provisions in general worth protecting, he said, but he suggested there could be exceptional circumstances in the case of a "really bad guy."

In their book America Unbound, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay wrote that, from taking office in 2001, Mr. Cheney "aggressively staked out a major role in national security policy," doubling the size of the national security staff employed by Al Gore, the previous vice-president.

But rather than hiring specialists, Mr. Cheney turned to noted neo-conservatives and hawks, including Mr. Libby, who had been at the heart of the conservative movement during their eight years in the political wilderness.

Although the U.S. immediately targeted Afghanistan and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks by al-Qaeda, Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Libby laid out the case for the invasion of Iraq just one week after the Twin Towers fell, Mr. Mann writes in Rise of the Vulcans.

Mr. Libby was responsible for the first draft of Mr. Powell's presentation to the United Nations a month before the 2003 invasion -- the Bush administration's bid to prove the existence of Iraq's weapons programs. "This is bullshit," Mr. Powell reportedly shouted during four days and nights of checking and reworking questionable data.

Mr. Libby had been the political protégé of Mr. Wolfowitz, his political science professor at Yale University. In 1981, Mr. Wolfowitz joined the Reagan administration's state department and invited Mr. Libby to leave his legal practice and join him in policy planning.

Twenty years later, working for the vice-president, Mr. Libby immediately hit the headlines by calling Marc Rich, the fugitive financier living in Switzerland, to congratulate him for receiving President Bill Clinton's controversial last-day-in-office pardon for tax evasion charges. Mr. Libby's law firm had previously represented Mr. Rich.

Mr. Libby also expressed a creative side. His novel The Apprentice is set in Japan in 1903, describing in a dreamlike tone the convening of a dubious cast of travellers during a blizzard.

His September 15 letter to Judith Miller, urging the New York Times reporter to accept his waiver of confidentiality to get out of jail, also ended on a somewhat personal note. "You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life," he wrote.

Judging by precedents in the White House, Mr. Libby may even return himself. One of his senior colleagues, Elliott Abrams, pleaded guilty in 1991 to two misdemeanour charges of withholding information from Congress over the Iran-Contra affair. He received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush in 1992 and now heads Iran policy in the National Security Council.