Federal News Service
HEADLINE: PRESS CONFERENCE RE: DISCLOSURE OF CIA OPERATIVE IDENTITY
PARTICIPANTS: SENATOR BARBARA BOXER (D-CA); SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA); AND SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI)
LOCATION: SENATE RADIO/TV GALLERY, THE CAPITOL BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SEN. BOXER: Good morning.
Q Good morning.
SEN. BOXER: We women senators are here to call attention to the dangerous precedent set by the unlawful disclosure of a CIA operative in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the Bush administration. As mothers, as women in non-traditional careers, this situation is most troubling to us. Why would the White House leak the identity of an ambassador's wife, Ambassador Wilson? Clearly, it was an act of retribution for his revelations on the Niger report.
Now, we have seen arrogance from this administration before, but now we see intimidation. Wives and other family members are fair game. They are sending the signal that nothing is off limits in politics. And speaking for myself, let me just say this. While we in public life expect the attacks, expect the slings and arrows, we do not believe that our families deserve this kind of treatment.
This woman and her contacts are now at risk. She was part of an elite corps, the best and the brightest, and willing to take tremendous risks for her country. But the outing of this woman has squandered the many years that she and, no doubt, the CIA, have invested into her career. She was a woman in a non-traditional field, moving up, like many other women trying to break the glass ceiling. Now her very future is in jeopardy.
I've been trying to get the numbers of women in this elite corps of undercover operatives or agents. I cannot get that number. But I can tell you that only 24 percent of the CIA's senior intelligence ranks are women. So that includes those who are undercover and those who are not. We do know that only 18 percent of the FBI agents are women.
So what a tragedy it is to have your career derailed for something you had nothing to do with. It is a federal crime to reveal the identity of a covert agent, and beyond the legal ramifications, this kind of behavior, this intimidation, this is shameful.
John Ashcroft says his agency will investigate. There is clearly a conflict of interest with the Bush-appointed attorney general investigating the Bush White House.
That's why we have a special counsel provision that is in the law. We call on John Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel. Even though we know, technically, he would be working for the attorney general, it would be a very open and transparent process. And we hope that that is what will happen.
And we would have more of our women senators here today -- several of them are giving speeches off the Hill.
It is now my honor to introduce to you a woman who is raising a family here in Washington, has many important things to say about this, Senator Mary Landrieu.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you, Senator Boxer.
I am, of course, concerned about the security implications of this, but first and foremost, I'm here because I understand the pain that Ambassador Wilson and his family are going through because of this. We all agree that leaks are extremely damaging under any circumstance, but this betrayal by someone or some people in the administration has reached a new low by attacking the family of one of its own. There's an unwritten rule in politics that no matter how rough the politics gets, families are off-limits, particularly spouses and children. This administration or some part of this administration, or maybe the whole administration's political machine, has abandoned that long-standing principle.
There's a culture of retribution that seems to be running through this administration that is dangerous, and it needs to be nipped in the bud right now through a careful and independent inquiry as to what actually happened. In addition to this most recent issue, there's also the issue of the struggle between the intelligent analysis and partisan political operatives at the White House. There was a very excellent article on this subject, creating an army of yes men -- I don't know if that was the title, but that was the implication -- in one of the newspapers earlier this morning. This has got to stop now.
The first President Bush made the following remark at the dedication ceremony for George Bush Center for Intelligence at the CIA, which is not too far from the place where we stand, on April 26th, 1999. The first President Bush said, "Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors."
For the obvious reasons of a family member being attacked because the information brought by the messenger was not what was wanted to be heard at the highest levels to the fact that it endangers our social -- our national security and goes against the principles that this country stands for, we most certainly are pleased to come together today to call for the independent investigation or the special investigation, and hope that this will nip this kind of behavior in the bud, for the sake of the family at stake, as well as for the stake -- sake of our national security.
SEN. BOXER: Thank you, Mary.
SEN. STABENOW: Thank you.
I'm here today with my colleagues Senator Boxer and Senator Landrieu because this is a very serious issue. The president says we are at war, that we need to support our troops. Well, there are another group of people that we rely on in this war, in this effort to fight terrorism, and that's those that work in the CIA and particularly those that are working in a covert capacity. It's very serious at any time if someone is outed, if there is a leak that results in jeopardizing an individual and therefore those around here, those she has interviewed, those she has interviewed, those she has worked with. In any situation, this would be extremely serious, and it's a crime.
But when you add the fact that this is tied to retribution because a high-ranking official, an ambassador with great knowledge about the way policies have been made, about the information on which they are based, chooses to come forward with a different view; when a CIA agent is outed in retribution because they are a family member of someone who disagrees with this administration, it adds a level of seriousness and outrage to all of us.
We now have a professional woman who may in fact see her career as she knows it gone, certainly in the situation that she is in.
Senator Boxer talked about 24 percent of the senior intelligence officers at the CIA, of all of them, being women. I would venture to guess that if we look at the covert side, that we would find even fewer women as professional on the covert side. And she has not only been endangered in terms of her life, those around her, those she's associated with, but her career as well.
This is serious, and I join with my colleagues in supporting an independent investigation. It's time to stop this.
In America we have the right to disagree -- and respect each other -- on policy. But we in elected office, more -- know more than anybody else that when it comes to our families, it's "hands off." Each of us have been in situations where our families have been brought into debates, and we join together in saying:
Let us debate the policy, but it is absolutely wrong to attack and to injure in any way family members as a result of disagreements on public policy.
SEN. BOXER: If you have any questions, we'll be glad to get them in.
Q Senator, this controversy comes about in the context of the Bush administration's hunt for weapons of mass destruction, is how it all got started. Now there is legislation here on the Hill, the $87 billion. Part of that is $600 million to continue to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Do you all find that excessive?
SEN. BOXER: Well, let me just say, I have felt from the beginning -- and I have told Secretary Powell this at the Foreign Relations Committee -- that we really ought to look toward the U.N. to help us continue the search, after all, that was their role. They were very willing to continue. We haven't found these. And let's turn to them instead of again footing the bill for this.
We seriously are being told we don't have the $600 million we need to protect our civilian aircraft that carry military personnel, the Civil Air Reserve Fleet. We're trying to -- Chuck Schumer and I and others here are trying to get those planes protected. We're told there's no money. That $600 million ought to go -- it's exactly the number we need to go for those 300 planes. And let's look to the U.N. to help us find those weapons, in addition to our continuing the search. We have how many personnel over there now? Way more than 100,000. They're over every inch of that ground. And it seems to me, using what we have over there, our offices over there, our people over there, our contacts over there -- Iraqi contacts; the Governing Council over there, and all the people we have found that were on those deck of cards that were supposed to lead us there, plus the U.N., for myself, I'm going to be asking very serious questions as to why they need such a huge amount of money. That's just speaking for myself.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Can I just add one thing on that?
SEN. BOXER: Yeah.
SEN. LANDRIEU: I want to agree that the $600 million is a huge amount of money, and potentially maybe more than we need for that particular function. But it becomes just an enormous sum when the taxpayers of the United States realize that all of it's coming out of the Social Security trust fund.
And so I want to agree with Senator Boxer. There's got to be a better way to pay for this, and one of the ways that we can pay for this, whether through loans or the establishment of a financing mechanism, is by using the great resources that the Iraqi people have themselves. And I think it builds dignity, it builds pride, it builds confidence; that they themselves have enormous resources, that with the right leadership and the right help, the right kind of help from the United States and from the allies and freedom-loving people around the world, they themselves could be a strong and magnificent country and build on their great strengths.
And so, I would answer it that way, and only make one other addition. Not only did Ambassador Wilson step forward, but he was asked to step forward. He was sent on a specific mission that was not -- it wasn't widely known, but it was by no means a secret, by this administration to actually determine for them when he came back with information that evidently did not square with the political decisions being made. Not only was his report rejected and he criticized, but his wife was basically attacked. And that has got to stop. It is dangerous enough to deal with terrorism without thwarting or blocking or intimidating people from getting information to us, basically, that have to make good decisions.
SEN. BOXER: You know, that's such a good point, because the signal now sent to others is --
SEN. LANDRIEU: Don't come forward!
SEN. BOXER: -- is don't come forward if you disagree with this administration, because your family is now right out there. And your family could be punished if you come out and you tell this administration what they do not want to hear. It's a kill-the- messenger type of mentality over there. It is dangerous. It is dangerous for specific individuals. It's also dangerous for our nation to try and get this information we need, as Senator Landrieu has stated, about what is really going on. What an awful signal it sends out there.
Q Is there any legislative way for you to require or persuade the attorney general to name a special counsel?
SEN. BOXER: Well, Chuck Schumer has taken the lead on this. He has an amendment that he was ready to offer, and actually did offer, to the D.C. bill, and they said it's not germane. The Republicans do not want to vote on this.
So, you bet there are ways. There's going to be pressure building. Today, you saw the polls. Seventy percent of the people support this kind of investigation. So, you can expect Chuck Schumer, who is very, very legislatively-astute, to find every way he can to move that forward.
Q Is there any legislation coming out that would be germane?
SEN. BOXER: I know Chuck is working on that. He's the one who is going to determine that with the leadership.
Q This is a question for all three of you. Have you gotten any reaction or calls or communications from women in other professions about the outing of this case officer?
And I guess the second question is is it having any resonance, this whole issue, among women voters now?
SEN. BOXER: Debbie?
SEN. STABENOW: I have received calls back in Michigan from women that are very outraged, as well as from women's organizations, who are extremely offended. They're extremely offended in terms of the security issues involved just in general, but the fact that someone's wife would be threatened and put in great jeopardy, and potentially her career eliminated as a result of this, has outraged many, many women.
SEN. BOXER: And I think, adding to that, if you take Robert Novak's comments at one point, she was "just an analyst," that type of dismissing this woman, A, which, by the way, was wrong; but B, just the way they approached it, as if, "Oh, so what; what could a woman really do to help us with our national security?" the whole sense behind this, It has so many levels that have struck a chord with the American people: the intimidation factor; the fact of going after someone's family; the fact that you would stop a woman who's on a career ladder. I mean, there's just layers and layers that have struck a chord here. And I think women will be unrelenting on this one because we all really feel -- we really feel that this has to stop, as Mary and Debbie said in a very clear way.
This is dangerous for our country. It's not only dangerous for this family, it's dangerous for our country.
Q Senator Boxer, on another subject, please?
SEN. BOXER: Well, let's get through with this first. Just this subject.
Q Have any of you ever met Ambassador Wilson's wife? And can you say with any certainty that she was, in fact, an undercover operative?
SEN. BOXER: I can tell you that I've met Ambassador Wilson. I've heard him lecture. I have not met his wife. And I can tell you this with certainty, what we know. We know that the CIA has asked for an investigation of outing an undercover CIA agent. So that tells it to you. They wouldn't ask for it, because the law only provides that it is a crime to out an undercover CIA agent or operative. So we do know that. But I've never met her.
SEN. STABENOW: And I think that, Senator Boxer, says the most important thing, and that is, the CIA says this meets the threshold. And they are the ones, certainly, in the best position to know and the ones that now place themselves at risk with this administration, given the way that they're acting.
Q I think all of you voted against confirming John Ashcroft as attorney general. Does this ultimately come down to a question of his credibility and integrity, or would a special counsel be required in any kind of situation like this, whether the attorney general is Bobby Kennedy or Janet Reno or whoever it was?
SEN. BOXER: My opinion is in this particular case it really is necessary to have a special counsel, regardless of who was attorney general.
I mean, it happens to be John Ashcroft, but -- but it could be anybody else. It's not right to, you know, have the person who was put forward by this White House, who was, you know, pretty -- very close to the political people in the White House, and is very close, to have that individual head an investigation. It doesn't give confidence, and that's why 70 percent of the people say special counsel.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Could I just add to that --
SEN. BOXER: Yes, please.
SEN. LANDRIEU: -- because I didn't support him for attorney general, but my anger and dismay is really not so much directed towards the attorney general, it's really to the system, political system in this White House that would send their own on a mission, their own come back with information that they don't agree with. So instead of just saying thank you very much, we don't agree with your information and we're going to pursue this line, somebody, it seems like, or several in the White House, according to what we know -- and we don't know everything because the investigation hasn't concluded -- took it upon themself through this way to intimidate a family member. And the real issue, the real issue is can we build a security apparatus for this nation that relies on accurate and good information if we're going to intimidate people that give the opposite view to the political power in charge, whether it's Republicans or Democrats?
So it's not so much about John Ashcroft. It's more about getting this war on terrorism right. And you can't have a bunch of yes men and yes women running around, or you get yourself in trouble.
SEN. BOXER: It's a really good point.
Yes, sir. This'll be the last question.
Q One final question
SEN. BOXER: Thank you, ma'am.
Q -- on the politics of this. Yesterday the Republicans, particularly on the Hill, pushed back very hard on the questions the Democrats were raising. What do you -- what effect do you think that push-back will have on women voters they're looking --
SEN. BOXER: Mm-hmm. It's a good point.
You know, there are certain things in life that you can look at and know immediately something is wrong with this picture. This is one of those things. And you can dress it up, and -- I always like to say, you can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig. Not that I don't like pigs. But the point I'm making is, this is not pretty, this cannot be made to look pretty, it is exactly as Senator Landrieu put it in the most direct way: send someone on a mission, comes back, you don't like what he said, go after his wife, destroy her career, send a message to everyone else around, "You fool with us, you don't give us what we want to know" -- you know, essentially, as Chuck Schumer has said, it's like going after the kneecaps.
And I'll tell you, this is not good for our country, for every reason in the world -- on moral grounds and also on the grounds of fighting a war against terror that's going to be successful. You don't want your agents thinking three times before they tell you the truth because if it something you don't want to hear, they're going to be fearful of retaliation against their family.
And in closing my part of this -- and I'll ask Debbie to do it as well -- you know, there's politics and there's politics, and the lowest form of politics is going after someone's family, period. It is ugly, it is wrong, and this administration has done that. We don't know who. We don't know if it was one or six. But hopefully the truth will come out, and that's important, because someone or some people have to pay a price, so this doesn't happen ever again, not only in this administration but in future administrations, be they Republican or Democratic. We don't do that in this country. These are tactics that should be deplored.
SEN. STABENOW: I would just add that the American people are very smart, and they and they can see for themselves what's going on. And I believe that's why we see the polls, why we see the phone calls to offices, why we see the reaction. And in the end, people know it's not fair to go after someone's family, it's not fair to ruin their career, and it's jeopardizing the security of the country.
And frankly, who will want to go -- join the CIA? We have a major issue right now of recruiting, because we don't have enough CIA agents. And when they look at potentially what could happen to them and the loss of integrity in the process, I think we jeopardize our ability to recruit as well.
So I think this is serious, and the American people understand it.
Q Change of subject?
SEN. BOXER: On another subject.
Q The L.A. Times has a front-page article on the womanizing of Arnold Schwarzenegger. How is that going to affect his campaign?
SEN. BOXER: Well, I would just say that he needs to address these allegations and let the people of California know his side of it. I personally think it's serious and he needs to address it.
Thank you very much.