September 29, 2003

WHY SHOULD THE BRITS HAVE ALL THE FUN?:

U.S. probes leak of CIA agent's identity (Barbara Slavin, 9/28/2003, USA TODAY)

The Justice Department is investigating a CIA complaint that White House officials leaked the name of a CIA officer in an apparent effort to punish her husband and stifle criticism of the U.S. case for war in Iraq.

Joseph Wilson, the husband of the officer, is a former ambassador to Iraq who angered the Bush administration in July by asserting that the White House knew when Bush made statements about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium in Africa that the evidence was dubious.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice confirmed that the Justice Department was looking into a complaint from CIA Director George Tenet that White House officials had leaked the name and occupation of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame. [...]

The Washington Post quoted an administration official Sunday as saying two White House officials phoned at least six journalists and disclosed the name and occupation of Wilson's wife. Novak printed the name July 14 and said Wilson, a critic of Bush policy on Iraq, had been sent by the CIA to Africa after his wife suggested it.

Eight days earlier, Wilson, writing in The New York Times, revealed that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to investigate reports that Saddam's regime had sought to purchase yellowcake, a form of uranium that can be enriched to produce nuclear weapons. Wilson, who was the top Africa expert on President Clinton's National Security Council, concluded that the reports were based on false information.


Whoever leaked the name is going to have to resign, but given the recent history of administrations leaking about their enemies, no prosecution seems likely. Meanwhile, revenge would appear to be a dubious motive here; more likely is that Ambassador Wilson was seen as a tool of CIA, which was opposed to the war, and folks in the White House thought his at least marital ties to the Agency were the key to understanding his report. He tried to play hardball and had it played back, it would appear inappropriately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 29, 2003 8:49 AM
Comments

Jeez, this is about the 3rd different report on this flap I've read & it's still not any clearer -- like, exactly what kind of CIA operative was Plame supposed to be? From Novak's piece, it didn't seem like the CIA was especially concerned to protect her identity. And is she working some kind of tag-team with her husband?

If she's covert & some administration official fingered her, Bush better make sure that head rolls.

Posted by: Twn at September 29, 2003 9:17 AM

George Tenet must have a very powerful guardian angel. He would have been long gone in the Reagan administration, and perhaps even from GHWB's team. If this "couple" truly is the sacrificial offering in some struggle between the White House and the CIA, it seems that the price was pretty low. Also, I thought husband-wife diplomatic spy teams were the things of novels. Hard to believe that in the real world, such a vulnerable pairing existed (with either subject to pressure from each other).

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 29, 2003 10:04 AM

Valerie Plame (her name is actually Valerie Wilson; she used the surname Plame in her CIA work exclusively). The following is from the Washington Post:

"She is a case officer in the CIA's clandestine service and works as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction. Novak published her maiden name, Plame, which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly. Intelligence sources said top officials at the agency were very concerned about the disclosure because it could allow foreign intelligence services to track down some of her former contacts and lead to the exposure of agents."

I haven't read the Novak piece in a long time, but I really have no idea why anyone would have come away from it believing that the CIA wasn't "especially concerned" about protecting her identity.

This is qualitatively different from "the recent history of administrations leaking about their enemies." I have no doubt that the White House believed it was playing hardball with Wilson, but this particular offense, involving as it did an act that George H.W. Bush termed treasonous as far back as 1999, is not hardball; it's a felony offense. And the list of names of those who had to be involved is small--the resignation is likely to be Karl Rove or even Cheney. It's Cheney, after all, who _continues_ to peddle the "Mohammed Atta in Prague" canard, long after it has been completely debunked, and even disavowed by his own president.

Posted by: M. Bulger at September 29, 2003 10:25 AM

There was a request for Novak not to use the name, which he deems a "weak" request.

Leaks are no good, of course, and vindictive leaks with potential national security risks are certainly no good and possibly illegal. But it does beg the question -- if some of this info was leaked "off the record" with an understanding that names would not be used, this is not nearly the scandal that some think.

Indeed, one can't help but wonder if Mr. Novak -- apparently the only journalist who got this leak who subsequently printed the name -- didn't somehow suspect this might come back and bite the leaker (or the leaker's boss) -- and saw it as a win-win either way. There certainly are people (and policies) in this Administration that Novak opposes.

I'm not making an excuse for the leak, mind you, but it may not be as simple as has been suggested.

Posted by: kevin whited at September 29, 2003 11:09 AM

M.:

The leak is bad on its face, but is certainly not qualitatively different than Hillary leaking stories that Billy Dale was stealing money from the travel office so that she could personally enrich her friends by giving them the contract. There are plausible national security reasons for the White House to seek to rein in the CIA which is and has been a rogue operation from its beginnings.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 11:15 AM

Kevin:

The "simplicity" of this scandal has little to do with the impact it is likely to have. For one thing, whether Valerie Plame's identity was leaked on or off the record is a small distinction--it was leaked, and leaked to a journalist with no security credentials. For that matter, even leaving out the name, how much effort would it have taken an enterprising reader to figure out who Joseph Wilson's wife was?

Novak has been Rove's operative in the past:

"Sources close to the former president [George H.W. Bush] say Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush presidential campaign after he planted a negative story with columnist Robert Novak about dissatisfaction with campaign fundraising chief and Bush loyalist Robert Mosbacher Jr. It was smoked out, and he was summarily ousted."

I really don't think that any "complexity" in this affair is going to stem from Novak's role. He was the one pundit who could be counted on to do what Rove told him to do. He did it.

Posted by: M. Bulger at September 29, 2003 11:18 AM

Sorry: source for the above quote is last January's issue of Esquire.

Posted by: M. Bulger at September 29, 2003 11:19 AM

M:

She is his wife though and does work for the CIA right? And he's a Democrat? Are these not germane to the timing and content of his story?

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 11:23 AM

OJ--Ms. Clinton's alleged leak is a smidge different, since it, like, y'know didn't compromise national security or a person's life.

Moral clarity. Rule of law.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 29, 2003 11:59 AM

Jimmy:

No? Ask Billy Dale what it did to his life. That and having the IRS turned on him. Mrs. Wilson was not mortally endangered either.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 12:06 PM

The problem of government officials leaking classified information to the press, which then prints it, has been a serious problem for decades. Remember the New York Times making a front-page story of leaked "attack plans" for Iraq? How many WMD stories were based on leaks from "CIA analysts"?

The Plame case is one of conservative officials criminally leaking classified information to conservative journalists; and this is very wrong. But let's not pretend there isn't a long and sordid history of liberal officials leaking classified information to liberal journalists for political advantage. Generally, this leaking has gone unpunished.

I wonder why we exempt from punishment the journalists who publish stuff they know is classified. In a similar violation, the trading on inside corporate information, we prosecute those who receive and use the information, not just those who release it. Why are corporate secrets given greater legal protection than national security secrets?

Posted by: pj at September 29, 2003 12:29 PM

PJ--Ahh the "everybody does it" excuse. Parents everywhere thank you for that one.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 29, 2003 1:09 PM

Jimmy: So maybe you can explain the big deal. The lady's life isn't in danger, and she didn't get fired. Pray, tell us stupid plebes, why this is so very terrible -- why, in fact, it even counts as "revenge."

Posted by: Chris at September 29, 2003 1:20 PM

"There was a request for Novak not to use the name, which he deems a "weak" request."

That's what I meant by "especially" concerned to protect her identity. It's been a while since I read the Novak thing, too. It seemed like they could have been more emphatic about it -- but never mind until I read it again.

Posted by: Twn at September 29, 2003 2:03 PM

Jimmy - The difference is that the Justice Department regulates all officials, liberal and conservative, while parents only regulate their own children, not their neighbors'. So the true parallel would be Johnnie and Susie doing something and going unpunished, and then when little brother Jimmy does the same thing, what do you do? I think either Jimmy goes unpunished too, or you have to pull everybody before the tribunal, say "better late than never" to Johnnie and Susie, and punish them all. As part of this decision process, I think you have to review policy and come up with a better one. Criminalizing something and never prosecuting violators does not seem a good policy. Perhaps the criminal laws should be weakened but vigorously enforced. I don't know. But turning this into a partisan wrangle strikes me as counterproductive.

Posted by: pj at September 29, 2003 2:42 PM

PJ--
But turning this into a partisan wrangle strikes me as counterproductive.

I couldn't agree more. Shame on the right-bloggers and others blaming the victim and claiming politics. Shame on people who say it's OK because the other party did it. Bring on the Independent Counsel! It's important.

Chris--So it's OK to out spooks if their life is not in danger? How do you know her's never was? How do you know anyone else's welfare was never compromised? See, Original President Bush really, really took a dim view of outing spies (I'll let you find the quote) for a darn good reason. Something to do with protecting their lives as I recall. That's why there's a law. Hopefully, this administration has the moral clarity to follow the rule of law. But I ain't holding my breath.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 29, 2003 3:47 PM

Jimmy:

(1) Wow, we're back to the Independent Counsel again, huh? That worm doesn't get much sleep, I guess. For reference, I thought it was unconstitutional when Clinton was getting tagged -- and still do.

(2) (a) Apparently, her spookiness was an open secret. I'll let you find the link on Drudge.

(b) I'm trying to put this delicately: Yes, it's no big deal if they're not undercover. Not to put too fine a point on this, but having foks in Georgetown know, who didn't before, and might shun her at cocktail parties, does not strike me as the heart of darkness, and isn't remotely comparable to her life being on the line.

(c) Is it illegal? Yes. Should those responsible be hit with the law? Absolutely. Unlike liberals, I'm not a big fan of laws for some, not for all. But step back from the hysteria for a sec -- do you think, seriously, that anyone of any importance did this? Seriously? Would any of those folks need to hit six or seven reporters before one squealed? No one at the top of that administration is that dumb.

(d) When did your side of the spectrum gain such a fierce devotion to the CIA?

It sounds like some peon took "who will rid me of this troublesome [diplomat]" a little too seriously. It sounds like the White House is cleaning house. Shoot, score, end of game.

Posted by: Chris at September 29, 2003 3:53 PM

Hey Jimmy:

How about Independent Counsels for Chinese money in US elections? How about Independent Counsels for Chinese satellites with US technology (processed with Democratic campaign money)? How about Independent Counsels for bombed-out aspirin factories? How about.......

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 29, 2003 4:35 PM

"She is his wife though and does work for the CIA right? And he's a Democrat? Are these not germane to the timing and content of his story? "

OJ:

As far as I have been able to determine, Wilson was a member of the Clinton administration and had some connection to Gore as well, but I am unable to figure out if he is actually a Democrat. On the con side, Bush I apparently thought very highly of him.

Regardless, the most likely motive for leaking Plame's identity, as you admit, was to discredit Wilson's selection for the Niger mission as mere nepotism, with a significant political element (i.e. the CIA appointed someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear) as well. Note, however, that this leaves untouched the actual validity of anything Wilson stated afterward, and in point of fact--and this fact seems to be lost too often--Wilson's analysis is now widely regarded as spot-on accurate. This was either a convenient coincidence, or the content of Wilson's story was the simple truth, making his political affiliation irrelevant.

As for timing, you may have an argument there. Then again, if Wilson's report was to have any practical impact--i.e. adding some measure of rationality to the heated rhetoric of the rush to war, or what have you--when else could it have been publicized?

As for the CIA-as-rogue-operation, I would tend to agree. There is a lot they have to answer for in Central and South America, and in any number of other locations across the world; but then, most of those operations were performed with the approval of the administration in charge (every president from Truman through Bush II). In this case, the CIA was only a rogue operation insofar as it insisted on telling the Bush administration things they did not want to hear. There may be legitimate national security reasons for bringing the CIA "in line" with the executive branch, but Bush & co. really don't seem to have them in mind. All they want to do is suppress completely accurate intelligence assessments that conflict with their own worldview.

See also: parallels with Bush administration's treatment of science in EPA reports.

Posted by: at September 29, 2003 4:57 PM

:

I'm not really sure what we're arguing about anymore. The Republicans here all agree that whoever leaked should and will be fired, that's how conservatives are.

However, we also don't think the leak speaks to anything bigger about the President--it's business as usual with the only exception being that because it is a GOP administration someone will be fired.

The administration has pretty freely smacked down the bureaucrats in every department--EPA, State, Defense, CIA, Justice, etc.--this seems of a piece, though somewhat excessive.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 5:19 PM

Re anonymous who posted at 4:57 pm, Wilson has written for The Nation, so he's presumably a lefty. Also, the "rogue" CIA activity that's at issue here is leaking classified information (or disinformation that journalists mistake as classified information) to the press in pursuit of partisan victories over competing administration members/approaches. It's about sacrificing national security to partisan infighting. The Brit-Niger-uranium issue was full of stories attributed to off-the-record CIA analysts -- apparently in the same group as the one that selected Wilson to do his pseudo-study. Don't their complaints about the retaliatory leak seem like a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

Posted by: pj at September 29, 2003 6:14 PM

Gentle readers,

Chess is preferable to checkers - because?

This is the fourth (or fifth) move of what will be a long match. First determine the value of the pieces being moved and then determine who is moving the pieces (or vice-versa). Everyone (all reps) should be happy to see Karen back at her vocation. Eliminating "pile on" stories 13 months ahead of the election shows a level of expertise that has been lacking since she returned to Texas.

Welcome back, Karen. We do need you.

Posted by: RDB at September 29, 2003 6:15 PM

Pejman has some good info up, like this:

..."Finally, in the comments to this post, the venerable Jon Henke points me to this web page describing the employment of Ambassador Joseph Wilson--Plame's husband--at the Middle East Institute. At the bottom of the page, we find the following:

[Wilson] is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters.
Neither Wilson nor the MEI is not guilty of any crime by releasing Plame's name. Additionally, there is no indication on the page that Plame is an employee for the CIA. But if she might have been a covert operative (and according to Novak's statement, she wasn't), and given that Plame worked under her maiden name at the Agency, why even mention Plame's maiden name in the first place--unless, of course, there really wasn't any reason, legally or operationally, to keep her name private?..."

Posted by: Sandy P. at September 29, 2003 6:35 PM

The best point that was made about the CIA not being serious about keeping her name quiet is that they answered questions about her. Why didn't the CIA just tell Novak "sorry, we can't confirm or deny any of your information?".

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at September 29, 2003 7:23 PM

All of you had better read this blog entry:

http://www.pejmanesque.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/4460

If Mr. Yousefzadeh is correct in his analysis, then _no_ law was broken, because the relevant statute (which he quotes at length) refers explicitly to _covert_ operatives, and Ms. Plame is an analyst, not a covert agent or operator. Furthermore, the information he relates indicates that her identity may _not_ have been leaked to Mr. Novak by Administration officials after all (he quotes Novak as reported on Drudge to the following effect:

"Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson's involvement in the mission for her husband -- he is a former Clinton administration official -- they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives."

The relevant statutes, by the way, are 50 U.S.C. sections 421(a), (b) and (c).

Posted by: Joe at September 29, 2003 7:37 PM

M. Bulger,
You said:
Valerie Plame (her name is actually Valerie Wilson; she used the surname Plame in her CIA work exclusively).

This is taken from her husband's bio on the Middle East Institute website. He has revealed her name in this manner several times. In reading his resume it is apparent that he is a career state department official.
"He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters."
This doesn't place me in disagreement with you--yet--but merely to clarify. To me, it is identifying her by name and as a covert agent thatis what's illegal. I still don't know that she is a covert agent vice a WMD analyst.

Posted by: tom scott at September 30, 2003 1:48 AM

M. Bulger writes:

I really don't think that any "complexity" in this affair is going to stem from Novak's role. He was the one pundit who could be counted on to do what Rove told him to do. He did it.

This is what happens when people run with information from one anonymous source about two anonymous figures in the White House who allegedly called six anonymous reporters -- instead of trying to figure out what really happened.

Novak denies his information came from those unnamed and unconfirmed White House operatives, kind of squashing your speculation about Rove for the moment (and just because you take a haughty tone doesn't make it any more true).

Which leads me back to my initial question -- what does all of this mean? It seems much more likely to me that this particular series of leaks is intended to damage the hawks in the Administration (who question CIA's judgment about Wilson, and other policies). Indeed, recent attacks on Cheney's shop only lead me further towards that view.

Dems would like to get rid of Rove. State/CIA have other objectives.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 1, 2003 7:02 PM
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