October 1, 2003


The CIA leak (Robert Novak, October 1, 2003, Townhall)

The leak now under Justice Department investigation is described by former Ambassador Wilson and critics of President Bush's Iraq policy as a reprehensible effort to silence them. To protect my own integrity and credibility, I would like to stress three points. First, I did not receive a planned leak. Second, the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson's wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else. Third, it was not much of a secret.

The current Justice investigation stems from a routine, mandated probe of all CIA leaks, but follows weeks of agitation. Wilson, after telling me in July that he would say nothing about his wife, has made investigation of the leak his life's work -- aided by the relentless Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. These efforts cannot be separated from the massive political assault on President Bush. [...]

How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Republican activist Clifford May wrote Monday, in National Review Online, that he had been told of her identity by a non-government source before my column appeared and that it was common knowledge. Her name, Valerie Plame, was no secret either, appearing in Wilson's "Who's Who in America" entry.

A big question is her duties at Langley. I regret that I referred to her in my column as an "operative," a word I have lavished on hack politicians for more than 40 years. While the CIA refuses to publicly define her status, the official contact says she is "covered" -- working under the guise of another agency. However, an unofficial source at the Agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations.

The strange thing about this from a Democratic perspective is: even if everything they're saying is right, where does it all lead? A Kerry supporter hired by the CIA writes an op-ed questioning the president. A White House staffer tells reporters that the guy's wife is CIA too and his relibility is dubious. This assertion about the wife, entirely factual, may be illegal, though it will be awfully hard to prove there was any intent to violate an obscure law. End of story. How many eggs is it worth putting in such a rickety basket?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 1, 2003 12:37 AM

Need to ask Terry McAuliff. Or Hilary.

Posted by: RDB at October 1, 2003 12:49 AM

Where does it lead ? To certain Democratic victory of course. Bush's popularity was already under water (something in the high 40s if I'm not mistaken), and it will now drop close to zero. And with good reason, because this makes clear that his administration has gone completely nuts.

This is an act of sheer stupidity that dwarves the Watergate burglary. Nixon and his ilk ruined their own carreers, even though they were already certain of their victory in the elections of 1972. The Bushies ruined not just their own chances on reelection, they took the entire war on islamofascism with them (there is no Democrat who would not surrender immediately). And all of this out of spite for a negative op-ed by a former ambassador.

Maybe Bush is just plain stupid after all.

Posted by: Peter at October 1, 2003 3:12 AM

Tony Blankley has a depressing take on where it's heading:

The second rule is to not underestimate how heinous the media and the public will come to regard small, seemingly insignificant, perfectly justifiable facts. Trivial actions or non-actions by good and decent friends and co-workers will take on the proportions of mortal sins. It will seem ludicrously disproportionate to the conduct in question. But it will happen that way. It always does. Read the memoirs. Talk to the old hands. The search dogs will find not only the fox for which they are hunting, but other assorted game, which will be publicly presented before the dogs have gone to kennel for the night. In other words, the investigative process will stumble on other embarrassing facts and leak it to the press. Count on it. Political opponents will play ju-jitsu with policy issues. In the instant case of the (presumably) leaked CIA agent's identity, the Democrats will keep up a constant hypocritical but effective defense of national security against a White House that (they will loudly assert) has jeopardized our security by revealing the secret agent lady. The same Democrats who have spent careers underfunding intelligence and our military will pose as their champions. It will be stomach-turning to watch it.
Posted by: TCB at October 1, 2003 3:50 AM

I'll bet this whole case turns out to be a perfect illustration of the phrase "all heat and no light."

And for Peter to say the President is just plain stupid requires concluding the President directed whoever to do whatever.

That sounds way out in front of the headlights to me.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 1, 2003 7:49 AM


One more thing. Americans are far less stupid than the left prefers them.

I'll just bet the Americans' WHOGAS factor on this is right where it should be: zero.

Which means this will lead to approximately the same change in poll numbers.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 1, 2003 7:53 AM

I unfondly recall the predictions, including my own, that Clinton would have to resign within days after the Lewinsky deal was revealed. No one will even remember Joe Wilson by next November.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 8:36 AM

Peter: "Proportion, sense of."

Posted by: Chris at October 1, 2003 8:45 AM

Excuse me, but this is serious. The fact that the media would have pardonned Clinton even if he was caught red-handedly killing some subordinates in the Oval Office doesn't mean that one has to deny the serious problems of this administration.

As I said a few days in another comment : the policy is good, the implementation went down the toilet ever since Bush's landing on the USS Lincoln. There were always problems controlling State and the CIA (the fact that they hired a highly partisan anti-Bush diplomat to derail part of the case against Saddam shows a terrible lack of loyalty), but since May things are really out of hand. Bush was and is largely AWOL. State is running things and the CIA is now frontally attacking the White House. This is not good, in fact, it's disastrous for it shows a complete lack of leadership.

Wilson is obviously an obnoxious person, but that doesn't mean White House officials are authorized to go after a undercover agent who happens to be the guy's wife. If it was at all necessary to react on the July op-ed, they could have sufficed with pointing out that it was all due to an interagency feud, adding that some bureaucrats within the CIA still have a September 10 mindset or something along those lines. That they descended into such trivial name-calling is yet another sign of a serious lack of judgment and leadership, this time within the presidential staff.

This is not a time for America to have a president who is asleep at the helm and I'm afraid that Bush is very much asleep.

Posted by: Peter at October 1, 2003 9:17 AM

And so you're going to vote for Howard Dean?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 1, 2003 9:20 AM


Nothing in US policy has changed over that time. What are you even talking about?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 9:22 AM


If Plame's identity and work were well known around DC already, it's quite possible that mentioning it to Novak was exactly what you say they should have done, just pointing out that it was inter-agency squabbling.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 1, 2003 9:26 AM

Bush and Rove are known fascists--why didn't they just disappear the Plames?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 9:31 AM

I don't trust any CIA agent that prints an op-ed
in "The Nation". The danger for the left is
that they shed light on a possibility conspiracy
at CIA to avert war with misleading information

Posted by: J.H. at October 1, 2003 9:51 AM

Peter, like the media, are blowing this way out of proportion. The worst this does is force Bush to fire some people if the accusations are true.
Have to worry though that Tony Blankley's fear (that the hyper-partisan media will keep this after Bush) could be problem.

Posted by: AWW at October 1, 2003 9:54 AM

And so you're going to vote for Howard Dean?

Right. Because Dean is far worse than any felonious traitor who brazenly sells a spook upriver purely out of vindictiveness and political gain (which is your assumption, by the way). That...that...moderate!

Posted by: Jimmy at October 1, 2003 10:00 AM

"upriver"? Jimmy, have you been reading thrilling adventures again?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 10:12 AM

See, I can always agree with my lefty friends about how bad the moderates are.

As for the rest of it Jimmy, I have to admit I envy you a little bit. That first flush of new scandel, the certainty that the scoundrels won't escape this time, that now the blind and deaf American people will have to wake up to the truth. WE WIN, DAMMIT, WE WIN. Good times, good times.

We've all been there. But you might want to prepare yourself for the possibility that no one's going to care and nothing that matters will happen.

Having said all that, let's review a little. Wilson, whose report from Niger actually supports the statement in the SofU, keeps changing his story. Having said some time ago that he wanted to see Karl Rove taken out of the White House in handcuffs and that he uses that name advisedly, he now says that he knows nothing to implicate Rove but is "certain" that he would have approved.

Novak says that he learned that Plame worked for CIA because, knowing Wilson's record, he asked an "administration official", not a White House official, how they had come to send an opponent of our Iraq policy to Niger. The official, in response to that question, said that Wilson's wife, who worked at CIA, had suggested him. CIA confirmed that, asked Novak not to publish her name, but presented it as a favor to Plame, not as a national security issue. Another administration official, when asked by Novak, confirmed that Plame had suggested Wilson.

At the same time, but probably seperately, there was someone undisclosed shopping a story about Plame, the details of which are not yet known. That person may have worked at the White House.

No one has publicly tied the President to any of this. No one except Wilson has tied Rove to it, and Wilson has retracted that charge.

By the way, Novak seems to be hinting that the original information -- the administration official who first explained how CIA happened to send Wilson -- was CIA and possibly Tenet, himself.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 1, 2003 10:21 AM

I can't resist throwing my $0.02 in this ring. There's too much out there that somehow isn't making its way here.

For example, although it would seem that Wilson's political affiliation is Democratic (his most recent political contribution was to the Kerry campaign), he also contributed $1000 to Bush's 2000 campaign, which kind of muddies those waters. Beyond this, the man is a genuine hero from the first Iraq conflict, having sheltered a fair number of Americans in Baghdad at great risk to himself. However "obnoxious" some may find him (and I personally believe that some of his public statements of late have been irresponsible), he has demonstrated strength of character in the past.

The Republican spin machine is in full gear, and it shows in the level of confusion they've managed to sow. The balance of the evidence out there now makes it quite clear that Valerie Plame is (was) a CIA "operative," and since there is no such thing as an overt operative, she was also covert. The idea that this was somehow common knowledge in Washington is disingenuous at best; it was perhaps
common knowledge shortly before Novak's column appeared, and certainly after, but that is part of this story, not a refutation of it.

As for consequences of the leak, no one really knows what they might be. The worst case scenario is that in a number of not-so-nice places people are being detained or otherwise intercepted by the local authorities and asked some not-so-polite questions about their past association with Valerie Plame; that U.S. intelligence on WMDs and WMD programs in other nations is now seriously compromised. There is no information yet that would indicate this, but then there wouldn't be, would there? These things are classified for a reason, at least some of the time.

To put it bluntly, Novak is spinning now, too. He may have had his differences with this administration, but at the end of the day he still likes it better than the Democratic alternatives. He's also an old friend of Karl Rove, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why he was the one to publicize Plame's identity in the first place. The likelihood that this scandal finds its legs will depend on the willingness of the other journalists/pundits contacted by the "senior administration officials" to come forward and tell the relevant authorities, or at least a TV talk-show host, who called them and what they said.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 1, 2003 11:07 AM


You still lose me somewhere in there. Karl Rove resigns saying that it was indeed him who quite accurately told people the wife worked at CIA and got the ambassador, who's a Kerry Democrat, his gig--that they should look into whether CIA is trying to discredit the uranium story surreptitiously. He says he didn't realize that naming even low level analysts was a crime. Where does the story go from there? It was a stupid mistake--big deal?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 11:15 AM

So far, I agree with the theory that Tenet is behind all this, or involved enough to get canned. It's his freaking agency; do rogue agents get to decide to send political lackeys on official government missions now, specifically to discredit foreign policy?

Since he should have been fired on 9/12/01 for being incompetent, and for purely symbolic reasons as well, his ass should be called on the carpet, TODAY, by GWB.

"Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do .... "

There is a serious CIA stink all over this story.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at October 1, 2003 11:26 AM

Assuming someone eventually gets fired for this it is only important to the GOP if a first string player is lost (Rove, Cheney, Rice). A mid-level CIA or administration type wouldn't be a big deal.
Agree with Jeff that the CIA seems to be the problem here and should be held accountable.

Posted by: AWW at October 1, 2003 12:12 PM

OJ: "Low level analyst." No. It is still not completely clear what Valerie Plame's job at the CIA was, but it _is_ clear that she was a covert CIA employee and perhaps even a genuine "operative." Mere "analysts" at the CIA--particularly "low-level" ones--are usually forthcoming about their roles, and are rarely ever covert. As for "quite accurately," sure, but the act of telling is a felony, and not an obscure one. It's one that both Bush I and Bush II, right or wrong, have singled out as essential to the nation's security.

It is also not clear that Plame got her husband, the "Kerry Democrat," his gig. The request for an investigator came from Cheney's office, and based on Gulf War I alone Cheney had to know who Wilson was (he has recently lied about this, but the lie is a rather easy one to puncture). Even given the reasonable assumption that Plame _did_ recommend her husband for the "gig," he was eminently qualified for it, having been a career diplomat in Africa and the Middle East. And let's not forget, his evaluation of the Niger story turns out to have been completely accurate, which renders his partisanship irrelevant.

Jeff's characterization of Wilson as a "political lackey" is ridiculous (see Gulf War I references above); his characterization of Plame as a "rogue agent" is baffling. And to mention a simple fact again, the government mission was sent at Cheney's request. The degree to which this mission discredited foreign policy is entirely dependent on the degree to which that policy was justified on false pretenses. (At this point, I need to insert the disclaimer that I am fully aware of the genuine strategic and moral justifications that did exist for the war; they just weren't the ones presented). And I just have to ask, Jeff: should someone more ideologically pure have been sent to do the job? Would we all feel better if our benevolent government had told us that the Niger documents were genuine?

"There is a serious CIA stink all over this story." I would have to agree. Tenet probably contacted the Washington Post himself, after waiting two months for the Justice Department to get around to his original complaint. He probably knows exactly which "senior administration officials" made the calls to various journalists, and who the journalists were. All that we're waiting for now is for the Post to figure out how to verify everything thoroughly enough to name names. The bad news for those who hope this will go away is that Tenet is unlikely to have gone this far without being reasonably certain of how it will play out.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 1, 2003 12:25 PM


Explain why the Not-So-Nice People(NSNP) with info on WMDs would be so eager to spill their guts to Plame in the first place, a woman married to a US official?

Now, maybe a NSNP would be willing to talk to Plame in hopes of getting word to the US administration, but the Even-More-Not-So-Nice-People(EMNSNP), who might make trouble for the NSNP, would probably have suspicions of the NSNP's relations with the wife of a US official even if she wasn't working for the CIA, wouldn't they? I mean, it would help if you are covert not to be so overt in who you are married to.

Jimmy--Wilson can't seem to stick to one story (Rove did it, no he didn't, yes he did) so far and he seems vindicative (he'd like to see Rove "frog marched out") and publicity seeking (the crack about which actress will play his wife). Didn't he pass Scandal Making 101?

Posted by: Buttercup at October 1, 2003 12:26 PM


Please read the post again. I never referred to "not-so-nice people." I referred to hypothetical people in not-so-nice places. Big difference. As for why anyone would want to talk with the wife of a U.S. official about WMDs, well, I can imagine a lot of reasons--money, conscience, lack of conscience, political infighting, whatever. But talking to (or otherwise communicating with) those sorts of people is supposedly what "operatives" do.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 1, 2003 12:40 PM

M. Bulger -

Wilson is a flaming lefty who hates Bush (or an opportunist, take your pick, neither renders him innocent here). He was sent to do a report on uranium, at the suggestion of his wife, who worked for an agency run by bureaucratic, legalistic, touchy feely clowns like Tenet. The purpose of this visit was to discredit the President. He drank tea for a week and issued his report.

That is a political lackey.

His wife is a rogue agent precisely because she - supposedly - made the decision to send him, knowing all the above would happen exactly that way. Does she have that authority? Don't know, don't care. She shouldn't. How is this picture not clear? The whole thing was a setup from the git-go.

I'll take this seriously as soon as Wilson explains how taking tea for a week in a cushy diplomatic setting is related to investigative work. Perhaps a media interested in scandal could focus on that for a few minutes.

... (crickets chirping) ....

Yeah, I thought so.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at October 1, 2003 1:10 PM

Jeff Brokaw,

I'd also like to know why someone with a wife who's a covert agent calls so much attention to himself by writing an anti-war OpEd for the anti-war NY Times.

I still think Tenent is trying to hamstring the administration from firing him. Didn't Nixon fire somebody who was investigating him? That won't happen again. But that's probably just my own pulp fiction fantasy.

Posted by: NKR at October 1, 2003 1:26 PM


Again: so what do you have? Kartl Rove made a factual statement that he shouldn't have. And?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 1:38 PM

In the SofU, Bush said that British intelligence had learned that Iraq had tried (not succeeded) to obtain Uranium in Africa (not Niger). Even ignoring the reference to British intelligence, its hard to imagine that that statement is not true.

Wilson reported the following: the government of Niger claims that it did not sell yellowcake to Iraq; the security in place is such that it is unlikely that yellowcake could have been sold without government knowledge; Wilson believes that Niger is telling the truth; but a government official in Niger was approached by someone claiming to represent Iraq who wanted to explore increasing the trade between the two countries, which approach the official believed was an attempt by Iraq to buy Uranium.

The SofU did not refer to Niger, Yellowcake or the forged documents. The forged documents had been publicly repudiated before the SofU and are irrelevant. British intelligence still says that the Iraqis tried to obtain Uranium in Africa. Wilson says that they did not succeed (which is not controversial) but that at least one official in Niger believes that they made the attempt.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 1, 2003 2:26 PM

Jeff: It is evident from your latest response that it is simply not possible to reasonably debate these issues with you. Nothing you have said deviates significantly from what Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the like are currently saying on their radio programs, which leads me to believe that these are your sole sources on the subject. I doubt you would listen to me were I to begin pointing out how dishonest those AM radio pundits really are. Suffice it to say that I find nothing of value or validity in the invective you are repeating here.

I will say this: even if Wilson "drank tea" for a week before issuing his report (a distortion and misrepresentation), even if he was nothing more than the CIA's own political hack sent to discredit the president (another distortion, and oversimplification, and possibly even simply wrong), he was also right. His report was accurate, as even Bush has since admitted.

OJ: "I" have nothing. It's not my story, not my beat. What "they" have is someone (likely, but not yet certainly, Karl Rove) making a "factual statement" that is a felony to make, and doing so willfully. Said statement further escalates the politicization of the intelligence community, the history of which goes back to the formation of the intelligence community, but the scale of which is unprecedented prior to the current administration; said statement may also have put U.S. intelligence on foreign WMDs and WMD programs, and the contacts who provide such intelligence, in jeopardy (hence the law that's on the books).

You have argued from the start that this is no big deal. Other administrations have leaked classified information and/or attempted to smear their enemies (the specific example was Clinton). A respondent to an earlier post of yours had this one right: so if they all did it, it's OK?

On something more of a tangent, another question has been raised by a few conservative bloggers that I read: if the Bush administration is willing to go this far just for revenge on what is, in essence, a rather piddling matter (that is, the truth or lack thereof in WMD claims pre-conflict), does this lend credence to some of the more expansive conspiracy theories out there?

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 1, 2003 3:28 PM


No. It's not okay. Whoever did it will be fired. It was a mistake, but not a terribly significant one.

It obviously does lend credence to all the conspiracy theories, which we should now assume are true. Zionist really did fly those jets into the various buildings after sneaking the Jews out and now we're stealing Arab oil and settling scores for Ariel Sharon. It was most likely Volfovitz or Richard Perlewho outed Mrs. Palme.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 4:12 PM

M. -

Nice diversion - what the hell does any of that have to do with whether my statements were true or not?

No, I don't listen to Rush or Hannity. I find them both a little annoying and excitable.

I saw all that info reported in various blogging sites. Perhaps I'm misinformed, and if so I'm willing to acknowledge it.

Show me the cites that disprove my remarks. Here is a cite for the drinking tea reference: "As Mr. Wilson himself acknowledged, his so-called investigation was nothing more than "eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people" at the U.S. embassy in Niger."

I've got more if you want them.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at October 1, 2003 5:30 PM

I think you all are grossly misunderestimating the cock-up theory of history.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 1, 2003 9:15 PM