October 8, 2003


The Ethics of Keeping You in the Dark (Robert G. Kaiser, October 5, 2003, Washington Post)

Reporters ought not grant anonymity too easily, but their willingness to do so is not hard to understand. They don't see much value in badgering reluctant sources to speak on the record. It's easier to go along, as shown by the number of "senior administration officials" quoted in The Post and elsewhere.

One of these "senior administration officials" helped bring the Plame story to full boil. This official told Mike Allen and Dana Priest of The Post that two other unnamed senior officials were responsible for providing the identity of Wilson's wife to those half a dozen reporters. According to this source, his (or her) colleagues passed on this information "purely and simply for revenge" after Wilson publicly revealed he had gone to Niger last year at the CIA's request and had filed a report debunking the idea that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from that country. Why was one senior administration official implicating others? Sorry, Allen and Priest can't say -- they promised to protect the identity of their source. We find ourselves in this situation far too often. [...]

Another caution: Those who are hoping this episode will land some official in jail should probably take a cold shower. The law against identifying covert agents is difficult to break. Only an official who has legal access to known classified information about a covert agent, and who knows that the government has taken affirmative measures to hide the agent's identity, has violated the law.

The most likely scenario seems to be that it was someone at CIA, presumably it has to be the Director to be "senior", who told Allen and Priest that the original revelation was "simply for revenge". There's no reason to believe he'd have known what their real motivation was or whether it was even an intentional revelation, but he was defending his institution which is understandable, though it's not excusable to do so at the cost of the president he serves. And there's no reason to assume a law was violated, since it is so convoluted that it will be hard to prove scienter. Still, if Justice can figure out who did it the leakers are going to be thrown to the wolves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 8, 2003 9:14 AM

It could also have come from State, although we know that journalists are unlikely to offer any sort of criticism of Saint Powell's State Department.

It's good that reporters are catching up to the web on this one, though. We've only been speculating the second leak probably came from CIA or State a week or two now, right?

Posted by: kevin whited at October 8, 2003 9:59 AM

Actually, I suspect that the first leak came from CIA, based upon what Novak said in his first column. First, he refers to the leakers as "administration" not "White House." Second, his whole point is to figure out why CIA sent Wilson, who was opposed to war, in the context of Wilson going public to torpedo the President.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 8, 2003 10:04 AM

If this happened in the context of a senior intelligence/foreign policy official with the authority to declassify information trying to explain policy to the public, then I don't really see that there is a crime. I rather doubt it, though, since nobody's come forward to say it was them.

Posted by: Ray at October 8, 2003 12:52 PM


It's doubtful they had authority to declassify info--likely they had no idea they may have been revealing such.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2003 1:01 PM

If the press should generate heat on this issue
would not Bush be wise to emphasize that he is begging the press to stop stone-walling the exposure of the leakers or in the alternative shut up.

Posted by: h-man at October 8, 2003 3:12 PM

This is now a press scandal. The probability of the leakers having the requisite knowledge to have broken the law can be ascertained by pondering the CIA's policy of identifying covered agents. It can only be internal knowledge shared on a need to know basis. Unless the "administration officials (even if they are "senior" have a need to know about an agents existence - they don't. The CIA can produce a list today that identifies the people who have the knowledge that is required for a law to have been broken. Odd that this fact hasn't been brought forward, isn't it?

Posted by: RDB at October 8, 2003 6:08 PM

The odds that Bush, with the election only a year off, would willingly let Karl Rove fall over this are zero.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at October 10, 2003 12:13 AM