Wednesday, October 1, 2003
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My Plame mood today
There are two -- no, make that three -- inputs to my level of outrage at the Plame game. The first is the despicable nature intrinsic to the leak itself. On that score, I'm delighted to see some people on my side of the ideological fence catching on to what's happened. To quote Andrew Sullivan:
Better yet, to quote the source of Sullivan's outrage, former counter-terrorism official Larry Johnson speaking on Newshour (link via Atrios):
[You do know -- as Matt Drudge points out -- that Johnson also said that Plame was a CIA operative for thirty years even though she's only forty?-- ed. Yeah, but my suspicion is that was a misstatement during a live television broadcast. It would be nice if it was cleared up, however.] Heck, even the RNC chairman acknowledges that this is serious.
The second source of my outrage is a direct function of who leaked and that person's relationship to the President. On Sunday, I suspected that it was Karl Rove, which would put the leak very close to George W. Bush himself, which got me very mad. On Monday, Ambassador Wilson admitted that he had no evidence to back up that charge, and so my outrage level diminished somewhat. If this story pans out -- do consider the source -- then my dander will be rising again. UPDATE: Robert Novak goes out of his way in today's column to imply that Rove was not the source of the leak -- "no partisan gunslinger." Again, consider the source -- Novak continues to insist that Plame was not an undercover operative.
The third factor is how the Bush administration handles this emerging scandal -- do they go into denial/cover-up mode or do they address it forthrightly and clean it up? While Bush did say something constructive yesterday, I also think Josh Marshall is correct in pointing out how Bush is trying to reframe the issue. I still think Brad DeLong is overreaching, but we'll see what happens as more facts emerge.
ANOTHER UPDATE: ABC's The Note again manages to look past the morass of charges and counter-charges to get to the nub of the issue:
I respect the Post, by the way, which is why I take this story so seriously.posted by Dan on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM
Andrew Sullivan also notes that the charge of Wilson's wife being undercover for over 30 years is bogus, since she is apparrently in her 40s.
More importantly, it has been established that her status the past five years is what is important, not her status in 1989... how does a man who has been "out of the game" since '89 know where she has been since '98?posted by: HH on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Robert Novak's column today:
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.
This story began July 6 when Wilson went public and identified himself as the retired diplomat who had reported negatively to the CIA in 2002 on alleged Iraq efforts to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. I was curious why a high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton's National Security Council (NSC) was given this assignment. Wilson had become a vocal opponent of President Bush's policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one.
During a long conversation with a senior administration official, I asked why Wilson was assigned the mission to Niger. He said Wilson had been sent by the CIA's counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger. When I called another official for confirmation, he said: "Oh, you know about it." The published report that somebody in the White House failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue.
Somebody please explain to me how this doesn't mean that the "scandal" is over?posted by: Eric Deamer on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Yes, Novak's entire column today is essential reading (http://www.townhall.com/columnists/robertnovak/rn20031001.shtml). Note that the cribbed piece above is only part of the column.
1. "Leak" was made offhandedly in the context of a larger conversation about Wilson.
2. "Leak" wasn't made by a political hack -- so count out Rove. This will surely disappoint many.
3. Many in D.C. already knew Plame worked for the CIA -- perhaps an explanation for why the sentence saying so in Novak's original column was not attributed.
4. Novak uses the work "operative" as a general reference to D.C. pol types.posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Eric, it depends on whether the SAO learned it from classified info or knew it was classified, whether the CIA's confirmation of her status to Novak violates one of the statutory requirements for her coverage under the statute, or whether the "common knowledge" aspect also prevents her from being covered under the statute.
So it's not over yet.posted by: michael parker on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
"Over three decades" is probably what he meant to say - 80s, 90s, and 00s.
She likely signed up in 1985 when she was 22 - fresh out of collage.
Apart from the name he knows, Novak is now irrelevent. Wilson's reputation is irrelevent. And what May's "friends" told him after Wilson penned his op-ed is irrelevent (except as more possible incidence of exposure) - note he is the only source for that statment.posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Duncan, not true. Novak himself makes the "common knowledge" claim in his article today (and also references May's article on the matter).posted by: michael parker on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
With all due respect:
Three decades was likely a way (and not such an unusual way) of saying, during the 80's, 90's and 00's.
HH, it's not true that the fact that she may no longer be undercover diminishes the importance of what's happened. Suspicion is now cast on anyone she may have met with in a foreign country--they are "compromised." The fact that she is no longer undercover (if that's true) does not mean that any projects with which she was involved have concluded.
As for the latest Novak column, it simply confirms the "nub" of the story: someone in the White House revealed that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent. It's irrelevant whether it was done in an "offhand" or "pointed" manner.posted by: ogged on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
May is Novak's only stated source on the matter of her employer.posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
The "offhand" fact is not irrelevant. If the "leak" to Novak only suggested that she worked for the CIA (but not that she was undercover), and if that fact was widely known in D.C., it substantially discredits the alleged motive of retaliation. Instead, the statement might just be an explanation as to why Wilson was picket by the CIA to go to Niger. I don't know how that plays out under the relevant statutes (it may still have been a crime), but it does extinguish the retribution story.
Also note that Novak says he he uses "operative" commonly to describe D.C. types (not covert CIA agents). It is possible that the initial "leak" to Novak didn't identify Plame as a covert agent (but just rather a CIA employee). This could be a crime in itself. But, as explained in today's WaPo story, it was the story in Newsday shortly after Novak's original column that conclusively identified Plame as a covert agent.
Thus, we could have two (potentially criminal) leaks: The first to Novak saying she worked at the CIA; and the second to the Newsday reporters that she was a covert agent. Could the second leak have come from the CIA itself?posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
And actually Novak is overstating when he says that May wrote that it was "common knowledge." He wrote that "someone" told him and did it in such a way that May inferred that it was common knowledge.posted by: SqueakyRat on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
And how, by the way, does Novak know that it's false that the leak was shopped around to other reporters? Some of those people seem to have spoken to Washington Post reporters (though not for attribution) and to Julian Borger of the Guardian.
Of course, being the only one of six who was vile enough to use the leak does make Novak look pretty slimy. Maybe that's how he knows. He just can't get his mind around the idea that only he thought it was juicy and legitimate.posted by: SqueakyRat on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Oh, and by the way again. This "three decades" = "thirty years" but she's only 40 thing is really, really feeble.posted by: SqueakyRat on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Why is everyone so quick to skip over Larry Johnson's obvious misstatement (who relates to time like this--any segment of a decade counts as a "decade"? Am I missing something? Am I in the fifth decade of knowing my parents? No, thanks, I'm in my 30s but I guess I could rework it to rush my application to AARP). As far as I am concerned this shoots the guy's credibility from now on, unless I see a picture of them together at Langley from the 80s.
And as for Michael Parker's point about the FBI investigating, what are they gonna do? Say no, we don't see a problem. "We'll look into that." Well, we're still waiting two years after 9/11 for an honest accounting about what went wrong there, and not a single head has rolled. I'm not holding my breath here.posted by: Kelli on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
> do they go into denial/cover-up mode or do they address it forthrightly and clean it up?
Well, if their approach to everything else is any guide, it's stonewall, stonewall, stonewall. This is not an administration that prides itself on open, transparent government. See the Cheney Energy Task Force for an example.
It must be infuriating to be a thoughtful honest conservative trying to figure out if there's any "there" there. Bush, Rove &c are doing everything they can to cover up the truth. Maybe it's not as bad as the left says it it - maybe it is that bad, but you'll never know for sure cause John Ashcroft is going to bury it if he can.
Insiders at the WH know who the culprit is (or if they don't minimal pressure from W and Karl would flush the culprit - IOW if they don't know it's because they don't want to know.) - the fact that they've chosen to circle the wagons says that they need to protect the perpetrators at all costs.
If this was a game of Texas Hold 'em, we'd say the Bush administration has gone "all in". They're betting the whole pot on this one, and either they're going to bluff their way though it (likely with Ashcroft heading it up) or it's going to be a bloodbath. Stay tuned.posted by: uh_clem on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Larry C. Johnson who gave the juicy quotes to PBS last night has been in the business of doing that for awhile, as I'm sure you've all figured out from doing the same cursory google seraching I've done.
He seems to be utterly endemic of everything that's wrong with the CIA, as far as minimizing threats, being too bureaucratic in his thinking, etc.
HIs basic thesis for years leading up to September 11th was that the threat of terrorism, and particularly Middle Eastern terrorism was exagerrated, and that people have made out Osama bin Laden to be some sort of all-powerful bogeyman when he's not.
A typical interview, for Frontline, is here:
Absoutely everything he said turned out to be absolutely wrong on 9/11 of course, which Timothy Noah wrote up here:
Still, for some reason, he was invited to testify at a House subcomittee on how to improve aviation security on 9/21/2001. His testimony can be found here:
His ideas include federalizing pretty much everything, the disastrous path we're following now.
What excactly does this all mean? Who knows?
A couple things are clear though: 1) This guy has an established history of being absolutely wrong about things and 2) He sure isn't publicity shy, so if he wants to clarify what exactly he means by the "three decades" remark he certainly can.
Finally, since we're all speculating here, isn't it odd that the guy who started this thing, Joseph Wilson, worked for Saudi-funded think-thanks and was an extreme oppoenent of this administration's foreign policy, and the guy trying to keep it alive is someone who seems to have devoted most of his life to minimizing Middle East-based threats to American security. In other it starts with a guy on a mission to, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume, debunk the idea of a nuclear threat from Iraq, and is continued by a guy who's spent a career minimizing such threats.posted by: Eric Deamer on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Duncan, Novak does not mention May as his source for this information. He states "How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA." and only then goes on to reference May's article as corroboration.
And SqueakyRat, you need to re-read May's Monday column: He states categorically that he (May) knew long before Novak's column.
It's obvious that Novak can't know if this info was shopped around, so that bit is easily discounted.
Ogg, the fact that she's no longer undercover may well have a major bearing on this case: the statute says the identity is protected for five years after leaving undercover -- after that, it's no longer a secret.
I'm amazed at of some of the attempts that I've seen here to minimize the seriousness of this affair.
First, we had some people asserting that Plame's identity could not possibly have been sensitive, and that nothing of importance could have happened - despite the fact that the CIA and Justice, after looking into it for a couple months, took the fairly extraordinary step of launching a full criminal investigation of the White House.
Then, we had people claiming that there couldn't have been any chance that an undercover employee might have been compromised, despite the fact that the White House counsel's memo specifically states that disclosure of the identity of an undercover employee is at issue.
And now, we have people asking us to believe that a former State and CIA employee, registered Republican, and Bush supporter is deliberately and publically telling baldfaced (and easily disprovable)lies to exaggerate the nature of Plame's CIA employment, for no apparent reason.
I'd agree that we're still far from proving that a serious crime has been committed, or knowing exactly who was responsible for that hypothetical crime. But some of these attempts to discount the entire story are just plain outlandish.posted by: Nick on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I DID watch the interview and I WAS swayed. That's why when I picked up the Post this morning I did a doubletake, then I smelled a big fat rat (and I'm sorry to say, it wasn't you Squeaky).posted by: Kelli on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
The argument over exposing of Plame as CIA vs. Plame as covert CIA is a false distinction - if Plame had a cover other than that of CIA analyst, it was blown when Novak had his brain fart - not afterward, when the barn door was open.
In other words, Rove was an opportunist with his followup calls, but maybe not the criminal.posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
As painful as this may be to you, Eric, the scandal is not over just because a reporter is spinning with unsubstantiated assertions and a speculation based on one non-credible source.
Novak writes, "First, I did not receive a planned leak."
How could he know that? The same way that Bush 'knew' that Rove isn't the leaker, despite his avowed policy of not asking anyone?posted by: Wilhelm on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
If Novak already knew she was CIA, why the hell did he try to confirm it not just once, but twice?posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
That's an interesting question, Wilhelm. In addition to announcing that the leak wasn't planned, without explaining how he knows that, Novak says: "The published report that somebody in the White House failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue."
How does he know it's untrue? I guess one could argue that he might have been an unwitting pawn rather than a willing pawn, so it's untrue in that sense. But I get the impression that's not what he's claiming.
Also, I'd kinda like to know who the nameless "insider" was that offhandedly mentioned to Clifford May that Plame worked for the CIA, and in exactly what context that mention occurred.posted by: Nick on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Oh geez. I shouldn't have revisted this issue for another 4 or 5 days, like I told myself I wouldn't.
Meanwhile, if jumping to conclusions was an Olympic sport, there would be a pile of champions 'round here. . . . ;>.posted by: Twn on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Also, I'd kinda like to know who the nameless "insider" was that offhandedly mentioned to Clifford May that Plame worked for the CIA, and in exactly what context that mention occurred.
Josh Marshall doesn't know either, but he has a pretty good post on how this kind of thing could have reached May's ears -- despite the fact that, before his op-ed, Wilson was not a big enough fish to be the subject of massive Washington gossip. Short version: after Wilson's op-ed -- a week or so before Novak's column -- the whisper machine went into operation. Notice that May's piece does not say when he learned of Plame's CIA connection. In particular, he did not, as Michael Parker says upthread, state categorically that he (May) knew long before Novak's column.
I'll add some even more speculative speculation.
Remember all those revelations that were coming out while we were entering Iraq about the Really Large sums of money Saddam was allegedly spreading all over, from journalists to politicians, in the Mideast and also the West (ex: George Galloway)? And we all cluck-clucked and said it could never happen *here*.
I'm not normally a conspiracy-monger (really!). But. The recent revelations out of Gitmo show there has been a large, sustained, long-term effort to penetrate and compromise our institutions - which worked. I always thought the whole way the uranium thing worked out was very weird. It was almost a throw-away, added-late item as used at the time - Bush didn't need it to make his case. So why add it? Somebody decided it sounded juicy - mayhaps because it was presented to them as juicy. What if, indeed, the whole thing was a plant by the opponents of the war? Possibly motivated by ideology, or possibly motivated by money. After what we've seen in Gitmo, I don't believe for a second that Washington is not penetrated. While trying to ascribe this latest row to conspiracy is a stretch, it does not strike me as completely implausible.
I'd really, really like to see more about that Iraqi money, and who got it.
My favorite quote of the day:
I always thought the whole way the uranium thing worked out was very weird. It was almost a throw-away, added-late item as used at the time - Bush didn't need it to make his case. So why add it? Somebody decided it sounded juicy - mayhaps because it was presented to them as juicy. What if, indeed, the whole thing was a plant by the opponents of the war?
And this was supposed to present an obstacle to going to war . . . how exactly? I do think you need to check your grip, D.
Just a query:
Has the basic charge in the Washington Post been verified? Here's the charge...
"Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife."
I'd really love to know: (1) How the senior administration official" knows that there was a disclosure in each of six cases and (2) when the disclosures took place. I'd also like to know how he is able to assert confidently it was two "top White House officials".
Even if you assume there was no crime committed, Plame is actually a typist in the CIA pool, and Joe Wilson is a Liberal Moonbat with an agenda, one ugly fact remains.
There are people in the White House who believe that it is acceptable to attack a minor "enemy" by going after their family, rather than the weakness of their position. And Karl Rove allegedly is one of those people who thinks an "enemy's" wife is "fair game."
I await a defense of this form of "compassionate conservatism."posted by: PhotoDude on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Well, here we are off on these little side issues of what did HE say and what did THAT mean. Sigh.
It's abundantly clear that Novak is defending HIMSELF; he is not addressing the question of whether and when six reporters were called, or by whom. Why? Because he doesn't know.
What he does address is how the matter came up in the course of a conversation whose object was to to raise and answer the question "how did this guy Wilson get picked for this assignment?" He asked; he was answered; he checked. No one called him; no one tried to plant a leaked story on him; he was not gullible number seven in a string of otherwise failed leak attempts.
Were there such attempts? If so, when? If so, was the person who called the six a person Novak spoke with? He doesn't know. We'd like to.posted by: Alene Berk on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Novak: It was an offhand comment from an official who is "no partisan gunslinger."
You know what that means:
Not Karl Rove. Not Karl Rove. Not Karl Rove.
All the libs and lefties are SO disappointed. It's so funny. I can vividly picture Josh Marshall sulking in front of his computer right now.
One more time: Not Karl Rove.posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
KK, this liberal never figured that it would specifically be Rove, not even when Wilson said so, and not even when the Guardian says that many journalists are saying so. I *do* think that Rove may have talked to someone after someone less senior talked to other people, including Novak. And, hell, I tend not to think that the WH folks making these calls actually knew that Plame's status was covert, or at least they didn't understand the significance of it. But, who knows? There's still a lot up in the air, here.posted by: Keith M Ellis on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby.
which would mean...
Time to nuke the Veep, George.
Bush's Brain is over-rated. You can fire Rove quickly and live - but the Vice President of the United Staes?posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Duncan actually hit on something significant to the "Rove did it!" aspect of this scandal. Novak has repeatedly asserted that no one in the Bush Administration leaked the information to him but that it was given to him during the course of two different interviews with two different Senior Administration Officials. For days this caused me to go, HUH? I mean how in the world can these two seemingly contradictory statements live side be side and be valid? The answer came the other day when I heard a commentator on CNN's Aaron Brown say that when Novak says Bush Administration he means the Whitehouse. That made sense. It made even more sense when I caught the replay of Novak on CNN saying it and then adding that Wilson was from the Clinton Administration.
I think there's a lot of confusion here caused in part by the WaPo story and how it confuses the timeline. We know that Andrea Mitchell was contacted about the Plame-Wilson story but not until AFTER Novak's story went to print. Administration Aides trying to peddle the angle that Plame-Wilson is the story not "yellowcake" from Niger isn't criminal in this context, it's just really sleazy and politically inept. The crime here may have been committed by the person who first gave Novak the information that Plame worked for the CIA.
I'm not a big believer in the veracity of any reporter, but I believe in conspiracy theories even less. Quite simply Novak's version of events fits with everything else we know quite well. Occam's razor would seem to apply here - the simplest explanation is the most likely:
1) Novak got the information from two interviews and confirmed Plame's ID with a contact inside the CIA.
ogged - By "important," I was talking in regards to the law in question... maybe I'm wrong here but five years is the cut-off to my understanding.
Vernon Loeb's comments on her status are interesting... his knowledge agrees with Novak's statements and he knows of no risk to natl. security here.posted by: HH on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
3) The cold-calling of reporters such as it was occurred after Novak's story broke.
lol why would they be cold-calling after the story broke???
I've seen nothing to suggest that Mitchell was contacted after the story ran please provide a link if you can.posted by: David on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
"And Karl Rove allegedly is one of those people who thinks an 'enemy's' wife is 'fair game.'"
This allegation, like too many thus far in this matter, came from Joe Wilson, who has been established, quite frankly, to twist the facts and make charges he can't back up later. Now maybe he's telling the truth here... but this needs to be said by someone besides Joe Wilson.posted by: HH on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Per Novak the leak seems to have been unintentional. Was law violated then? No - it requires intention. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/50/421.html
Who ever confirmed her work at the CIA may have vi0lated the law though.
It seemed that the identity of a CIA employee only came out because of the relationship of that person to Wilson. If the CIA had used someone not related to an employee, it seems there would have been no leak. This is a great reason why nepotistic type hiring should be avoided.
NEW THEORY explaining Wilson's attack on the administration for "twisting" intelligence and "exaggerating" Iraqi threat. Wilson was mad that Bush cited the British and not Wilson. Bush said "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Bush said sought, not bought. Tenet quoted Wilson, apparently, for the same thing:
Wilson accused the Bush administration of twisting, etc. in his July 6, 2003 New York Times article by saying Bush's State of the Union address contradicted Wilson's conclusions. As an aside, Wilson never submitted his 'conclusions' in written form. In the article he writes "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place" But, again, Bush never said that the Iraqis bought, just that they sought to buy which seems to line up with what Tenet said Wilson said. Maybe Wilson was mad that he did not get the credit.
Fall back theory (perhaps more likely). Wilson's main mission and conclusion dealt with whether there was a transaction. Conclusion - No. He also gets info from someone that the Iraqi's did something vague that the person interpreted (or did now for convenience) as being an attempt to buy. Wilson reports that but dismisses it but does not focus too much on it because the real question he is focusing on is whether they actually bought.
If you read Tenet's quote, it is a bit confusing, he does not say that the 'individual' sent (Wilson') concluded this but that the Nigerein concluded this which perhaps mean that Wilson did not conclude this. He may have specifically disagreed or perhaps did not comment either way because this was not what he was focusing on. Maybe he did not report it at all and people listening to his conversations in Niger did.
So why would he not say this directly in the article but tries to hide the ball? Perhaps he thinks that it was too tenuous and too hard to explain, perhaps he is mad because he missed it or glossed over it, perhaps he did not miss it but is mad for not having been given credit, perhaps he is mad for having been asked the wrong question and missing the credit, perhaps he is mad because his conclusion was disregarded, perhaps he is mad because his conversations in Niger at the embassy were being tapped and analyzed by others.
Buried at MSNBC.com:
NBC News said Monday evening that reports that Mitchell was one of the reporters who was called were not completely accurate. Mitchell was contacted in connection with the story, it said, but only after Novak revealed the woman’s name in his column in July.posted by: HH on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Kelli writes: "who relates to time like this--any segment of a decade counts as a "decade"?"
It's weird, but it turns up. It seems to show up a lot when talking about things like a rock band's career spanning 5 decades, even if they started in the late 60's and it's now only 2003.
It was probably used a lot in Johnny Cash obituaries.
appalled writes: " (1) How the senior administration official" knows that there was a disclosure in each of six cases and (2) when the disclosures took place. I'd also like to know how he is able to assert confidently it was two "top White House officials"."
If the senior administration official is Tenet, and if the six journalists called CIA for confirmation, then the CIA would have records that for some reason six journalists were interested in a heretofore-covert operative.
More information might have been available had the journalists specifically told the CIA "two senior administration officials told be this, can you confirm?".posted by: Jon H on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I've been thinking something very close to what you describe. If you pay attention to the seminal paragraph from Novak's original column, he only attributes to two senior administration officials the fact that Wilson got the Niger job because his wife worked for the CIA. The initial sentence that she was an "operative" is unattributed, and Novak tells us in his column today that he used (and has used throughout his career) "operative" to mean political hack. Couple this with the fact that Novak still stands by his believe that Plame was not covert. In light of all of this, I conclude that the substance of the initial "leaks" to Novak was essentially that Wilson got the job because his wife works at the CIA -- but not that she was a covert agent. This was obviously an attempt to impeach his credibility, and a legitimate one in my view (to the extent it wasn't a crime). (Is it controvertial at this point to acknowledge that Wilson is a partisan?) It may, however, have been a crime -- but I seem to recall that the relevant statutes require a "knowing" outing of a covert agent and I think it's plausible that the initial sources didn't know she was actually covert (especially given that Novak still thinks she wasn't covert after speaking with sources at the CIA).
But then focus on Gonzales's memos. The reporters he names as relevant to the investigation are Novak, Royce and Phelps. The latter two wrote the Newsday piece shortly after the initial Novak column. In it they write that a "senior intelligence official confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked "alongside" the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger." This "senior intelligence officer." I suspect, was the first leak that Plame was a covert agent.
Thus, I see potentially two crimes -- the first being the leak to Novak saying Plame worked for the CIA (but this may not have been "knowing") and the second being by someone actually at the CIA. Is he CIA also subject to an investigation?
I also agree the the cold calling of reporters occurred after the Novak piece. Indeed, last night on CNBC, Wilson clarified his earlier statements and in fact admitted that the people calling him and telling him that the administration was peddling the story actually did so AFTER the Novak piece.
But this seems to conflict with the WaPo piece on Sunday saying that "a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." Did the WaPo have its timing wrong or did those calls also occur (and if so, how the hell would one administration know of all the calls unless, of course, it was directed from above)? (Also, what to make of the fact that the subsequent WaPo articles downgrade that statement by removing "senior" from administration official and "top" from white house officials?)
I still think the lefties are disappointed that Rove appears to be off the hook. Surely Wilson is. In any event, since when does the left care about protecting CIA spies? Oh yeah . . . when it's a vehicle to go after the Bush administration.posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
In Novak's latest column, he appears to confirm that he was told by the CIA that Wilson's wife had served on foreign assignments.
He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause ''difficulties'' if she travels abroad.
"never again" means "she has been on foreign assignments before".posted by: Jon H on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I suggest that the 'three decades' thing be let go.
It's most common, if you've known someone for 30 years, to say 'for 30 years'. Only an orator would say 'for 3 decades' (or, better yet, 'for 1 score years and 10').
'For 3 decades' in this context, although inexact (obviously), most likely was intended as 'over the course of 3 calendar decades'.posted by: old maltese on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Oops... Loeb stepped down from his earlier strong comments for some reason.posted by: HH on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Well, at least you don't blame "That 70s Show" for this new method of telling time. I'll go on thinking ill of it, however. It's especially galling when you keep in mind that what most people thought they heard was not "I knew her over the course of three decades" but "I have known her for over three decades" (why, she's practically FAMILY!).
You're onto something when you pose the question "since when does the left care about protecting CIA spies?" CIA spies who, as others have pointed out here, failed miserably over the past two decades (or so) to monitor or predict goings on in the Arab and Muslim world. We have heard over and over again since 9/11 that we (read, the CIA) had almost no "assets" in that part of the world. Unlike the former Soviet Union, where Hansen's antics spelled death for several authentic espionage assets, I would hazard a guess that little damage has been done via the Wilson/Plame scandal. How do I know? I don't, but I think if there were any heads on the line Wilson would be raving about them on CNN right now. His silence on this speaks volumes.posted by: Kelli on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
"As far as I am concerned this shoots the guy's credibility from now on, unless I see a picture of them together at Langley from the 80s."
I think the right's conversion to post-modernism is complete.posted by: Jason McCullough on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
An interesting thought came to me as I read Spencer Ackerman's piece in on tnr.com, which Dan links to. In the context of explaining that it's outrageous to "out" an undercover CIA agent because it can get people killed, Ackerman writes:
"[E]ven if some Washington circles knew about Plame, no one had so widely exported her identity through a megaphone like Robert Novak's column."
I wonder. Assuming Plame's outing has put lives at risk in, for example, Pakistan or North Korea, which of the following is most directly responsible for that: (1) the senior administration official's leak that quietly appeared in Novak's column, but that no one really paid too much attention to at the time (does anyone really even read Novak anymore?), or (2) the efforts of Corn, Wilson, the WaPo's "senior adminstration official" and others to do everything they possibly could to turn this story into a full blown, front page scandal, which would appear on the front page of every major newspaper and in the hourly reports of every major cable news service worldwide.
Which of those do you think were more likely to get an asset killed in Karachi or Pyongyang?
The bottom line: If Wilson was really interested in the safety of CIA assets, he would have quietly reported the alleged breach to the DOJ, FBI and CIA and then he would have shut his trap.posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I buy the raw fact that someone fingered Valerie Plame as a CIA employee, but parts of this still sound unreal to me, and some of the interpretations more so. Take Brad DeLong: If the WaPo got onto this via the CIA seeking to straighten out the Whitehouse (as he insists), how does the CIA know that "two Whitehouse folks called the press"? And if they do know, they must know who, huh? So why don't they just tell the Justice Dept who did it, and this will be a verrry quick investigation. I'm waiting to see if this happens.posted by: Tony on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Dan, you fail to mention in your update re "The Note" that farther down they partially answer their own question with the statement
"Milbank and Schmidt of the Washington Post continue to back off the two-officials-six-reporters language in their daily story." with a link to the relevant article.
This really looks like yet another "anonymous source" smoking gun that has turned out to be firing blanks.
posted by: michael parker on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I agree that my theory on the cold-calls contradicts the WaPo report but I've given it considerable thought and can come up with two simple theories that easily answer why. First is that the anonymous source is incorrect, not only in the timing of the calls but in attribution the status of the callers. Second the reporters who wrote the story, or the editor(s) who reviewed it, got it wrong even though it was told to them correctly.
Things to remember here are:
A) It is widely assumed that the antonymous source that contacted Allen and Priest was highly placed within the CIA (Tenet has even been speculated by some to be the source).
B) This story began as very complex and confusing, there was a great deal of conjecture being reported as if it was canon. Also it's not unheard of for the "professionals" to blow it now and then. Andrea Mitchell confirmed on Imus that she was one of the six called with the story, but later we found out that she hadn't been called until after Novak's piece broke. In the case of Allen and Priest I suspect that the desire to break a truly big story - and if anyone saw Allen on CNN you could tell he thought he was the next Woodward - may have caused them to confuse or even misstate the timeline. Also it's not unheard of for editors to "clean-up" a piece and completely screw the pooch in the process, I've seen it happen dozen's of times before.
As to the downgrading of the status of the leakers, I'd say it reflects the realization that initial speculation associating Rove as one of the chief culprits has now become untenable. This speculation was in part fueled by Wilson's rantings at a Public Forum hosted by Jay Inslee (D-WA) in Shoreline Washington. Wilson has since retracted his statement and no one truly suspects Rove anymore, except the LLL wingnuts of course.
All in all I doubt much will come of this except the firing (maybe) of a few State Officials and the resignation of a few aides. The law is indeed an ass in this case, too narrowly defined to actually be of much use at all.posted by: Robert Modean on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
To my fellow Republicans,
Fact: The perception of impropriety matters.
Fact: It's not what you know that matters, only what you can make stick.
Fact: The WaPo leads their webpage with a new poll indicating that the majority of Americans have heard about this story and consider it very serious- includinga majority of Republicans.
Conclusion: This story has legs.
Recommendation: Stop jerking around with stupid semantic games are you're just going to make things worse. This matters. Get with the program.posted by: Oldman on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Two questions for Daniel:
Larry Johnson basically named (without naming) Scooter Libby on Buchanan and Press.
Sounds possible - it is how I am leaning - but is it credible?
F**k Rove. Bigger fish are involved.posted by: Duncan Young on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
I'll take a shot:
1. "Two White House officials appear to have been the principals." The question is principals in what? If (as the Sunday WaPo story states) two white house officials outed Plame before the Novak story appeared, then there is justifiable outrage if they intentionally were seeking to out her. But, first of all, it looks as if the timing in that story might be wrong (e.g., Dana Milbank says she wasn't called until after the Novak piece appeared). Second, it's ambigious as to Plame's actual position (see Novak's piece today); so it's plausible that those white house officials didn't know she was undercover, but instead thought she was just a run of the mill analyst.
If white house officials either didn't know she was covert or were peddling the story after it appeared in the WaPo, the situation is not so outrageous. Assuming no intentional outing, it's completely legitimate to try to impeach Wilson's credibility because he's a partisan hack (he surely is one, as everyone sees by now) and was only sent to Niger because his wife at the CIA was involved.
2. "Nobody in the White House thought their actions were a big deal until it showed up in the Post," and "Is there a way to interpret the White House's response between late July and Late September other than as thinking that the blowing of the cover of CIA assets is no big deal and hoping that the press will never focus on it?" See above as to whether it was actually outrageous. Assuming it was, how do you know what people at the white house were thinking? Recall that the CIA sent the complaint to justice weeks ago (as they apparently do once a week), and the career people at justice just decided to open a criminal investigation. I would submit that the proper process is playing out.
Moreover, take a look at Wilson, Corn, and all the lefties who have been doing everything possible over the past few months to make this into a huge scandal. To the extent Plame was actually outed, those actors have done much more to widely disseminate the outing and thus to put potential assets in danger than Novak's original column did (e.g., compare the number of people who read Novak's original piece and made the connection that Plame was outed, with all the people worldwide that know about Plame now). Aren't they just making the leak many times worse? Shouldn't you be praising the white house for not doing such a thing?
Bottom line is that if Wilson and Co. thought that, as you put it, "blowing of the cover of CIA assets" was such a "big deal," they would have quietly reported the incident to the CIA, DOJ and FBI instead of attempting to get the information disseminated throughout the world.posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Not only does Novak continue to deny that she was an undercover operative, he continues to deny that he even said she was an undercover operative, which is pathetic.
"CIA operative" in my lexicon does not mean "political hack" as Novak now claims he meant.
posted by: anon on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
"Why does it matter so much whether Karl Rove is a principal leaker ("Get me Bob Novak on the line") or just a secondary defender of the leak after the fact"
Because an "after the fact" defender of the leak did nothing illegal, and arguably nothing immoral. The information is now public, how is Karl Rove calling a reporter saying, "hey check out Novak, that Wilson is only there because of his CIA wife" any worse than Corn in the Nation writing "hey that Novak broke the law by releasing the info about Wilson's CIA wife". There is no difference as to national security.
This seems like an awfully dumb question, perhaps I am misreading what you are actually asking. If so, please clarify.posted by: Reg on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
According to all the facts, this seems to be the most likely scenario.
Novak's account is mostly true. The leaker is Scooter Libby, who didn't know Plame was undercover, only that she was CIA and that was why the ill-suited Wilson was chosen to determine if Saddam was trying to buy weapons (which his report doesn't disprove).
Am I missing something? If this is what happened, no laws were broken, Libby (or whoever the leaker is) showed poor judgment and ought to be fired for leaking. The CIA (or whoever) who leaked to the post the erroneous information about the six callers ought to be fired as well for leaking.
I guess the note is right, it depends on whether those 6 calls were made before or after the Novak article. I don't see how Novak can be right and those 6 calls could take place before the Novak article, as Novak wasn't called but did the calling. I'm guessing then that the 6 calls were after the Novak column.posted by: Reg on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
Here's a question: who is the most obvious candidate to be Novak's source? It has to be someone with intimate knowledge of how Crazy Joe Wilson came to be the CIA's agent in Africa. It has to be someone who knows that CJW's wife is a CIA operative, and that she contacted (at least) CJW for the mission. And it has to be someone who isn't normally considered a partisan--perhaps someone who has worked in Democratic and Republican administrations.
It's a very short list.
George Tenet.posted by: Thomas on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
The Novak Lexicon.
A quick search of the Chicago Sun Times website resulted in the following:
1. In his Sept. 21, 2003 column, he used the term "political operative."
2. In his Sept. 28, 2003 column, he used the term "Republican operative."
Based on the above, I think it's fair to take Novak's word for it that "agency operative" meant CIA hack.
Someone with access could do a full lexis-nexis search to see if he uses the term regularly. (Or one could just assume that because Josh Marshall and Co. aren't harping on this point suggests they've already done it and weren't happy with the results.)posted by: KK on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
As to "how do we interpret the White House inactivity over the past eleven weeks":
The WaPo reported that the CIA is conducting a damage assessment that is still underway (and we urgently need leaks on that - both sides will let you know if they are distorted and out of context).
Anyway, Bush the MBA is awaiting a damage report before he decides to interrogate and sack hapless staffers - all is well!
OK, the public noises from the WH don't square with that quite perfectly. Still, the idea of waiting for the CIA to report back on what harm has been done before taking public steps is not utterly daft.
SO why the fuss this week? The CIA briefed lawmakers, someone leaked something to NBC (maybe from Schumer's staff?), damage control counter-leaks from the WH, and here we are.
The time for panic is not yet. COncern, sure.posted by: Tom Maguire on 10.01.03 at 10:30 AM [permalink]
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