Monday, October 13, 2003

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One-stop shopping for the Plame Game

Alex Parker has managed to assemble the major news stories over the past five months about the Plame Game. It's not comprehensive -- Paul Krugman's July essay is not included -- but it hits all of the high notes.

Go check it out. If you think something's missing, e-mail Alex with the link.

posted by Dan on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM


What interests me most after going through the summary is how much of the press activity goes back to Wilson himself. All the pieces up to Wilson's own NYT op-ed appear to have been initiated by Wilson, apparently getting his own little trend going. This is remarkable considering what appears to be the minimal effort Wilson put forth in Niger -- pretty much in his own words, confirmed by others, that he sat around the hotel pool drinking "sweet mint tea" (and whatever else, presumably) and deciding the yellow-cake wasn't an issue -- and producing no written report, his verbal report digested to one and a half pages of a routine CIA document.

Apparently miffed that the White House would listen to British intelligence regarding the State of the Union, he starts his own little agit-prop campaign. A perceived slight -- which indeed, in context, is what referring to Plame as his spouse simply is -- sends him and his allies ballistic.

The summary repeats that Plame was generally regarded as CIA within DC, her status, while still vague, seems increasingly non-covert since 1994. I think there's far too much effort to over-analyze what most commentators at this point are correctly referring to as variously stupid, comical, etc. etc. -- and let's not minimize the effect of Wilson, who appears at considerable distance to be a classic DSM-IV narcissist.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

“A perceived slight -- which indeed, in context, is what referring to Plame as his spouse simply is -- sends him and his allies ballistic.”

You are not sufficiently cynical. These folks were simply looking for any excuse to slime the Bush White House. This is a quintessential example of petty legalistic charges being thrown at a political enemy. Their going “ballistic” is merely an exercise in exaggerated rhetoric and make believe outrage.

This would have never been a headline story during the Clinton administration. The Liberals control the “mainstream” media---and that’s all there is to it. Am I possibly a knee jerk defender of President Bush? Not in the least. I have often severely criticized this administration. So much so, that I described it as gutless for caving in to the steel interests and the farmers lobby. Also, its pandering to the the Saudis may even be endangering our national security.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

I agree that any stick will do to beat a Republican administration, which is why the Wilson story has legs or a sort, and why Wilson got the attention he apparently did among journalists and commentators from the start. If I were dramatizing the story, though, I would go with my impressions of Wilson, that he's intensely self-absorbed and egotistical, likely has substance issues, and likely isn't respected by anyone around him. But he's convenient to be used and manipulated when it suits the journalistic and bureaucraic insiders. I would look for an eventual very unhappy end to Wilson's personal story.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Several things --

1. Whatever you think of Wilson, it's good to keep in mind that he wasn't the one damaged by the leak about his spouse. The folks who were hurt were Ms. Plame herself, and maybe some of her associates, and maybe US security. Wilson looks more Linda Tripp-like with every passing day, but it just doesn't matter, with respect to the culpability of the mysterious leakers. They played with national security to score political points. They should be humiliated publicly and fired.

2. Novak, for running with this story, deserves a lot of abuse, and some professional damage. Hopefully, Kristoff's column is just the start.

3. A thought -- the WaPo reporter who appears to have got the leak said that the Plame name was not used in his talks with leakers. I wonder if that is true regarding Novak. Novak's mea non culpa column indignantly notes that Plame's name is part of Wilson's bio in Who's Who. Is it possible that's where he got the name from, after his sources mentioned Wilson's wife, but not by name.

posted by: appalled moderate on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

It's worth pointing out that journalists are specifically exempt from the law that covers covert CIA agents -- if I'm a journalist and report an agent's covert status, I'm not liable for prosecution. Whatever the moral or legal culpability here, it seems to me, Novak is the least involved, and it's interesting that now we have efforts to turn blame on Novak, who had a valid story and is sticking by his "journalistic ethics" in not revealing the name of the leaker. (This could potentially be Novak's most culpable sin of omission, of course.)

However, we need to continue to recognize that the most recent WaPo story, as well as earlier stories quoting Andrea Mitchell (a Washington insider if ever there was one), say that, whatever Plame's exact status, she was generally understood to be a CIA employee. Kristof's story adds the likelihood that she hadn't been covert at least since 1994. So, as Kristof points out, there's little likelihood that national security or anyone's physical safety has been jeapordized.

The only exposure Kristof sees is the identity of the "Brewster-Jennings" front, but the google search I did on this name last weeks shows so many weird associations that I doubt if any knowledgeable person ever felt it was anything but a CIA front.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

My problem with Novak is that he went out of his way to name Mrs. Wilson, when that wasn't necessary to make the point in the column. My understanding is that part of the problem was the use of the name.

Novak should have to endure a hit on his reputation, sort of like Jesse Jackson or the BBC's Mr. Gilligan. He didn't commit a crime; he merely behaved badly.

posted by: appalled moderate on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

"...Novak, who had a valid story and is sticking by his "journalistic ethics" in not revealing the name of the leaker. "

Most importantly, we should never forget that Robert Novak claims that the “leaker” did so in an off handed manner. This person apparently had no intention of “outing” or endangering Mrs. Wilson and mentioned it in a manner similar to someone calmly commenting on the weather. I can remember when I once visited Washington, DC---and my buddy casually mentioned that a certain person was secretly employed by the CIA. This is ho-hum, boring behavior among the capitol insiders. The authorities would literally have to arrest thousands for “revealing the identity of a CIA agent” if they merely interpreted the law in a legalistic fashion. That is why this particular statute is very carefully drawn in trying to prevent another Phillip Agee type of catastrophe.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

appalled moderate

You ask if it’s possible that a source told Novak simply that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA and did not disclose the name. If that were the case, then essential bits and their sources are:

- Wilson’s wife works for CIA – from Novak (from his source)
- Wilson’s wife’s name is Valeries Plame – from Wilson bio on Internet
- Wilson’s wife works for Brewster-Jennings – FEC contribution record
- Brewster-Jennings is a CIA front company – induction

Regarding two of the bits, Mr. Wilson wrote his bio and probably made the 4/22/99 $1,000 contribution to Gore 2000 Inc. in his wife’s name. (The FEC lists a 4/22/99 $1,000 refund to Mr. Wilson for his over-the-limit contribution of 3/26/99.) Although Novak spilled the beans about the VPW’s real employer, her connection to B-J would not have been likely without the contribution her husband made.

posted by: The Kid on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

It seems unlikely that the only association between Wilson's wife and B-J is the FEC record. Maybe the FEC is the only searchable source online, but it is more likely that B-J was the name she openly used as cover in her public persona. Thus hardly an indiscretion by her husband.

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

So it could be that the actual "naming" of Ms. Wilson was from Novak connecting the dots from Wilson's bio in Who's Who or the web. Interesting.

(I think the company name was an accidental disclosure.)

posted by: appalled moderate on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

What's patently obvious is that the WH pulled out all the stops in an attempt to smear Wilson's reputation. And the smear job seems to have worked, at least among those who swallow whole any propaganda put out by the Rove machine.

Now the slime job has morphed into "But he tried to slime us!"

posted by: uh_clem on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

However, there's still a lot we don't know, and will probably never know, about this. It's worth repeating that to be covered by the law, an agent has to have worked overseas in covert status in the last 5 years, and the CIA has to have been taking active measures to conceal the agent's identity.

We simply don't know how the CIA used the "Brewster-Jennings" cover. If it was, let's say, a convenient way to order pizza without the Agency's name appearing on the transaction, this probably wouldn't qualify, especially as (I strongly suspect) "everyone" sort of winked oh, yeah, Brewster-Jennings (smirk smirk) -- even if it were used as sort of a flag of convenienc, if Plame weren't overseas under cover, it wouldn't count as exposing her identity.

Actually, I think the Kristof piece from Friday is something of a sign that the journalistic establishment is backing off this case, with the B-J as sort of a parting shot to cover the retreat.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Actually, Wilson's wife's status is part of the story about Wilson's credibility - and its looking less credible by the week.

posted by: Robin Roberts on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

I find it odd that we give this blanket authority to journalists to protect their sources in all situations and contexts. We don’t give the same universal amnesty to any other profession, including lawyers and doctors.

It is one thing for a journalist to protect a source who reveals classified information in an effort to get a newsworthy story out. In these cases, the journalist is just an innocent conduit for the story, and typically the leak is a revelation of some other “crime” that has already taken place.

It is quite another case for a journalist to be a principal party to THE crime – aiding and abetting, and in this case actually facilitating the execution of the crime. There was no crime prior to the story – thus Novak is absolutely a party to this crime – as guilty as the guy who drives the getaway car in a bank heist. He should be pleading the 5th amendment, not exercising journalistic privilege.

Imagine a far grimmer leak of classified information – a member of the government revealing the location of groups overseas to a journalist. Wouldn’t the publication of the story, with locations, be considered an act of treason? And shouldn’t both the leaker and the reporter be cited for their collective participation in the illegal deeds? Or would you continue to assert that the reporter is entitled to protect his sources, and by extension, himself?

I would suggest that the journalism industry should collectively hang Novak for abusing this journalistic privilege. I don’t think it would necessarily be a bad thing to set the precedent that journalists will not tolerate themselves being used to commit crimes. They should be reporters, not active participants in the story.

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Has anyone forgotten that Novak called the CIA before disclosing the identity of the wife as a CIA person?

He checked like he was supposed to in an ideal world where journalists don't pass on leaks that could be dangerous.

Who at the CIA told him it was ok (though disfavored) and why have they not been named?

posted by: Anon Again on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Dear Anon Again,

According to Novak he asked the CIA and the rep asked him not to reveal Plame's identity. His justification was that they didn't ask him strongly - essentially say "pretty please, with sugar on top." Considering how he's been changing his story, I'd say he was trying to underplay the objection of the CIA in order to minimize his intransigence of exposing a cover when he was asked not to. Think about it. You call the CIA and they ask you not to do something. Would you go, hmmm well I guess they really didn't mean it...

posted by: Oldman on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

I'll be using this thread as an example of how the Bush-worshippers (have to call them something to distinguish them from principled Republicans like Daniel and Oldman) are prepared to ignore a traitor at the heart of the Bush administration in favor of sliming an Ambassador whose only crime was to publicly disagree with the Bush administration.

Thanks, all of you. You've made your positions very clear: you wish to take the moral low ground in this. Somehow this does not surprise me...

posted by: Jesurgislac on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Jesurgislac, let us recapitulate.

At first it looked like a pack of wild dogs took off after Wilson, a guy who was simply minding his own bidness. As we learn more, the alternate explanation arises that Wilson is an active participant in a dogfight that he helped start. Wilson was part of an effort to undermine the administration by calling into question the timing and rationale of the war on Iraq.

A civil servant retires after a distinguished career in the State Department and the National Security Council, punctuated by at least one episode of personal courage in the face of extreme danger. He starts an international consulting business and signs up with a Saudi-funded policy house.

And he dabbles ever so slightly in politics. In the run-up to the 2000 election he contributes to the Gore and Bush presidential campaigns, Kennedy’s senatorial campaign, and Rangel’s house campaign, and begins a series of contributions to Royce’s (R-CA) (Africa - Chair of International Relations Subcommittee) house campaign. (His 3/26/99 $2K contribution to Gore was over the limit, the $1K overage was credited back to him on the same date [4/22/99] that his wife contributed $1K to Gore, listing Brewster-Jennings & Associates as her employer.)

In early 2002 somebody in CIA’s proliferation department selects Wilson to go to Niger to determine if the Iraqis tried to buy uranium there. In February the good ambassador spends eight days poking around a hotel in Niger. Upon his return he reports that he found nothing. Also in February he contributes $1K to Senator Clinton’s PAC. (Later in 2000 he contributed again to Royce and to Blinken’s doomed race against Idaho Republican Craig and to Rahall’s [D-W.Va.] house campaign. Rahall, of Lebanese descent, has been in the House since 1976 and usually wins by huge margins.)

Then in early 2003 Wilson begins serving as a surreptitious critic of the Bushies’ moves against Iraq, focusing primarily on the characterization of the threat. In May he contributes $1K to the Kerry campaign. He eventually outs himself with an op-ed that describes what he did not find during his sojourn in Niger.

Novak’s curiosity is piqued and has a conversation something like this with somebody in the administration:
- Novak: So who picked a guy like Wilson to go to Niger, someone who didn’t have the administration’s best interests at heart?
- Source: The CIA did.
- Novak: Why would Tenet do that?
- Source: George didn’t even know about it. His wife – Wilson’s wife – suggested that he be sent.
- Novak: His wife?
- Source: Yeah, she works in CIA’s counter-proliferation, on WMD.
- Novak: Sound’s screwy to me.
- Source: We’re on the same wavelength.

(Note: It was not necessary for this source to give Novak Wilson’s wife’s maiden name, it used to be posted here:

Novak calls the CIA like he has in the past and gets but a small brush-off. He reasonably concludes that she’s not under deep cover because he’s been through this before with the CIA and other agencies. He writes his column in part to show divisions within the Bush administration.

A few days after Novak’s column, Tenet acknowledges that he did not okay Wilson’s trip, but that someone in the bowels of his organization did. This brushfire soon gets out of control, thanks in part to the fanning of an ambassador who has his own axe to grind.

I’m not a Republican, but can readily see that using the word “traitor” is a bit much. As for high ground, I think that you, I, and others who’ve posted are standing at the same elevation.

posted by: The Kid on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Certainly plausible, but Novak said the story was shopped to him, not the result of his sleuthing, so your scenario doesn't hold water. The unfolding story seems to be that someone in the administration was proactive in getting the story out to Novak and the press, meaning there was some malicious intent by an informed insider.

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

I don't think we have evidence for "malicious" intent, unless by "malicious" you mean the attempt by White House political types (we assume here) to get a partisan message out that counteracts the partisan message being put out by Wilson and his allies in the press.

It's interesting that James Taranto's spin on this in yesterday's Best of the Web is that even the liberal press types were taken in by Wilson trying to tell them the White House had "outed" Plame, when the information that became available to Kristof at the NYT (how? Did he finally ask Wilson to lay his cards on the table? There's a lot of detail in the story, but he says Plame isn't the source. Could Wilson be?) showed that in all likelihood Plame's covert career was at least 9 years in the past, her cover long since blown by Aldrich Ames. Old, old news. Tarato thinks Kristof and others are ticked off.

I think we're seeing the tail end of this story.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Wow Bruce. Does the GOP have you on retainer? (If not, they should ;-)

I consider the attempts to discredit Wilson personally – rather than his message – to be the malicious act. I also suspect that outing Plame was a calculated, malicious act to punish and threaten. I don’t think I’m alone in subscribing to that hypothesis. The Esquire article on Rove from Jan03 certainly supports the meme that Rove is a political bully – who was fired by Bush41 for *allegedly* leaking to Novak, btw - lending further plausibility to that theory.

Of course, none of us have firm evidence for any of this. I’m assuming Justice is conducting the investigation to find said evidence.

And since this is a comments area for discussing interpretations, hypotheticals and opinions, I’m not going to apologize for expressing thoughts without qualifying everything with *alleged*. Since you also make claims where you lack evidence without such qualifiers (the Ames connection), I think we should call it a draw.

I’m sure the administration, and the press to a certain extent, would like to see this story whither away. I expect they may kill it through pure codependency and omerta. The public loses.

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

It's worth pointing out that Dan himself says he's a Republican, Oldman says he's a republican, and both are skeptical that the administration is innocent in this matter. Glenn Reynolds says he's a Democrat but is supportive of the idea that there was no malice, and not much of a story, in the Plame "outing". I don't believe I've stated my own party affiliation, but I will say at least that I'm a strong supporter of issues like gay rights, so I'm not sure how people come out on this, or many other, issues.

The Ames connection, by the way, is in the Kristof column, and while nothing is certain, I think we can rely on some degree of credibility there.

posted by: John Bruce on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

I’m just cynical of politicians in general. ANd the third estate is proving themselves to be enablers. A necessary evil, I suppose, but ideally we can do what we can to cull the more egregious of the flock.

Yeah, but I think that Kristof takes some liberties, posting in the Opinion section of the NYT, of mixing facts with theories and opinions indiscriminately. For instance, can we say for sure that Plame hasn’t done any overseas assignments in the last 5 years, especially since her friends claim she does occasionally travel abroad? And given that she still used a cover employer, and hid her true occupation privately and professionally – isn’t that by definition ‘covert’? I agree that she was probably transitioning to State – but if we assume that the CIA complaint passed Justice’s Q/A litmus test, somebody must believe there was a crime.

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

“For instance, can we say for sure that Plame hasn’t done any overseas assignments in the last 5 year..”

Are you implying that the CIA could be that stupid? This woman, for god sakes, is married to a high profile diplomatic officer. It would be insane to continue employing her services in such a matter.

“And given that she still used a cover employer, and hid her true occupation privately and professionally – isn’t that by definition ‘covert’?”

Wow, isn’t somebody indulging in a bit of petty legalism? Talk about a traffic cop ticketing a driver for going a tenth of a mile over the speed limit.

“I agree that she was probably transitioning to State – but if we assume that the CIA complaint passed Justice’s Q/A litmus test, somebody must believe there was a crime.”

This story is already disappearing off the radar screen. Nicholas Kristoff is essentially putting up the surrender flag. The liberal media can no longer get much more mileage out of this phony scandal.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

Actually, I think being the wife of a diplomat is a pretty effective cover story. Maybe I read too many Clancy novels though. But in any case, as a general rule, the stupidity of the gov't has no bounds.

I'm not sure I understand your traffic cop analogy - please explain to the un-edumacated.

Back to my earlier post - if this story gets swept under the rug and disappears, it is only because of the omerta factor among your supposed liberal media.

Are you sure you and John are not the same person?

posted by: Tommy on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

"I'm not sure I understand your traffic cop analogy - please explain to the un-edumacated."

Please note that Robert Novak says that this Bush White House official mentioned Mrs. Wilson’s CIA employment in an off handed manner. There is not the slightest evidence that this person meant to “out” her. This is not what the law in question is trying to prevent. It is instead a very precise attempt to deal with the despicable Phillip Agees and not the Washington DC insider who blurts out what everybody already knows! Thus, if anyone is attempting to make a big deal concerning this matter---at the very best, they are similar to the traffic cop stopping someone for going a fraction of a mile over the speed limit.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.13.03 at 10:17 AM [permalink]

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