Tuesday, September 30, 2024
By Steven Taylor

Dodgeblogium has the latest Carnival!

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By Steven Taylor

Andrew Sullivan’s post on his basic position on the Plame story fits my own quite well:

I’m not downplaying the gravity of this Wilson/Plame affair. I’ve already said that if someone leaked the name of an undercover agent, he/she should be fired and prosecuted. If true, it’s appalling. I’m just mystified by many details, I’m suspicious of multiple agendas swirling around, and think we know very little that’s categorical at this stage. This isn’t like the Trent Lott affair, when all the facts were available from day one. It’s murkier and, I’ll bet, will get murkier still. So let’s wait and see what comes out. Okay?


I agree that the person who leaked the information should be fired, and prosecuted if appropriate. The main thing I continue to want to know is: what was/is Plame’s exact status vis-a-vis this story and what damage was done? Before we can determine what the punishment should be, it would be nice to know exactly what harm was done. The law in question was written to protect peoples’ lives. Were lives threatened by this? Were precious intelligence sources compromised? Was this just inconvenient? It is impossible to know at this point.

Defenders of the administration shouldn’t be dismissive, but those scraping for a fight have to realize that this is hardly Watergate. Or do people really think that this goes to the President? It seems rather unlikely, quite frankly.

I will grant, if Karl Rove was in fact involved, that would be major. However, there is no evidence there, either, save for Wilson’s accusations, which hardly constitute anything approximating hard data. Indeed, from the very beginning I have thought that part of what turned this all into a feeding frenzy for those wishing political harm on the Bush administration was the whiff of a possibility that they could take down Rove, who is clearly one of the Democrat’s least favorite administration figures. The politics go further, in fact, because the situation gives them the chance to criticize the DoJ, and another of their least favorite types: John Ashcroft.

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By Steven Taylor

Rather than respond in the comments section, here’s a response to some of the commentary on the Plame affair–aimed at JohnC mostly, but to a more general audience as well:

If you read carefully what I have written you will note that much of my discussion of the law and the DoJ investigation have hardly been doctrinaire. I initially saw reports of 50 or referrals to the DoJ and took that to mean similar types of problems (and as I noted, I was unsure if that was the case, but the reportage seemed to indicate it was). When it was cleared up by WaPo this morning, I cleared it up on my blog. I really don’t think I can be accused of being dismissive of the gravity of this situation, but rather have been engaged in wondering what was really going on.

But trust me on the CIA investigation angle–if they really knew who it was, he/she would be in cuffs by now. They know that there was a leak–but they don’t know who leaked it. This is clear. And I haven’t ascribed any motives to the CIA-although I saw several TV pundits doing so this evening.

And yes, the CIA full well knows Plame’s exact status. I have only been asking on the Blog as to what that status was/is. There has been some contradictory reporting on this subject, but as things have settled out, it seems clear she was undercover. Ok, but that still doesn’t answer the question of what that means in this context–i.e., the exact amount of harm done. I am not defending the leak, nor have I done. Mostly I have asked questions. Some have been answered, others not.

To summarize some of my recent postings:

  • As James of OTB, Matthew Yglesias, and myself noted, the initial coverage was uneven.
  • Novak claims that she wasn’t undercover, but was an analyst. Plus his clarifications seemed to dispel parts of the story (here, here and here). This made it sound like much ado about nothing. Indeed, part of what he has said is contrary to what has been reported elsewhere, leading me to think that someone is lying, mistaken, or confused (or all three). I tend to have high regard for Novak’s reporting (although not so much his TV punditry), so I have to admit that his version of events makes me wonder what is going on.
  • The first stuff I read on the CIA referral to DoJ made me wonder how common such situations are. Careful readers will note that I did not claim that the affair was pro forma, but rather that the reporting made it have a “pro forma feel”–and I noted that I was highly unsure as to whether that was an accurate impression or not. Indeed, I pondered as to what the normal procedure was and even read the legislation to see if I could get a clue, I was unable to do so, as I stated.
  • When WaPo reported that this was a unique event amongst those 50 referrals, I blogged that fact. I also noted in that post that it appeared that she was indeed undercover.
  • I later noted that leakers are hard to catch.

    Really, I am not sure how any of this qualifies as “spin” or how it places me in the rabid right-wing blogger camp. Mostly I have reported the story as it has unfoled, analyzed the info at hand, and asked questions.

    On balance I am only sure of two things:

    1) This ain’t Watergate II, and it won’t bring down the Bush administration, unless there is some shocking ramification of this leak we are unaware of.


    2) Someone did do something wrong, and should be appropriately punished.

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  • By Steven Taylor

    Via CNN, here is part of a transcript from an interview with former CIA Director, James Woolsey. The first snip underscores what I said in a comments section a little earlier today: leakers are rarely caught:

    WOOLSEY: [...] CIA refers crimes report over about once a week to the Department of Justice whenever there’s a leak or any other potential violation of law that they come across.

    And it’s relatively routine thing. These leaks get investigated all the time. Occasionally somebody gets caught, but it’s pretty rare. It’s a lot rarer any directors of Central Intelligence would wish.

    HEMMER: Listening to your answer there, it appears that you’re throwing water on to this story. Are you?

    WOOLSEY: No, not necessarily. It was a bad thing to identify an agent, an asset, an officer actually who is identified as a CIA officer. And whoever did it ought to be caught and punished. It’s just that it rarely happens.

    Also of interest:

    HEMMER: What does it mean if she’s an analyst or operative and not a spy? Is that less serious? Is that the suggestion?

    WOOLSEY: Well, most of the time in the business, people don’t really use the word “operative.” Analyst would normally mean — if that’s true — that she worked usually in Washington, that she would be able to admit to people that she worked at the CIA. And it would not be nearly so serious a thing.

    If she was a clandestine service officer, an officer who worked in the field, recruiting informants, spies, or undertaking covert action, then naming her really would be a serious matter. And we apparently have a factual dispute, from what Mr. Novak said there, about whether she was a clandestine service officer or not.

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    By Steven Taylor

    I just came across this piece (A War Is Nice on the Résumé, but It May Not Get You the Job) from Sunday’s NYT on generals in politics–a nice little read.

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    By Steven Taylor

    Daniel W. Drezner has more on the Plame affair, specifically info on the now full-fledged Justice Department investigation.

    He also provides a link to a WaPo story which discusses the relevant legal issues. Some of the basics:

    The statute includes three other elements necessary to obtain a conviction: that the disclosure was intentional, the accused knew the person being identified was a covert agent and the accused also knew that “the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States.”

    The law says no person other than the one accused of leaking the information can be prosecuted, a provision that would protect journalists who report leaked classified information identifying a covert agent. But there is one exception to that protection.

    The article answers one of my basic questions: while memos requesting investigations of breach of classified information are common, the specific type of incident here is not common. Indeed,

    The CIA makes about one referral a week to the Justice Department concerning possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information, according to officials.

    However, my other main question remains: and that is the exact (not the inferred) status of Ms. Plame, as it bears not only on the overall affair, but to the legal questions specifically. Although one would think from this

    In mid-September, the agency sent follow-up material that answered a series of questions such as whether the officer’s identity was already in the public domain, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

    that is, if her name was in the public domain, then this would have been dropped.

    Of course, a fundamental question is going to be: who initially let the cat out of the proverbial bag, as it may be that the “leaker” got the info from another source, who be the actual person who committed a crime.

    At any rate, accusations of guilt, or statement of exoneration would both be premature.

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    By Steven Taylor

    PoliPundit points us to Arianna’s latest online ad.

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    By Steven Taylor

    Jack Shafer has a piece in Slate on everyon’e favorite budding scandal.

    He reaches this conclusion, which I suspect is correct:

    But unless some startling news surfaces about the leakers, their identities, and their motives, I doubt this summer scandal will ripen into delectable fall fruit.

    And has this to say about Plame:

    Who exactly is Valerie Plame? Corn writes that she “is known to friends as an energy analyst in a private firm,” which is not as convincing as Corn writing that she is an energy analyst in a private firm. (It sounds to me as if “energy analyst in a private firm” is the polite cover all of her friends use, knowing that she works at the CIA. It could be that Plame’s “secret” is no secret at all.) I find no mention of her on Nexis prior to the current scandal, and the only pre-scandal mention I found on the Web was Wilson’s bio sheet on the Middle East Institute’s Web site in which she is described as his wife, “Valerie Plame.”

    Can we really imagine that Wilson’s wife used her name, Valerie Plame, to go undercover for the CIA? Children and dogs have Web pages that identify their interests and accomplishments. You’d imagine that an “energy analyst at a private firm” would have left some sort of HTML trail for Google to pick up. Unless reporters and investigators ferret out any new information, the Justice Department is not likely to find that any lasting harm was done to national security. Instead of prosecuting, Tenet might have his druthers this time and fire whoever leaked the information from the CIA and recommend the president do the same at the White House.

    The whole piece is worth a read.

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    By Steven Taylor

    Guantanamo Translator Is Arrested

    A physician working as a translator at the U.S. prison camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was arrested Tuesday, a federal law enforcement official said.

    The official, describing the apprehension at Boston’s Logan International Airport, identified the suspect as Ahmed Mehalba. The official, who discussed the case on grounds of anonymity, said Mehalba had stopped in Boston Monday after arriving on a flight from Cairo.

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    By Steven Taylor

    David Brooks piece in the NYT’s today is worth a read.

    The money paragraph:

    The fundamental argument in the presidency wars is not that the president is wrong, or is driven by a misguided ideology. That’s so 1980′s. The fundamental argument now is that he is illegitimate. He is so ruthless, dishonest and corrupt, he undermines the very rules of civilized society. Many conservatives believed this about Clinton. Teddy Kennedy obviously believes it about Bush. Howard Dean declares, “What’s at stake in this election is democracy itself.”

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