Posted by Adam @ 5:32 pm on May 30th 2007

A confusion of issues

The Plame case and associated furore are about a lot of different things. Some of them are (with some assessment from yours truly):

  • Were the Whitehouse trying to punish Plame for her husband’s malfeasance by screwing her covert career? I can’t really believe this.
  • Were the Whitehouse trying to limit damage caused by Wilson and weren’t too careful about how they did it? I can believe this and they should have been more careful.
  • Was a crime committed in the course of Plame’s CIA employment being revealed? Not sure about this; I personally don’t think that they took too seriously the idea that she was covert (which is still debatable, I think, even in light of this and the law is pretty narrowly drawn. If there was a crime committed in what happened to Plame, I am not convinced that it would be prosecutable and it was committed by Dick Armitage, who spilled the beans to Fitzgerald.
  • Did Libby perjure himself? I think that the evidence suggests that he did and, to my way of thinking, perjury is pretty damn serious. I don’t get the idea that Libby should be pardoned or that he shouldn’t have been prosecuted
  • Did US Attorney Fitzgerald go too far, or display other unhealthy behaviour? No, I don’t think so; in fact, I think that Fitzgerald, in keeping leaks to basically zero, did his job well despite a lot of slurs cast at him. Beats Ken Starr out of the damned park.
  • How much time should Libby do? Byron York suggests that Fitzgerald, in asking for the importance of the crime being investigated to be considered in Libby’s sentencing, goes too far. Personally, I think that the importance of the investigation you lie to is something that ought to be considered when deciding how important your felonious lie was, although I don’t know what the situation is in law.
  • Was it a scummy thing to do? Well yes, I think so. It may have been done careless of the implications, but it was scummy nevertheless
  • What is the truth as to how Wilson was recommended as the guy to send to Niger? Plame looked good in her House testimony, but her story has allegedly been rather changeable. It’s important, both because perjury is serious and also because it helps tell us how appropriate, or not, the choice of Wilson actually was.
  • Will Bush pardon Libby? Well, I think that he will be true to his principles and not pardon Libby. There are many things of which Bush can be accused, but he has been consistetly excellent in his use of pardons.
  • Will Fred Thompson really pardon Libby if he became President? He has said that he would (buried in here, for example) and he’s helped raise funds for Libby. For me, that’s a reason to be a lot less enthusiastic about Thompson. What would other candidates do?

Not an exhaustive list, but the items that interest me most at the moment. Mostly, however, I am utterly convinced that perjury is very bad and it should get stomped on where it is proven. Without such robust action, the system will work much less well than otherwise; lying on oath may indeed endanger your immortal soul but it also has temporal effects on those of us that respect and appreciate the rule of law and, frankly, I’ll take that pound of flesh now.


  1. You seem to be about as clueless on this issue as I could imagine anyone possibly being. Yes, Plame’s identity was revealed as retaliation for Wilson’s repudiation of the false claims about the Niger uranium affair.

    And…was a crime committed? Dear god man – do you know what a felony is?


    Comment by weltschmerz — 5/31/2007 @ 10:33 am

  2. Outing CIA operatives GETS PEOPLE KILLED!!! GET IT?!

    Comment by weltschmerz — 5/31/2007 @ 10:34 am

  3. Fuck it…you need education:

    Sloppy Intelligence Trade Craft

    by Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman)
    by Jim Grichar

    The recent flap in Washington over public disclosure of the name of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, reportedly a CIA employee who worked under non-official cover (known as a “NOC”), has caused loads of recriminations, including a search for the “leakers” and possible prosecution for violating a federal law that prohibits such disclosures. Thus far, the press and Washington pundits have ignored the most important question of all, namely how did any senior administration officials get the name of his wife?

    Wilson the “envoy”

    Wilson, who visited the Niger on an official mission of trying to discover whether or not Saddam Hussein had purchased high-grade uranium from that country, subsequently went public in a New York Times Op-Ed piece with his findings, namely that Niger did not sell such uranium to Iraq and that, therefore, Iraq was unlikely to have been able to manufacture nuclear weapons. President Bush had mentioned the strong likelihood that Iraq had, or would soon have, nuclear weapons in making his pitch for the U.S. to attack Iraq. The disclosure by Wilson was a major embarrassment to the Bush Administration, suggesting that it had lied to the American public in order to get support for the preemptive war.

    After Wilson’s article, veteran reporter and columnist Robert Novak began to dig into the issue. In talking to a source within the Bush Administration, Novak found out that Wilson, who served on the Clinton Administration’s National Security Council and who contributed to Democratic presidential candidates, had been promoted for this mission by none other than his wife, who was an employee with the CIA. Novak published an article last July in which he named Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as being an “operative” with the CIA who had experience in the area of weapons of mass destruction. Novak has since stated that his source did not tell him that Plame was under cover let alone the fact that she was a NOC, which is supposed to be the deepest cover possible.

    The stink about disclosure of her true identity got larger as a press report from the Washington Post indicated that several high administration sources tried to get other reporters to divulge her name as a way of getting back at Wilson for his embarrassment and exposure of the Bush Administration. Some have suggested that George Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, tried to plant the story. With this big stink, a formal investigation, required under the law, was started.

    And as of the close of business on Tuesday, October 7, all files, email records, and other information pertinent to the investigation are to be turned over to the FBI.

    The Real $64,000 Question

    There are a number of serious implications regarding the use of spies who are not under diplomatic cover. (For those interested in a little more background on the question of cover at the CIA, check out a short article by Ed Finn that appeared on Slate last week.) Suffice it to say that anyone under non-official cover, if caught in an act of espionage by a foreign government, is totally on their own, with little or no chance of getting help from the U.S. government. The U.S. government will not even acknowledge that a NOC is working for it. That is one reason why keeping one’s identity secret is most important for a NOC.

    A second reason is that once a NOC has been “burned,” that is, either caught in the act of espionage or revealed as being a spy, he or she is finished in that end of the intelligence business. And in the last few days, Wilson himself has publicly expressed fear for his wife’s safety, as terrorists may now target her, although that is always a risk, even for those under diplomatic cover.

    Finally, every foreign country to which Valerie Plame traveled will now conduct an investigation regarding whom she met, with all her contacts placed under suspicion of being clandestine agents for the U.S. It is possible that some of these people, if the offense was considered serious, might be executed for treason by their countries.

    While all of the above are serious and are reasons for conducting the so-called investigation of the leaks, the Washington media, being who they are, have totally missed out on asking the real $64,000 question of this flap, namely, how on earth did the name of a CIA NOC, supposedly under the deepest possible cover, get known to anyone high in the Administration other than CIA Director George Tenet?

    Excepting Joseph Wilson, no one outside the CIA should have known that his wife was a NOC, and darned few CIA people should have even known her real name or even have ever set eyes on her.

    If she was practicing what is known as good intelligence trade craft (using proper procedures to protect her true identity), she would never set foot in CIA headquarters. She would have been careful with whom she was associated, particularly regarding a spouse who had public visibility. From published reports, Wilson – a former U.S. Ambassador and former official at the National Security Council – listed Valerie Plame as his wife in publicly available documents. If Wilson had been thinking, he would have listed her as Valerie Wilson or just not given out the name of his wife.

    To maintain her cover, she would have worked extremely long hours, actually working at a real job and undertaking her clandestine assignments at appropriate times under that cover.

    Like other CIA spies, she would have had to collect information from her sources and prepared and filed – in a much more circumspect and clandestine manner – reports containing information desired by her bosses and the senior officials in the U.S. national security apparatus. Even if senior administration officials got a look at the raw reports she prepared, they would not have known her name. If they were given her name by anyone from the CIA, then that person or persons ought to be fired. And that includes the CIA Director, if he was the one to reveal her name to a senior administration official, but the chances of Bush firing Tenet over this are close to zero.

    Would Wilson or Plame herself have revealed her true identity? I doubt it, but I do not know their life style. He or she might have done or said something which inadvertently gave away her identity at some Washington social function or other venue where administration officials or members of the press might have been present. Washington being Washington, gossip spreads faster than a wildfire, so rumors or news of her true identity could have spread quickly, particularly among those with some links to national security matters.

    In either case, the fact that her name was disclosed reflects sloppy intelligence trade craft, either by other CIA employees or by Wilson and Plame herself.

    As I have stated in earlier articles about the intelligence apparatus of the U.S. government, it needs to be slimmed down drastically, focused on legitimate threats to the U.S. homeland, and staffed with fewer, but more intelligent and resourceful, professionals who would practice proper intelligence trade craft.

    October 8, 2003

    Comment by weltschmerz — 5/31/2007 @ 10:35 am

  4. The law is drawn narrowly; the person revealing the identity of the covert operative has to be aware, when they do it, that the operative is covert and to intentionally reveal their identity anyhow (there has been one successful prosecution under the Act). It’s hard to demonstrate. Hard enough, in fact that Fitzgerald believed that he was unable to demonstrate it (and he’s not an administration shill).

    Also, I think that there was a far greater impetus to mitigate the harm that Wilson was doing than there was to punish Plame. Claiming that Wilson was sent there at his wife’s request made Wilson’s case weaker, particularly when Wilson was claiming that Dick Cheney sent him there. As it turned out, she was covert (or at least had been, sufficiently recently that the revelation was BAD) and the harm done from the release of her identity as a CIA operative was considerable.

    That harm was done, which I don’t deny, though, doesn’t mean that a crime was committed; whether a crime was committed depends entirely on the law and the law in question isn’t exactly drawn to catch a lot of people. Your big paste doesn’t demonstrate that a crime was committed (and if it was, it was most likely committed by Dick Armitage, as it turns out) but just shows that it was a big deal and also that the circumstances are somewhat mysterious. The people who revealed Plame’s identity should probably have known that she was covert (although, as your paste shows, it’s not something that many people should know) but if they didn’t, that’s a complete defense, I think, against the accusation of committing a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. You have to prove that they knew she was covert and then deliberately leaked her identity regardless.

    The leak was very bad. Was it criminal? I don’t think so. Was it very harmful? You bet. People known to have associated with her way back when are now in jeopardy, let alone more recent associates. Maybe the Act needs to be redrawn somewhat better, although there is clearly always going to be problems when someone transitions from a covert job to a non-covert job (regardless of whether Plame did become non-covert, which I’m not prejudging, it’s going to be a problem for a lot of former covert operatives) because after some time, the identity of a former covert operative is no longer covered by the Act, even though their former associates could still be endangered by the release of their identity as a CIA employee.

    Comment by Adam — 5/31/2007 @ 11:45 am

  5. My biggest interest here, though, is in the perjury convictions; the idea that somehow perjury isn’t serious if the investigation it was planned to obstruct doesn’t produce charges, that’s absurd. It rewards the successful obstruction of the investigation even when it can be shown that the obstruction was, itself, criminal — the law should not reward committing a felony to prevent the investigation of an alleged felony.

    Comment by Adam — 5/31/2007 @ 11:47 am

  6. The issue of whether or not the revelation of Plame’s identity was harmful is one I could have added, I guess, although I don’t see how there can be a great deal of debate about it. Even her detractors don’t deny that she had been a covert operative.

    Comment by Adam — 5/31/2007 @ 12:18 pm

  7. Well, they mitigate it as much as possible to deny any harm was done. “Oh, she was just a Langley secretary, big deal.” In fact, denying that revealing Plame’s identity was indeed harmful is about the first step in most defenses of the outing (and the grounds on which most seem to argue that the perjury wasn’t bad). Most of the Fitzgerald detractors seemed to think it was all just a witchhunt, an opinion not based on the small grain of the law “Oh, it was bad, but the legalese of it is X and Y…”, rather “F you, he was a shill and she was just a secretary”.

    Comment by Brad — 5/31/2007 @ 1:09 pm

  8. Fred Thompson’s support for a Libby pardon (and also the claim that Libby did nothing wrong) is the biggest black mark against him, in my book.

    Comment by Adam — 5/31/2007 @ 1:18 pm

  9. It’s a damn curious position to take.

    Comment by Brad — 5/31/2007 @ 1:20 pm

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