Sunday, September 28, 2003

L’Affaire Plame
The blogs are alive with the sound of someone about to go down for outing Valerie Plame. I’ve actually been following the Wilson/Plame business since the very beginning. My reason for not covering it till now is, simply, that my blogging betters have done such a good job, that by the time I was able to drag my red furry butt to the computer every night, all the good points had been taken. However, now we are moving into feeding frenzy mode and I must participate, whether or not I have anything original to contribute.

For those arriving late to this story, Valerie Plame is the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wlison. Wilson is the man who went to Niger last year and determined that the bogus claims of Saddam getting high-grade uranium ore (yellowcake) from them were improbable to the point of ridiculous. He earned the enmity of the administration by writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times that exposed the administration as second-rate liars for including the yellowcake story in the State of the Union Address. For some reason, someone exposed his wife as a CIA operative to Robert Novak (their goal, presumably, was to present his trip to Niger at his own expense as a junket acquired through nepotism. Who wouldn’t jump at a chance to spend February in the Sahara Desert?). David Corn of The Nation pointed out that is a felony to expose a CIA operative, but nothing political or journalistic came of the matter. Till now.

Novak’s piece appeared on July 14, Ari Fleisher’s last day at the White House. The best coverage and analysis of the business at that point was be found in the blogs of Mark Kleiman, Josh Marshall, and Kevin Drum. Go read their archives; its worth the investment of time.

Friday, NBC scooped the journalistic world by reporting that the CIA had formally requested that the Department of Justice investigate who in the White House exposed Plame. By midnight Saturday, the other news agencies were reporting that DOJ had opened an investigation. The Washington Post featured a 25 paragraph, front-page piece on the business on today’s Sunday edition and the rest of the news media have finally picked up the story.

Four other points are necessary to bring you up to speed on this story:
  1. The law against exposing CIA agents was the baby of Vice President George Bush in 1982.
  2. Last July, Novak cited his source for exposing Plame as two senior administration officials.
  3. The CIA request for an investigation specifies White House officials.
  4. Today’s Post story quotes an unnamed senior administration official as saying the Plame story was shopped around to six different journalists before Novak bit.

As I said, Left Blogistan is in feeding frenzy mode over this. Go to Atrios for links to all the best comments. The questions we are asking are these:
  1. Who are the two high officials that exposed Plame to Novak in the first place. In Washingtonese, “senior administration officials” means deputy cabinet rank or higher, about forty people. The current CIA request narrows this down to senior White House officials, about ten people. For clarity’s sake, I’ll call them the leakers. At least six reporters and, presumably, their editors know the answer to this. This can’t stay secret for very long. Wilson already suggested Rove. My instinct is to look at this as a continuation of the fight between the administration neo-cons and the intelligence community. I won’t be too literate about the semantic parsing of “senior administration officials.” I’m leaving the door open to anyone close to Cheney, Rumsfeld. Rove, and possibly Fleisher himself. This is a larger pool of suspects than others are looking at.
  2. How did the leakers even know about Plame? The CIA keeps the names of operatives narrowly compartmentalized. While information moves around, the sources of that information usually do not. I don’t have any speculation here. However, I think the answer to this could easily provide the answer to the previous question.
  3. Who is the senior administration official that talked to the Post? For clarity’s sake, I’ll call them the whistleblower. We have the same semantic problem in determining who “senior administration officials” includes, though I, in keeping with the above mentioned instinct expect it to be someone from the intelligence community or, less likely, the Sate Department.

The most important question has not yet been asked. I’ll ask it now. What are we going to call this mess? Please God, don’t let it be Plamegate.

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