The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Plame: still no plausible explanation for the leak

However much it may be an inside the Beltway story [1], there's no shortage of production from scribes of all kinds [2].

For instance, a Michael Isikoff piece (October 8) in Newsweek suggests that the September 28 WaPo story that kicked things off was in one key respect wrong:
the "senior administration official" quoted in the Washington Post piece simply got it wrong. There were indeed White House phone calls to reporters about Wilson's wife. But most, if not all, of these phone calls, were made after the Novak column appeared, some government officials now believe.

(Which prompts a variation on the old question, Were you lying then or are you lying now?)

Joseph Wilson apparently
acknowledged to NEWSWEEK that he got no calls from any reporters asking about his wife until he heard from Novak.

But, whatever the merits of this suggestion, as the piece points out,
That still leaves open the question of Novak's original source...

Which brings us back to the basic, unanswered question, asked in my October 2 piece (with no claim to originality!): what on earth was the point of outing Plame?

The Isikoff piece quotes ex CIA chief (and no friend of the incumbent) James Woolsey as saying that
...what White House officials did do was worse than a crime, "it was stupid."

A piece by Dan Kennedy in the Boston Phoenix (October 10) has another history of the evolution of the scandal - and the media coverage thereof - and then gets on to Plame herself.

Crucial to an appreciation of the case is knowledge of the sort of stuff she has done for the Agency. On the one hand, she is a mother of 40 with two small children living in Virginia; on the other, she is an expert in nuclear weapons (NW) at some stage operating as a NOC [3] under cover of being an energy consultant, and was in the Agency well before her availability to travel was incommoded by kids [4].

(The counter-example is Dr David Kelly: another WMD expert (in his case, it was biological weapons - BW), he was (so far as I know) never employed in a covert role, but was known to pretty much everyone in his field, speaking in conferences as well as being a familiar face around intelligence people in the UK.)

There is something of a double-bind here: if Plame had long ago ceased to be a covert operative - long enough for her clandestine contacts to be safe; if she was never involved in the genuinely clandestine operations that her NOC status would imply; if was now a mere David Kelly-like backroom type - in other words, if she was safe to out, how would outing her damage Wilson?

If, on the other hand her Agency work was such that her contacts - and even, conceivably, herself - were still vulnerable, would it not be inevitable that the leaker would hurt the Administration far more than Wilson by naming her?

(Leading to any amount of connect the dots speculation of loose cannons, rushes of blood to the head, and other soap opera absurdities straight out of The West Wing script pile.)

Kennedy concludes the piece:
Unfortunately, this is not an easy story to tell. It may never be told. And the Washington pundits, with a knowing nod, will chalk it up to one more partisan storm that blew over before anyone could quite figure out what it was all about.

Of course, we may be looking in the wrong place entirely: according to Frank Salvato in the Washington Dispatch -
Your Source for Reliable News and Unbridled Opinion -
(October 6) floats the suggestion that it was the Dems whodunnit:
Another scenario that is starting to pickup steam is the assertion that Ms. Plame’s name was covertly released by members of the DNC and/or the liberal establishment in an effort to create a political issue custom made to benefit the Democrats going into the 2004 presidential election.

Not, to be fair, that he's saying that that's what happened. Merely that
this not without merit.

It seems there's plenty of room left over there on the Grassy Knoll...

  1. I have a theory that the only people who say inside the Beltway any more are those who live outside...

  2. My September 30 piece has links with links.

  3. A helpful Slate piece on CIA cover levels points out that NOC rhymes with rock. Nothing more damaging to credibility than to spell an acronym that needs to be pronounced - NATO or JIC (the UK Joint Intelligence Committee, for instance) - or vice versa.

  4. WaPo had a nice, homey interview with Plame on Wednesday. But - quick question - when
    Valerie E. Wilson -- maiden name Plame -- introduced herself to a reporter in her home on July 3...
    who was that reporter? (The byline of the piece carries the names of two reporters, Richard Leiby and Dana Priest.)

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