Six Reasons the Plame Episode was a Farce

2007-02-03 -- In a syndicated newspaper column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, Valerie Plame (aka Valerie E. Wilson) was identified as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction." Plame was married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who had worked briefly for the CIA and had written a scathing editorial a week earlier in the New York Times accusing the Bush administration of "twisting," "manipulating," and "exaggerating" intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs "to justify an invasion."

Bush's adversaries quickly concluded that he or someone close to him had illegally "outed" Plame in retribution for her husband's editorial, and thus a "scandal" was born. Many of them demanded that Karl Rove, the President's close advisor and an early suspect in the case, be fired immediately. Many more speculated and hoped that the "leak" would ultimately bring Bush down in classic Watergate style.

President Bush appointed a Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter, and thus began one of the most ridiculous episodes in American history. The original conspiracy theory was absurd on its face and has been debunked, but the "mainstream" media has kept most of the American public ignorant of several absurdities that have permeated this case from start to finish. For at least six reasons, the Plame episode was and is a farce.

Reason #1: Plame was not a covert agent when the "leak" occurred

The "mainstream" media routinely refer to Plame as a former "covert" or "undercover" agent, but they almost always conveniently neglect to mention that she had not been one for several years prior to the so-called "leak." When the "leak" occurred, Plame was working openly at a desk job at CIA headquarters and had been for over five years. Whether or not she was "officially" categorized as covert by the CIA bureaucracy is essentially irrelevant.

Common sense suggests that once an agent works regularly at CIA headquarters, the agent is no longer useful for long-term, high-priority covert work. The law that was supposedly broken sets the threshold at five years, and Plame had exceeded that threshold for not working an extended undercover assignment in a foreign country. Hence, the law about "outing" a covert agent simply did not apply.

The law also requires that the leak be intentional, which is very difficult to prove under any circumstances. When the "outed" agent had been working openly at a desk job at CIA headquarters for several years prior to the "outing," malicious intent is almost impossible to prove. And when the agent is married to a high-visibility public figure, forget about it.

Victoria Toensing and Bruce W. Sanford wrote in the Washington Post:

As two people who drafted and negotiated the scope of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, we can tell you: The Novak column and the surrounding facts do not support evidence of criminal conduct.

Reason #2: Joe Wilson was not required to sign a standard non-disclosure agreement

For obvious reasons, nearly every person who works in any significant capacity for the CIA is required to sign a standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA). But for some reason Joe Wilson was apparently not required to sign one when he was hired to investigate the claim that Iraq had attempted to obtain uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.

Wilson had originally claimed that his wife, Valerie Plame, had no influence in his selection for the job, for which he was essentially unqualified. However, a memo later surfaced from his wife recommending him for the job. But the larger issue is not that Wilson benefited from nepotism and lied about it. The larger issue is that he apparently got special unrestricted status in not being required to sign a standard NDA.

The CIA is part of the executive branch of government and, as such, is supposed to work for the President -- not against him. So why was Wilson allowed to independently "go public" with information he obtained while working for the CIA? It just doesn't make sense unless the CIA was very careless -- or Wilson was specifically hired to do a political hatchet job on the President. The latter possibility is the real scandal that should have been investigated, but it completely eluded the "mainstream" media, which seems to be capable of finding only Republican scandals.

The irony is that Wilson's New York Times piece accusing the President of lying to start the Iraq war turned out to be a lie itself, as Norman Podhoretz has abundantly documented. According to a bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, Wilson's actual report on his brief eight-day trip to Niger did not support his sensational conclusion in the New York Times. From the official report:

The report on [Wilson's] trip to Niger ... did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original CIA reports on the uranium deal.

As if this whole episode were not absurd enough, Wilson wrote a book called The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity.

Reason #3: Her husband's publicity made Plame completely non-viable as a covert agent

As mentioned above, Plame had worked openly at a desk job at CIA headquarters for over five years prior to the so-called "leak." That in itself made her non-viable for serious long-term covert work.

But she became even less viable, if that was possible, when her husband Joe Wilson became a high-profile public figure by writing a provocative piece in the New York Times accusing the President of lying to start a war. The notion that she was still viable and useful as a covert agent after that episode is simply ridiculous. Even if the Novak column had never been written, the CIA would have to be incompetent to have ever used her in a significant covert role again. They might as well have used Paris Hilton.

Even more ridiculous is the notion that her employment status with the CIA could have somehow been kept secret even though she was driving routinely and openly to her job at CIA headquarters amidst the glaring publicity surrounding her husband and his controversial investigation for the CIA. Yet that is what you must believe if you believe that Plame's "outing" somehow "damaged" national security.

Ironically, many who believe such nonsense applauded the New York Times for publishing top-secret information from an anonymous CIA mole regarding the tracking of terrorist financial operations.

Reason #4: The President has the authority to terminate a CIA agent's covert status

The CIA is part of the executive branch of government, and as such it answers to the President. The President can fire the CIA Director at any time for any or no reason. He cannot have a Civil Service government employee fired without cause, but he can easily have an agent's covert status terminated if he so desires.

The notion that the President of the United States or someone close to him had to "leak" the name of a covert CIA agent to the press to "blow" her covert status is ridiculous. Underlying the notion that the President lacks the legal authority to terminate a CIA agent's covert status is the ridiculous notion that the job of a covert agent is some kind of "union-protected" job. Yet that is what you must believe if you believe that Bush or someone close to him illegally "outed" Plame to "punish" her husband.

In many parts of the world, getting caught attempting to undermine a national leader that you are supposed to be working for will get you killed, of course. In this case, even if the President had illegally "outed" Plame, consider the significance of it. Not only did she not lose her life -- she didn't even lose her job! All she lost was her supposed "covert" status -- which she hadn't used for several years anyway!

Many of the same people who believe that Bush is leading the nation into fascism also think that "outing" Plame was a horrendous crime against humanity. To put this whole ridiculous episode into perspective, try to imagine Hitler getting retribution on a Nazi secret agent by leaking the agent's identity to the press to blow her covert status! Then, to compound the absurdity, try to imagine the matter being investigated for over two years!

Reason #5: Someone uninvolved with the original incident is being prosecuted while the so-called "leaker" is off the hook

The original "leaker," State Dept. official Richard Armitage, is in no legal jeopardy, nor should he be. Plame was not a covert agent at the time, and the so-called "leak" was a completely innocuous statement of fact made in passing. But the Vice President's Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, who was not involved in the original non-crime, is now being prosecuted for perjury by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

What is the point of prosecuting someone for perjury regarding a non-crime that was "committed" by someone else? Libby's testimony certainly did not mislead the prosecutor into believing erroneously that a crime had been committed, nor was it needed to determine that no crime had been committed.

Novak identified Armitage to Fitzgerald as the "leaker" very early in the investigation, and Armitage didn't deny it. But Armitage was told to "keep it to himself" while Fitzgerald continued an unnecessary investigation as a politically motivated perjury trap. Fitzgerald is now prosecuting a peripheral figure for failing to recall in detail conversations from months earlier. Like the original prosecutor in the infamous Duke rape case, the prosecutor in this case should be prosecuted himself.

Much has been made of the fact that Libby and others in the Bush administration were very focused on this matter initially, implying that they should have good recall of the details, but that is essentially more media distortion. What they were "focused" on was the inaccuracy of the Wilson editorial and how he got hired by the CIA. The supposed "covert" status of his wife did not even occur to them initially, nor should it have. Hence, fuzzy memories about when they first mentioned or heard her name are completely understandable.

As for the purists who believe that Libby deserves to be prosecuted, many of them are suspiciously selective in their outrage. Where were they when Bill Clinton perjured himself by claiming under oath he had never been alone in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky? Unlike Libby's misstatements, that was clearly an intentional lie, and it was also relevant to the case being tried. But Clinton was never prosecuted for perjury, of course.

Reason #6: The media is still promoting public ignorance about the Plame episode and using it to impugn the Bush administration

The so-called "mainstream" media has been diligent in perpetuating public ignorance regarding the many absurdities of the Plame episode. And now that the original conspiracy theory has been debunked, that same media is now keeping the public ignorant about that fact too. Hence, a large percentage of the public is still under the impression that the Plame episode exposed "dirty tricks" used by the White House rather than against the White House.

For example, a recent ABC News story on the Libby trial rehashed the original conspiracy theory that the Bush administration had deliberately leaked Plame's identity to "get back at" her husband -- but they conveniently forgot to mention that the original theory is now discredited. In that story, ABC is clearly perpetuating public ignorance and using it to continue the smear campaign against the Bush administration.

In that same story, the reporter said that the Libby trial "will remind the American public just how dirty politics can get," underhandedly implying that the Bush administration was the perpetrator rather than the victim of such "dirty politics."

Aside from Fox News, the coverage of this entire episode by the major news sources has had the effect if not the intent of maintaining public ignorance and casting aspersion whenever possible on the Bush administration. At the same time, Joe Wilson's egregious lies have been ignored, and he has been held up as a paragon of truth.

Here are a few of Joe Wilson's lies, courtesy of

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