Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, October 11, 2003  

Nicholas Kristof has some of the first new news I've seen about Valerie Plame in a long time. He adds a dose of sober objectivity.

First, the C.I.A. suspected that Aldrich Ames had given Mrs. Wilson's name (along with those of other spies) to the Russians before his espionage arrest in 1994. So her undercover security was undermined at that time, and she was brought back to Washington for safety reasons.

Second, as Mrs. Wilson rose in the agency, she was already in transition away from undercover work to management, and to liaison roles with other intelligence agencies. So this year, even before she was outed, she was moving away from "noc" — which means non-official cover, like pretending to be a business executive. After passing as an energy analyst for Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a C.I.A. front company, she was switching to a new cover as a State Department official, affording her diplomatic protection without having "C.I.A." stamped on her forehead.

Third, Mrs. Wilson's intelligence connections became known a bit in Washington as she rose in the C.I.A. and moved to State Department cover, but her job remained a closely held secret. Even her classmates in the C.I.A.'s career training program mostly knew her only as Valerie P. That way, if one spook defected, the damage would be limited.

So that's the back story. Kristof then offers some thoughts one the political games playing out as a result of leaking the information.

Moreover, the Democrats cheapen the debate with calls, at the very beginning of the process, for a special counsel to investigate the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than anyone how destructive and distracting a special counsel investigation can be, interfering with the basic task of governing, and it's sad to see her display the same pusillanimous partisanship that Republicans showed just a few years ago.

If Democrats have politicized the scandal and exaggerated it, Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it. The leak risked the security of all operatives who had used Brewster-Jennings as cover, as well as of all assets ever seen with Mrs. Wilson. Unwitting sources will now realize that they were supplying the C.I.A. with information, and even real agents may fear exposure and vanish.

And finally, for good measure, he comments on Novak.

We in journalism are also wrong, I think, to extend professional courtesy to Robert Novak, by looking beyond him to the leaker. True, he says he didn't think anyone would be endangered. Working abroad in ugly corners of the world, American journalists often learn the identities of American C.I.A. officers, but we never publish their names. I find Mr. Novak's decision to do so just as inexcusable as the decision of administration officials to leak it.

posted by Jeff | 8:15 AM |
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