Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $50,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
–Opening passage: Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (50 U.S.C. 421 et seq.)
The language of the IIPA quoted above may be Draconian, but it is also unmistakably clear. In a misguided effort to downplay the importance of alleged violations of the Act in the matter of Valerie Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, conservative commentators continue to harangue that the law is “obscure” and has been “seldom used.” Violations of this law, so it is argued, are “not a story.” These absurd rationalizations would not pass muster in a junior high school debating society, yet they dominate the airwaves daily to diminish what may become the first Watergate-sized political crisis of the new century.
More viciously, Joe Wilson is being smeared by the right wing as a “Clinton sycophant”(Sean Hannity) and a man who may be “missing a plate and spoon” (Rush Limbaugh). Valerie Plame and her work is trivialized by the same professional ranters as insignificant. She is decried as not truly a “covert spy” – even though it’s doubtful any outside the CIA know precisely what Plame’s true work has been.
Pundit Robert Novak who launched this egregious scandal by exposing Plame’s connection to the CIA deserves even more scorn than his more strident conservative colleagues, since he knew better than to reveal anything at all about Plame and her work. While those who object to Bushvolk policies are reviled as “Bush haters” by neo-conservatives, too little attention is paid to the cancer of conservative anger (real or artificial) insidiously infecting the national psyche and its climate of political debate.
Many wonder whether Robert Novak broke the law through his unnecessary disclosure of Plame’s CIA connection. In his October 1 Washington Post online discussion of the issue, former CIA analyst Mel Goodman described Robert Novak as the Bush Administration’s “useful idiot,” but went on to say, “Novak has broken some ethical issues, but not laws.” Maybe yes, maybe no.
Does the question turn on whether the IIPA is meant to cover only government employees? Is Robert Novak exempted because he did not have “authorized access to classified information” but instead used unauthorized information after it was “leaked” to him? (And here one must note the meaning of “leak” as in “to urinate.”)
What possible reason had Robert Novak to publish this leak, since Valerie Plame was not in the news, was not publicly bashing the Bushvolk and was not known to the general readership at whom Robert Novak supposedly aims his literary efforts? Why did you do it, Bob? That’s a question every concerned reporter and investigator should be asking this loose-penned Grand Old Man of the Fourth Estate.
But aren’t Robert Novak’s reasons for “outing” Joe Wilson’s wife pretty clear? The revered conservative pundit kissed up to his administration sources and furthered their intent to piss out the fire of others who might dare to come forward and question Bushvolk policy as Wilson was doing, and at the same time to “get even” with Wilson for having the chutzpah to express his findings and his opinions in public. Oh, and one more thing: to destroy Valerie Plame’s career status, in case she truly did happen to be a CIA agent of some importance. If she enjoyed being a CIA covert operative, she doesn’t anymore.
To his eternal discredit, Robert Novak’s yellow-streaked Thinkspeak excuse for his act of betrayal is that no one from the administration “called him,” that Valerie Plame’s status was “common knowledge,” that the CIA didn’t tell him it was wrong to “out” Plame, that it’s all a tempest in a toilet bowl. So is “ignorance of the law” a pundit’s last resort? The IIPA makes no exception when it comes to revealing an agent’s status. Even if Robert Novak had been told Plame’s CIA employment was common knowedge around Washington, the law is still applicable to those who winked as they leaked this protected information. The Novak Defense is craven and ludicrous. Still, it would be interesting if the evolution of events should turn this tempest into a torrent to flush out the excremental secrets of Bush Administration intimidation and abuse. Even more interesting since it was motivated by a desire for revenge set in motion by Bushvolk insiders and carried out through the column of one of the nation’s premiere conservative analysts.
A word of caution. Administration defenders may actually welcome this turn of events, since it shifts focus away from mounting foreign policy failures, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ashcroft-led Justice Department’s squint into the “Plame Affair” presently has no time limit. As with our search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, this quest may continue for years and unearth no “smoking gun.” Will conscientious Justice Department investigators really investigate, or will they make findings to please their pious boss? Is John Ashcroft such a creature of politics that the ethical dictates of his religion are severed from his approach to public service, a true “separation of church and state”?
In any event, our best and brightest journalists of every political persuasion must hold a mirror up to abusive right-wing commentators and this administration’s army of pandering excusers in order to expose their lies and exaggerations. If mainstream editors beholden to the Bush Administration refuse to publish so the public remains in fear-mongered limbo, reporters must print the truth by other means. To do less will continue to harm the nation through self-centered cowardice.
Finally, television producers and hosts such as Tim Russert of “Meet the Press” should “send a message” to the ethically-challenged Robert Novak and tell him he is no longer welcome at their Sunday table.
DOUG GIEBEL lives in Big Sandy, Montana. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org