Plame Wars

We will not recapitulate the testimony of Valerie Plame Wilson before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as it has already received media coverage commensurate with a major story. The conclusion the press jumped on – that Ms. Plame was in fact a covert employee of the Central Intelligence Agency – was as anticlimactic as a headline announcing that Copernican Theory had been proven correct.

The story is childishly simple: the CIA referred a complaint to the Justice Department predicated on Ms. Plame’s secret status three and one half years ago. The rationale for I. Lewis Libby’s, Karl Rove’s, and Ari Fleischer’s frantic bobbing and weaving before a grand jury was grounded precisely in their collective endeavors to avoid culpability for revealing her identity. Libby fell into a classic perjury trap just to avoid implicating himself.

These facts were blazingly self-evident to anyone who didn’t have a vested interest in maintaining the falsehood that she was not a covert agent; unfortunately, the entire executive branch, half the legislative branch, the totality of the Right Wing noise machine, and even significant portions of the so-called respectable press (as we shall see) had self-serving reasons to maintain the fictitious assertion that Ms. Plame was merely a non-covert “disgruntled employee.”

Still, it was useful to see the star witness attest to her covert status under oath, and to observe Rep. Henry Waxman, the committee’s chairman, introduce into evidence a memo from the CIA Director, General Michael V. Hayden, affirming her covert status. This latter piece of evidence rendered the rebuttal testimony by the Republicans’ witness, Victoria Toensing, almost painfully comical. [1]

More interesting was the statement of James Knodell, director of the White House security office, who testified that the White House had neither undertaken an internal investigation into the leak nor taken disciplinary action against the leakers. Even if revealing a covert operative were not criminally punishable under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (and it is), one would think the leak would be of interest to this or any other administration and would lead to administrative sanctions or firing of the leaker – particularly after the President himself publicly stated his intention to fire the leaker or leakers.

Mr. Knodell’s testimony lays bare, for possibly the five hundredth time, the spectacular bad faith of a governing cabal whose recourse to lying is as natural as breathing. It also uncovers consciousness of guilt on the part of senior White House officials back in 2003, inasmuch as they had no desire to launch an investigation they had every reason to believe would implicate one of their own. Much better to maintain the fraudulent pretense that they were conducting an investigation, and meanwhile, prime their allies in the noise machine with talking points to the effect that Ms. Plame was not covert, and that her husband’s motives were suspect. These administration operatives tried to run out the clock, hoping the public’s interest in the matter would wane, and that Libby and Company could escape Patrick Fitzgerald’s perjury net.

Much of the media faithfully reported this Mr. Knodell’s testimony, but not our favorite journalistic specimen, the Washington Post. Its 17 March front-page story concentrated on Ms. Plame’s assertions, and oddly for a paper that obsesses over White House processes, omitted Mr. Knodell’s remarks. Why this is significant will become evident later.

The most explosive testimony, and the least reported, was that elicited separately of Ms. Plame by Rep. Steven F. Lynch (D-MA) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). She stated that she wrote an innocent e-mail to her superiors stating that she would talk to her husband about going to Niger after administration and CIA officials had already decided to pick him for the mission to discover whether there was a substantive link between that country and the government of Saddam Hussein. Presumably they asked her to ask him, and she wrote a record of it to cover herself. Subsequently, she testified, the Senate Intelligence Committee redacted the e-mail to make it appear as if she had originated the request for her husband to go to Niger.

Likewise, she testified that the Senate Intelligence Committee staff had interviewed a CIA security officer about her covert status. The Committee subsequently reported the allegation (widely trumpeted by the noise machine) that Ms. Plame was not covert. But she added that later, the security officer was “virtually in tears” about the fact that the committee had twisted his statements. He wanted to be re-interviewed, something the committee did not grant him.

Deliberate falsification of evidence for a Congressional finding about intelligence matters is news, one would think. Yet the Post, with its finger on the pulse of every government agency, particularly the CIA, [2] did not deign to publish this charge made before a committee of Congress and under oath. Why?

Stuffy institutions like the Post are notoriously slow to admit they ever made a mistake. In this case, the “mistake” is an occasional series of unsigned editorials dating back two years, stating with stentorian authority that Ms. Plame was not covert, and therefore no crime was committed. The editorials also launched into some gratuitous personal attacks on Joseph Wilson, her husband. [3] Now that Ms. Plame’s status has been attested to under oath, and buttressed by the CIA Director himself, one would think an apology would be in order – doubly so in so far as the “evidence” on which the Post editorial board rested its case has also been stated to have been manipulated. But there is no apology from the Post, just as there is no reporting of the testimony about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s apparent manipulation of evidence. Again, why?

Meet Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of the Post. While lesser known than some other Post panjandrums like Bob Woodward, he is responsible for the editorial line against the Wilsons. He was also influential in the paper’s hysterical pro-war cheerleading during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And he continues, long after they have been discredited as bloodthirsty and dishonest charlatans, to give inordinate space on the op-ed page to the Kristols, Kagans, Feiths, and similar intellectual flyweights.

Beyond Mr. Hiatt, the Post might have other reasons to feel compromised about the Libby trial, the Plame testimony, and, indeed, the entire complex of issues connected with the reasons for attacking Iraq. There may be at least three reasons the Post has been dead silent about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s manipulation, and disingenuous about Libby’s crime:

1. Mr. Hiatt could be a more significant figure than hitherto suspected. While Judith Miller has garnered notoriety as a cheerleader for war and a fabricator of the casus belli, there may be other establishment media outlets that harbor exactly similar figures. There are grounds to believe Mr. Hiatt’s relationship to the administration may be as comprising as Ms. Miller’s was.

2. Could the Post’s soft editorial line on the Libby/Plame affair have been dictated by the paper’s cultivation of sources within the administration, and a consequent reluctance to burn them or make them angry by adverse reporting or editorials, or even worse, an exposé that might put them in legal jeopardy? The fact that Bob Woodward continued to report, in trademark idiot savant fashion, about the Libby/Plame case while not revealing he was a material witness in the case, is revealing.

3. Does the Post have so much invested in columnist Robert Novak that it must continue letting him muddy the waters with feeble vindications of himself (and sliming everyone on the other side)? Not content with outing a covert operative in time of war, Mr. Novak subsequently blew the cover of CIA front company Brewster-Jennings & Associates, thereby increasing the damage to covert sources. A “responsible” Establishment paper (which is what the Post fancies itself) would not publish in advance the time and date of a U.S. military operation. One would think it would consider dropping a columnist who recklessly exposed a U.S. citizen in a sensitive government job, rather than allowing him to continue to publish self-serving vindications which only served to further compromise covert networks.

None of these explanations about the Post’s motives, if true, excludes the others. And there may be additional reasons as well.

While much of the “respectable” press simply ignored the bombshell of Ms. Plame’s statement suggesting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report was cooked, the noise machine duly took note of the import – and proceeded to fabricate hypotheses that would fit their fantasy version of reality. Fox “News” operative Brit Hume promptly concocted the hallucination that Ms. Plame lied under oath, because she had contradicted the findings of the “bipartisan” Committee. [4] We shall see how bipartisan that committee was.

Beyond the rot festering in the press, a press which is supposed to keep the citizenry informed, lies a decay at the heart of the very concept of self government and separation of powers. There was always something fishy about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s breathless finding that no pressure had been placed on intelligence analysts by administration officials to skew the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Just as it was fishy that the report miraculously exonerated the political appointees of manipulating intelligence, while at the same time blaming the intelligence professionals for “bad product.”

The subsequent statements of multiple witnesses, since retired, who worked at the relevant agencies during the run-up to war, like Tyler Drumheller, Karen Kwiatkowski, Larry Wilkerson, Flynt Leverett, and others, have already definitively refuted the Senate Intelligence Committee’s claims. The assertion by the then-chairman of the committee, the wisecracking, aw-shucks Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), that the panel would conduct a follow-up report into the mystery of the non-existent WMD before the 2004 election, never materialized. Nor did it materialize before the 2006 election, despite the timid request of the ranking committee member, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA).

Let us be clear: what we see is an apparent case of Congress using its oversight power to collude with the executive branch to discredit a U.S. citizen for political motives, while at the same time covering up lawbreaking by other parties. If congressional findings about the quality of intelligence leading to war were manipulated, is there any investigative finding over the past six years that can be trusted? When the legislative branch aligns itself with an all-powerful executive branch in the manner of a compliant Reichstag in order to implicate the innocent and exonerate the guilty, democratic self-rule is no longer safe.

In the early 1950s, there were indubitably Communist agents infiltrating the U.S. government. But did Sen. Joseph McCarthy find the Rosenbergs, or David Greenglass, or Kim Philby? No, he conducted his kangaroo courts against mousy little civil servants guilty of no more than unorthodox opinions, or Hollywood actors (admittedly an easy target, but harmless egomaniacs), or against General George Catlett Marshall, the architect of U.S. strategy in World War II. McCarthy was like a reverse divining rod: he put numerous people through hell and ruined them financially, but he did not find a single Red agent. Not one. [4]

McCarthy’s rants were the gin-fueled outpourings of a publicity seeker whose activities had a wide degree of resonance among a newly paranoid public, terrified of the atomic bomb. He was eventually opposed by an administration of his own party, formally censured by the Senate, and utterly discredited. When McCarthy dared to question General Marshall’s loyalty, he ran into a buzz-saw named Ike. The current situation is more difficult.

Sen. Roberts is no McCarthy, a mere grandstander; he is an assiduous and careful colluder with an administration actively attempting to discredit its political opponents while evading the law. He has also gained currency as what Washingtonian magazine calls “the funniest Senator”. Presumably that magazine selected only among senators who were intentionally funny, or the contest would have been a 15-way dead heat; there are some people, however, who fail to see the humor of a sworn elected official involved in an attempt to prejudice the public against a perjury and obstruction of justice case arising from damage to the U.S. national security. When the night watchman actively conspires with the burglar, there is a problem. [5]

With the opposition party being as cowardly and as compromised as the Democrats, we can expect no real action. But Ms. Plame’s assertion under oath is serious enough that the Senate Ethics Committee is justified in opening an investigation as to whether the former Intelligence Committee chairman is culpable of unethical behavior by misusing the congressional investigative process to hide wrongdoing and damage the reputations of the innocent. If he is so found, the available sanctions, in ascending order of seriousness, are reprimand, censure, or expulsion.

WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

[1] We have previously described Ms. Toensing’s defective legal understanding, but until last Friday’s hearing, we had never laid eyes on her. Her Coulter-esque eye-rolling, manic grimacing, and overblown gesticulation invite disinterested research into a new phenomenon. Back in the 1970s, women who worked out their neuroses by becoming bossy and disagreeable political harridans could generally be located on the leftward end of the political spectrum, cf., Bella Abzug. Now they seem to congregate on the Right: La Coulter herself, Michelle Malkin, Katherine Harris, Jeanne Schmidt. Tracing the parabola of this migration would reveal a lot about American society.

[2] Owing to the longtime relationship between the Agency and Post doyenne, the late Katherine Meyer Graham, as well as the paper’s star journalist Bob Woodward’s suspected professional links to the intelligence world, the Post has long been known as “the CIA paper,” just as the Unification Church’s Washington Times is “the KCIA paper.”

[3] An egregious example of the Post’s malfeasance can be seen in its 7 March 2006 editorial on the Libby trial: “The Libby Verdict, The serious consequences of a pointless Washington scandal.” The editorial’s attempt to slime and discredit Mr. Wilson in precisely the manner of the administration, while maintaining its Establishment facade of plague-on-both-your-houses nonpartisanship, is a museum-quality example of mainstream journalism at its worst.

[4] “Hume Launches New Smear: Plame Lied Under Oath.”

[5] S. Prt. 107-84 – Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations (McCarthy Hearings 1953-54) Index to Hearings TEXT 74K PDF 245K; Volume 1 TEXT 5.1M PDF 2.4M; Volume 2 TEXT 2.3M PDF 2.2M; Volume 3 TEXT 2.4M PDF 2.2M; Volume 4 TEXT 2.3M PDF 2.2M; Volume 5 TEXT 1.5M PDF 1.5M.