July 15, 2005

PLAME UPDATE: The leak came from the press?

Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

Mickey Kaus has more, and Tom Maguire has much, much more. And Orin Kerr has the big question: "I wonder if the Plame story will now play out in an infinite loop of leak investigations."

UPDATE: Joe Wilson seems to be letting more air out of what looks more and more like a grossly inflated story: "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity."

ANOTHER UPDATE: It's an "I told you so" moment. I have to say that I've been skeptical of theories that this was yet another Karl Rove "rope-a-dope" operation designed to sucker Administration opponents into discrediting themselves. But now I'm not so sure. And Ed Morrissey notes an irony.

And I don't know what to make of this: David Corn not Novak, was the outer?

MORE: Jon Henke has a big roundup post. The rope-a-dope bit is looking more plausible.

STILL MORE: Daniel Larsen emails that Wilson's statement isn't what it seems:

He was responding to Blitzer's charge that "you've sought to capitalize on this extravaganza, having that photo shoot with your wife, who was a clandestine officer of the CIA." What I think he meant was: "It doesn't matter that I had the photo shoot, because she stopped being a clandestine agent the moment that column came out."

I guess I could see that -- except that for that to be the case she would have had to be a clandestine agent up to that point, which doesn't seem to be the case:

A former CIA covert agent who supervised Mrs. Plame early in her career yesterday took issue with her identification as an "undercover agent," saying that she worked for more than five years at the agency's headquarters in Langley and that most of her neighbors and friends knew that she was a CIA employee.

"She made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat," Fred Rustmann, a covert agent from 1966 to 1990, told The Washington Times. . . . In addition, Mrs. Plame hadn't been out as an NOC since 1997, when she returned from her last assignment, married Mr. Wilson and had twins, USA Today reported yesterday.

Doesn't sound very clandestine to me.

NON-ERROR CORRECTION UPDATE: Tony Pierce sends this post, which says the CNN transcript of Wilson is wrong. But actually, the story seems to be Wilson claiming that he meant what reader Larsen suggests above -- at least, that's the gist of this Media Matters release. Since it seems as clear as anything in this affair that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent the day before Novak's column either, I think we can chalk this up to Joe Wilson's habitual disingenuousness. But as John Tierney notes, that's not surprising:

The endangered spies Ms. Wilson was compared to James Bond in the early days of the scandal, but it turns out she had been working for years at C.I.A. headquarters, not exactly a deep-cover position. Since being outed, she's hardly been acting like a spy who's worried that her former contacts are in danger.

At the time her name was printed, her face was still not that familiar even to most Washington veterans, but that soon changed. When her husband received a "truth-telling" award at a Nation magazine luncheon, he wept as he told of his sorrow at his wife's loss of anonymity. Then he introduced her to the crowd.

And then, for any enemy agents who missed seeing her face at the luncheon but had an Internet connection, she posed with her husband for a photograph in Vanity Fair.

The smeared whistle-blower Mr. Wilson accused the White House of willfully ignoring his report showing that Iraq had not been seeking nuclear material from Niger. But a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that his investigation had yielded little valuable information, hadn't reached the White House and hadn't disproved the Iraq-Niger link - in fact, in some ways it supported the link.

Mr. Wilson presented himself as a courageous truth-teller who was being attacked by lying partisans, but he himself became a Democratic partisan (working with the John Kerry presidential campaign) who had a problem with facts. He denied that his wife had anything to do with his assignment in Niger, but Senate investigators found a memo in which she recommended him.

Karl Rove's version of events now looks less like a smear and more like the truth: Mr. Wilson's investigation, far from being requested and then suppressed by a White House afraid of its contents, was a low-level report of not much interest to anyone outside the Wilson household.

Still, I do want to be fair to the seemingly dishonest and inept Ambassador Wilson, so you can read Tony's rather different take by following the link. But note the uselessness of this correction:

During the early afternoon of July 15, 2005, the Associated Press issued a corrected version of the article noting Wilson's clarification that "his wife lost her ability to be a covert agent because of the leak, not that she had stopped working for the CIA beforehand."

Nobody ever said that she wasn't working for the CIA -- the question is whether she was a covert spy or a paperpusher, and the answer seems pretty clearly to be the latter. And "ability to be a covert agent" isn't the same as actually being a covert agent, though he hopes you'll miss that. This is, sadly, typical of Wilson here, though it seems that she lost her ability to be a covert agent when she married Wilson, really.

MORE STILL: Jerry Pournelle, who was against invading Iraq, offers his explanation of what's going on with Wilson:

Once Wilson wrote his op ed piece, anyone would know that there would be investigative reporters looking into what he was doing. His wife works at Langley, and it's not hard to watch who goes in and out of the gate every day. Analysts don't have very deep cover. The law is specific and says that it is a Federal crime to knowingly and intentionally identify covert CIA employees. That was largely intended to stop the actions of some of the anti-American publications that were rampant back in past times. It was framed in part not to criminalize discussions of common knowledge subjects. When Wilson's wife got him the job going to Niger as an expert, and he then went to the Washington Post with his article denouncing the Administration, it wasn't hard to predict that someone would cotton on to to this, and it would come out.

It became common knowledge that his wife got him the job. Who told that story isn't clear. Possibly CIA people who do not share the anti-administration views. There are some. Quite a few, actually. But it was inevitable that it would come out, and both she and Joe Wilson must have known that.

There are a lot of sticks to beat the administration with. The war was not a good idea. But most of the Democrats who want to beat up the administration over the war voted to authorize it, so an honest analysis of the war decision factors won't work. So, we have this imbecile investigation taking up time. No one is going to show that anyone knowingly and intentionally identified a covert CIA employee. One can make up a lot of plausible scenarios about what happened, including the simplest, that it was common knowledge and no one even thought about her being a covert employee of the Agency. There may even have been someone who did knowingly and intentionally identify her, but you won't find it out at this range, because whoever did that would have been careful to tell the story to others in a way that masks his identity. He was just passing along gossip. But in fact, it was probable that it was just passing along gossip.

Read the whole thing.