Roger L. Simon

Plame Down the Drain

David Corn works overtime (as well he might) to point out that even though Richard Armitage had already leaked – for no apparent reason – Valerie Plame’s CIA affiliation, the other subsequent leakers (Rove and Libby) remain culpable. Perhaps so, in a technical sense (assuming they did it). And that’s not good. But I would have to say finally – so what? They didn’t end up adding anything to the story and the cat was already out of the bag. Way out. Armitage didn’t leak to the Sandusky Tribune. He leaked to Robert Novak who, although few would mistake him for G. K. Chesterton or E. M. Forster as a master of English prose, is one the major players in the Beltway journalism scene. Everyone reads him. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

Meanwhile, as we all know, anyone seriously interested in Ms. Plame’s provenance could have found out long before with only slight effort. With her name in her husband’s Who’s Who listing, she was no Eli Cohen when it came to clandestine activity, assuming she still engaged in it. (Although perhaps I’m not giving her enough credt…. Cohen wound up hanged in Damascus’ Martyr’s Square while Plame, as again we all know, ended up on the cover of Vanity Fair.) Still, there are other aspects of this case that perplex me more than the putative leaking. As a very minor student of intelligence matters, I am curious why the CIA would send someone (Wilson) to Niger for a week to drink tea with officials and expect a definitive (or even relatively) analysis of something as controversial and secretive as yellowcake uranium. Now I admit my direct background in intelligence (for weird reasons of personal history) is more with friends in the onetime KGB than in the CIA, but I don’t really understand why Langley would decide to do something of that nature in this kind of flat-footed and obvious manner. The only thing that makes any sense is that they were trying to fire a salvo at the administration by getting a predictable response, which they succeeded at. The administration may then have fired back. The whole thing seems like a pretty dismal partisan entreprise. As one who declines any longer to identify as a Republican or a Democrat, I find this gamesmanship particularly dangerous in these times. But it is the CIA that worries me more than the administration. Administrations come and go, subject to the vote. The CIA, whose track record would have put a normal corporation into bankruptcy several times over, remains, although now under the supervision of another developing bureaucracy, with its personnel, more or less like mediocre tenured professors, essentially intact. There must be a better way.

UPDATE: In case you missed, Hitchens has weighed in on The End of the Affair. Amusing, of course.