The guys over at the Wall Street Journal argue that
...Mr. Rove is turning out to be the real "whistleblower" in this whole sorry pseudo-scandal. He's the one who warned Time's Matthew Cooper and other reporters to be wary of Mr. Wilson's credibility. He's the one who told the press the truth that Mr. Wilson had been recommended for the CIA consulting gig by his wife, not by Vice President Dick Cheney as Mr. Wilson was asserting on the airwaves. In short, Mr. Rove provided important background so Americans could understand that Mr. Wilson wasn't a whistleblower but was a partisan trying to discredit the Iraq War in an election campaign. Thank you, Mr. Rove.
"Thank you, Mr. Rove" is taking things a bit too far for my tastes.
Even if Rove didn't give out Valerie Plame's name (which appears, for now, to be the case), it also looks like he pointed a pretty bold arrow her way. That kind of leak is breaking the rules, and that's a bad thing.
Now, as I understand the law regarding intelligence officers, Karl Rove didn't do anything illegal. But was he right to leak? Or was he to be, as the WSF editors did, to be congratulated? My gut tells me no on both counts.
As a practical matter, leaking classified information has usually been treated as a matter of discretion for higher-ups - and Rove's actions might fall under that historical leeway.
Even if Plame wasn't covered by the law, and even if her husband was a lying ass, and even if Rove was acting within the tradition discretion accorded someone in his position... Rove's leak - at the very least - sent a bad message to other intelligence officers: "Toe the line or we'll out you."
Well, I don't see how that kind of thing can be good for "company" business.
"The truth will out," it's said - and the WSJ argues that Rove merely helped it along. But do we really want the truth outed in intelligence matters? No matter the political cost, aren't these things best handled quietly if only for the peace of mind of other, better agents?
Finally, my thoughts come down to this. Republicans have complained since 1975 that Congress gutted our human intelligence -- and it's a fair cop. Between Congressional meddling and Clinton rule-making, Republicans are right when they say our human intelligence resources have been gutted. But those complaints seem less justified - and more hypocritical - when a high-ranking Republican treats an agent's identity with anything less than perfect circumspection.