Jewish World Review Oct. 7, 2003 / 11 Tishrei, 5764

Bernadette Malone

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Irony seems to have been lost on most in ‘leakgate’ | If Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was indeed a covert agent for the CIA (and not just an analyst), and if a Bush administration official did expose her, a 1982 federal law may have been broken and someone should pay. But considering the many ironies of this story, Wilson's allegation that Bush's administration "outted" his wife to punish him (by risking her death, implicitly) just doesn't figure.

Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed faulting the White House for suspecting that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. (An ambassador in both the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations and a long-time friend of and former aide to Al Gore, Wilson admits he became anti-George W. Bush after the 2000 South Carolina primary. He is now a big supporter of John Kerry's Presidential campaign.)

Irony No. 1: The Bush administration allegedly released the name of a CIA officer as political payback against the officer's husband. Doesn't the Bush administration need the help and high morale of the CIA right now to help prosecute the War on Terror? What would it have to gain by putting a CIA operative's life in danger? One must assume the leaker knew he wasn't endangering Valerie Plame's life.

Irony No. 2: Columnist Bob Novak was the journalist who printed Plame's name. Novak opposed the war against Saddam Hussein because he, like Wilson, did not believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to the United States. Was Novak used by the administration? Was he callous about Plame's safety?

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Having worked for Novak for five years, I know him to be an exceptionally savvy journalist who doesn't allow himself to be used as a pawn of any administration. He is a patriot who cares deeply about the safety of men and women defending our country, and he is a recent convert to Catholicism who takes ethics and human life seriously.

Novak explained in his Oct. 1 column how Plame's name ended up in his July 14 column. After Wilson's predictably anti-Bush New York Times piece appeared, Novak probed into the matter of why the CIA would want a Kerry supporter to go to Niger to investigate possible "yellowcake" uranium sales in the first place. Administration officials said the reason Wilson was sent was because his wife, a CIA officer, pushed for him to go.

Here's where a law may have been broken by administration officials, but here is where it also is necessary to digest a few facts.

The fact that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer is newsworthy, because it tells Americans that even after the massive intelligence failure of September 11, the CIA may be making decisions based on politics and personal ties instead of what's best for the country.

Was former ambassador Joe Wilson the best person to send to Niger to search for uranium dealers? Maybe not, given his strong anti-Bush bias and the implausibility of thugs from Niger revealing anything noteworthy to an official ambassador who grandstands in the New York Times about his CIA connection. Why did the CIA not send a qualified investigator in Wilson's place?

Secondly, it is important to realize this: Lots of people in Washington work at the CIA, and most of them are not glamorous secret agents whose lives would be endangered if their identities were revealed. In fact, columnist Maureen Dowd has revealed that Plame blabbed to Wilson about her CIA work around the time of their first kiss. She was apparently as casual as the administration about her "cover."

In the 10 years I spent in Washington, I met three people who rather off-handedly told me they had done work for "Langley," the Virginia neighborhood where the CIA is openly situated. When Novak called the CIA to confirm his sources' allegation, he wrote, the CIA confirmed it but asked him not to print Plame's name. The CIA did not say that printing Plame's name would endanger her. Instead the official said it could make traveling overseas more difficult for her, Novak reported.

Here's where a journalist makes a decision about motives: Is it likely that the CIA asked that Plame's name not be printed because her life or health would be jeopardized as an analyst? Or is it more likely that the CIA is embarrassed that someone found out the politics and personalities behind its post September 11 decision making?

Irony No. 3: Who are the fiercest defenders of CIA operatives and fiercest critics of "freedom of the press" now? U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Harvard officials, and the editorial pages of the liberal Washington Post and New York Times.

If a law was broken, whoever broke it should pay the price. But let's not be naive and accept Joe Wilson's tripe about the White House wanting to endanger his wife as payback for his criticisms. The more likely motivation is administration concern that even after the CIA fell down on the job before 9/11, it continues to take short-cuts in the War on Terror.

Comment on JWR contributor Bernadette Malone's column by clicking here.


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© 2003, Bernadette Malone