Saturday, January 03, 2004

Ashcroft's Plame gambit

It appears the Bush Administration is laying the groundwork for a technical legal weasel argument out of the Plame affair. They will claim that someone in the Administration leaked the name, but that person did not know that Plame was an undercover operative, and therefore did not break the law. They may even claim that since no law was broken it is unnecessary to disturb the privacy of the poor misunderstood leaker. This will no doubt work politically, as the disgusting American media will let them get away with it without asking the tough questions. A few comments:

  1. One obvious tough question would be to interview the journalist recipients of the leak, and ask them if the leaker indicated that he - everyone now assumes it was Libby - was aware of Plame's status. That interview could be held without even forcing the journalist to reveal the name of the leaker. The leak doesn't make any sense as a revenge tactic unless the leaker was aware that it would hurt her progress as an employee in the CIA, and therefore the leaker would have had to know she was undercover. The Administration response to this would be that the leak was intended to reduce Wilson's credibility by suggesting he got the assignment only because of his wife's meddling. Seeing as Wilson was a distinguished ex-ambassador to Niger, a man who received a commendation from Bush's father, and obviously perfectly suited to the task of investigating the Niger claims, this is a tremendously weak response, but since the Bushites get away with everything they will no doubt get away with this as well.

  2. Why did Ashcroft recuse himself now? The sensible moves would have been to recuse himself immediately because of his massive conflict of interest, or hang tough and never recuse himself. Has something happened behind the scenes to make it politically necessary for Ashcroft to maintain some political distance from the scandal? The conspiracy theory is that his recusal and the floating of a trial balloon containing the technical argument are connected, and Ashcroft left the picture because he had finished the job of legally protecting the leaker, and could safely leave the matter to a flunky in the justice department to tidy up the loose ends. If the flunky isn't just Ashcroft's poodle he could start by confirming with the recipients of the leak, the names of which he could get from the leaker, that the leaker was unaware of Plame's status. We will be able to see if he has any integrity at all by how much he rolls over to protect the leaker.

  3. Complete sense from Michael Kinsley:

    "The purpose of protecting the identity of leakers is to encourage future leaks. Leaks to journalists, and the fear of leaks, can be an important restraint on misbehavior by powerful institutions and people. This serves the public interest. But there is no public interest in leaks that harm national security, or leaks that violate the law, or leaks intended to harm blameless individuals. There is no reason to want more of these kinds of leaks. So, there is no reason to protect the identity of such bad-faith leakers."

  4. While the Bushites can squirm out of the scandal politically, and may even be able to protect the career of the actual leaker, I still wonder about the position of the CIA in all this. The CIA was completely embarrassed by this whole matter. Not only did some punk in the Administration endanger one of their agents, possibly putting at risk entire overseas operations concerning weapons of mass destruction and making other undercover agents very nervous that their lives may be in danger should this prank be repeated, but the attitude of the Administration was clearly that the concerns of the CIA were completely irrelevant, and even a bit of a joke. If this kind of dissing had happened to the CIA in the 1970's, heads would have rolled (I mean that literally, as a result of shotgun blasts). Is the CIA so domesticated that it will be pacified with some extremely technical legal argument, when everybody knows that the truth is that the leaker knew very well what Plame's status was? If the Administration gets away with this, how can the CIA assure its undercover agents that the same thing won't happen again tomorrow, or that this Administration, or some future one, may use the threat of disclosure of the status of agents to blackmail the CIA into, say, going along with shoddy misuse of intelligence to start an illegal and stupid war? How much embarrassment and diminishment of stature can the CIA stand?