Saturday, October 29, 2005


The Washington Post's Adversarial Relationship With the Truth

Today, the Washington Post gives column inches to David Rivkin and Lee Casey, veterans of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, to defend Lewis Libby by lying from beginning to end of their op-ed:

Plame was not a "covert" agent but a bureaucrat working at CIA headquarters. [Except that according to the CIA, she was covert.]
The Plame affair began with the implication by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that Vice President Cheney had sent him on a mission to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy nuclear weapons material. [Except that Joseph Wilson never even implied it. His critics took advantage of an interrupted statement during an interview to put words in his mouth.]
Apparently in an effort to set the record straight, and to put the whole story before the American people, administration officials told columnist Robert D. Novak about Plame's role in selecting her husband for the Niger mission. Administration critics immediately alleged that the name of a "covert" CIA agent had been revealed -- a federal crime. [Except that it wasn't Administration critics who alleged it -- it was George Tenet, head of the CIA.]
Instead of permitting this allegation to be investigated in the normal course of events by federal prosecutors in Washington, the Justice Department tapped Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to serve as a "special counsel" to investigate the officials who might have been involved. [Except that "federal prosecutors in Washington" did investigate it -- until John Ashcroft was finally forced to recuse himself because of his conflicts of interest.]
Mr. Rivkin and Mr. Casey are entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts. And the Washington Post is being unethical by publishing lies, even when they're embedded in an "opinion" piece. These lies are especially shameful given the consequences of Libby's actions. Rivkin and Casey go to such lengths to "prove" that outing a CIA agent was unworthy of investigation in the same issue of the Post that features this news article: CIA Yet to Assess Harm From Plame's Exposure
More than Valerie Plame's identity was exposed when her name appeared in a syndicated column in the summer of 2003. A small Boston company listed as her employer suddenly was shown to be a bogus CIA front, and her alma mater in Belgium discovered it was a favored haunt of an American spy. At Langley, officials in the clandestine service quickly began drawing up a list of contacts and friends, cultivated over more than a decade, to triage any immediate damage. [...] After Plame's name appeared in Robert D. Novak's column, the CIA informed the Justice Department in a simple questionnaire that the damage was serious enough to warrant an investigation, officials said.
I'll type this slowly so that Mr. Rivkin, Mr. Casey, Mr. Novak, Mr. Libby et al. can follow it: A covert agent's status continues to be covert even after that agent stops doing covert work in the field, because that covert agent's cover story, front company, and network of contacts still exist, and if the covert agent is outed, everything and everybody associated with that agent are immediately revealed or suspected to be part of a CIA operation. Libby didn't just end Valerie Plame's career. He shot to hell the network she'd developed to track down illegal weapons -- specifically, weapons of mass destruction, you know, those weapons the Bush Administration was supposedly so concerned about getting into the wrong hands?
Great post.

Bad Post.
CS, in the comments thread on this WP article over at Eschaton, notes the following:

To clarify the Plame damage assessment argument:

1. According to the text of Woodward's comment on King last night (at Huffington blog), Woodward says they did an assessment, but not that this assessment produced a document. He says the assessment concluded no serious damage was done.

2. Today's WaPo article implies the same, that "There is no indication, according to current and former intelligence officials, that the most dire of consequences -- the risk of anyone's life -- resulted from her outing", but that no formal assessment of the incident has been performed.

3. So Woodward's remarks on King seem to have been a telegraphing of today's WaPo article, which:

A)Begs the question of whether their sources shared classified info

B)seems to contradict Johnson's claim that an assessment concluded serious damage was done, though I'm not clear whether he's claiming the assessment was formal or not.

C)Avoids the question, "if a formal assessment has yet to be performed, why the hell not?"

In addition: I'll bet Tenet was told not to do a formal damage assessment, and we know full well that Porter Goss the Zampolit would rather eat ground glass than embarrass the Bush cabal.

So there is an informal one, but we'll never see it.
If I read it aright, the article said that a formal damage assessment won't be done until after the criminal investigation. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me: the CIA would need to know sooner, not later, whether other covers have been blown and things like that.
This is such a great example of the old maxim,everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. Didn't the NYT do some soul searching not too long ago about whether they should fact check opinion pieces. Just because something is an opinion piece should mean you can lie your ass off in it.
Oh, esther, that maxim is so 20th century. The Busheviks have declared that they are entitled to their own facts, and so is everybody else -- entitled to the Busheviks' facts, that is.
It is absolutely ridiculous to claim there was no damage by the exposure.

Yes, Plame had apparently not been in the thick of things for almost two years. But countries like North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, and so on keep files. She visited contacts in those countries. From the busbuy who served her coffee to the technician who told her the location of the manufacturing shop for North Korea's nuclear device, they know who to go after.
It's always struck me as very interesting that Plame's field of work was WMD proliferation. It is not inconceivable to me that there may have been players in this for whom her outing (and the consequent damage to her group's work) might have been more than just an unfortunate and regrettable side-effect of punishing Wilson.

I'm sure it's all very classified, but I'd like to know that someone has been looking into what she was working on and who she and her group might have been getting uncomfortable for.
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