Something Important Is Being Missed In The Hubbub About Valerie Plame

As many of you have no doubt heard, the CIA is, “looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist”. The agent in question, Valerie Plame, is the wife of Joseph Wilson, a leftist holdover from the Clinton administration who embarrassed the Bush administration by revealing that he went to Niger and didn’t find any evidence that yellowcake was sold to Iraq. Supposedly Plame recommended her husband for the assignment and the theory that is being floated is that someone in the administration revealed her name to get revenge on Wilson.

However, there is a big flaw in much of what’s being written about this story. That flaw is that it is being treated as a given that this story was leaked by a member of the Bush administration. While that may turn out to be the case, there is little at this point beyond a leak from an anonymous source to indicate that is what happened. Part of the confusion comes from a misreading of Robert Novak’s original column breaking the story. Here’s what he said,

“Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. “I will not answer any question about my wife,” Wilson told me.”

Notice that Novak did not reveal who told him Plame worked for the CIA. Most people are assuming that the two senior administration officials he talked to gave him Plame’s name, but that’s not what Novak said. It’s entirely possible that Novak already had the name and then simply asked the officials to confirm the story (which would not be a crime especially given that the CIA themselves confirmed Plame’s name). Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “Come on Hawkins, how else could Novak have gotten the name if the Bush admin didn’t give it to him?” Well according to Clifford May’s column in NRO today, it wasn’t a big secret…

“On July 14, Robert Novak wrote a column in the Post and other newspapers naming Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.

That wasn’t news to me. I had been told that — but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhanded manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.”

Moreover, an early story done by Time also mentioned Plame’s name, but said their source was “government officials” which is not a phrase one would normally expect to see applied to senior members of the Bush administration…

“And some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband’s being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein’s government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.”

So the only tie we have between this story and this Bush administration is a WAPO story quoting an “administration aide” & Joe Wilson himself…

“An administration aide told The Post on Saturday that the two White House officials had cold-called at least six Washington journalists and identified Wilson’s wife.”

…An administration official said the leaks were “simply for revenge” for the trouble Wilson had caused Bush.

….Wilson said that in the week after the Novak column appeared, several journalists told him that the White House was trying to call attention to his wife, apparently hoping to undermine his credibility by implying he had received the Niger assignment only because his wife had suggested the mission and recommended him for the job.

“Each of the reporters quoted the White House official as using some variation on, ‘The real story isn’t the 16 words. The real story is Wilson and his wife,’ ” Wilson said. “The time frame led me to deduce that the White House was continuing to try to push this story.”

Wilson identified one of the reporters as Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.

Wilson has suggested publicly that Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, was the one who broke his wife’s cover. McClellan has called that “totally ridiculous” and “not true.”

Wilson sounds like he’s just blowing smoke. In fact, he has already backed off of his claims that Rove leaked the story…

“Wilson said he did not have any knowledge that Rove was the leaker or authorized the leak. ”But I have great confidence that at a minimum he (Rove) condoned it and certainly did nothing to shut it down,” he told ABC’s ”Good Morning America.”

So all we really have so far is an anonymous “aide” who is obviously trying to damage the administration — well assuming the WAPO is accurately quoting a legit source. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time the WAPO published a story from an anonymous source that seemed to be less than credible, so how can you really be sure?

In any case, a felony was committed here. If someone in the Bush administration did the crime, then they should be fired and put on trial. That’s the law and it applies to everyone. However, before people start leveling wild accusations against the Bushies, they ought have better sources than an “anonymous aide” and a bitter husband who has already had to eat some of his own words about this very matter. There is going to be an investigation and if what that anonymous aide & Wilson said is true, there are an awful lot of people who know about this — far too many to cover it up. Only time will tell…

***Update***: Interestingly enough, the White House also seems to taking the same sort of line that I did in this post…

“Asked about the possibility of an internal White House investigation, McClellan said, “I’m not aware of any information that has come to our attention beyond the anonymous media sources to suggest there’s anything to White House involvement.”

Also, it’s nice to see that the Bush administration also seems to be handling this situation correctly,

“McClellan said Bush had no patience for such activities and suggested anyone involved would be fired.

“If anyone has information related to this, they need to report it to the Department of Justice,” he said.

Would Bush want someone like this working on his staff?

“I think I answered that question earlier. No. The president expects his administration, everyone in his administration, to adhere to the highest standards of conduct, and that would not be,” McClellan told reporters.”

***Update #2***: From The Drudge Report, Novak comments…

“‘Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson’s report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson’s involvement in the mission for her husband — he is a former Clinton administration official — they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives’…

So to sum up, there was no leak, there’s still no one going on the record to indicate that a Bush administration official originally gave out her name, the CIA was told Novak was going to use her name and didn’t strongly object, and she’s an analyst — not a spy, not in charge of any undercover operatives who would be harmed by her name being revealed. As per usual with these kinds of stories, there hype is much bigger than the actual reality.

***Update #3***: Boy the info keeps rolling in on this one. First off, Drudge has revealed another piece of information that undercuts Wilson’s story. It seems that Mr. Wilson donated some funds to the political campaign of one John Kerry…

Wilson, Joseph C
5/23/2003 $1,000.00
Washington, DC 20007
JC Wilson International Ventures/Bu -[Contribution]

So that begs the questions: Is Wilson, the former Clinton holdover using this whole thing to simply do a little partisan sniping that he thinks might help the candidate he supports?

Also, I ran across another fascinating bit of info on Pejman’s page. It seems that we now definitively know who the first person was to connect the name Valerie Plame to Joseph Wilson…was Joseph Wilson on his Middle East Institute bio page….

“He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters.”

Now of course, he didn’t mention that she was a CIA agent there. But I’m a little puzzled about something. We have another Washington Post story that says this…

“Wilson said a producer from another network told him about the same time, “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall that we won’t use them.” Wilson said the series of similar calls he received, which included four journalists from three networks, stopped on July 22, after he appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and said the disclosure of his wife’s maiden name could jeopardize the “entire network that she may have established.”

Uh, if revealing his wife’s maiden name really jeopardized an “entire network” then why did Wilson do just that in his bio? That sounds like exactly the sort of question that the mainstream press should be asking Wilson doesn’t it?

***Update #4***: Wilson has now climbed most of the way down from his original story…

“…I don’t have any specific information. I would hope that an investigation would yield the information as to who was responsible for the precise leak.

What I do have are any number of journalist sources, none of whom I have any reason not to believe, who have said that the White House was pushing this story after the leak, after the Novak article, and including [Bush political strategist] Karl Rove.”

At first he was claiming Rove leaked the story. Now Wilson doesn’t have any “specific info” and he’s talking about people at the white pushing the story after the leak. Yeah, he’s really credible at this point…

Here’s another interesting little tidbit from the same Wilson interview…

“Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report. And he said, a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative. He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? I said no.

After the article appeared, I called him and I said: “You told me it was a CIA source. You wrote senior administration officials. What was it, CIA or senior admiration?” He said to me, “I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.” That makes it senior administration sources. “

So originally, Wilson is claiming that a CIA source told him about Plame. Then Wilson said Novak reversed himself. Since Wilson has changed his story so many times, I don’t know that we can take his story at face value. But has anyone considered that maybe Novak’s CIA source fed him story and that he’s dancing around naming where it came from because it would be easier for people to identify his CIA source than a White House source? In any case, as I keep pointing out, there is no one at this point other than anonymous aide the WAPO came up with that points this leak back to the White House.

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