Monday, July 18, 2005

Second Prize: Two Weeks in Niger!

Here's this week's effort. Imagine if George Stephanopoulos or Sidney Blumenthal had given a reporter (or two, or six) a CIA agent's identity. My, would we be hearing different things from different people. I know I'm a partisan hack--but does that mean everybody else is, too?

Kevin Drum has his theory as to why the Administration went into overdrive on this particular point--because they really needed the threat of an Iraqi nuclear program to focus support for the war. Otherwise you're left with pretty tepid stuff for the case for war.

East Valley Tribune, Jul. 17, 2005

What if Bill Clinton instead had said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, that undercover CIA operative”? People who spent years (and millions) seeking his scalp would be calling him a brave whistleblower, just like they’re anointing Karl Rove.

It sure doesn’t take much to make deficit spending responsible, foreign military adventures a matter of national security, and lying to reporters and the public a virtue. Just change the president’s party registration, and everything bad is good again.

I can’t guess how this whole outing-of-the-CIA-agent episode will end. I’m no huge fan of single-issue special counsels, who can confuse their one investigation with the entire national interest. The decade-long investigation of whether former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros wasn’t precise enough in describing his payments to his former mistress -- he acknowledged the payments, but the independent counsel was appointed to investigate whether giving an incorrect amount in an FBI interview was a crime -- still isn’t finished.

On the other hand, elected prosecutors can go off the deep end, too, and spend vast resources on highly publicized, but highly insignificant, cases. As if any parent in the world needed a criminal trial to know that Michael Jackson is extremely weird, and that it’s not a good idea to let your young son sleep in his bed. Access: Hollywood and cable TV tell us that for free; the taxpayers of Santa Barbara County could have used their money for other stuff, like making housing even less affordable.

But whether a prosecutor and grand jury think the disclosure of the CIA agent’s name means a crime may have been committed -- much less whether a regular jury eventually concludes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed -- the news that White House aides were peddling the agent’s identity to reporters should put to bed one of the least credible, but still circulating, assertions about the run-up to the war in Iraq.

When we failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, administration defenders pointed fingers at the CIA -- that our “really good intelligence” mistakenly concluded that it was a “slam-dunk” that Iraq had WMD, and that a passive White House let the intelligence community bamboozle them into believing so devoutly what turned out not to be true. But that’s not true.

In the words of the Downing Street memos (links to the original texts are here, if, unlike most op-ed page readers and writers, you consider actual evidence rather than just jumping to predetermined conclusions), “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” -- and the unmasking of the CIA agent proves the point.

The White House wasn’t some neutral consumer of intelligence about Iraq. The Bush administration actively fought against, and tried to discredit, in any way they could, anything that didn’t support the preconceived White House policy that Iraq was an imminent threat. Any facts or intelligence that didn’t support the already-determined conclusion needed to be “fixed” -- and that’s what Karl Rove (and others) were doing.

I’m not convinced the White House wanted revenge against Ambassador Wilson for what turned out to be his entirely-accurate dismissal of the Iraq-seeking-uranium rumor (one based on forged documents). Revenge or intimidation doesn’t reward campaign contributors or peel away the other party’s marginal voters, which is what Rove does. Instead, as Howard Fineman wrote for in 2003 (rediscovered for me by Tom Maguire and Mickey Kaus), the White House wanted to discredit Wilson’s conclusion -- and probably thought that the wife business was the best way to keep reporters swallowing the White House line that Iraq really had WMD.

Despite the pressure from the White House to fix the facts and intelligence to the Bush administration’s predetermined conclusion, we now know the CIA was right. Iraq actually didn’t have WMD; even the White House admits the Niger uranium rumor didn’t pan out.

But the only thing less likely than Karl Rove confessing to a crime is for anyone in the Bush administration ever to admit that they were wrong.


Anonymous said...

Sandy Burger ring a bell?

Anonymous said...

Sure. His breach of security procedures didn't involve any unauthorized release of information--just shoddy handling of it when he stuffed documents into his trousers. But the more significant points, as I recall the history, were that (1) Berger acknowledged that he screwed up, and (2) his security clearance was downgraded or revoked. Would that Rove and Libby do such things. Also, the prosecutors decided not to prosecute Berger for a crime--so given the absence of a conviction, he has the qualifications to continue working in the Bush White House.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Sam, Sandy berger destroyed confidential evidence. stealing 10-pages of documents destroying 3 of them and lied about it. Fined $10,000 and had security clearence yanked for 3-years, Kinda like Clinton being disbared in Arkansas for lying. If it walks, talks and sounds like a duck, it's a duck.

Anonymous said...

OK, let's quack about it. You could argue that Berger's breach wasn't as serious as the outing of an agent still with covert status--and the disclosure of the front company for which she worked. In Berger's case, while he destroyed documents, those weren't the only copies; the National Archives still had other copies that he didn't take and remove and destroy. So in Berger's case, there was no loss of classified information--and nobody without proper clearance got the information, and you could argue that's not as serious as what Libby and Rove did.

But let's not argue that. Instead, if Libby and Rove admit that they did wrong (just as Berger ultimately did), then a $10,000 fine and revocation of security clearance for 3 years would be a fitting punishment. Of course, that's assuming they are willing to admit it and take their lumps. Agreed?