July 08, 2005

Give Up Your Source, Judith Miller

I don't often take positions that liberals find controversial.  However, I'm not sure that the letter the International Herald Tribune published from me regarding the Valerie Plame scandal will prove to be popular among Latte readers.   Here's what I wrote:

In an act of political retribution, a senior White House official disclosed that Valerie Plame was an undercover intelligence agent. That is shameful.

But you take the position (June 29 Editorial, "The Supreme Court rules: Striking a blow at the free press") that reporters' access to whistle-blowers would be irrevocably curtailed if Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper were to reveal their sources in the subsequent investigation. That need not be the case.

There are very few circumstances in which speaking to a reporter is a crime. Revealing the name of an intelligence agent is one of them.

Miller and Cooper should feel free to reveal their sources in this unusual case to help the ongoing investigation. As long as the issue is narrowly circumscribed to the illegal outing of intelligence agents, as it should be, the Plame affair need not become a crisis for journalism.

I agree that the real villain here is Karl Rove, or whoever else the vengeful leaker proves to be.  I also agree that it's suspicious that Robert Novak, the one who was leaked on and then wrote about it, is not being locked up, while Judith Miller of the New York Times, who never wrote a story about the topic, is in jail.  I further agree that the prosecutor is acting bizarrely in jailing Miller, even though he says he already knows who her source is.  And I have said before that I think the Times is the world's best newspaper, and is certainly worth defending.

All that doesn't change the fact that mainstream journalists are wrong to turn the Plame affair into a test case for reporters' rights.  First Amendment Lawyer Geoffory Stone summed it up pretty well in this edition of NPR's On the Media [audio link].

If anyone can explain why illegally outing a CIA agent is not a special case, I'd love to hear about it.

By Will Friedman in Commentary | Permalink  | 

Comments

Rove advised Cooper that Wilson's wife, an agency employee, was instrumental in getting Wilson his CIA Niger assignment and should not regard him as an unimpeachable source due to those circumstances. Rove never named Plame who was never an undercover agent. It is against the law to reaveal the name of a clandestine CIA operative. Furthur, it was common knowledge that Plame was an agency employee as are tens of thousands of other non clandestine employees. Your own Andrea Mitchell admitted this when asked. But please don't focus on the facts. Perhaps Haliburton was also involved. It is enormously entertaining to watch you folks behave this way. Keep up the good work

Posted by: Rick | Jul 11, 2005 7:57:53 AM

Novak is the one who should be in jail - he's the one who authored the article.

Posted by: SheaNC | Jul 12, 2005 6:40:20 AM

Jail Novak? For what crime? Writing an article? You folks start with the absurd position that Plame was a clandestine CIA operative. She never was. Does that not matter to you at all?

Posted by: rick | Jul 12, 2005 9:30:58 AM

Further digging into actual sources will alert you to the fact that CIA agents work under different sorts of “cover.” There’s “official cover” — like when an agent is assigned to a U.S. embassy under the guise that he or she is a foreign service officer. Then there’s “nonofficial” cover — like when your business cards say you’re a manager at Acme Overseas Energy Corporation, but you really work for the CIA.

Plame is in that latter category.
That counts as cover; she was working to uncover wmd proliferation.
The very things we supposedly went to war in Iraq to find. . .
hmm.

Novak indeed fingered Wilson’s wife as an “Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction” on the say-so of “two senior administration officials.” (those are quotes from the actual article.) The point he was trying to make was that Wilson got the job because of his wife (probably not true, but beside this point).

As far as I can understand from reading many sources on this from all over the politcal spectrum, writing an article that outs a covert CIA operative is illegal, as is giving that information (for obviously political purposes) to a reporter who clearly intends to publish it. (there are some nuances to this that Rove's lawyer is trying to exploit, like the fact that he may have said "the wife of Mr. Wilson," and since he didn't give her actual name, he didn't out her. Nonsense. I am sometimes called the Wife of Mr. S - - - . We all know who we are talkign about.)

And FINALLY the press has stopped softballing the President on every singe issue and has started asking whether he is going to live up to his promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (meaning RICK, that even the President realized how serious it was).

He won't of course. He owes his two election wins to Rove, and Rove's ability to harness the fears of the American people. I bet we go on the warpath again just in time for THIS midterm election. Hmm. Iran is looking a little shifty. . .

Posted by: dks | Jul 12, 2005 10:35:58 AM

It matters not what Novak claims Plame is or is not. There is a precise definition of a clandestine CIA operative. It is crystal clear and simple to understand. Plame is not. When this shakes out no wrong will have been committed and you will percieve yet another injustice to howl about.

What WMDs? It was all about oil. Right?

Afghanistan, Iraq. Sadly that will not be the end of it.

Your assessment is accurate. The future holds much more to shriek about.

Posted by: rick | Jul 12, 2005 2:29:16 PM

If it's no big deal, then why did they cover it up for so long, and why are they refusing to comment now? They might be able to convince faux news viewers of their version of reality, but when all is said and done, it might not line up with the RNC talking points.

Posted by: SheaNC | Jul 13, 2005 6:02:02 PM

Probe story 1 ("The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that in 1992, Rove was dismissed as a consultant for the Bush-Quayle Texas campaign after he was suspected of leaking a story to Bob Novak and then-partner Roland Evans about problems in the campaign."), probe story 2 ("The probe concerns whether anyone violated laws against disclosure of classified information or a 1982 statute specifically making it a crime for someone to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert intelligence officer.")

Posted by: SheaNC | Jul 13, 2005 6:22:20 PM

Much ado about nothing when it ends. The left will turn it's head into the wind and begin to howl about something else. Que es la vida.

Posted by: rick | Jul 13, 2005 7:18:37 PM

One more thing: Here's what former president George H.W. Bush said about that kind of crime: "Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors." That's from a speech on April 26, 1999

Posted by: SheaNC | Jul 13, 2005 8:10:11 PM

Rick, I have to admit, you have the GOP talking points down cold! And you had them from day one. Can I ask...what's your source?

Posted by: Overseas Will | Jul 14, 2005 2:17:30 AM

GOP talking points? Really? You engage in discourse with the opposition by hurling insults? I would chastise any slabsided neanderthal on my side for accusing you of nothing more than spewing DNC talking points. I would consider that to be an intellectually dishonest tantrum.

I guessed you to be above such as that. I hate being wrong.

Posted by: rick | Jul 14, 2005 7:02:06 PM

Rick,

I'm glad you agree that reciting the GOP talking points would be mindless, and it's fair to say that you are not doing it--the GOP is seeking to turn this into a conversation about Wilson's credibility, and you are focusing on the issue of Plame's status at the CIA.

But the real issue here is not whether or not that law or other laws where broken. The issue is that key members of this administration actively sought to discredit someone who was revealing the truth about a phoney justification for the war. As it turns out, Mr. Wilson was exactly right, and Tenet and Rice later apologized, admitting that the uranium claim never should have made it into the State of the Union.

We went to war on false pretenses, and Rove and others attacked Wilson for telling the truth about it. They're still trying to discredit him today. It's a scene right out of "24" Season Two, only worse. Whether or not it's illegal, it is reprehensible.

Posted by: Will | Jul 17, 2005 11:31:23 AM

Will
You restate my words into a mischaracterization? Your forte or are you unaware of that trait?

Please allow me to be even more clear. GOP talking points are the same mythology as DNC talking points. They do not exist. To accuse you of simply restating DNC talking points is to say that you are not independantly capable of your own ideas, views, opinions and conclusions. That position would be mindless. Fair enough? A thouroughly defeated man utters with his last volley, "RACIST". Same silliness to my way of thinking.

You are aware that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee discredited Wilson?

Perhaps you know the answers to these questions. I absolutely, do not.
Who sent Wilson to Niger?
Where is Wilson's written report?
To whom was his report submitted?

Please enlighten me if you think these are unfair questions.

Politics is the ultimate sport.

Posted by: rick | Jul 18, 2005 9:32:58 AM

Rick,

Actually, the GOP talking points do exist. I linked to them in my response above.

Politics may be a sport, but in this case, it has turned deadly. More than 1,700 Americans killed, and more than 13,000 wounded.

As to Wilson and Rove, see my latest post...

Cheers,
Will

Posted by: Overseas Will | Jul 18, 2005 9:50:48 AM

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