Correction and update on the Plame story

My original post on the Valerie Plame affair (*) contained a substantial error, due to a too-hasty reading of Novak’s column.

It is not the case that Novak attributes the statement that Plame is a “CIA operative” to “senior Administration officials.” He does attribute the claim that she was responsible for recruiting her husband for the Niger mission to those officials, but the statement about her being an operative is unattributed. I’m not sure how much that matters; if Plame has an undercover role for the CIA, mentioning her as having been responsible for recruiting her husband would have been tantamount to blowing her cover. But it is possible that someone told Novak about Plame had recruited Wilson, leaving someone else (perhaps at the CIA itself) to confirm her occupation.

There seem to be four possibilities about Plame’s status:

1. She works for a consulting firm and has nothing to do with the CIA.

2. She works for a consulting firm and does some overt work for the CIA.

3. She’s an overt CIA employee.

4. She works for a consulting firm as cover for her real work as a spy for the CIA.

If (1) is the case, whoever called Plame a CIA operative (to Novak) or a CIA official (to TIME) did something very nasty, but didn’t commit a crime or put anyone’s life at risk. But if so, why didn’t Wilson just say “My wife has nothing to do with the CIA” rather than “I won’t answer any questions about my wife”? And why does Wilson’s official bio mention that he is “married to the former Valerie Plame” without saying anything more about her, such as what she does or where she works? And why does a Google search for “Valerie Plame” or “Valerie Plame Wilson” or “Valerie Wilson” and “energy” not find her on her firm’s business webpage? Last time I checked, most consultants don’t hide their light under a bushel.

If (2) is the case, then it was still a nasty trick, though for somewhat different reasons, but still not illegal. That theory makes sense of Plame’s absence from the internet except as the subject of the current flap, and Wilson’s refusal to discuss the matter. Contract work can be overt rather than covert without eliminating the need for discretion in discussing it in public. In this case, Novak was at least stretching things in calling Plame “a CIA operative,” and TIME was flatly wrong in calling her “a CIA official.” I’d expect a correction from TIME.

If (3) is the case, Corn’s article is much ado about nothing. That would be consistent with the description of Plame as “a CIA official” in the Time story. (A freeper-blogger calling himself Seamole provides an additional detail, though without saying how he knows: according to him, (*), Plame works in the CIA nonproliferation group whose boss, Alan Foley, had the famous tiff with Condi Rice’s deputy Robert Joseph about the famous 16 words.

But if so, Wilson’s huffing and puffing about Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames and so on was simply silly, and would look simply silly to anyone who knows Wilson or his wife. I can’t tell a sensible story where Wilson would do such a thing. Moreover, I’m told that Corn actually is a reputable reporter; why would he let himself be mousetrapped that way? And, since all of this is fairly easy to check and document if it’s true, why hasn’t someone other than “Seamole” done so? It’s not as if fact-checking left-wing media wasn’t a major spectator-and-participant sport in some parts of Blogtown.

So I’m betting on (4), even though that involves believing that two senior officials of the administration committed a pretty terrible crime. But I’m not betting the rent on it; (2) is plausible, and (3) conceivable. I just hope someone with media credentials is checking.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com