Of Cover, Maiden Names, and Changing the Subject

Slate’s Explainer explains the different levels of CIA cover. Apparently Plame had the deepest, “non-official” cover.

That’s consistent with the comments by her training classmate, Larry Johnson, on PBS last night — comments that don’t seem to be getting much mass-media play. Some Bush defenders are leaping all over Johnson’s apparent slip of saying “for three decades” when he should have said “across three decades.” I’m told, by someone in a position to know, that the Slime Machine is now being pointed in Johnson’s direction.

Robert Novak, still spinning madly, tries the old “the name Valerie Plame was public so her identity as a CIA officer wasn’t really a secret” trick (explained here yesterday) and gets Glenn Reynolds to link to it in the context of wondering whether there’s “an attempt to make this seem like a bigger deal than it is.” [To sum up yesterday’s post: The name “Valerie Plame” wasn’t secret; the secret was the association of that name with the CIA.]

The Washington Times [!], in an editorial, calls for the President to be active and not passive in figuring out who in his official family did the deed. The Times is behind the times in continuing to express doubt that Plame’s status was covert, but seems confident (more confident than I would be) that Novak was telling the truth in July when he named “two senior Administration officials” as his sources. But on the action point, the editorialist has it exactly right:

The president has days, not weeks or months, to snap into action. He does not need a Justice Department investigation at this point. Yesterday, his spokesman reiterated that there’s no need for an internal investigation, while the president said, “I want to know the truth. If anybody’s got information inside or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward.” The president expressed the right sentiment, but it is too passive a stance. He has all the authority he needs to question his staff, seize phone logs, e-mails and vacation schedules. He must do all in his power, immediately, to identify and fire the malefactors — whomsoever they may be. There is a need for an internal investigation — now.

It is a natural instinct of any White House to hunker down when political opponents are making accusations of wrongdoing. This page supported the president in 2000 and anticipates doing so again in 2004. But this is beyond politics. It is a simple matter of right or wrong. And it is precisely at such moments that the moral and ethical measure of a statesmen is taken.

The president should personally make it known to the public that it is his highest priority to get to the bottom of the matter. There may be traitors in his midst — even if the actors may not have appreciated the nature of their conduct. At some point, presumably, the Justice Department will be needed for prosecution. But the president should be first on the job to cleanse his own house.

Update Brad DeLong points out that this is far too generous; the time for the President to have acted was eleven weeks ago, not now.

The direction of the White House spin is now clear: refocus attention from this specific act — the release of truly operational national-security information for no purpose but the infliction of damage on the wife of a political opponent — to the much more diffuse and morally cloudy world of “leaking.” “There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington,” huffed the President yesterday, in what may well be a successful attempt to change the subject.

Leaks of classified information to the news media are not, in general, bad. Most classified information that would interest reporters is classified to protect officials from criticism rather than to protect the national security. [Trust me; I’ve been there.]

When Bush says there are too many leaks, he means that too many reporters have access to evidence that makes him look bad. That is not, I submit, a problem that the nation needs to worry about. It would be horribly ironic if the result of this particular White House dirty trick were to tighten the administration’s grip over what the citizens are, and are not, allowed to know.

No, this isn’t about leaking. It’s about exposing the name of an intelligence officer. That’s a specific crime, covered by a specific statute. Let’s not let Bush and his minions change the subject.

[Update and footnote: Hmph. These last paragraphs track pretty closely the Josh Marshall made two days ago. That raises, in the minds of the sort of people who still doubt that the Plame affair is a major scandal, an obvious speculation: that Josh has constructed a time machine and is now copying stuff I haven’t written yet.

A more mundane interpretation would be that I had copied from Josh. That’s entirely possible: i.e., it’s entirely possible that I had read his piece, been convinced by it, and the thought came to my sleep-deprived brain as if internally generated. But now that I read it, I don’t remember having it. In any case, I actually caught (or re-caught) the idea from a conversation with Matt Yglesias, who might have come up with it on his own, or might have been infected with Josh’s meme, with which I have now in turn infected you. Ain’t blogging grand?

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