Was “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson in the public interest?

Mickey Kaus suggests it might have been. But I can’t figure out how.

One of the ideas about the Valerie Plame Wilson affair that I’ve never been able wrap my head around properly is the argument that Joseph Wilson’s being married to a CIA officer was crucial information that the public needed to know in order to properly evaluate his claim that he hadn’t found any evidence that Iraq was trying to buy yellowcake in Niger, and that revealing it therefore served the public interest. Call this the “Rove-as-whistleblower” theory.

(Note Rove’s uncharacteristic modesty in not claiming credit for his public-spirited action, and indeed in denying that he had anything to do with it. I didn’t know that Rove, like the early New Dealers, had such a passion for anonymity, doing good by stealth and blushing to find it fame.)

The latest expositor of that theory is Mickey Kaus, who says that Plame’s employment “was a relevant detail if you were trying to come to a position on whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa, which was in turn relevant to the non-trivial public policy question of whether the country should go to war.” He proposes that the wrongdoing of revealing a CIA officer’s identity ought to be balanced agains the public service of having told the public this fact it was entitled to know.

In principal, I agree that an official who reveals national defense information ought to be able to defend himself on the grounds that his revelation served the public interest. But I can’t make out that claim in this case.

“A relevant detail,” says Mickey. But why was it relevant?

The argument, as I understand it, is that Wilson’s being married to a career CIA officer would have tended to bias him toward finding confirmation for CIA thinking.

But wait a minute! It’s not as if the CIA connection to the trip was new information. Wilson came right out and said, first to Kristof and then in his op-ed, that he’d undertaken his trip to Niger on behalf of the CIA. So what does knowing that Wilson’s wife was a spook add to that? The knowledge that he was recruited for a CIA mission by a CIA officer?

For the wingnuts who regarded the pre-Goss CIA as virtually a foreign power, plotting the overthrow of the Beloved Leader, this line of thinking makes a twisted kind of sense. But the rest of us had best leave it alone, before the sheer difficulty of trying to parse it logically causes our heads to explode.

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