Monday, July 18, 2005

Andrew C. McCarthy on Valerie Plame on National Review Online

Andrew C. McCarthy on Valerie Plame on National Review Online

THE MEDIA GOES TO COURT ... AND SINGS A DIFFERENT TUNE
Just four months ago, 36 news organizations confederated to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. At the time, Bush-bashing was (no doubt reluctantly) confined to an unusual backseat. The press had no choice — it was time to close ranks around two of its own, namely, the Times's Judith Miller and Time's Matthew Cooper, who were threatened with jail for defying grand jury subpoenas from the special prosecutor.

The media's brief, fairly short and extremely illuminating, is available here. The Times, which is currently spearheading the campaign against Rove and the Bush administration, encouraged its submission. It was joined by a "who's who" of the current Plame stokers, including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, AP, Newsweek, Reuters America, the Washington Post, the Tribune Company (which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other papers), and the White House Correspondents (the organization which represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the executive branch).

The thrust of the brief was that reporters should not be held in contempt or forced to reveal their sources in the Plame investigation. Why? Because, the media organizations confidently asserted, no crime had been committed. Now, that is stunning enough given the baleful shroud the press has consciously cast over this story. Even more remarkable, though, were the key details these self-styled guardians of the public's right to know stressed as being of the utmost importance for the court to grasp — details those same guardians have assiduously suppressed from the coverage actually presented to the public.

Though you would not know it from watching the news, you learn from reading the news agencies' brief that the 1982 law prohibiting disclosure of undercover agents' identities explicitly sets forth a complete defense to this crime. It is contained in Section 422 (of Title 50, U.S. Code), and it provides that an accused leaker is in the clear if, sometime before the leak, "the United States ha[s] publicly acknowledged or revealed" the covert agent's "intelligence relationship to the United States[.]"

As it happens, the media organizations informed the court that long before the Novak revelation (which, as noted above, did not disclose Plame's classified relationship with the CIA), Plame's cover was blown not once but twice. The media based this contention on reporting by the indefatigable Bill Gertz — an old-school, "let's find out what really happened" kind of journalist. Gertz's relevant article, published a year ago in the Washington Times, can be found here.

THE MEDIA TELLS THE COURT: PLAME'S COVER WAS BLOWN IN THE MID-1990s
As the media alleged to the judges (in Footnote 7, page 8, of their brief), Plame's identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a spy in Moscow. Of course, the press and its attorneys were smart enough not to argue that such a disclosure would trigger the defense prescribed in Section 422 because it was evidently made by a foreign-intelligence operative, not by a U.S. agency as the statute literally requires.

But neither did they mention the incident idly. For if, as he has famously suggested, President Bush has peered into the soul of Vladimir Putin, what he has no doubt seen is the thriving spirit of the KGB, of which the Russian president was a hardcore agent. The Kremlin still spies on the United States. It remains in the business of compromising U.S. intelligence operations.

Thus, the media's purpose in highlighting this incident is blatant: If Plame was outed to the former Soviet Union a decade ago, there can have been little, if anything, left of actual intelligence value in her "every operation, every relationship, every network" by the time anyone spoke with Novak (or, of course, Corn).

THE CIA OUTS PLAME TO FIDEL CASTRO
Of greater moment to the criminal investigation is the second disclosure urged by the media organizations on the court. They don't place a precise date on this one, but inform the judges that it was "more recent" than the Russian outing but "prior to Novak's publication."

And it is priceless. The press informs the judges that the CIA itself "inadvertently" compromised Plame by not taking appropriate measures to safeguard classified documents that the Agency routed to the Swiss embassy in Havana. In the Washington Times article — you remember, the one the press hypes when it reports to the federal court but not when it reports to consumers of its news coverage — Gertz elaborates that "[t]he documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but [unidentified U.S.] intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them."

Thus, the same media now stampeding on Rove has told a federal court that, to the contrary, they believe the CIA itself blew Plame's cover before Rove or anyone else in the Bush administration ever spoke to Novak about her. Of course, they don't contend the CIA did it on purpose or with malice. But neither did Rove — who, unlike the CIA, appears neither to have known about nor disclosed Plame's classified status. Yet, although the Times and its cohort have a bull's eye on Rove's back, they are breathtakingly silent about an apparent CIA embarrassment — one that seems to be just the type of juicy story they routinely covet.

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