Rat Out the Spy Leakers

For a man who promised to bring honor and integrity into the White House, George W. Bush's administration has been brought low by mendacity, incompetence, lies and now the infamy of a full-blown scandal over the naming of a deep-cover spy to get even in a political vendetta.

Bush's statements that he wants to get to the bottom of the Plame scandal are as laughable as O.J. Simpson's determination to find his wife's murderer. Even through Dubya claims he seldom reads newspapers, he surely has known since mid-July that somebody in his shop deliberately blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative in a mindless political retaliation. But Dubya did nothing about it, even after the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak to conservative columnist Robert Novak.

Instead, the White House attacked the victims of its own bad actions, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife, former deep-cover spy Valerie Plame.

It's telling that while investigators want information not only about contacts between administration officials and Novak; they also asked about contact with two other reporters: Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce of Newsday, who did follow-ups after Novak exposed Plame on July 14. They got someone in the CIA to confirm that she was, in fact, working undercover.

Wilson was targeted after he wrote in the July 6 New York Times about his mission to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons. Wilson, who had been a diplomat in Iraq and Africa, concluded that the evidence against Iraq was forged. But the administration twisted it anyway to make the case for war in Iraq. Eight days after the op-ed appeared, Novak wrote that Wilson's wife had suggested the mission. Novak identified Plame's CIA role, and attributed the information to "two senior administration officials."

One of the top leak suspects is Karl Rove, Bush's political strategist. If he wasn't the leaker, it's hard to believe he didn't know about it. He reportedly told reporters shortly after the leak was published that Wilson's wife was "fair game," according to Newsweek. So not only did the White House not attempt to stop the leak; it tried to exploit it for political gain.

There are at least two good books on Karl Rove: Boy Genius, by Lou Dubose, Jan Reid and Carl M. Cannon, and Bush's Brain, by James Moore and Wayne Slater. A scan of either of those books leads to the conclusion that Bush's political strategist has been pulling political stunts like this for 20 years.

Rove set about to remove Democrats from power in the 1980s with the assistance of the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments that supplied Rove with an FBI agent who targeted Democratic officeholders. One of the targeted Democrats was Jim Hightower, the populist agriculture commissioner who led the ticket in 1982 and 1986 with 60% of the vote. Then Rove announced in the summer before the 1990 election that Hightower faced indictment. Hightower's lead evaporated. He never was indicted but he ended up losing by 51-49 percent to Rick Perry, who went on to be elected lieutenant governor in 1998 and became governor when Dubya was selected as president.

This time whoever fed Novak the bait on Plame committed a crime punishable by 10 years in prison. It turned out Plame worked overseas to get information on unconventional weapons -- weapons of mass destruction. Unlike agents who are attached to US embassies or other government positions, she had "nonofficial cover," or NOC, an especially dangerous job as she passed herself off as a private energy expert.

Then, to compound the problem, Novak announced on CNN Oct. 3 that Plame had listed Brewster-Jennings & Associates as her employer when she gave $1,000 to Al Gore in 2000. "There is no such firm, I'm convinced," Novak said. "CIA people are not supposed to list themselves with fictitious firms if they're under a deep cover -- they're supposed to be real firms, or so I'm told. Sort of adds to the little mystery."

So he was told. It looks like the White House is still dishing dirt on Plame. The Washington Post noted the firm was listed in the Dun & Bradstreet database of company names.

So the White House wasted a valuable undercover asset in the war on terror and perhaps put her foreign contacts in danger. Those who were unfortunate enough to be left in the field when the news broke may already have been jailed -- or worse.

Congressional leaders are frustrated by the White House double standard on leaks. Senior Democrats complained to the Los Angeles Times that they have been forced repeatedly to defend their stewardship of secret information and to fight to maintain access to it. They also complain that during the runup to the war intelligence that undercut the administration's claims was kept classified, while information that supported the contention that Iraq posed a threat was cleared for release.

John Ashcroft's Justice Department is not to be trusted in probing this matter. Ashcroft has a long relationship with Rove, whose company received more than $300,000 from Ashcroft's 1994 Senate campaign, in addition to work in two earlier Ashcroft campaigns.

The CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak shortly after it became public in July, but the formal criminal investigation was not begun until Sept. 26. Even then, the Justice Department gave the White House 12 hours notice before the White House was to secure the requested documents and logs.

We are not big fans of probes to stop D.C. leaks, but after reviewing the reasoning of Republican congressional leaders on the inability of an administration to investigate itself in the 1990s, we believe a special prosecutor is called for in this case. The entire White House staff should be brought before a federal grand jury, if necessary, to swear that they did not leak the information to Novak or other reporters. Certainly Rove and other top suspects Lewis "Scooter" Libby (chief of staff for Vice President Cheney) and Elliott Abrams (director of Middle East affairs at the National Security Council) should be grilled under oath about their contacts with the media in July. All three reportedly have denied responsibility.

John W. Dean, former counsel to Richard M. Nixon, said the Bush White House apparently crossed a line that would have stopped the notorious Nixon "plumbers." For Salon.com Oct. 3, Dean wrote, "neither [Chuck] Colson nor [John] Ehrlichman nor anyone else I knew while working at the Nixon White House had the necessary viciousness, or depravity, to attack the wife of a perceived enemy by employing potentially life-threatening tactics." He advised Wilson and Plame to sue the White House, saying that tactic by Joe Califano, who was then general counsel to the Democratic National Committee, almost broke the Watergate coverup wide open in 1972. Lawsuit subpoenas and sworn depositions might get to the bottom of the matter if the Justice Department drags its feet, as it has so far. In the Watergate lawsuit, a Republican judge "handled it in a manner that was remarkably helpful to the Nixon reelection effort. But any judge getting a lawsuit from Wilson and Plame today would be watched a lot more carefully," Dean said.

Jonathan Alter, who blew the whistle on Oliver North in 1987 when North lied to a congressional committee about a leak he had made to another reporter, wrote in the Oct. 13 Newsweek that if journalists don't want to name the leaker, perhaps they should leak who told them about Plame. The fear that confidential sources will stop leaking is unwarranted, he said. "Sources don't leak to do us favors, but for a complicated series of other reasons that are often out of self-interest. They always have and they always will. The whole game of reporters and their confidential sources has gone so far in Washington that too many of us have forgotten our first obligation. It's not to the Oliver Norths of the world and the reporters protecting them. It's to readers and viewers and, yes, to the truth." -- JMC

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