13 October 2005

Fisking Richard Cohen

Somebody needs to dissect Cohen's dumbass column in detail, so here goes.
The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago and prosecute some real criminals.
Perhaps if by for his country Cohen actually means for George W. Bush and the GOP this sentence makes sense.  There are plenty of people - well, freepers mostly - who think in this pre-rational manner.  I thought that perhaps if I made that small substitution, the rest of the column  might make some kind of wacked-out sense.

I was wrong.  It only gets stupider.

As it is, all he has done so far is send Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail and repeatedly haul this or that administration high official before a grand jury, investigating a crime that probably wasn't one in the first place...
Probably wasn't a crime? Oh, I can feel a good rant comin' on already.  But I'll save that one for last.  Let's let Dick finish his sentence, shall we?
...but that now, as is often the case, might have metastasized into some sort of coverup -- but, again, of nothing much.
Well that's cute, ain't it.  I've heard many people say, "It ain't the crime that gets you, it's the coverup."  Usually that means you should just take your lumps for whatever you did wrong instead of digging the hole deeper.  This is the first time I've seen that concept twisted around to mean "where there's smoke, who cares about the fire?"  But I guess if you're inside with the Washington DC set you pick up that ethos that just laughs at the idea that breaking the law might be of any moment.
The alleged crime involves the outing of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative whose husband, Joseph Wilson IV, had gone to Africa at the behest of the agency and therefore said he knew that the Bush administration -- no, actually, the president himself -- had later misstated (in the State of the Union address, yet) the case that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger.
How bizarre.  Cohen actually sounds incredulous at the idea that the President - of the United States no less - might have devoted a large portion of a State of the Union address to laying out all sorts of wild claims about Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical capability when months later not one bit of it would prove to be true.  I mean, next we'll be trying to tell him the guy said there were 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent in that same speech, right?

Where has this guy been the past three years?  Did he just get rescued from a desert island in the trackless expanse of the Pacific or something?  Even Osama in his cave in ____istan is better informed than this.

Wilson made his case in a New York Times op-ed piece. This rocked the administration, which was already fighting to retain its credibility in the face of mounting and irrefutable evidence that the case it had made for war in Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, above all -- was a fiction. So it set out to impeach Wilson's credibility, purportedly answering the important question of who had sent him to Africa in the first place: his wife. This was a clear case of nepotism, the leakers just as clearly implied.
A momentarily glimpse of reality, followed by hallucinatory fiction.  

The question of who sent him to Africa was never the important question.  And for the record, it was the CIA.  They had been asked by the vice-president's office to investigate this whole "uranium from Africa" angle.

Now, Dick, if you really think a trip to Niger is nepotism, let me let you in on a little secret.  Since you think it's such a cushy and lucrative assignment, perhaps you'd be willing to tender me a - let's call it a finder's fee - cashier's check for $5,000 USD for me to arrange a very sweet gig for you over there.  I have a business associate over there named DR KWASEI M'BUTAFUKO who is a high-powered ATTORNEY in NIGER.  He is trying to reclaim a sum equal to $17 MILLION USD that is held up in the courts, and you, RICHARD COHEN are exactly the man he needs...

Not nice, but it was what Washington does day in and day out. (For some historical perspective see George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck'' about Edward R. Murrow and that most odious of leakers-cum-character assassins, Joseph McCarthy.)
So, McCarthyism is alive and well in Washington, is that what he's trying to say?  And moreover, Cohen is just fine with it?
This is rarely considered a crime. In the Plame case, it might technically be one, but it was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated (which happened once) but to assassinate the character of her husband. This is an entirely different thing. She got hit by a ricochet.
pffha!  Not worth wasting keystrokes on - Americablog's got the smackdown on that graf anyway.

Now we are told by various journalistic sources that Fitzgerald might not indict anyone for the illegal act he was authorized to investigate, but some other one -- maybe one concerning the disclosure of secret material.
The disclosure of secret material is the illegal act Fitz is investigating, moron.
Here again, though, this is a daily occurrence in Washington, where most secrets have the shelf life of sashimi.
Really, Dick?  Are you talking about the who-slept-with-what kind of secrets, or are you telling us that beltway insiders are blabbing classified national security secrets to anyone who will listen on a daily basis?  Because if it's the latter, there are tens of thousands of workers with security clearances at military bases, defense contractors, research labs and the like who really oughta know how the DC crowd treats classified material so they can modify their behavior accordingly.  I mean gosh, they're keeping the stuff locked in safes and subjecting themselves to the evil eye of DISCO (and I ain't talkin' the bad 70's music here) on a regular basis, apparently all over a misunderstanding of what "vital national security information" means.  They haven't even been telling their wives or kids, for chrissake.  They'll be relieved to know that it's OK to tell the sushi chef or the hot chick behind you in line at Starbuck's.
Then, too, other journalists say that Fitzgerald might bring conspiracy charges, an attempt (or so it seems) to bring charges of some sort. This is what special prosecutors do and why they should always be avoided.
It's also what they do to bring down mob bosses.  You got a problem wit' dat?
I have no idea what Fitzgerald will do.
This one's just too easy.  Fill in the blank.
My own diligent efforts to find out anything have come to naught. Fitzgerald's non-speaking spokesman would not even tell me if his boss is authorized to issue a report, as several members of Congress are now demanding -- although Joseph E. diGenova, a former U.S. attorney in Washington, tells me that only a possibly unprecedented court order would permit it.
So there's a grand jury investigation happening, which is supposed to be closed and confidential, and Cohen can't get any information? To a logical person, this would be evidence that Fitz is a competent professional instead of a political hack like say, Ken "Brenda" Starr.
Whatever the case, I pray Fitzgerald is not going to reach for an indictment or, after so much tumult, merely fold his tent, not telling us, among other things, whether Miller is the martyr to a free press that I and others believe she is or whether, as some lefty critics hiss, she's a double-dealing grandstander, in the manner of some of her accusers.
That's some tortured sentence structure you got there, Dick.  Are you saying you pray he doesn't indict anyone after all this? Or just that you want to have your own curiosity slaked as to how bad a girl Judy M was?  And as to the question of whether she's a double-dealing etcetera etcetera, refer to my earlier curiosity about where you were when the whole WMD mess was unfolding.  Who and What she is is Wholly apparent to everybody.
More is at stake here than bringing down Karl Rove or some other White House apparatchik, or even settling some score with Miller, who is sometimes accused of taking this nation to war in Iraq all by herself.
Are there really people who say that?  Blaming the drumbeat to war on the media?  Who would say something that ignorant?

But you're right there is something more important than "getting" Karl Rove.  It's called treason, and some people think that's something that ought not go unpunished.<

The greater issue is control of information. If anything good comes out of the Iraq war, it has to be a realization that bad things can happen to good people when the administration -- any administration -- is in sole control of knowledge and those who know the truth are afraid to speak up. This -- this creepy silence -- will be the consequence of dusting off rarely used statutes to still the tongues of leakers and intimidate the press in its pursuit of truth, fame and choice restaurant tables.
So in this case Wilson knew the truth and was not afraid to speak up.  The administration - in order to keep control of the information - retaliated against him by endangering the life of his wife.  That was also a signal to people with information at the CIA to keep mum.  If they get away with retaliation against a whistleblower unpunished, you'll have your creepy silence.  If you are someone who wants the information getting out, you want the creeps in the administration responsible to be taken down.  It's really that simple.
Apres Miller comes moi.
The denser you get, Dick, the more that sounds like a good idea.
This is why I want Fitzgerald to leave now. Do not bring trivial charges -- nothing about conspiracies, please -- and nothing about official secrets, most of which are known to hairdressers, mistresses and dog walkers all over town. Please, Mr. Fitzgerald, there's so much crime in Washington already. Don't commit another.
F'real?  There's so much crime in DC that punishing someone for treason would, what? Open up the floodgates to prosecute all the crooks and shady characters?  Dick says it like it would be a bad thing.

And if it's really true that everybody in establishment circles in DC is spreading classified national security information as readily as office gossip, then I think we have two choices.  De-classify everything so the public can see what all those defense "contractors" have been doing with our money, or arrest, indict and convict all of these officials and their retinue, down to the mistresses and "dogwalkers."  Personally?  I'd do both.

Overall, Dick, when you say truly dumbass things such as "investigating a crime that probably wasn't one in the first place," you seem to lack any understanding of basic concepts here, such as what crime means.  Maybe we should make sure you're clear on that before I let you go.

Let's say the cops find a dead body floating in the river.  The coroner determines that the unfortunate died from a gunshot to the back of the head.  Since you can't do that yourself, the death was the result of someone discharging a firearm at the deceased.  Thus the police now have a crime on their hands, which they term homicide.  Now they don't know for sure if the crime was pre-meditated, or the other circumstances, so it might be first-degree murder, or if it was an accident, maybe it just winds up being prosecuted as manslaughter.  But the cops have the dead body, someone shot the guy, so ipso facto a crime has been committed.

Same thing goes here.  The identities of covert operatives, especially non-official cover operatives (NOCs) are highly guarded secrets.  They are classified and highly compartmentalized information.  And the transfer of classified national security information to unauthorized parties is a crime.

Valerie Plame was a NOC CIA operative working in the field of nonconventional weapons anti-proliferation.  This is something even highly idealistic libertarians and the most bleeding-heart liberals can agree is important to our national security, and a valid reason for covert activity. Even those who might think much of the rest of the CIA's activities are criminal.  Keeping Al Qaeda and Aum Shinrikyu from acquiring nuclear weapons and weaponized Ebola is pretty important. Wide consensus on that point.

Now I say she was a NOC operative because two years ago, everyone found out who she was and what she was doing.  This highly classified information, which by law and procedure should be limited to fewer people than you can count on one hand, is now known to all of us, as evidenced by the fact we're talking about it now.  So ipso facto a crime was committed.  Whether it was a violation of the Intelligence Identities Act or the Espionage Act or some other statute is a matter for a grand jury to decide.  And for the prosecutor to figure out what kind of case he can build based on the evidence.  

One of the great things about America is that we call ourselves "a nation of laws, not men."  Apparently we've been saying that longer than we've had gender-inclusive language.  What that means is that when crimes are committed, we go ahead and prosecute them whenever possible.  It depends on the ability of police and detectives and prosecutors and the like to get the evidence and witnesses needed to put the crooks behind bars, and they work like the dickens to make that happen.  It does not depend on whether newspaper columnists or politicians or anybody else would like to see an indictment.  That's the idea, anyway.  For the last two centuries we've considered it a national disgrace to work any other way.

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