27 October 2005

Missed It By That Much.

This explanation of the Valerie Plame Affair by the Christian Science Monitor isn't too bad, but they've managed to get a couple key facts wrong. This isn't really surprising given the complete lack of clue the RWCM has demonstrated over this case. (And if anybody is confused, it's only due to the efforts of the media - I can explain it in five words and will do so in my next post.) So let's look at this for a minute.
At issue is whether Mr. Novak's government sources blew her cover as a CIA agent, in violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982.
That is an issue, but not the whole of the case. Much of the discussion two years ago was focused on the IIPA because it appeared that Ms Plame's identity had been deliberately disclosed and a prosecution under this law, known as the "anti-Agee law" might be in the cards. This is noteworthy for its rarity, as the law was written to address a very narrow set of circumstances. But it is a red herring as far as the question of whether a crime has been committed.

Disclosure of classified national security information is a crime. Period. Unless Ms Plame was not actually an undercover operative, it seems indisputable that a crime has occurred. The question is who did it and whether it can be proved in court.

Look at it this way. The police have a dead body. The homicide detectives don't limit themselves to one specific part of the legal code such as second-degree murder. They are trying to find out what happened and what evidence they can hand over to the DA. The charge might be first-degree murder, or it might be manslaughter. But they would never consider that these other offenses would not fall inside their "charter." Nor do they limit their scope to the person who pulled the trigger; if it's part of some organized crime activity they will bring in everyone involved.

Toward the end of the investigation, it has become clear that Mr. Fitzgerald has focused more on possible charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements, rather than on laws prohibiting public revelation of a CIA official's undercover status.
Nothing has become clear. The solid facts in this case are few and far between. Since this prosecutor has not been leaking information the way Kenneth Starr did, all of the "information" published in the last two weeks has come from "lawyers familiar with the case" which is another way of saying the criminal defense lawyers. The accuracy of their leads on where the investigation is focused is suspect, for obvious reasons.

It is not illegal for Libby and Cheney to discuss classified information; they both have security clearance.
Also not true, but a common misconception. Having a security clearance, regardless of how high it might be, is not sufficient. All classified information is segregated by need to know. Information on what is termed "sources and methods" is one of the most highly restricted categories because while the intelligence gathered is useful to many people, the real-world identity of the person who obtained it is not. So it would be very unusual for anyone in the White House to have a valid need to know that information. I realize this is not the way things work on TV or thriller novels, but that's how it is in the real world.

The brief timeline isn't bad, but it is missing one key development. The Justice Department did indeed start their investigation in September, after the matter hit the print and broadcast media, but that was not the beginning of the investigation. The CIA requested the investigation on July 30th, sending a letter to DOJ to inform them that the agency believed a crime had been committed.

2 Comments:

i mailed this to the CSM, by the way.

posted by Blogger zeke L on
27 October, 2005 14:15  

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posted by Anonymous Anonymous on
20 February, 2007 16:58  

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