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It's time for Plame-case reporters to out the administration leakers

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  • robalini@aol.com
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com It s time for Plame-case reporters to out the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 27, 2003
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      It's time for Plame-case reporters to out the administration leakers
      By Bernard Weiner
      The Crisis Papers Co-Editor and Online Journal Contributing Writer

      December 23, 2003 - Journalists do not reveal sources. It's what
      gives the Fourth Estate some of its clout: Officials, and lower-level
      whistleblowers, trust us to receive sensitive information and not get
      them in trouble by ratting on them. In Washington and in state
      capitols, officials leak information all the time, provide off-the-
      record statements to reporters, and engage in "background" interviews
      without permitting themselves to be quoted by name or title.

      We do not say who told us those things. We journalists might get
      thrown in the clink for not revealing who provided us the
      information, but the sources have no need to worry about their
      futures. We will keep our mouths shut. It's not just a journalistic
      tradition, it's also a practical matter: If we revealed our source in
      one instance, we might never get anybody to tell us anything
      significant in private again.

      So here I am urging my journalistic colleagues - at least six of
      them - to break the tradition and reveal their sources, in the
      interest of national security.

      You know what I'm referring to. After Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote
      an op-ed piece in the New York Times that contradicted Bush's false
      State of the Union claims about Iraq seeking to buy Niger uranium,
      two "senior administration officials" told at least six journalists
      in July that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent.
      Karl Rove, Bush's closest political advisor, reportedly told
      Hardball's Chris Matthews that after Wilson's op-ed piece, Mrs.
      Wilson was "fair game."

      This revelation of her undercover role at the CIA is against the law,
      a law signed by the first Bush president, George H.W. Bush. In 1999,
      he told assembled CIA employees that those who would reveal the
      identity of undercover intelligence officers are the "most insidious
      of traitors."

      Five Didn't, One Did

      Five of the six journalists who were provided Plame's name and job-
      history chose, for whatever reason, not to run the story. Perhaps it
      didn't pass the smell test: clearly, the administration officials
      wished to manipulate the news outlets from private agendas that could
      only be guessed at. One right-wing columnist, Robert Novak - often a
      source of Bush administration leaks - had no such qualms; even though
      the CIA had asked him not to use Plame's name, he did so anyway.

      It seems clear that the outing of Wilson's wife was not carried out
      merely to ruin her career and to punish him, but to warn other
      government employees who might want to oppose key Bush policy to
      think twice before going public, lest something similar happen to

      Many agents in the CIA, appalled at what was being done to one of
      their colleagues by high-ranking Bush officials, chose to see the
      outing of Plame as a direct slap at their agency, which had been in
      conflict with the White House over intelligence matters meant to
      justify the invasion of Iraq. Specifically, the CIA's intelligence
      analysts, try as they might, were unable to come up with the evidence
      on WMD, nuclear weapons and a Saddam-al Qaeda link that Rumseld and
      Cheney and Wolfowitz and Bush wanted; so, because the decision
      already had been made to invade, Rumsfeld quickly had to set up his
      private rump "intelligence" unit, staffed not by intelligence agents
      but by political appointees who would do his bidding. That unit, the
      Office of Special Plans, provided the phony "evidence" that convinced
      the American people and Congress that the invasion was justifiable.
      The CIA was furious, and agents then began leaking damaging anti-
      administration information to reporters.

      Whatever the reasons that led the two "senior administration
      officials" to tell the six reporters and thus to violate the law by
      revealing the identity of a secret CIA officer, Plame was out in the
      cold. Not only was she compromised and potentially put in danger, but
      so were those abroad with whom she had worked over many years in
      building up intelligence on - irony of ironies - weapons of mass
      destruction. None of this mattered. The two "senior administration
      officials" put scores of lives at risk while doing damage to the one
      area of inquiry that was of most importance to their overall policy
      in Iraq and to the "war on terrorism" in general.

      This felonious behavior reminds one of the demented logic found
      behind the government's firing of Arabic-speaking gays who were doing
      intelligence and translation work, even though the agencies are
      woefully short on Arabic-speaking agents. This is a gang that not
      only can't shoot straight, it can't even think straight.

      Covering Up the Players

      We don't know all the players in the Plame-Wilson scenario. Karl
      Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby,
      Cheney's chief of staff, are the main suspects behind the outing,
      either doing it themselves or having lower-level aides in their
      offices speak to the reporters; but, since Novak and the five others
      are not talking, the administration figures it will get away with the
      felony and cover-up, since the journalistic tradition of silence will
      continue to protect their dirty secret.

      Bush has never shown any genuine curiosity in finding out who broke
      the law in this case. He chose not to have an independent counsel
      ("special prosecutor") appointed - something the GOP would have
      demanded in an instant if this had happened under a Democrat
      president. Instead, he permitted Ashcroft's Justice Department to
      handle the investigation in-house, despite the obvious conflict-of-

      As Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility
      and Ethics in Washington, has written, this Ashcroft "investigation"
      was suspicious from the outset: "The Justice Department launched its
      allegedly official probe on September 26th, but neglected to direct
      the White House to preserve critical evidence until the evening of
      September 29th. Then, when the White House Counsel asked if he could
      wait until the next day to inform the staff of the need to preserve
      documents, the Justice Department allowed it. Simply, if the leaker
      (s) had not been smart enough to get rid of the evidence between July
      6th and September 29th, the White House Counsel's office wanted to be
      sure that there was at least one last chance to do so before
      destroying evidence would constitute criminal obstruction of justice."

      The investigatory action in this case has been absolutely
      underwhelming, and, for all intents and purposes, nothing is expected
      to come out of the FBI's probe - at least not before the November
      2004 balloting. "We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one
      (i.e. the Plame investigation)," a "senior White House official" was
      quoted by the Financial Times two weeks ago. If the heat ever does
      get too intense - if, for example, the Congress were to initiate its
      own hearings and get officials under oath - a lower-level fall guy no
      doubt could be fingered.

      An "Extraordinary" Requirement

      So, it appears that the only way justice will be served is if one or
      more of the six journalists decide that there are overriding
      considerations that enable a reporter, in good conscience, to reveal
      the sources.

      Not even Novak believes the long-honored journalistic tradition is
      absolute. In 2001, he himself named a source that he'd kept secret
      for years (the double-agent FBI spy Robert Hanssen), once he became
      convinced that national security was at stake; he did it, he said,
      because the situation, was "extraordinary."

      Clearly, if an administration source told a reporter that he was
      involved in an assassination plot against, say, a United States
      senator, that reporter would be able to tell the difference between
      the need to maintain silence as a journalist and the fact that a
      crime was in the making and someone's life was endangered. If an
      administration source told a journalist some career-threatening dirt
      on a political opponent and bragged to the reporter that the story,
      whether true or not, could never be traced back to the administration
      official, wouldn't that journalist begin to at least question the
      tradition of always maintaining the confidentiality of sources?

      So there are no absolutes here. As Novak noted, the journalistic rule
      can be bent when an "extraordinary" occasion calls for it - and
      certainly this is true when national security is involved. It
      certainly was during the Vietnam War, when the New York Times and
      Washington Post saw that the Nixon Administration was hiding behind
      the term "national security," and published the Pentagon Papers
      anyway, because they understood the true nature of that term and the
      need for the American people to know the truth of how we got into
      that quagmire. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

      As President Bush #1 was well aware, harming the CIA by revealing its
      agents is a clear danger to national security - a "traitorous" act.
      If Bush #2 is elected in 2004, it is entirely possible - indeed,
      likely - that the U.S. will be threatening and perhaps invading
      another country or two, probably in the Middle East, and, more than
      likely, treating the CIA with contempt again while it cobbles
      together raw, untested "intelligence" from suspect sources.

      I'm not making up this invasion scenario; the ideologues behind U.S
      foreign/military policy have been quite open about their intentions
      of remaking, by force if necessary, the geopolitical map of much of
      the rest of the world. All of this is codified as official U.S.
      policy in the National Security Strategypromulgated by the Bush
      administration in 2002.

      Doing the Right Thing

      I don't expect that Novak will break his silence (even if he did it
      once before), as he's tied ideologically to the political agenda of
      Bush&Co. But surely the other five, presumably with more integrity,
      would come to understand the political, legal and international
      ramifications if they continue to maintain their silence. Reportedly,
      the five verified with the Washington Post the story of their contact
      with the two "senior administration officials," and those Post
      reporters who did that verifying likewise know something that could
      be useful.

      The reason Bush&Co. can swagger and bully people in Congress and the
      press and internationally is because hardly anybody that matters ever
      stands up to them. Why are there not ongoing investigations of this
      major Plame scandal by the Congress? If the relevant Republican-
      controlled committees of the House and Senate refuse to ask the
      questions that need to be asked, why can't Democrats on their own
      hold the appropriate investigatory hearings? Those probes might not
      be "official," but, if nothing else, they would focus renewed
      attention on the "traitorous" act, keeping the issue alive - and such
      hearings might actually provide a well-publicized forum where
      journalists might feel a bit more protected when answering the key
      questions truthfully.

      If journalists, supposedly the watchdogs of the government, let the
      perpetrators get away with this cover-up of a crime, a possible
      second-term Bush administration would be unconstrained domestically
      and internationally, doing untold damage to our national security
      abroad and to our constitutional protections and economy at home. In
      addition, the press would be relegated to the status of lapdogs, thus
      abandoning the watchdog function that Madison and others envisioned,
      and which it has carried out so ably over several hundred years.
      Reporters would become mere functionaries, little more than conduits
      for government propaganda, similar to journalists in Nazi Germany and
      in the Soviet Union.

      I am certain that serving as little more than propagandists is not
      what motivated those five professional reporters to get into the
      journalism business. That's certainly not why I joined the
      fraternity. On some level, we journalists want to discover the truth,
      know the truth, pass it on to our fellow citizens - so that our
      democratic institutions can work properly, out of factual knowledge -
      and to demonstrate that nobody, not even a governor or senator or
      president, is beyond the law. In short, we are motivated by the
      desire to do the right thing, by being true to ourselves and to the
      best interests of the nation.

      That credo underlying our craft is, at its most basic, a sacred
      trust. Acting on behalf of one's country likewise is a sacred trust.
      May the twain meet here. The situation is so dire, so extraordinary,
      that it is quite proper - indeed morally, legally and politically
      necessary - to out the rats who have endangered American national

      Copyright © 2003 Bernard Weiner

      Bernard Weiner has worked as a journalist for, among others, The
      Miami Herald, Miami News, Claremont Courier, San Diego Magazine,
      Northwest Passage, and, for nearly 20 years, the San Francisco
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