And the breaking developments - a member of the White House press corps used the Ambassador's statement as an excuse to ask WH Press Secretary Scott McClellan directly if Karl Rove was the source of the leak. Mr. McClellan was not fully responsive, as Mr. Noah documents. The Ambassador then backpedaled:
Wilson, for his part, denied today that he ever accused Rove. He told Chatterbox "Karl Rove" was simply a handy metonym for whatever two "senior administration officials" fingered Plame (correctly or falsely, Wilson still won't say).
Mr. Kleiman is disappointed by this behavior, and may be just slightly more receptive to the alternative view of the Ambassador that we have been pedaling for a while. As proof of the theory that if you write enough, something will seem prescient, I excerpt this:
OK, wild theory as to why there is so little media attention - probably the press can't find sources, but maybe they smell a rat.
I bet Tim Noah does. And I doubt that the reporter who staked his White Hose cred on the Ambassador's earlier statement won't be going back to that well again either.
Tim Noah suggests that someone put the question directly to Karl Rove. Since Mr. Noah spoke with the Ambassador, perhaps a question could be put to him - why should we take your hypotheticals seriously, and are there are others that are merely metonyms, synechdoches, metaphors, and allusions?
MORE: Boy, that will jinx me. Sort of like the way to produce more cars in five minutes than Detroit can produce in a month is to say "Hey, trafic is really light!"
MORE: My letter to Tim Noah (cc: Mark Kleiman) is below.
My letter to Tim Noah:
Dear Mr. Noah;
I read with great interest your recent article about Ambassador Wilson and Karl Rove. Mark Kleiman from the left, and I from the right, have been blogging extensively on this since July. Mark's excellent commentary can be found starting here; pride of authorship, and confidence in my new Movable Type site, oblige me to recommend my own timeline, which has links and commentary on every major and minor story I have seen on this.
I would like to comment on three points - the source of the leak, the credibility of Ambassador Wilson, and the question of whether a felony was committed.
Although David Corn does not emphasize it, the original Novak piece referred to both "senior Administration officials" and "the CIA" as sources. TIME magazine refers to "Administration" and "government" officials in a story attributing information about Ms. Wilson's CIA link to "government officials".
The key TIME passage:
"...some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices."
You will have to take my word for it, but the parenthetical insertion about Robert Novak was not in the original story. It followed several days later, as I discuss in the timeline.
It may seem odd that officials in the CIA would be leaking info about one of their own. However, there is a possible explanation, which touches on the credibility of Ambassador Wilson.
In his NY Times piece on July 6, the Ambassador was quite clear that he had rebutted any suggestion that Saddam had purchased uranium from Niger. However, neither George Tenet of the CIA nor British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw considered Wilson's report to be conclusive, since Wilson had also reported **attempts** by Saddam's agent to purchase uranium.
Evidently, the Ambassador's report was not as conclusive as he depicted it to readers of the NY Times. This may have ruffled feathers inside the CIA. Further ruffling may have been due to the fact that the Ambassador confirmed what lots of folks suspect, and the US routinely denies - the Ambassador, in his trip to Niger, passed himself off as working for the US government (State? Commerce?) while working for the CIA.
We have a further question about the Ambassador's credibility, and it relates to the many hypotheticals presented by a fellow who simply won't say definitively whether his wife works for the CIA in a clandestine capacity. In an appearance with Katie Couric on "The Today Show", he said this:
COURIC: How damaging would this be to your wife's work?
Mr. WILSON: Well, you know, what was left out of my interview with Andrea Mitchell was--was my comment that I would not answer any specific questions about my wife. But hypothetically speaking, as others have reported, including TODAY, it would be--it would be damaging not just to her career, since she's been married to me, but **since they mentioned her by her maiden name**, to her entire career. So it would be her entire network that she may have established, any operations, any programs or projects she was working on. It's a--it's a breach of national security. My understanding is it may, in fact, be a violation of American law.
Now, my reading of statement is that the damage done by releasing information about his wife's CIA status was compounded by mentioning her maiden name. In other words, "outing" her was bad; providing her maiden name made a bad situation worse.
However, the Ambassador probably ought to know that his wife's maiden name is available online as part of his own on-line biography. So, why the exaggerated claim of damage done?
He exaggerated the scope of his Niger report; he exaggerated the damage done by mentioning his wife's maiden name; he backpedaled from the Karl Rove accusation. Is it possible that no felony has occurred, and that "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs" is simply a metonym for "did something I really don't like"? Well, yes - there is a lot of uncertainty about whether a felony was committed.
The first level of uncertainty is introduced by the Ambassador's persistent refusal to discuss his wife. The second layer comes from the relevant law itself. Since the CIA does not operate domestically, to be protected as "covert", and agent must be posted overseas currently, or within the last five years.
Hence, it is possible that Ms. Plame was clandestine, but not legally "covert". Perhaps she ran a network in Iran seven years ago, and intended to do similar work in Pakistan two years hence. "Outing" her redirects (OK, ruins) her career, and compromises her Iranian network if it is still active. However, given the five-year rule, no crime has ocurred. Which, BTW, does not suggest that the leakers should get off scot-free - I am all in favor of humiliating Congressional hearings where a variety of Senators compete to ask the most excruciating questions.
However, my main point - there still are plenty of questions.
Love your column.