Nick Kristoff of the NY Times is a must read on the Valerie Plame Wilson situation:
...there are several crucial facts that can be made public without putting anyone at risk — and together, they leave everybody looking bad. The C.I.A. is now conducting a damage assessment, which will determine what networks and operations it will have to close down. But my sense is that Democrats exaggerate the damage to Mrs. Wilson's career and to her personal security, while Republicans vastly play down the enormity of the security breach and the danger to the assets she worked with.
And now a few pertinent facts:
First, the C.I.A. suspected that Aldrich Ames had given Mrs. Wilson's name (along with those of other spies) to the Russians before his espionage arrest in 1994. So her undercover security was undermined at that time, and she was brought back to Washington for safety reasons.
Second, as Mrs. Wilson rose in the agency, she was already in transition away from undercover work to management, and to liaison roles with other intelligence agencies. So this year, even before she was outed, she was moving away from "noc" — which means non-official cover, like pretending to be a business executive. After passing as an energy analyst for Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a C.I.A. front company, she was switching to a new cover as a State Department official, affording her diplomatic protection without having "C.I.A." stamped on her forehead.
Third, Mrs. Wilson's intelligence connections became known a bit in Washington as she rose in the C.I.A. and moved to State Department cover, but her job remained a closely held secret. Even her classmates in the C.I.A.'s career training program mostly knew her only as Valerie P. That way, if one spook defected, the damage would be limited.
All in all, I think the Democrats are engaging in hyperbole when they describe the White House as having put Mrs. Wilson's life in danger and destroyed her career; her days skulking along the back alleys of cities like Beirut and Algiers were already mostly over.
Moreover, the Democrats cheapen the debate with calls, at the very beginning of the process, for a special counsel to investigate the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton knows better than anyone how destructive and distracting a special counsel investigation can be, interfering with the basic task of governing, and it's sad to see her display the same pusillanimous partisanship that Republicans showed just a few years ago.
If Democrats have politicized the scandal and exaggerated it, Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it. The leak risked the security of all operatives who had used Brewster-Jennings as cover, as well as of all assets ever seen with Mrs. Wilson. Unwitting sources will now realize that they were supplying the C.I.A. with information, and even real agents may fear exposure and vanish.
Well. My very first thought is, that would explain why George Tenet has not been screaming at the President about this; it could also explain why the President is apparently unvexed. If she was thought to have been compromised in 1994, the CIA would have spent the last nine years buttoning down her networks - I doubt that relying on the discretion of the KGB was viewed as a serious option.
Other puzzles - who knew in Washington, and why did the CIA spokesman not scream at Robert Novak to sit on this news - also become a bit more clear.
Josh Marshall reacts. And imagine our surprise! He thinks Mr. Kristof is too harsh on the Dems, and too easy on the Reps.
I am still trying to figure out how her outing also outed the Brewster-Jennings firm mentioned by Mr. Kristof - don't the Russkies track FEC filings like the rest of us? Is Mr. Kristof proposing that Ms. Wilson and others used the firm as a front in 1999 even though Ms. Wilson was compromised in 1994? Maybe it was a one-woman firm with a nice business card.
And I am still trying to figure out how scandalous it was, either legally or in terms of national security, to "out", quite possibly by accident, an agent that was compromised in 1994, and whom the CIA has been winding down ever since. Doesn't mean it's OK, but however worried I was yesterday, I am less worried now. We encourage comments to help my tired brain - it's kid's soccer time!
Developing, I suspect....
UPDATE: OK, we will duly, and dryly, note that this new info has been leaked to coincide nicely with the Administration's new PR push on the Iraq war. I thought I was kidding a while back when I said that all was missing was a Bush supporter telling us that the Plame Game was Bush's domestic "flypaper"; now, we wonder.
MORE: Hmm. I don't know enough about Aldrich Ames to know the answer to this, but if he was associated with a particular area (Europe, for example), then knowing Ms. Wilson was compromised by Ames is a hint to the area she covered. Which means this latest Admin-friendly leak gives yet another clue to the bad guys about her expertise.
The original leak also confirmed what they might have previously only suspected (that she was CIA), and maybe increased the risk to others on the "Ames said so, but we aren't sure yet" list.
I am just waiting for someone to come forward with the news that she always orders fluently in Chinese restaurants. Gee, whose nuclear program might she have been looking at, and recruiting agents to penetrate?
And on that point, did it occurr to the WaPo that her bio included her schools? Who were her professors, who were her classmates, what did she study (nuclear physics? Biloogy? Chemistry?), did she study Russian, Chinese, Korean, what? One hopes the CIA has planted a false file there, and that her classmates have forgotten her. Although I remember some tall blonde babes from my college days...
MORE: Kevin Drum does not hear a bombshell going off, and wonders about the source. Our guess - Mr. Kristof is evidently writing on deepest background, with no hint whatsover as to his source. However, last week the WaPo gave us "sources close to DCI Tenet" telling us that he wanted the squabbling to end.
So, for Mr. Kristof - sources close to George Tenet, or, dare we say it, Mr. Tenet himself.
And we canot contain our amusement at this bit from Mr. Drum:
agree that while the Plame affair is indeed very serious, it's unlikely that her life has been endangered or her career destroyed (although in fairness, those haven't really been the major talking points from the critics in any case).
Hmm. Where does Ambassador Wilson rank amongst "the critics", and how does one explain this headline, and the talk show appearance that inspired it?
And more substantively, if the real issue is national security, and neither Ms. Wilson's life nor career were threatened by this leak, how does the leak constitute "revenge"?