The NY Times takes a long look at the legal maneuverings of the reporters involved in the Valerie Plame investigation.
Below are some quick reactions. First, the Times points out that, unlike most desultory leak investigations, this one is being pursued with vigor, and tells us why:
The Plame case is different. This is largely because, unlike most leaks, the disclosure of an undercover intelligence agent's identity is a felony. The disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, moreover, may have been motivated by politics. And the investigation inside the government, in which the president, the vice president and many other officials have been questioned, seems to have been both exhaustive and inconclusive.
Please. A few weeks ago, the Times was delighted to report on leaks of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which the Times described as classified. And were the leaks politically motivated? We all know how the game was played - some Administration critics leaked the ghastly bits to the Times; Administration sympathizers then had to choose between leaking some rebuttal points, or conceding the story to the critics.
And here is another leak of what we suspect is classified info - an internal assessment of the CIA's pre-war intelligence effort. Can anyone speculate at a political motive here?
The Times is littered with politically motivated leaks of classified information. By and large, I support that - the government probably does over-classify things, and a better-informed public has some vague hope of reaching better decisions. But perhaps the Times could reflect a bit more deeply as to why the Plame leak was perceived as being so different. Possible hints - it was personalized in a way that misty breaches of generic "national security" are not; the Dems screamed, eventually with some success; and it tied in nicely to a storyline of a thuggish, do-anything White House, as described in the original reporting by David Corn. The non-thuggish "news management" view was presented rather quickly; more nefarious alternative views emerged much later, as the scope of Ambassador Willson's misinformation campaign became more clear.
A little mystery may be cleared up here:
Mr. Pincus said one official gave him permission to repeat a conversation but not to name the official. The Post reported on the case in October, citing a journalist there, later identified as Mr. Pincus.
This may be the WaPo story from Oct. 12; the relevant passage would be this:
On July 12, two days before Novak's column, a Post reporter was told by an administration official that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction. Plame's name was never mentioned and the purpose of the disclosure did not appear to be to generate an article, but rather to undermine Wilson's report.
Mr. Pincus has a byline on the October story, and also seems to be the reporter cited in the story. Reporting live from the Hall of Mirrors, Walter Pincus and Mike Allen!
We have also added emphasis to the oddly exculpatory tidbits - in this telling, the White House source revealed neither her name nor Ms. Plame's status as an undercover operative.
Relatedly, the Times reports that the status of Mr. Novak's testimony is unknown, and tells us this:
...Robert Novak, the columnist who identified Ms. Plame in the first place as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," citing "two senior administration officials" as his sources, is not saying whether he has been subpoenaed or whether he has provided any information to prosecutors.
Just for the record, let's repeat what Mr. Novak actually wrote, so people can see for themselves just how cryptic his sourcing was:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him.
No source for the "Agency operative" information; senior Admin officials saying his wife helped select him; CIA sources for a different view of her role in Wilson's recruitment.
That third sentence, where Novak makes clear he had CIA sources for background on Ms. Plame, is rarely reported. For example, if I can rely on Google, it has never been cited by Josh Marshall at his Talking Points Memo website, although he has written on Ambassador Wilson extensively. And has it been noted at the Times itself? Don't be daft.
However, Novak's interplay with the CIA press relations people was reported on last fall. His version - the CIA never really warned me not to publish. The WaPo version is here; my thoughts, with related links, are here.
Do I have a point? YES! Novak's sourcing was never clear, so his grand jury testimony may be similarly opaque.
The Times mentions the Wen Ho Lee case as an example of leaks gone bad; nothing about Steven Hatfill of anthrax fame, so we will remind them that Nick Kristof was involved with that debacle, as well as the Joe Wilson mess.
Finally, the Times does not mention the "One by Two By Six" theory that at one time guided this case. The notion was that one White House source leaked the general story to the WaPo in late September; that story was that two White House aides had leaked to six reporters. The prosecutor's approach - find the "one", find the "six", and then find the "two".
However, finding six reporters who received the leak seems to have stumped Fitzgerald. My guess - the original "six" figure was wrong. Pincus looks like a leak recipient, as does Novak, but the version of the leak presented by Pincus last October won't convict anyone (in my non-lawyerly opinion).
MORE: Lots of links at this timeline.
UPDATE: A fair question from Kevin Drum - why doesn't anyone know what is happening with Novak?