James Risen, NY Times reporter and book author, has hit the talk show circuit to promote State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration. Mr. Risen and his book have been all over the news, of course, since it was Messrs. Risen and Lichtblau who broke the "Bush Spied" story about the warrantless NSA eavesdropping back in mid December.
Mark Finkelstein caught him with Katie Couric, and my question almost came up - Mr. Risen compared his own sources quite favorably with the Plame leakers, assuring us that his own leakers acted in the highest and purest of patriotic motives (I am extrapolating a bit - hyperbole and the moderation thereof did not make the final cut for my superlative, world-busting, must-read New Year's Resolutions).
Well, my question - since Mr. Risen is an authority on the motivations of the Plame leakers, is he also sitting on a Bob Woodward style revelation of his own? Did Mr. Risen actually get a leak from an Administration official linking Wilson's wife to the CIA and the Wilson trip to Niger?
One might almost wonder why he didn't - Bob Woodward received a leak, quite possibly from Richard Armitage at the State Department, when he wasn't even looking for it.
Andrea Mitchell said, to her own eventual discomfiture, that among journalists who cover the intelligence community and were probing the Niger story, Ms. Wilson's CIA connection was "widely known". Surely Mr. Risen is a member of this club.
And over at the Times, Nick Kristof told his readers that "Mrs. Wilson's intelligence connections became known a bit in Washington as she rose in the CIA and moved to State Department cover".
And in this June 19 2003 story, Mr. Risen buried a mention of the Niger-Iraq-uranium controversy in the last paragraph. Of course, the Times was on this with Nick Kristof's May and June columns, and a June 13 editorial, but one hopes that at least a few of the Times reporters on their Washington desk were exerting themselves to keep pace with Walter Pincus of the WaPo, who had a big breakout story on June 12.
Well, has anyone asked Mr. Risen, or the other NY Times reporters if they received as leak about Valerie Plame (or Wilson's wife - no Russertian subterfuges here)?
Oddly, the answer seems to be yes, and the answer evokes a comedy classic. Here is the NY Times describing the scene as they try to come to grips with the Judy Miller story:
In the fall of 2003, after The Washington Post reported that "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists," Philip Taubman, Ms. Abramson's successor as Washington bureau chief, asked Ms. Miller and other Times reporters whether they were among the six. Ms. Miller denied it.
"The answer was generally no," Mr. Taubman said. Ms. Miller said the subject of Mr. Wilson and his wife had come up in casual conversation with government officials, Mr. Taubman said, but Ms. Miller said "she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information."
Lacking a soundtrack, we have emphasized the punchline - "Generally no"? Mostly dead means partly alive, yes? So what does ""generally no" mean? If seven reporters did not get a Plame leak and one did, is the answer "generally no"? How about six versus two? What would it take to produce a swing to "generally yes"?
C'mon - Judy got one or more tips; in his Oct 2003 column, Nick Kristof is practically confessing that he knew the Plame backstory (Or if his confessional style does not shine through to you, see "UNRELENTING" at the bottom of this post). As Mr. Risen prowls the talk show circuit, some one who wants to make a bit of news can ask him a simple question - did Mr. Risen receive a leak linking Wilson, his wife, and the CIA prior to the publication of Bob Novak's famous July 14 2003 column?
Bonus follow-ups sure to provoke a no-comment - is he aware of any Timers reporters other than Judy Miller to receive such a leak? Does he have any reaction to Andrea Mitchell's assertion that among reporters on the intelligence beat, Ms. Wilson's CIA link was "widely known"?
We can but ask.
MORE: As to the motives of the Plame leakers - please. A link-free recap would be this:
Rove to Novak - "I heard that, too".
Rove to Matt Cooper of Time - a few sentences on background, warning with eerie prescience that Wilson lacked credibility.
Libby to Cooper - "I heard that, too" (from other reporters, if anyone cares to rehash Libby's version).
Libby to Miller - part of a broader chat, in her words.
Someone to Pincus - an attempt to steer him away from Wilson, not slam Wilson. More eerie prescience?
Someone to Novak - Novak's versions may have evolved, but Novak does claim he was looking for dirt on Wilson to fill out his July 14 "who picked this obvious Democrat for a possibly politically sensitive assignment?" column that followed his July 10 "who picked this obvious Democrat for a possibly politically sensitive assignment" column.
Someone to Woodward - an incidental part of a larger story.
Sure, sure - all that simply proves how subtle these Bushmen are. Can't fool Risen.
UPDATE: TIME magazine has read the book and talked to Mr. Risen:
But the book also argues that the NSA's eavesdropping policy shows the extent to which the war on terrorism has spurred the intelligence community to flout legal conventions at home and abroad. Risen's chief target is the CIA, where, he argues, institutional dysfunction and feckless leadership after 9/11 led to intelligence breakdowns that continue to haunt the U.S. Though much of State of War covers ground that is broadly familiar, the book is punctuated with a wealth of previously unreported tidbits about covert meetings, aborted CIA operations and Oval Office outbursts. The result is a brisk, if dispiriting, chronicle of how, since 9/11, the "most covert tools of national-security policy have been misused."
What State of War lacks is a prescription for what to do about it. Despite the intelligence failures documented in the book, Risen concludes that as a result of the U.S.'s counterterrorist efforts, "al-Qaeda now seems to lack the power to conduct another 9/11." The question facing policymakers is how to balance that apparent gain in security with its attendant costs--to the military in Iraq, to civil liberties at home and to the U.S.'s standing in the world.
The Washington Times lays out the Democratic strategy for self-immolation:
Democrats on Capitol Hill are drafting a strategy to attack the Bush administration and Republicans as having little regard for the privacy of Americans.
Reactions range from worried to gleeful:
Democratic aides say privately that while it remains a high goal to win control over the House or Senate in the November elections, they think the issue will resonate with voters.
Centrist Democrats, however, warn that such a strategy could backfire.
"I think when you suggest that civil liberties are just as much at risk today as the country is from terrorism, you've gone too far if you leave that impression," Michael O'Hanlon, a national security analyst at the Brookings Institution who advises Democrats on defense issues, told The Washington Times last week.
"I get nervous when I see the Democrats playing this [civil liberties] issue out too far," he said.
But Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have been full speed ahead on the new strategy. The California Democrat has been critical of Mr. Bush's eavesdropping policy, portions of the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq.
Like Mr. O'Hanlon, Republicans are doubtful the issue will take hold.
"Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid never miss an opportunity to drive the train right off the tracks and remind voters why their reluctance to trust Capitol Hill Democrats on the important issues is justifiable," said Kevin Madden, spokesman for Rep. Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who stepped down as House majority leader to fight charges he violated federal campaign-finance laws.
Voters, Republicans say, will agree with Mr. Bush's decision to use extraordinary efforts to thwart terrorist plots and already support the Patriot Act as an effective tool in the fight against terrorists.
"Essentially, Democratic leaders themselves have exposed the weak underbelly of the Democratic platform," said Mr. Madden, noting that key Democrats such as Mrs. Pelosi have advocated an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
Should the National Security Agency be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States? (64% yes, 23% no)
(b) Is President Bush the first President to authorize a program for intercepting telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States? (26% yes, 48% no)