June 13, 2006

CIA Leak Panel at Yearly Kos

Ambassador Joseph Wilson and natasha celine at Yearly Kos. June, 2006.

The CIA Leak panel was, unexpectedly, both informative and highly charged. In addition to Amb. Joseph Wilson and his wife's former colleague at the CIA, Larry Johnson, were Dan Froomkin of The Washington Post, Murray Waas of the The National Journal, Jane Hamsher and Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake, and Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel) of The Next Hurrah.

Many excellent points were made, but a few in particular stood out to me as either something I hadn't run across previously or in at least one case, can't be repeated often enough so long as certain people aren't in jail yet. As Jane Hamsher pointed out when she opened the panel, blogs function as an institutional memory. So while I recommend searching out video of the full panel, this is an important enough topic to deserve as many venues as possible.

Wilson's main starting point was that the outing of his wife was a contrived distraction from the issues raised in the article that started the whole chain of events. To illustrate, he asked for a show of hands of anyone who knew who put the 16 words in the infamous State of the Union speech, and I believe that Wheeler was one of only two people to raise a hand. He asked for a show of hands from anyone who didn't know his wife's name before that day, no hands went up. He said that finding out who put them there and why was the main issue, that "this is about war and how we wage it."

Wheeler said that because Iran-Contra had never been properly explained to the public, Adm. Poindexter was back spying on Americans with his database 20 years later. She said that blogs were situated in a way that they could present things in terms of character in a way that wasn't appropriate for journalists and could look at how the media was being spun. And getting spun, she said later on, seemed to be the fate of every reporter on the story that has relied on sources instead of court documents.

Johnson said that Plame had been undercover since 1985, though she had later moved to non-official cover. He said that she wasn't the only member of their graduating class to be married to a diplomat, an argument some have used to say that she shouldn't have expected to keep her cover given her relationship. While it was true that she had been transitioning out of her work, she'd been associated with the undercover operation to monitor Iran's nuclear program and that her exposure had outed that program, made unwitting contacts aware that they might be part of a U.S. spy operation. Most key is that the CIA performed a damage assessment that found damage had been done to their intelligence gathering and the Justice Department knew her to have a legally protected identity, or there wouldn't be an investigation going on right now.

To point up the absurdity of some of the claims made about Plame's role in setting up the Niger visit, Johnson suggested that it would only be possible if she was the most clairvoyant person in the world. She would have had to have come up with her plan back in February of 2002, sent Wilson on an unpaid trip to "no Club Med" Niger, purposefully sat on the information he uncovered until a poor, unwitting Bush gave a speech and only then sent Wilson springing into action.

Hardin Smith then presented a framework of grand jury procedure that ought to make it easier for everyone to spot spin and, perhaps, a bit of what might charitably be called laziness in stories about the investigation headed by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the source of the leak.

For one thing, juries are paid very little and usually have regular jobs. Which you all knew before you read this, or why else would people try so hard to get out of it. Prosecutors therefore don't start grand juries unless they intend to secure charges or get an indictment and try very hard not to waste their time. Hardin Smith noted that because the District Courts use the same jury pool, and it's a regular grand jury, not a 'special' one, a prosecutor who did waste their time could well spoil things for every other prosecutor that depends on them. The grand jury used by this investigation is scheduled to meet every Wednesday and Friday, though they might not always do so, and wouldn't it be nice if there were reporters willing to spend some time down at the courthouse those days to see if Fitzgerald or one of the part-time prosecutors working with him were showing up to make arguments.

As to people dismissing the possibility of further indictments, Hardin Smith noted that because both Fitzgerald and the judge in the case had said that the investigation was ongoing, there was every reason to think that the investigation was ongoing. She pointed out that a new grand jury was sworn in the day after the Libby investigation closed and that Karl Rove had been in a couple times. I believe she may have mentioned yet again that it was reasonable to think the investigation was ongoing, because apparently the word of the judge and prosecutor working on the case just doesn't get through to some people.

One of Wilson's last comments in the Q&A session (yes, the panels all had comment threads) brought the issue back to the media and Iran-Contra. He said that while at the end of that situation, Bush had the legal power to pardon those involved, it was the media that chose either to applaud his actions or to avoid the issue altogether.

Shortly after the panel, Sen. Boxer bracketed her speech with the following quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." It could as easily have been given as a caution to all members of today's media, both paid and amateur, not to give the current administration a free pass should they take the option to pardon those who participated in the outing of one of their own intelligence agents.

Update: In light of today's news from Rove's prosecutor that he will not have charges sought against him, Christy Hardin Smith speculates about what kind of deal Rove made and how they will handle classified information Libby wants to use in his defense. Marcy Wheeler elaborates on the possibility that this is just another step in using Dick Cheney as a human legal shield. If Cheney gets frogmarched, instead of Rove, it would indeed be satisfying in other ways.

Posted by natasha at June 13, 2006 12:32 AM | Event Coverage | Technorati links |

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has told White House aide Karl Rove that he does not expect to seek charges against him in connection with the CIA leak case.

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Posted by: not Karl Rove at June 13, 2006 07:29 AM

Doesn't mean they're not looking into someone else, can't say I'm not disappointed, though.

Posted by: natasha at June 13, 2006 08:05 AM

"Johnson said that Plame had been undercover since 1985, though she had later moved to non-official cover."

Um, what? "Non-official cover" (NOC) is undercover. So is "official cover," where you pretend to be an ordinary embassy official. If you have a "cover," whether posing as a U.S. official, or posing as someone else (an ordinary business person, a tourist, whatever), you are under cover. You can't have a "cover" and not be "under" that "cover."

I'm guessing that Wilson said that his wife moved form official cover to NOC, which is what happened, as I understand it.

Posted by: Gary Farber at June 17, 2006 02:51 PM