Bush Abandonment Watch, Part 5.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Nov. 3 2005 6:57 PM

Bush Abandonment Watch, Part 5

Conservatism's godfather refuses to shrug off the Plame leak.

The superstructure of Republican rationalization concerning the unmasking of Central Intelligence Agency employee Valerie Plame rests on one simple foundation. Say it with me: It was no big deal! Victoria Toensing decanted the party line on the editorial page of the Nov. 3 Wall Street Journal:

If the CIA truly, truly, truly had wanted Mrs. Plame's identity to be secret, it never would have permitted her spouse to write the [New York Times] op-ed [about his fact-finding mission to Niger]. Did no one at Langley think that her identity could be compromised if her spouse wrote a piece discussing a foreign mission about a volatile political issue that focused on her expertise? The obvious question a sophisticated journalist such as [Robert] Novak asked after "Why did the CIA send [Joseph] Wilson?" was "Who is Wilson?"

[…]

When Mr. Novak called the agency to verify Ms. Plame's employment, it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.

[…]

Although high-ranking Justice Department officials are prohibited from political activity, the CIA had no problem permitting its deep cover or classified employee from making political contributions under the name "Wilson, Valerie E.," information publicly available at the FEC.

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These arguments are extremely weak. The notion that, in allowing Joe Wilson to write an op-ed, the CIA was begging for his wife to be unmasked rests on the risible presumption that the Bush White House doesn't know how to stonewall reporters. It seldom does anything else! It's news to me that anyone who has truly sensitive government information to impart is entitled to a private audience with the CIA director. (Does he send a limo to pick you up?) And I don't see what harm there is in Valerie [Plame] Wilson making political contributions so long as her checks aren't embossed, "Valerie Wilson, CIA Asset."

Still, this is all GOP gospel now. For a fellow conservative to take the Plame leak at all seriously is unforgivably disloyal.

That makes it all the more striking that William F. Buckley, who just last month celebrated the 50th anniversary of the conservative magazine he founded, National Review, with President Bush at the White House, would publish a column on Nov. 1 arguing that the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity was, er, kind of ... bad. "The revelation of a covert affiliation can have terminal consequences," Buckley wrote. He continued:

[E]ven if she was safe in Washington when the identity of her employer was given out, it does not mean that her outing was without consequence. We do not know what dealings she might have been engaging in which are now interrupted or even made impossible. We do not know whether the countries in which she worked before 1997 could accost her, if she were to visit any of them, confronting her with signed papers that gave untruthful reasons for her previous stay—that she was there only as tourist, or working for a fictitious U.S. company. ...

The importance of the law against revealing the true professional identity of an agent is advertised by the draconian punishment, under the federal code, for violating it. In the swirl of the Libby affair, one loses sight of the real offense, and it becomes almost inapprehensible what it is that Cheney/Libby/Rove got themselves into. But the sacredness of the law against betraying a clandestine soldier of the republic cannot be slighted.

Of course, there's a simple explanation for Buckley's concern. As he reminded us in the column, Buckley himself was a CIA asset back in the 1950s. So, perhaps the Bush White House, which regards the CIA as a more dangerous enemy than Osama Bin Laden, had already decided that, charming though he is, the old man is no patriot.

Bush Abandonment Watch Archive:

Oct. 31, 2005: Silvio Berlusconi
Oct. 13, 2005: Margaret Thatcher and Ari Fleischer
Oct. 21, 2005: Lawrence Wilkerson
Oct. 25, 2005: John Sununu

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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