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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Hurricane Katrina: Blaming Bush, Being Pro-Looting and More

I just spotted Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, on CNN arguing with anchor Miles O'Brien. O'Brien was suggesting that the federal government dropped the ball in terms of preparing for Hurricane Katrina. Barbour kept defending the federal government--that is, the Bush Administration. He seemed to suggest that the hurricane was not that powerful when it first approached land and that there had not been enough time to do more preparation. Of course, Barbour did not note that before becoming governor of Mississippi he was head of the Republican Party and, therefore, not of a disposition to speak critically of an Administration that has gutted FEMA, slashed funding for flood control and sent many National Guard reserves to Iraq. (By one estimate, about one-third of the Louisiana National Guard is in Iraq now.) O'Brien pushed his point about as hard as is permitted on cable television. But he neglected to raise these specifics or to question Barbour about his previous work as a corporate lobbyist who, on behalf of his well-paying clients, fought fiercely against the Kyoto accords. (Recent scientific research suggests that global warming has led to more destructive hurricanes.) And, as I noted previously (click here), Barbour led the GOP when it was waging war on Big Government. Now he's all for it. O'Brien didn't query him on this conversion.

Liberal bloggers have banded together to raise money for the hurricane relief efforts and to help our Red State neighbors. (See the ad at my blog: www.davidcorn.com.) The goal, as the ad says, is to raise $1 million. Please consider clicking on the ad (or going straight to the donation page) and doing what you can. In the meantime, I propose putting off the GOP effort to kill the estate tax for millionaires and to devote a portion of those funds for reconstruction in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. I ask my fellow liberal bloggers to join me in this call, and to raise this question: Will Haley Barbour endorse our campaign?

As the New York Times editorializes today, a moment like this shows Bush's weaknesses. He was late to respond (again!) and his rhetoric was hollow (no surprise). Yesterday he declared, "America will be a stronger place for it." Puh-lease. Did he ask his speechwriters for the most empty platitude they could concoct? Then today he proclaimed there would be "zero tolerance" for looters. But if I were stuck in New Orleans, waiting for help from a government that had failed me, and my family was without water, food or clothes, I'd grab what I could from where I could. I'd worry about payment later. Sure, some looters are criminals exploiting the emergency. But many are people trying to survive. Who would watch their kids go hungry rather than break a window at a Winn-Dixie? Not me. Call me pro-looting-when-it's-necessary.

And if you haven't already seen my college chum Will Bunch's piece on why this disaster did not have to be as bad as it has been--due to federal cutbacks in funds for flood control--check it out here. Bunch works for the Philadelphia Daily News, and he mainly reviewed stories from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Here's an excerpt:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming....Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Hmmm, a security issue. Flooding? Weather? Global warming? This is far too nuanced a view. I mean, isn't the real threat the terrorists in Iraq who want to destroy America because they hate our freedom (even though they don't seem to mind the freedoms enjoyed by people in, say, Finland)? Hurricane Katrina illuminates bad choices and bad policies. It may have been an act of God. But its devastating impact was also determined by the folly of our leaders.

It also makes me wonder, Can this government deal with one of the nightmare scenarios? A biological weapon? A nuclear detonation? The Bush Administration, according to numerous studies, has not fully funded first responders. Hurricane Katrina shows why this is foolishness.

Enough of a sermon from me. Please give to the relief fund.

Roberts Memos: Who Cares About the Syntax?

I am tired of hearing about what a witty and irascible character John G. Roberts Jr. is, how Roberts, George W. Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, is such a sophisticated--if curmudgeonly--cut-up. There have been numerous newspaper stories that depict Roberts in such terms on the basis of the memos he penned when he worked for the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Yesterday the New York Times front-paged a cute account of Roberts's penchant for proper punctuation. It noted that twenty-three years ago, when he worked for White House counsel Fred Fielding, Roberts was taken with a letter written to the White House because its author, an octogenarian lawyer concerned with an obscure jurisdictional matter, had quoted Plato and Webster and used the word "slumgullion (which means thin stew). This correspondent, Roberts declared, deserved a reply. What a fellow, that Roberts!

I'm more concerned with the content--not style--of his memos and a decades-long trail that shows Roberts has usually favored a narrow reading of rights (such as the "so-called" right to privacy). These memos also suggest he has a tendency to put his intellectual arrogance at work for a political agenda. One memo he co-wrote in 1985 shows that Roberts was not shy about interjecting his own view into policy-making, even if that view had no basis in fact.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Clinton's biggest lie, what Bush really said before the war and Gary Hart's good advice for the Democrats.

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In this September 13, 1985, memo, Roberts, who was still in Fielding's office, wrote about briefing materials that had been prepared for President Ronald Reagan. The material covered several subjects, including the dispute over admitting children with AIDS into public schools. Roberts wrote:

The third bullet item contains the statement that "as far as our best scientists have been able to determine, AIDS virus is not transmitted through casual or routine contact." I do not think we should have the President taking a position on a disputed scientific issue of this sort. He has no way of knowing the underlying validity of the scientific "conclusion," which has been attacked by numerous commentators. I would not like to see the President reassuring the public on this point, only to find out he was wrong later. There is much to commend the view that we should assume AIDS can be transmitted through casual or routine contact, as is true with many viruses, until it is demonstrated that it cannot be, and no scientist has said AIDS definitely cannot be so transmitted. I would simply delete the third bullet item.

Here Roberts was not being merely prudent. Believing he knew best, he was substituting his uninformed opinion for the scientific consensus. Three years earlier, the Centers for Disease Control had declared, "Airborne spread and interpersonal spread through casual contact do not seem likely." And weeks before Roberts wrote this memo, the CDC--after several years of additional research--had noted that children with AIDS attending public schools posed an "apparent nonexistent risk of transmission." The CDC noted that "casual person-to-person contact, as among schoolchildren, appears to pose no risk." At that time, Dr. Martha Rogers, an epidemiologist at the CDC's AIDS branch, told the media, "The reasons I've seen given for keeping [children] out [of public schools] are not very good reasons. We're trying to educate people as to the real transmission modes."

Apparently, Roberts needed such educating. Instead of sticking to the known facts and heeding the word of government scientists, Roberts thought he knew better, and he was willing to substitute his own judgment (which happened to coincide with that of Reagan supporters who were arguing against allowing kids with AIDS into public schools) for the informed conclusion of experts. Yes, this was an isolated episode. But so was Roberts's excitement over the word "slumgullion." But perhaps this is evidence that Roberts will fit in well with the Bush Administration's science-doesn't-matter attitude.

I doubt that such decades-old musings of Roberts will persuade all Democratic senators to oppose the Roberts nomination. But it should not take a gotcha memo--if one does exist--to persuade Democrats to vote against him. Roberts is clearly a fellow of a strong conservative bent. Democrats can argue that the courts have moved too far to the right and simply declare enough is enough. Instead, there is a sense that the Roberts opposition must uncover a smoking-gun item to push the Democratic senators to stand as a group against Roberts. And let me pass on this bad news for progressives: So far, no troubling rumors have emerged for anti-Roberts investigators to chase.

There will be tough questions hurled at Roberts during his nomination hearings: about his skeptical view of privacy rights, about his previous opposition to Roe, about his apparent fondness for executive power, about the ethical issue raised by a meeting he had with Bush Administration officials about his possible appointment to the Supreme Court when he was about to rule on an important case in which the Administration was a party. None of this, though, carries the potential to derail the nomination. But why should anyone worry when Roberts is such a dedicated grammarian?

Bush's Iraq Fantasy

George W. Bush sure knows a lot more than the experts. He believes intelligent design is a scientific theory on par with evolution--even though his science adviser has said that I.D. has no merit as a scientific theory. He also seems to be more wise in the ways of Iraqi society and politics than leading Iraqis. On Tuesday Bush praised the draft constitution hammered out by Shiites and Kurds without Sunni involvement. He called it an "amazing event." But as the New York Times and other papers have reported, Iraqi secular leaders have warned that this constitution could lead to domination of Iraq by Shiite Islamic clerics.

Most notably, on the same day that Bush was hyping the draft constitution, Ghassan Atiyyah, the director of the Baghdad-based Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, was on NPR explaining why the constitution could be dangerous for secularists, women and others in Iraq. Before sharing some quotes, let me note that Atiyyah has been supported by Bush's closest, pro-war allies. The neoconnish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has hosted him in Washington. The International Republican Institute, the global arm of the GOP, has provided Atiyyah's outfit assistance. Its website notes:

Headed by Ghassan Atiyyah, a respected Iraqi dissident and publisher of the oppositionist periodical The Iraqi File, the IFDD is a regionally based non-governmental organization committed to supporting democracy and development in Iraq by fostering dialogue between decision-makers and citizens on important social, economic, and political issues. A primary goal of the Foundation is to bring together people of diverse ethnic, religious, political and tribal backgrounds to build consensus on finding solutions to the issues most important to the Iraqi people and for assisting in the promotion of freedom and democracy. With the material and advisory assistance provided by IRI's Baghdad staff, the IFDD has convened several conferences of substantial importance.

With that endorsement in mind, let's see what Atiyyah had to say about the draft constitution when he was interviewed by NPR:

ATIYYAH: [The Sunnis] are faced with a constitution on the basis, 'Take it or leave it.' It's very difficult for them to accept that because there are so many items in it which are very difficult for them to stomach, and they will lose credibility even among the moderate Sunnis. So they have the option now to vote against it in a referendum. Could the Arab Sunni muster two-thirds majority in three provinces, the Sunni provinces, veto the constitution and dissolve the parliament and bring a new election? I doubt that. Most of the Sunni boycotted the election. They didn't just throw their names in the electoral list. So it is for them only one week left to register their names. Then you have to mobilize them and to get them to the polling boxes. At the time when al-Zarqawi and the extremists and the jihadists threatened them by killing them if they go to the vote or the referendum, and so they will find themselves between the fire and the blue sea, and this will play into the hands of the extremists.

MELISSA BLOCK: It sounds like what you're saying here is almost two parallel tracks, that a constitution will go through without Sunni approval, that it will pass a referendum in October, that will pave the way for elections in December. But the Sunnis will be out of the process, and extremism will rise as a result.

ATIYYAH: This is the nightmare scenario. I feel the secular and liberal are the victim of what happened during the last two years. Now the ascendancy of religion and even the constitution--there's so many references to Islam, to the extent that it is clearly stipulated that any law that contradicts Islam will be rejected. And who is the judge as whether it is--contradicts Islam or not? It will be a higher court. So in a sense, you are creating another body like the Iranian body, a special body, the Iranian--which is not elected; it's appointed--which has authority to decide this law is Islamic or not. So are we going into the path of Islamic state in Iraq thanks to the American administration? Is that what the American public expected would happen in Iraq, getting rid of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to be replaced by a theocracy?

BLOCK: Is your fear, Mr. Atiyyah, that your country would be devolving toward a theocratic state?

ATIYYAH: This is one of the possibilities, one of the scenarios. Now we are at the crossroad. The fact is the main forces who are drafting the constitution are the Shia Islamists, who have the backing of Iran as well as the Kurds. The deal between the Kurds and the Shia is very simple. It's to have a federal state by allowing the Kurds have their own way in Kurdistan, and in return, the Shia Muslims will have their way in the south.

BLOCK: Is it your sense that ordinary Iraqis are following this process, debating the fine points of the constitution much as we are now? Is this, say, the talk of the town right now?

ATIYYAH: Ma'am, believe me, the man on the street, he has no electricity. He is worrying about how to get gas, he is worrying how to get the water, he is worrying how to bring food to the table to his family. He is worrying about security, when to leave. He has no time to think of this [unintelligible] of the constitution. The constitution only today was published in the press, today. Who will read it? Who will care about it? This doesn't mean that the case is hopeless. Our fate is intertwined with American administration; their failure is our failure. But the United States can survive a failure in Iraq, but we Iraqis, a failure means a catastrophe and mean an end of a country.

Failure in Iraq? That's sure not what Bush has been talking about these past few days, as he tries once more to rally popular support for the war. But Bush must be closer to the real facts than Atiyyah, right? The IRI ought to ask Atiyyah for its money back.

And during his speech on Wednesday to a stacked audience of National Reservists in Idaho, Bush went on and on about the enemy in Iraq, describing the opposition as only a collection of foreign fighters who have amassed in Iraq to fight the United States because they "fear the march of freedom" and "despise our freedom and way of life." Sure, there are jihadists in Iraq. But part--if not most--of the problem comes from Sunni insurgents who did not have to cross any borders to take up arms against US troops (and who don't give a fig about freedoms and ways of living in the United States). Once more, Bush is peddling a comic-book depiction of the conflict in Iraq: us versus the evil terrorists. Many analysts are already describing the war there as a civil war, as militia attacks increase. Bush, though, is immune to reality. I know that's no news flash. But as the gap continues to grow between Bush's "reality" and what's really occurring in Iraq, his warmed-over sales pitch is likely not to have much impact.

Today, Ret. Col. Pat Lang, who once was a top intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (and who remains one of the sharper analysts of events in Iraq), posted an item on his blog in which he pointed to a sparkle of hope in a recent statement by the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, who acknowledged the issue at hand is indeed dealing with the Sunni-based insurgency (not foreign fighters). Lang writes:

"What they are doing is to go for broader level of support because of political considerations, because of the need to build consensus, because of the need to isolate the insurgency from the Sunni population." -- [Zalmay] Khalilzad

Congratulations, Mr. Ambassador!!

It has been clear from the very beginning of the armed uprising in Iraq that the largely (but not altogether) Sunni Arab revolt could not exist, grow and continue to operate without some level of popular support.

A very simple and basic principle of insurgent warfare is that guerrillas have to have food, shelter, money, weapons, intelligence and a population which accepts their presence and does not report them to the security forces. That support or cooperation can be freely given, coerced, or some combination of the two.

The Bush Administration and the senior leadership of the US Armed forces has maintained throughout the war that the insurgents are:

-Baathist holdouts and "deadenders" who are not more than a handful and who are without popular support.

-Foreign and domestic mercenaries (often criminal) who are also without popular support.

-Iraqi Islamists (a handful) who have no popular support.

-Foreign Islamists smuggled in primarily from Syria (no support).

Right up until yesterday the egregious (but handsome) Dan Bartlett, White House Communications Director, was saying on the tube that those who are fighting the "progress of Democracy" in Iraq are a "tiny, indeed miniscule" percentage of the "Iraqi people."

In this context, the clear headed realism of Ambassador Khalilzad in telling Gwen Ifill of the Newshour that the new constitution must receive a lot of Sunni Arab support in order to "isolate the insurgency from the Sunni population" is highly significant.

What this tells us is that Khalilzad, and therefor probably the Bush Administration, has a much clearer understanding of the structure and numbers of the insurgencies than we had been led to believe.

Well, if that's the case, Bush is keeping it a secret. He's dishing out the usual rhetoric, linking the invasion of Iraq to 9/11 and refusing to acknowledge the full basis of the bloody conflict in Iraq. Perhaps he also knows better than his own ambassador.

Rove Scandal: Bob Dole Disinforms

I remain on a vacation (well-deserved, if I do say so), but I did post the below item on my personal blog at www.davidcorn.com. If you're not a regular visitor there, please become one.

The spin never ends. In a New York Times op-ed piece published on Tuesday, former Senator Bob Dole, the hapless 1996 GOP presidential nominee, backs proposed legislation that would protect (to a large degree) a reporter's confidential relationship with a source. That's all fine and well, but Dole also takes the occasion to disinform about the Rove scandal. The piece opens:

Like many Americans, I am perplexed by the federal investigation into the alleged leak of classified information that exposed Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador, as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

Why is he perplexed? Classified information was leaked. It was not an "alleged leak." The leak did occur. No one disputes that. And the CIA has repeatedly said the information that was leaked--Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--was classified information. The Justice Department, which initiated the investigation, presumably agrees. (Otherwise, why investigate?) And we now know that Karl Rove (at least) twice shared this classified information with reporters Bob Novak and Matt Cooper and that Scooter Libby shared it (at least) once with Cooper. Yet Dole, following the lead of conservative spinners, diminishes the matter as an "alleged leak" and writes it off as oh-so-puzzling. There's noting perplexing about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's mission.

Dole continues:

So far the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has achieved one notable result: putting a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, in jail for refusing to break her promise of confidentiality to her sources in response to a grand jury subpoena.

Here Dole is pandering to his audience--or the editors of the Times. Prosecutor do not tend to achieve any "notable" result until he or she ends his or her investigation and brings indictments. There is nothing odd in that Fitzgerald has not produced any results yet. True, he has chased Miller into jail, and that does distinguish his inquiry from most investigations conducted by US attorneys. But again Dole is doing his disingenuous best to falsely portray Fitzgerald's work, which remains unfinished.

Next Dole writes:

The incarceration of Ms. Miller is all the more baffling because she has never written a word about the C.I.A. flap.

There is nothing "baffling" about Fitzgerald's pursuit of Miller. Sure, the public does not know exactly why Fitzgerald went after Miller. But Fitzgerald did make his reasons known to several federal judges, and they have each supported him on this point. Obviously, Fitzgerald has cause to believe that Miller had a significant communication with a suspect or a person of interest. Fitzgerald probably gathered evidence or testimony suggesting such a communication occurred. And Fitzgerald wants whatever information he considers critical. This is not at all baffling.

Later in the article, Dole misrepresents the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which he cosponsored in 1982:

[T]he act was drafted in very narrow terms: our goal was to criminalize only those disclosures that clearly represented a conscious and pernicious effort to identify and expose agents with the intent to impair America's foreign intelligence activities.

I hope Dole paid more attention to the details of legislation when he served in the Senate. This is not what the law says. There is no intent to harm standard. Government officials who disclose identifying information about an undercover US intelligence officer can be prosecuted whether they leaked the information for such a purpose or not. There is a portion of the law that does apply to non-government individuals who engage in a pattern of exposure designed to thwart US intelligence efforts. But the provisions of the law that apply to government officials say nothing about intent or a pattern. Under these provisions, the reason for the leak is irrelevant.

Dole also maintains that the CIA was not taking "affirmative measures" to protect Valerie Wilson (a the law in question requires for a prosecution). How does Dole know what the CIA was or was not doing? He writes:

[W]e now know that Ms. Wilson held a desk job at C.I.A. headquarters and could be seen traveling to and from work.

Here we go again. It's the same old canard: Valerie Wilson was not really undercover. I've written about this plenty in the past. Suffice it to say that the CIA was indeed still preserving her cover--perhaps only to protect her potential to return to the field and/or to protect her past operations and contacts. But the CIA did try to wave Novak off the story, according to former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. And by referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, the CIA indicated that it believed it was taking affirmative measures" to preserve he undercover status. Moreover, who saw her "traveling to and from work"? Her neighbors have repeatedly said they did not know she was heading to Langley when she left for work in the morning. And one cannot stand in front of the CIA compound and watch people coming and going. So who was spying on her? By the way, there are plenty of undercover CIA officials who work at CIA HQ. Are they also being watched by Dole's watchers?

Of all the misleading spin I've read recently on this case, this point--that Valerie Wilson could be spotted commuting to the CIA--is particularly absurd. It leads me to wonder: who wrote this piece for Dole? One does not have to be a CIA veteran to see that Dole is fronting for someone. It would have been rather informative if the Times had listed Dole's ghostwriter on the byline, for it is probably this person who is most responsible for the disinformation being transmitted to the public via this article. If Dole wants us to take his article seriously, then he should tell us who his source is.

Why AIPAC Indictment Is Bad News for Rove

I'm on vacation, but I couldn't resist posting the below on my davidcorn.com site, where I routinely obsess over the Karl Rove scandal.

Last week, the Justice Department issued a new indictment of Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon official accused of passing secrets to officials of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying outfit. The indictment is bad news for the Bush White House and Karl Rove.

That's not only because the Franklin case is embarrassing for the administration, the Pentagon, and their neocon allies. (Franklin worked with Douglas Feith, who until recently was a senior Pentagon official close to the neocons.) The Franklin indictment is a sign that Rove and any other White House aide involved in the Plame/CIA leak might be vulnerable to prosecution under the Espionage Act.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald--who is not involved in the Franklin prosecution--has not had to state publicly what sort of case he is trying to build in the Plame/CIA leak matter. The most obvious one would be based on the charge that the leaker violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But that law was narrowly drawn, and to win a conviction Fitzgerald would have to prove that Rove or any other leaker knew that Valerie Wilson was working under cover at the CIA. There are, however, other laws under which Fitzgerald might charge the CIA/Plame leakers. The Franklin indictment points the way. (And criminal law aside, by sharing classified information with at least two reporters--Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA was classified--Rove committed an offense that violated various rules and would get most government workers seriously punished or dismissed.)

The Franklin indictments notes:

On or about December 8, 1999, FRANKLIN signed a Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, a Standard Form 312 (SF-312). In that document FRANKLIN acknowledged that he was aware that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information by him could cause irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation and that he would never divulge classified information to an unauthorized person. He further acknowledged that he would never divulge classified information unless he had officially verified that the recipient was authorized by the United States to receive it. Additionally, he agreed that if he was uncertain about the classification status of information, he was required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before he could disclose it.

Yet, the indictment alleges, Franklin passed classified information to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two senior AIPAC officials. And the indictment claims Rosen and Weissman shared this information with Israel. Consequently, the indictment charges Franklin, Rosen and Weissman with "conspiracy to communicate National Defense Information under sections 793(d) and 793(e) of Title 18, United States Code. And Franklin was charged with three counts of "communication of National Defense Information"--not conspiracy--under section 793(d). He was also charged with one count of "conspiracy to communicate classified information" to a foreign government.

Let's look at sections 793(d) and (e). The first generally applies to government officials, the second to nongovernment officials. Both sections make it a crime to transmit national defense information--and the identity of an undercover CIA officer would probably count as national defense information--to a person unauthorized to receive it (such as a reporter). These sections define violators as

(d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.

(e) Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted, or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it. [Emphasis added.]

Rove, like Franklin, had to sign SF-312. As Rep. Henry Waxman noted in a short report he released on the Rove leak, this nondisclosure agreement states, "I will never divulge classified information to anyone" unauthorized to receive such information. Rove broke that vow. And Executive Order 12958--which Bush updated on March 25, 2003-- says that "officers and employees of the United States Government...shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently...disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified." The sanctions include "reprimand, suspension without pay, removal, termination of classification authority, loss or denial of access to classified information, or other sanctions." So Rove ought to be slapped with one of those punishments.

But worse for Rove--from a legal perspective--is section 793. Rove did communicate classified information which could be used "to the injury of the United States" to a person "not entitled to receive it." The information was the identity of an undercover intelligence official working on anti-WMD operations. Such information could be used to thwart or undermine past or present CIA operations and assets connected to Valerie Wilson. The persons "not entitled" to received this info were Robert Novak and Matt Cooper (and perhaps there were more).

I am--as I've said before--no lawyer. But given the letter of the law in section 793, it seems to me there is a case to be made that Rove essentially did what Franklin did. There may be a difference in intent or awareness. Perhaps Rove did not know he was passing on classified information that could be used to the detriment of the United States (though he should have realized that had he given the matter a moment or two of thought), and it seems that Franklin had to know he was sharing classified material with outsiders. But section 793 does not say a violator must be aware he or she is passing on information that could cause harm to the United States if exposed. It only sets as a criterion that the violator "willfully" communicates this information. I assume that means a purely accidental slip of the lip would not be a crime. But Rove--who told at least two reporters about Valerie Wilson's CIA position--cannot argue he was not "willfully" communicating this information to others.

So might Fitzgerald have a case under section 793? Journalists don't like these sorts of prosecutions, for it brings us close to an official secrets act (like the one that exists in Britain). If prosecutors chased after government leakers--say those who leaked intelligence showing that the White House's case for war in Iraq was weak--the public would suffer. And the Justice Department's indictment of Rosen and Weissman--nongovernment officials--for passing along classified information is also worrisome for reporters who pass along classified information by publishing and airing stories that contain secret information. But Fitzgerald has certainly demonstrated he's not too concerned about pursuing legal cases and setting legal precedents that are bad for journalism. And that's why Rove ought to be sweating the Franklin indictment.

Rove Scandal: Cover Story Slippage

Another part of the save-Rove cover story is not holding.

Once the Plame/CIA leak became big (mainstream-media) news in September 2003--when word hit that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak, which had appeared in a Bob Novak column two months earlier--friends of the White House, including Novak, started saying that Valerie Wilson wasn't really under cover at the CIA and, thus, the disclosure of her employment at the CIA wasn't worth a federal case (or investigation). They claimed that no big wrong had occurred, and this argument also conveniently offered any leaker a legal defense. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a government official can only be prosecuted for disclosing information identifying a "covert agent" whose cover the United States government was taking steps to protect. White House allies asserted that while Valerie Wilson may have technically been a clandestine CIA official, in practice she wasn't. So all this bother over the leak was much ado about nothing.

Novak, for example, downplayed Valerie Wilson's covert status in an October 1, 2003 column, in which he vaguely described how he had originally learned of her connection to the CIA. He noted that after a senior administration official told him that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, he called the CIA:

At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson's wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause "difficulties" if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name. I used it in the sixth paragraph of my column because it looked like the missing explanation of an otherwise incredible choice by the CIA for its mission.

Bush-backers have cited this paragraph to argue that the CIA didn't do much to protect Valerie Wilson's cover. I've heard GOP lawyer Victoria Toensing, who helped draft the Intelligence Identities Act, claim that Novak's exchange with the CIA is proof that the CIA was not taking serious measures to preserve Wilson's cover--which means the law she helped concoct does not apply in the case of this leak.

Should Novak be taken at his word on this point? Until now, the public only knew of his side of his conversation with the CIA. But The Washington Post published a piece on Wednesday that provides the CIA's version of this exchange. And it is significantly different from Novak's account. The paper reports,

[Bill] Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission [to Niger taken by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson] and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

So how many contradictions can you find? Novak indicated he had one substantive conversation with a CIA official about Valerie Wilson and he received no clear signal that revealing her name would cause any significant trouble. Harlow said there were two conversations and that in each one he warned Novak about using her name. (Harlow also said he told Novak that Valerie Wilson had not authorized her husband's trip. Remember, several Rove defenders have maintained that when Rove spoke to Time's Matt Cooper--and told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had authorized his trip to Niger--he was merely trying to make sure that Cooper published an accurate account of what happened. Yet the CIA says she did not authorize this trip. Rove was feeding Cooper misleading information.)

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Rove and the Plame/CIA leak, Bill Frist's latest bone-headed move, and Oliver Stone.

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Is Harlow telling the truth? Who, besides Novak and him, can know? But I do know that when I spoke to Harlow a year later and asked about the identity of another covert officer, Harlow would not confirm the person's covert status. How could he? That would be sharing classified information with a reporter. When Novak called, Harlow was in no position to say, "Hey, Bob, you're right, and she's an undercover officer. So please don't reveal her name." All he could have done was to toss out a no-comment (which Harlow was good at doing) or offer a vague warning.

Harlow's account--in which he tried to protect Valerie Wilson from the quick-to-out-her columnist--is as self-serving as Novak's. But it rings true. Am I saying this because of my own bias? Perhaps. But the key thing is that Novak's defense--the CIA didn't give me a strong enough signal--is now in dispute. No one can use Novak's October 1, 2003, column as evidence that Valerie Wilson was not truly a "covert agent."

In that article, Novak also declared that Valerie Wilson's position at the CIA was an open secret throughout the nation's capital. His source for this? Journalist-turned-Republican-operative Clifford May. Novak wrote:

How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Republican activist Clifford May wrote Monday, in National Review Online, that he had been told of her identity by a non-government source before my column appeared and that it was common knowledge.

Indeed, May had written:

On July 14, Robert Novak wrote a column in the Post and other newspapers naming Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.

That wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhanded manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.

Appearing on Fox News Channel, May amplified this assertion:

"I knew this, and a lot of other people knew it...So I think it may be something of an open secret."

"Insiders" were well aware of Valerie Wilson's job at the CIA? "A lot of other people" knew it, too? In the time since May boasted of his access to this "inside" information, what other evidence has emerged that Valerie Wilson's CIA identity was widely know to "insiders" (whatever that means)? I'll answer that rhetorical question: none. Her neighbors have been quoted saying they did not realize she was a CIA employee. (Maybe these neighbors are not "insiders.") And in recent weeks, attorneys for Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have put out the story that neither one of them knew her name. So these "insiders" were not truly in the know. (Oddly--but, then again, perhaps not--May recently tried to turn tables and argue that I am the one who actually outed Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA officer. First, he said everyone knew. Now he says only I did. It's hard to keep up.)

Novak and May's claim that Valerie Wilson's CIA position was an open secret known throughout Washington has not held up. Novak's claim that the CIA did not wave him off now stands contested. Will either one of them run a correction?

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

CIA Vet's Harsh Retort to Rove's Spinners

I first posted the following on my blog: www.davidcorn.com. If you're obsessed with the Rove scandal, visit that site for more news and analysis.

I've wasted too many hours of my life going on talking head shoutfests with conservatives who pooh-pooh the Plame/CIA leak matter (now known as the Rove scandal), who claim there was little damage done, who say that Valerie Wilson was only a desk jockey and dismiss her undercover status as "light" or "flimsy," who argue that no crime was broken and no wrongdoing occurred, and who are lightning quick to depict the controversy as nothing but a game of politics. These folks are spinning to save Rove and to protect the White House, and they distort, disinform, and dissemble for the team.

Today, the Senate Democratic Policy Council and the Democratic side of the House Government Reform Committee held an unofficial hearing in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, in which former intelligence professionals discussed the Plame/CIA leak, especially its impact on the intelligence community, current officers, and Valerie Wilson. (The Democrats had no choice but to hold such a session because the Republicans in the House and Senate refuse to examine or investigate the leak.) The testimony was not expected to contain many surprises. And the media presence at the hearing was not heavy. But as I watched the proceedings on C-SPAN 3 and saw James Marcinkowski, a former CIA case office and a former prosecutor, testify, I realized his statement was perhaps the most powerful rebuttal of and rebuke to the rightwingers who have been pushing disinformation about the Valerie Wilson case. I wish they all could have been tied to a chair and forced to listen to him. (Ken Mehlman, Tucker Eskew, Clifford May, William Safire--this means you.) Referring to those who have derided Valerie Wilson and belittled the seriousness of this leak, an angry Marcinkowski said, "Before you shine up your American flag lapel pin and affix your patriotism to your sleeve, think about what the impact your actions will have on the security of the American people....Those who take pride in their political ability to divert the issue from the fundamental truth ought to be prepared to take their share of the responsibility for the continuing damage done to our national security." For the spinners engaged in "partisan obfuscation," he has this message: "a true patriot would shut up." As a public service, I am posting below the bulk of his testimony.

Testimony of James Marcinkowski

July 22, 2005

What is important now is not who wins or loses the political battle or who may or may not be indicted; rather, it is a question of how we will go about protecting the citizens of this country in a very dangerous world. The undisputed fact is that we have irreparably damaged our capability to collect human intelligence and thereby significantly diminished our capability to protect the American people.

Understandable to all Americans is a simple, incontrovertible, but damning truth: the United States government exposed the identity of a clandestine officer working for the CIA. This is not just another partisan "dust-up" between political parties. This unprecedented act will have far-reaching consequences for covert operations around the world. Equally disastrous is that from the time of that first damning act, we have continued on a course of self-inflicted wounds by government officials who have refused to take any responsibility, have played hide-and-seek with the truth and engaged in semantic parlor games for more than two years, all at the expense of the safety of the American people. No government official has that right.

For an understanding of what is at stake it is important to understand some fundamental principles. No country or hostile group, from al Qaeda to any drug rings operating in our cities, likes to be infiltrated or spied upon. The CIA, much like any police department in any city, has undercover officers--spies, that use "cover."

To operate under "cover" means you use some ruse to cloak both your identity and your intentions. The degree of cover needed to carry out any operation varies depending on the target of the investigation. A police officer performing "street buys" uses a "light" cover, meaning he or she could pose as something as simple as a drug user, operate only at night and during the day and, believe it or not, have a desk job in the police station. On the other hand, if an attempt were made to infiltrate a crime syndicate, visiting the local police station or drinking with fellow FBI agents after work may be out of the question. In any scenario, your cover, no matter what the degree, provides personal protection and safety. But it does not end there. Cover is also used to protect collection methodology as well as any innocent persons a CIA officer may have regular contact with, such as overseas acquaintances, friends, and even other U.S. government officials.

While cover provides a degree of safety for the case officer, it also provides security for that officer's informants or agents. In most human intelligence operations, the confidentiality of the cover used by a CIA officer and the personal security of the agent or asset is mutually dependent. A case officer cannot be identified as working for the CIA, just as the informant/agent cannot be identified as working for the CIA through the case officer. If an informant or agent is exposed as working for the CIA, there is a good chance that the CIA officer has been identified as well. Similarly, if the CIA officer is exposed, his or her agents or informants are exposed. In all cases, the cover of a case officer ensures not only his or her own personal safety but that of the agents or assets as well.

The exposure of Valerie Plame's cover by the White House is the same as the local chief of police announcing to the media the identity of its undercover drug officers. In both cases, the ability of the officer to operate is destroyed, but there is also an added dimension. An informant in a major sophisticated crime network, or a CIA asset working in a foreign government, if exposed, has a rather good chance of losing more than just their ability to operate.

Any undercover officer, whether in the police department or the CIA, will tell you that the major concern of their informant or agent is their personal safety and that of their family. Cover is safety. If you cannot guarantee that safety in some form or other, the person will not work for you and the source of important information will be lost.

So how is the Valerie Plame incident perceived by any current or potential agent of the CIA? I will guarantee you that if the local police chief identified the names of the department's undercover officers, any half-way sophisticated undercover operation would come to a halt and if he survived that accidental discharge of a weapon in police headquarters, would be asked to retire.

And so the real issues before this Congress and this country today is not partisan politics, not even the loss of secrets. The secrets of Valerie Plame's cover are long gone. What has suffered perhaps irreversible damage is the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince our overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us. How are our case officers supposed to build and maintain that confidence when their own government cannot even guarantee the personal protection of the home team? While the loss of secrets in the world of espionage may be damaging, the stealing of the credibility of our CIA officers is unforgivable....

And so we are left with only one fundamental truth, the U.S. government exposed the identity of a covert operative. I am not convinced that the toothpaste can be put back into the tube. Great damage has been done and that damage has been increasing every single day for more than two years. The problem of the refusal to accept responsibility by senior government officials is ongoing and causing greater damage to our national security and our ability to collect human intelligence. But the problem lies not only with government officials but also with the media, commentators and other apologists who have no clue as to the workings of the intelligence community. Think about what we are doing from the perspective of our overseas human intelligence assets or potential assets.

I believe Bob Novak when he credited senior administration officials for the initial leak, or the simple, but not insignificant confirmation of that secret information, as I believe a CIA officer in some far away country will lose an opportunity to recruit an asset that may be of invaluable service to our covert war on terror because "promises of protection" will no longer carry the level of trust they once had.

Each time the leader of a political party opens his mouth in public to deflect responsibility, the word overseas is loud and clear--politics in this country does in fact trump national security.

Each time a distinguished ambassador is ruthlessly attacked for the information he provided, a foreign asset will contemplate why he should risk his life when his information will not be taken seriously.

Each time there is a perceived political "success" in deflecting responsibility by debating or re-debating some minutia, such actions are equally effective in undermining the ability of this country to protect itself against its enemies, because the two are indeed related. Each time the political machine made up of prime-time patriots and partisan ninnies display their ignorance by deriding Valerie Plame as a mere "paper-pusher," or belittling the varying degrees of cover used to protect our officers, or continuing to play partisan politics with our national security, it is a disservice to this country. By ridiculing, for example, the "degree" of cover or the use of post office boxes, you lessen the level of confidence that foreign nationals place in our covert capabilities.

Those who would advocate the "I'm ok, you're ok" politics of non-responsibility, should probably think about the impact of those actions on our foreign agents. Non-responsibility means we don't care. Not caring means a loss of security. A loss of security means a loss of an agent. The loss of an agent means the loss of information. The loss of information means an increase in the risk to the people of the United States.

There is a very serious message here. Before you shine up your American flag lapel pin and affix your patriotism to your sleeve, think about what the impact your actions will have on the security of the American people. Think about whether your partisan obfuscation is creating confidence in the United States in general and the CIA in particular. If not, a true patriot would shut up.

Those who take pride in their political ability to divert the issue from the fundamental truth ought to be prepared to take their share of the responsibility for the continuing damage done to our national security.

When this unprecedented act first occurred, the president could have immediately demanded the resignation of all persons even tangentially involved. Or, at a minimum, he could have suspended the security clearances of these persons and placed them on administrative leave. Such methods are routine with police forces throughout the country. That would have at least sent the right message around the globe, that we take the security of those risking their lives on behalf of the United States seriously. Instead, we have flooded the foreign airwaves with two years of inaction, political rhetoric, ignorance, and partisan bickering. That's the wrong message. In doing so we have not lessened, but increased the threat to the security and safety of the people of the United States.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there..

Rove Scandal: Distractions and Disinformation

I first posted the following on my blog: www.davidcorn.com. If you're obsessed with the Rove scandal, visit that site for more news, analysis, and gripes.

Now that I've been sucked into the right-wing disinformation machine, I am struck by how unrelenting it is. Cliff May posted a dumb column claiming that Joe Wilson told me on background that his wife was an undercover operative and that I was the first person to really out Valerie Wilson (nee Plame). I debunked that nonsense here. But pesky May still sent me email asking me to explain what I had already explained. By not accepting my explanation--and by claiming that what I've written previously is misleading--he is essentially calling me a liar. I take such things personally. (This fellow once asked me if I would be willing to be his partner in a right/left cable-TV face-off. I'm glad it never came to pass.) And there he was again yesterday on CNN expanding his web of fabrication. He said:

You can say what you want about Bob Novak. He has insisted since the beginning that he didn't know she was a secret agent. He just knew she worked at the CIA. Nobody told him that. And if he had known she was secret, he wouldn't have published her name. Now who did publish her name first was David Corn of "The Nation," and he was the first one to say she was a secret agent, and he did that in a conversation with, guess who, with Joe Wilson.

How does one combat repeated silliness of this sort? Who knows what Novak would have done had he been told Valerie Wilson was an undercover officer? And maybe he was told. All we know is that Novak claims the CIA informed him it would prefer if he not name her but did not go ballistic about it. This tale may be true; it may not. (In his own account, Novak still turned down the CIA.) Moreover, Novak did publish her name first. It's right there in the column that prompted the CIA to ask the Justice Department to investigate the White House. CNN anchor Carol Costello should have stopped May and told the audience he was either lying or misspeaking. And May states as a fact that Wilson told me his wife was an undercover officer, even though he has no evidence of this and I have said precisely the opposite. What chutzpah! He doesn't even have an anonymous source to rely on. Is this the sort of journalism he learned when working at The New York Times? Or did he perfect his smear skills when he subsequently served as a spokesperson for the Republican Party? In his absurd article, he at least had the courtesy to present his bogus charge as the product of his own deductive reasoning (as defective as it was). On CNN, he stated as a fact that Wilson had spilled the beans to me about his wife--which is not true.

Having responded fully to his initial piece, I was not going to fuel this sideshow with further comment. But yesterday, I was on a public radio program--Warren Olney's To The Point--discussing the Rove scandal with Byron York, a columnist for the National Review. And as our segment was ending, he piped up and said, Well, Bob Novak didn't really out Valerie Wilson as an undercover official; it was David Corn. The show was ending, and I barely had time to exclaim, "Preposterous," and refer listeners to my website. But this is what happens: one person launches an unfounded smear and then others employ it. The point: I'm now thrown on defense, and, perhaps more importantly, a distraction has been achieved.

Disinformation, distraction--that's the plan, as trouble-causing details emerge from the investigation that threaten Karl Rove and other senior Bush aides. For GOP operatives, it's all-hands-to-the-deck time. And the strategy is to fire whatever ammunition the have, whether it is real or a dud. They want to turn this into a partisan mud-wrestle, realizing that much of the public turns off to such cat-and-dogs nastiness. They try to make the victims the culprits, calling Joe Wilson the biggest liar of all time and making claims about Valerie Wilson that are unsupported by the known facts (e.g., she was no more than a desk jockey). Change the focus to anything but what Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other White House aides did and whether the White House and the president has covered up for them.

One could spend all day responding to the disinformation and misinformation--and that's their goal. A few days ago, The Washington Times put into circulation a quote from a former CIA officer who once supervised Valerie Wilson and who claimed she wasn't really a covert officer. The newspaper wrote:

A former CIA covert agent who supervised Mrs. Plame early in her career yesterday took issue with her identification as an "undercover agent," saying that she worked for more than five years at the agency's headquarters in Langley and that most of her neighbors and friends knew that she was a CIA employee.

"She made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat," Fred Rustmann, a covert agent from 1966 to 1990, told The Washington Times.

"Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his friends knew this. A lot of blame could be put on to central cover staff and the agency because they weren't minding the store here....The agency never changed her cover status."

Mr. Rustmann, who spent 20 of his 24 years in the agency under "nonofficial cover"--also known as a NOC, the same status as the wife of Mr. Wilson--also said that she worked under extremely light cover....

"She was home for such a long time, she went to work every day at Langley, she was in an analytical type job, she was married to a high-profile diplomat with two kids," Mr. Rustmann said. "Most people who knew Valerie and her husband, I think, would have thought that she was an overt CIA employee."

The newspaper didn't emphasize that Rustmann knew nothing about Valerie Wilson's CIA duties after he left the agency in 1990. Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst who went through training with Valerie Wilson at the CIA, told me that "my understanding is that Valerie went undercover after 1990." If that's true, then quotes from Rustmann are rather irrelevant. Yet I saw his remarks scattered across the Internet, as the distracters and disinformationalists look for any stone to hurl. Even The Washington Times partially refuted Rustmann's remarks when it quoted one neighbor of the Wilsons--David Tilloston--who said he did not know she worked at the CIA and thought she was an economist.

So much to disabuse, so little time. Let's turn now to Victoria Toensing, a Republican lawyer and commentator who was involved in drafting the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. I've had pleasant dealings--professional and social--with her over the years, and many moons ago I was friendly with her daughter, a wonderful photographer. But Toensing sure is doing her duty for her side. Here's a bit from today's Washington Post:

Victoria Toensing, a lawyer and longtime Republican who helped write the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which is at the center of this case, said Bush is now saying what he probably meant to say when the leak investigation was launched. "Of course you are going to be concerned if a law was broken," she said. "But what is it that somebody did wrong if they didn't break the law?"

Toensing has been in Washington long enough to realize that not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. But she's now toeing the White House line: only aides convicted of a crime will be fired. (In Washington, when the supertanker White House changes its course, all the tug boats have to follow.) Compare her observation to a portion of a New York Times article published today:

Elaine D. Kaplan, who from 1998 to 2003 was head of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates complaints of prohibited personnel practices, said: "Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don't have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That's not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime."

Much of the attention has (justifiably) been on the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But as Representative Henry Waxman has recently noted, when Rove shared Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--which was classified information--he might have violated Executive Order 12958, which says:

Officers and employees of the United States Government...shall be subject to appropriate sanctions if they knowingly, willfully, or negligently....disclose to unauthorized persons information properly classified.

So the Bush/Toensing standard--leaking classified information that outs a CIA undercover officer and then not coming clean about it is not a firing offense; you're in trouble only if you break the law--is not based in law. Shouldn't she know that?

But truth is not the issue at hand. Winning is. For the right, that means firing up the fog machine and creating as many smokescreens as possible. This comes as no surprise. Still, I find it disheartening. (I can only imagine how Valerie Wilson feels.) Larry Johnson says it's a sign of how desperate the White House and its pals are. He quips, "I love the smell of fear in the morning. It smells like victory." Perhaps. A conservative journalist I know recently emailed to say he was coming to Washington and to ask if I wanted to have drinks with him (which we have occasionally done in the past). I told him I'm in no mood these days. He has yet--as far as I know--not pushed Cliff May's ridiculous Corn-did-it trash. But I need some way to vent my anger and disappointment at folks like May, York and Toensing. This episode is causing Bush's defenders to go to the most ugly extremes. Maybe Larry Johnson is right.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there..

Rove Scandal: Who's Lying Now?

Who's lying?

That's the question to ask after both The New York Times and The Washington Post published front-page articles that reported that Karl Rove did speak to conservative columnist Bob Novak before Novak wrote an article revealing the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson and that Rove had confirmed to Novak that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA.

Each account is attributed to a single unnamed source. The Times identifies its sourced as "someone who has been officially briefed on the matter." The Post cited "a lawyer involved in the case." And the account provided is one that apparently would help Rove fend off a criminal charge. Both newspapers say that Novak called Rove on July 8, 2003 (six days before Novak published the piece that outed Valerie Wilson), that Novak said he had learned that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA (he referred to her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame), and that Rove confirmed that he had heard that, too. Each story says its source claimed that Rove had learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA position from other journalists.

The point here is to show that Rove was not peddling the information, that he had not received it from a classified source, and that he did not have reason to know that Valerie Wilson was working at the CIA under cover. Under the relevant law--the Intelligence Identities Protection Act--it is only a crime for a government official to disclose identifying information about a covert US intelligence officer if the government official received that information from a classified source and is aware that the officer is a clandestine employee of the CIA. Consequently, Rove defenders can cite the account planted in the Times and the Post and claim that he did not violate the law because he had heard about Valerie Wilson from a journalist (not a classified source) and because there is no indication he knew of her covert status.

This might work. But, of course, it is up to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to determine if Rove or anyone else (remember Novak cited two sources) broke the law or engaged in perjury or obstruction of justice. And there is no telling if this account is indeed accurate. But this new disclosure does lead to an obvious conclusion: somebody has lied.

A week after Novak wrote this column, he told Newsday that his sources came to him with the information: "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." Was Novak lying when said that? And before the infamous Matt Cooper email was revealed by Newsweek days ago, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, told Newsweek that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." Now, the official pro-Rove line is that he confirmed for Novak that Valerie Wilson worked for the CIA. Was Rove's lawyer lying when he said that?

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Rove and the Plame/CIA leak and other in-the-news subjects.

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But the more significant question is, who lied at the White House? As has been much noted, in 2003, press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly said that Karl Rove was not involved in the leak. Confirming the leak for Novak would certainly count as involvement (as would passing it on to Cooper three days later but when this classified information was still not public).

So who didn't tell the truth at 1600 Pennsylvania? Did McClellan know of Rove's involvement and knowingly peddle a false story? McClellan has claimed he talked to Rove before publicly clearing him of involvement. Does that mean that Rove lied to McClellan? Perhaps. McClellan is not considered to be a true member of the White House's inner circle. But who else did Rove talk to about this in the White House? If anyone else knew of his involvement, then that aide stood silent while McClellan misled the public. Moreover, did Rove tell George W. Bush? If so, Bush then allowed McClellan to lie for Rove. If not, then Rove disregarded Bush when Bush said he wanted to know what had happened.

Here's the bottom line (based on the Rove-friendly leaks): Rove permitted the White House to lie for him. What's unknown is who else in the White House realized the Rove-was-not-involved line was a lie. And the latest accounts also show that Rove did share classified information--Valerie Wilson's employment status with the CIA was classified--with two reporters. Bush has previously said he would fire anyone who leaked classified information. Rove has practically admitted leaking classified information. What Bush will do about that?

This story put on Friday may help Rove avoid a criminal charge. But it still causes (or should cause) serious problems for him and the White House. It indicates that both misconduct and a cover-up of unknown size did occur. Rove or his legal team must have concluded he was in a rather bad spot if they needed to pass this account to the media, for it supports a hard-to-deny conclusion: Rove leaked and then hid behind a lie.

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Now I'm Smeared as the Leaker: To see how I was sideswiped by an absurd and stupid conservative attack (meant to defend Novak and Rove), visit www.davidcorn.com. You won't believe how low a rightwinger will sink.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there..

Rove Did Leak Classified Information

"The fact is, Karl Rove did not leak classified information." So said Ken Mehlman, head of the Republican Party.

"I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name." So said Karl Rove of Valerie Wilson/Plame last year on CNN.

"He did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." So said Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, after Newsweek reported Rove had been a source for Time magazine's Matt Cooper but before Newsweek revealed a Cooper email that said Rove had told Cooper that "wilson's wife...apparently works at the agency on wmd issues."

The White House may be stonewalling on the Rove scandal, but the Rove camp--aided by its echo-ists in the conservative media--has been busy establishing the twin-foundation for his defense: he did not mention Valerie Wilson/Plame by name; he did not disclose classified information. The first of these two assertions is misleading and irrelevant; the second is wrong.

Did not disclose her name

According to Cooper's email, Rove told Cooper that "Wilson's wife"--not "Valerie Plame," or "Valerie Wilson"--worked at the CIA. But this distinction has absolutely no legal relevance. Under the relevant law--the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982--a crime is committed when a government official (not a journalist) "intentionally discloses any information identifying" an undercover intelligence officer. The act does not say a name must be disclosed. By telling a reporter that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA officer, Rove was clearly disclosing "identifying" information. There was only one Mrs. Joseph Wilson. With such information in hand, Cooper or anyone else could easily have ascertained the name of this officer. (A Google search at the time would have yielded the name--and maiden name--of Wilson's wife.) Revealing the name is not the crime; it's disclosing information that IDs the officer. Imagine if a government official told a reporter, "At 3:15, a fellow in a green hat, carrying a red umbrella and holding a six-pack of Mountain Dew, will be tap-dancing in front of the Starbucks at Connecticut Avenue and R Street--he's the CIA's best undercover officer working North Korea." That official could not defend himself, under this law, by claiming that he had not revealed the name of this officer. The issue is identifying, not naming. Rove and his allies cannot hide behind his no-name claim.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Rove and the Plame/CIA leak, the latest GOP pro-Rove spin, how a conservative columnist tried to recruit Corn for Rove's defense, and other in-the-news subjects.

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Did not disclose classified information

A reading of this law also indicates that if Cooper's email is accurate then Rove did pass classified information to Cooper. It's possible that Rove did so unwittingly. That is, he did not know Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified information. But he and his posse cannot say the information he slipped to Cooper was not classified.

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a crime to identify "a covert agent" of the United States. The law defines "covert agent," in part, as "a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information." (My emphasis.)

This definition clearly recognizes that the identity of an undercover intelligence officer is "classified information." The law also notes that a "covert agent" has a "classified relationship to the United States." Since the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the Plame/CIA leak and the Justice Department affirmed the need for an investigation and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, once handed the case, pursued the matter vigorously, it is reasonable to assume that Valerie Wilson fits the definition of a "covert agent." That means she has a "classified relationship" with the government.

By disclosing Valerie Wilson's relationship to the CIA, Rove was passing classified information to a reporter.

"There is little doubt," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, that the employment status of an undercover CIA officer, "is classified information." He notes that the "most basic personnel information of the CIA--the number of personnel, the salaries--is classified. Anything more specific--like the identity of a NOC [an officer working under "nonofficial cover," as was Valerie Wilson] or the numbers and identities of officers working in a particular region of the world--is classified."

To sum up, it does not matter if Rove did not mention Valerie Wilson by name, and it is not true that the information he passed to Cooper was not classified.

Rove may still have a defense against criminal prosecution. Under the law, a government official is only guilty if he or she discloses information "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies" a "covert agent." Rove could claim that he was not aware that Valerie Wilson was working at the CIA as a covert official. After all, there are CIA employees--analysts, managers, and others--who do not work under cover. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicts Rove or anyone else, the most difficult part of the case will likely be proving that the person charged with the crime meets this he-knew-she-was-undercover test.

Not all wrongdoing is a crime. But leaking classified information is always serious business. George W. Bush took an unambiguous stand on the leaking of classified information when he was asked on September 30, 2003, about Karl Rove's possible role in the Plame/CIA leak. Bush noted,

I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.

Well, now Bush knows. Rove, according to the Cooper email, did not leak a name but he did leak classified information. Much of his defense is in tatters. And where is Bush's "appropriate action"?

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there..

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