Will there be an investigation into whether Bush administration officials violated the law and undermined national security in order to mount a political vendetta? It’s up to the CIA and the Justice Department. Cynics, start your engines.
As first noted here (and further explored here), several weeks ago, Bush officials lashed out at former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by telling journalists–including conservative columnist Robert Novak–that Wilson’s wife was a deep-cover CIA operative working in the field of weapons counterproliferation. Novak and others reported what they were heard from these administration sources. Their stories either blew her cover or falsely branded a woman, who is known to friends as an energy analyst in a private firm, as a CIA officer. Wilson will not say whether his wife is a spy. But the prevailing assumption among journalists covering this controversy is that she is (or was) a CIA operative. After all, administration officials keep repeating this claim. And in case you forgot, Wilson’s sin (in the eyes of the vengeful Bushies) was that he went public about a trip he took to Niger in February 2002–at the request of the CIA–during which he investigated the allegation that Iraq was shopping for uranium there. He concluded that the charge was “highly doubtful.” His account undercut White House claims that it had no reason to suspect President Bush was not speaking accurately when he included this dubious allegation in his case for war during his 2003 State of the Union address.
If Wilson’s wife is an Agency op specializing in counter-WMD work, then it is possible that Bush officials damaged the intelligence establishment’s effort to thwart the spread of weapons of mass destruction and broke the law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone with access to classified information to reveal intentionally the identity of an undercover intelligence officer. The punishment: a fine up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in jail. (Journalists are generally not covered by the law.)
So if a crime of this sort has been committed, where’s the investigation? In a July 24 letter to FBI director Robert Mueller, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, requested that the FBI “immediately launch an investigation to determine the source of this [leaked] information and assess whether there is enough evidence to refer the matter for criminal prosecution.” In a statement, Schumer noted that investigations into such leaks are not unusual. In June 2002, the FBI investigated the allegation that someone had leaked classified congressional testimony provided by Lt. General Michael Hayden, the head of the National Security Agency. The Bureau, according to Schumer, questioned 37 members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and about 60 staffmembers. Vice President Dick Cheney had been one of the instigators of that inquiry. “The current scandal,” Schumer says, “is just as serious as the one from June 2002.” He adds, “This is one of the most reckless and nasty things I’ve seen in all my years of government. Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network and other operatives she may have dealt with. On top of that, the officials who have done it may have also seriously jeopardized the national security of this nation.” (Without knowing exactly what Wilson’s wife did for the CIA, it is not possible to judge fully the consequences of this leak. But Schumer’s melodramatic appraisal could well be justified.)