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2008 JFM


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Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband former ambassador Joseph Wilson. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP).

Fair Game
Valerie Plame Wilson at the National Constitution Center

-- Ben Burrows

The casual disregard for propriety with which Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed, both by members of the press, and by members of the Bush Administration, revealed once again the bully behind the President’s nice-guy public persona. The president, at one time in this case, claimed that he could classify or declassify Wilson’s identity at will. Ironically, the law which protects covert agent identities was originally designed to punish left-wing Philip Agee, and his magazine Counter-Spy. It was nonetheless intended to provide a well-defined protection for covert agents and their contacts. The president’s claim was simply self-serving. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act has proved to be much more problematic protection than anyone might have imagined. The loophole which Richard Armitage used to defend himself was one of intent. Apparently, even though Armitage knew Wilson’s identity was a secret, the fact that he was only “gossiping” when he revealed Wilson’s identity was enough to protect him from prosecution. Such an intent would be difficult to prove in any circumstance.

Then there is the claim that the revelation of a covert agent’s identity was a singular event. Because Armitage had casually revealed Wilson’s identity before Libby had done so, it was argued that Libby’s intentional act to Judith Miller and others could not have been a true revelation – because the identity was already “public.” I would maintain that this argument is specious on two counts. If Libby’s revelation took place without the knowledge of Armitage’s disclosure, then Libby’s revelation was at the time it occurred of criminal intent. If Libby’s revelation took place in full knowledge of Armitage’s disclosure, then the two of them conspired to release Wilson’s identity, and Armitage’s “innocent” intent is poisoned by his association with the Libby’s criminal intent. This dichotomy would also apply to Rove’s reported disclosure of this same information.

Robert Novak’s publication of Wilson’s identity obtains new emotional impact in Wilson’s book, Fair Game. A business acquaintance of Joe Wilson’s related the following anecdote:

The acquaintance brought up the uranium controversy – which was everywhere in the news. They chatted a bit and the acquaintance asked Novak what he thought about Joe – without saying that he knew him. Novak turned to this complete stranger and blurted out that “Wilson’s an asshole. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA.” They parted company a block or so later. … A few days and several missed calls later, Novak and Joe finally spoke. Novak apologized for the “asshole” comment, and then brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an Agency source: that I worked for the CIA. Joe told him he didn’t answer questions about his wife and then called me with this unsettling news.

It would appear that Novak’s emotional involvement with this case was not one of journalistic neutrality.

Speech at Constitution Center

Before Valerie Plame Wilson entered the upstairs auditorium at the Constitution Center of Philadelphia there were lots of introductions. Jane Eisner, formerly Editor and Columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and now Vice President of Programs at the Center, introduced a video greeting from former President George H. W. Bush (#41). The irony of this video greeting for this particular event hung in an uncomfortable silence.

Daniel Berger, an anti-trust litigator and co-sponsor of the event, quietly detailed his personal outrage --- at the multiple deceits that led to the Iraq invasion, and at the betrayals of Joseph and Valerie Wilson by the government they served. Berger pointed out that the date of this event was in fact the anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations --- the one which employed all the “slam dunk” evidence for active chemical and bacteriological weapons, which later proved to be so unfounded. Quoting espionage non-fiction writer Thomas Powers, Berger lamented how the Congress and the Press had “stepped out of the way” when confronted with the exercise of unchecked presidential power.

Valerie Plame Wilson seemed to appear, with moderator Trudy Rubin, from an undisclosed location at the left of the podium. As they settled into their modern cushioned chairs, equipped with clunky but effective microphones, the podium resembled a rehearsal for a late night talk show. Wilson recounted the series of events that led to her husband’s selection for a mission to Niger. Although Wilson’s boss had asked her to convey a request from the CIA for an interview, Wilson herself was apparently uninvolved in the choice. Instead, the CIA selected Joe Wilson for the job based on his expertise in the area, and his extensive contacts. In fact, Joe Wilson was being prepared as a fall-guy for permitting the President to voice his “yellowcake” suspicions in the State of the Union address in 2003.

Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House by Valerie Plame Wilson..
Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson

The “shell game” at the White House, to avoid prosecution for “intentionally” revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative, was recounted with obvious pain and anger. Pressure was brought to bear, not only through both Wilsons’ forced retirement, but through unwarranted IRS audits, and through physical threats against the Wilsons from which the government refused to protect them. Wilson answered questions from the audience for approximately 30 minutes, and proceeded to autograph copies of her book, Fair Game for about seventy people who stayed afterwards.

For Philadelphians, the news coverage of the event ought to be an embarrassment. Although Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin moderated the event, and former editor Jane Eisner helped to sponsor it through the Constitution Center, the talk by Mrs. Wilson was not covered by either the Inquirer or the Daily News. A short announcement of the event was provided on the day of the event in the Inquirer, but the Wilson talk itself was apparently not considered current or newsworthy.

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