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The CIA Leak Case: On Bob Novak, The Washington Post, and the Winds of War

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With the latest "news" on this case, several
points should be clearly understood at the
outset. First, Dick Armitage's role was widely
and publicly discussed as early as March,
and second, Dick Armitage clearly screwed
up but was NOT the original source of the leak.
While he does share moral culpability, the
driving force behind the leak came from the
neocon and partisan wings of the White House.

It is their spin, and nothing more, to try to
defend themselves by shifting blame to the
anti-Iraq war Armitage, and to the anti-Iraq
war State Department, who they believe "needs
an American desk." If Armitage never existed
the leaks would have happened exactly the
same way. If the White House-neocon axis
never existed the leaks would never have
happened. Whatever the shortcomings of
Armitage and State, the real culpability for
the identity disclosures reside elsewhere
and progressives should be very careful
to avoid unknowingly pushing the neocon
line.

This whole episode of a political vendetta that involved distorting the
debate about WMD in Iraq and naming intelligence identities is the
single most shameful, unpatriotic, and totally dishonorable business
that I have seen from the moment I first set foot in Washington.

And let me disclose my one and only bias: to protect the men and women
who serve
our country courageously and covertly, and the men and women of foreign
nations who help our country courageously and covertly.

I was in the core group of writers of the CIA Identities Bill from the
beginning, working for its original sponsor, Senator Bentsen. I was
sufficiently involved to have been commended at the level of Director of
Central Intelligence. There were many others involved in this law, from
both parties. I only state my history to make it clear that my views on
this are not stated casually, offered politically or arrived at
recently.

I know a lot about the covert business on both the policy and
operational sides and this whole business of "naming names" is
sickening, nauseating and the ultimate symbol of how far Washington
under George Bush has come from what used to be the nonpartisan
treatment of intelligence and the traditional standards of honor.

I have always refused to comment, even in off the record conversations
with journalists, on the legal guilt or innocence of any party in this
case. That is a decision by the legal system, without trial by media,
and without trial by partisans. But this matter affects the core of our
national security, the heart of our decision- making process about going
to war, and the soul of our spirit of patriotism and honor that should
rule out public disclosure of intelligence identities by any person, for
any reason, ever.

The same people most responsible for peddling
Plames name were the same people peddling
WMD stories to Judy Miller and others.

Sadly, shamefully, the issue lives. We now have the House Intelligence
Committee issuing
a public report attacking Iran-related intel that is clearly designed to
bang the war drums for an attack on Iran, and to politicize intelligence
for ideology and partisanship yet again. We almost certainly do have
shortcomings about intelligence from Iran, in part caused by the very
people who try to manipulate the issue, in part caused by events and
mistakes, but this should be used and abused to push yet another rush,
to another unwise war.

One point that the neoconservatives and the partisan right has never
understood is this: when they say don't negotiate with this country or
that country, don't do business with this country or that country, the
result is that major intelligence dries up. That's how it works. On a
country by country basis, sometimes it is best to negotiate, or not; to
trade, or not. But the way intelligence works, much intelligence comes
directly or indirectly from the processes and people of diplomacy and
world trade.

It is disingenuous or dishonest for some to say we should go to war with
everyone, negotiate with no one, have sanctions against everyone, and
then attack the intelligence loss from their very obsessive policies.
And I would repeat my point that those who are universally hostile to
diplomacy and universally favorable to war should be asked: where will
you get the troops, and do you favor a return to the draft?

All of the pressures, distortions, politicization of intelligence cannot
hide or mask this matter, as we witness today in Iraq, while the drums
of war are being banged again by those who
know little about how to fight wars, how to win wars, or how to exit the
wars they rush into.

They never learn. They should be respecting, not demeaning, the advice
of our military commanders. They should be improving and analyzing
the product of intelligence, not twisting or distorting it, to push a
predetermined policy for yet another war.

This business about leaking identities is not only about partisan and
political vendettas. It is about how and when we go to war, how and when
we should not go to war, and why it is so fundamentally important that
intelligence should be based on facts and truth, and not twisted and
distorted for the ideology of going to war, or the partisanship of
exploiting war.

What went wrong in Iraq, is that the democratic process of making the
decision to wage war was corrupted and warped from the beginning.

There is plenty to blame to be apportioned, on all sides, for that. It
is not partisan. The issue for us, today, is that we not repeat these
corruptions again. Intelligence must be returned to its pre-Bush
nonpartisanship. Intelligence must be used objectively, to help us
achieve the most acceptable outcome in Iraq, and to avoid repeating the
fiasco elsewhere.

In my view, whatever the legalities, there is a special place in hell on
this issue for Bob Novak, who named the name, and for the
Washington Post Editorial Page, which then published the name, and for
Bob Woodward, who attacked the prosecutor without disclosing to his
readers or the nation his private interest in the case. Though I will
give Woodward
credit for this: he never published the Plame
story, and neither did Judy Miller, by the way.

This whole episode demonstrates how far
from traditional moral and patriotic bearing
Washington has come, during what historians
will call, not fondly, the Bush years. In this
environment anything goes, and insiders,
surrounded by courtiers, substitute politics
and spin for honesty and truth even on the
matter of going to war.

Whatever the legal outcome, on fundamental issues of patriotism,
morality and honor there is a higher standard for those of us who know
how the real world works, on these matters.

Bob Novak is a smart guy who has been around this town for decades. The
Washington
Post is the paper of record for the national security establishment in
Washington and knows exactly how real world intelligence works. These
are people who chortled when Bill Clinton defined what is, is, and now
they chortle playing word games with what "covert" is.

Without getting into details, right now, today, as you read these words
there are brave and courageous Americans working under cover, risking
their lives, often giving their lives, to defend our security. Right
now, today, as you read these words there are brave and equally
courageous foreigners working with our people, some for ulterior
motives, others are authentic freedom and democracy fighters in their
native lands.

Intelligence can help us avoid wars; intelligence
can help us minimize casualties of wars; and
intelligence can help us avoid obsessive and
disastrously planned wars. Had this been
applied before Iraq, we would not be in the
mess. If this is applied going forward, we can
avoid a future mess at a time when some seem
to want war, everywhere.

When any identity is published, by any party, for any reason, at any
time, every single one of them is disserved. The message goes out, we
cannot be trusted with secrets. Some new information goes out, which can
be traced back to our people, or our friends. Our communities are
endangered and the terrorists and hostile governments are helped.

The same people who bang the drums of war the loudest, are helping our
enemies, by disclosing names. They are hurting our troops, by distorting
our intelligence that is so essential to knowing when to wage war and
how to
wage it, when we must, and why to avoid it, when we can.

Let the courts decide the law, but those who do these dirty deeds
deserve a special place in hell, and those who never risked their lives
for our country themselves, and endanger the lives of covert people who
risk their lives every day, and endanger the lives of troops who go to
war with politically distorted intelligence, deserve the hottest place
of all.

Let the courts decide the law, but I guarantee that when the sun has set
on the Administration now in power, those who did these dirty deeds will
be indicted by the court of history, while others will have to clean up
the mess they leave.