In a one-two volley this week, two major publications ran wild with bold face font and shrieking headlines to report nothing of substance - Odd how such things work, but there seems to be a pattern, a familiar pattern.
First up is a gem from the The Chicago Tribune , which is a story on Plame that is essentially a). not really news, b). not really accurate, and c). oddly timed. The new meme it seems, and it is a meme because it certainly is not fact, is that Plame had a "soft" cover. How does the Trib establish this latest revelation and determine the durability of her cover?
The Internets, of course
According to the Trib article, the writers got up one morning to find a treasure trove of information about Valerie Plame and all sorts of CIA officers and dealings by simply using the Internet. Amazing really, because the military has to come up with programs like Able Danger to accomplish bits and pieces of what the Trib located en masse.
By the way, I am not disputing that the Trib found what they claim to have found, because it can be done of course. What I am disputing, however, is that the way they did it is somehow indicative of Plame's cover level.
The story itself is misleading, to say nothing of why a paper of note would choose to focus on the "softness" of an officer's cover and not actually look into the damage done when that cover is exposed. Given the amount of time and work I have put into reporting on this topic, I can say with some authority that Plame's cover was covert until it was unveiled by our own government. The old meme was that she was a desk jockey and nothing more, and now the meme is that although she may have been covert, she was not covert enough.
What the Trib does not mention, however, is the specific way it found this data on the Internet (and I am almost certain here as there are only a few ways such information could be located).
The Trib most likely took existing agency assets recently leaked to the press (let us say a group of cars identified to be CIA vehicles and much in the public eye now, after that info was leaked), ran the plate numbers of those cars against company ownership documents, using a proprietary database, and looked for a name they recognized, like Plame.
Incidentally, the proprietary database in this case would be ChoicePoint and anyone familiar with them would remember all too well the felon list in Florida during the 2000 election cycle. It is also important to note that Chertoff and Homeland Security have purchased ChoicePoint technology and information and that ChoicePoint is a vendor of concern for some (if not most) intelligence officers because its technology and information has been part of the brouhaha in the illegal domestic surveillance program running via the NSA or as some might call it, Total Information Awareness (read HERE and HERE).
In other words, if you have the parameters with which to mine data and you also happen to know what you are looking for, and you also have access to a government owned database that also happens to be run by a public company known to leak as well as mysteriously distort, then you are likely going to find what you are looking for and exactly in the manner that a foreign nation might do upon learning the identity of Plame.
Congratulations Trib, you have just explained how foreign assets would identify Plame's operations now that they had all the information required to do so. That is the irony.
The Trib is actually replicating what happened all over the world when Plame was identified. As soon as she was identified to be a CIA operative, in that context, intelligence agencies around the world did just what the Trib did: they took her name, ran it against every company she worked for, using a government database, then ran checks on every one of those companies, and identified every one of those employees.
Until that point, she was merely a former diplomat working as a consultant, as so many former government officials do.
What you need to know is that yes, she was covert, and yes she was vital to our national security operations, and yes, her outing had severe repercussions.
WaPo/VF Cat Fight:
The other odd report came via The Washington Post that ran in the form of a denial to allegations made in a more bizarre fluff piece that Vanity Fair had run earlier and which was written by Judy Miller's best friend, Marie Brenner (A. Huff has a great analysis of Brenner's work of art by the way).
In Brenner's "I love Judy please believe her" article, Brenner alleges that former executive editor of Washington Post, Ben Bradlee blabbed to her that "it is reasonable to assume former State Department official Richard L. Armitage is likely the source," in Woodward's own Plame fiasco. Way to go Brenner, logic is a good thing.
I agree with Bradlee (assuming he said it) that it is "reasonable to assume" many things given the rumor mill, but those assumptions do not necessarily make fact nor does saying the obvious regarding assumptions make for much of a confirmation.
But to make things more bizarre still, WaPo issues an article in which Bradlee does not "remember saying that" (and I for one believe he did not), and Woodward says that he doubts if Bradlee knows, but if he does know at all, he must have learned it from someone else because Woodward did not tell him.
Now I have nothing but respect for Jim VandeHei, so I don't know what is going on here. He is one of the few writers worth reading at WaPo. Ben Bradlee, also someone I respect, has managed to keep the secret of Deep Throat hidden for 30 years but speculates on who the source Woodward's new anti-Deep Throat is so openly?
I don't think so and he would not be in the loop now anyway.
Smoke, Mirrors, and No Video Tape:
But what I don't understand is why the phantom of Armitage is the topic of the chase instead of the actual story of who we already know Woodward's source to be? In much the same way that the Trib is running around looking for the relative "softness" of Plame's cover as opposed to the actual damage done, WaPo is out discounting what Bradlee may or may not have said as opposed to following up on what has already been reported.
What has been reported is as follows: the current National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, is Woodward's big source (there were two other minor sources it seems as he himself notes). I know this because I was on the team that broke that story HERE.
Hadley as Woodward's source was also confirmed by The Sunday London Times.
What did the US media report regarding the Hadley matter when contrasted with the London Times? That he, Hadley, had categorically denied on the record to be Woodward's source.
This is what Hadley issued in the form of a denial:
"I've also seen press reports from White House officials saying that I am not one of his sources," Hadley said with a smile. Asked if this was a yes or no he replied: "It is what it is."
Does that sound remotely convincing to you or remotely a confirmation of anything?
Right then. So the questions I have to keep asking are why are American journalists running in circles chasing non-stories and why do these stories keep popping up just in time to divert attention or diffuse a situation not politically acceptable for the Bush administration?
I don't presume to have the answers to those questions, but I suspect that Karl Rove is attempting once again to plant (via front sources and rumor type leaks) stories, but only this time, he is shooting blanks because the stories do not stick.
My suggestion for mainstream journalists, assuming they still exist anywhere (outside of Sy Hersh, Walter Pincus, and Dana Priest) is that they confirm for themselves what is already known, since they do not seem to believe it or want to believe it.
If anyone really wanted to know if Hadley was Woodward's source, all they would have to do is call him and have him go on the record and issue a denial, a real denial and really on the record, not in the way that the NSC attempted to strong arm me and force me to attribute them incorrectly and write their non-denial denial as a solid piece, which is something I would not do and instead exposed in its own article:
"A National Security Council spokesperson RAW STORY called earlier today to ask whether National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had leaked the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame to Bob Woodward stated that Hadley had told his staff he did not meet Woodward on the dates in question.
She could not say whether they met on other days.
The spokesperson added that Hadley categorically denied to his staff that he was Woodward's source on Plame, declining to go on the record by name or to provide a direct quote.
The spokesperson asked that RAW STORY attribute denials of Hadley's role in the leak case to a White House official instead of a National Security Council spokesperson.
RAW STORY refused, telling the official that our policy does not allow the attribution of quotes to sources in a way that might be considered as misconstruing the source's identity.
Despite news reports Thursday asserting National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was not the source who told Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent, sources with direct knowledge of the case still maintain that Hadley was the "senior administration official" who met with Woodward." Read rest HERE