Now HERE's a news article that caused me to create a new tag: What were you thinking? The Chicago Tribune seems to be trying to outdo Bob Novak. Not content to out one CIA agent, they're trying to collect the whole set, or at least want us to think that's what they've done. (This reminds me a bit of the fake reports that Google Earth was being used to spy on our troop positions.) What were they thinking, anyway?
Here's the spin du jour: Forget Scooter Libby, the CIA has bigger problems. The pocket watch swings back and forth. You're getting sleepy, very sleepy: Forget Scooter Libby. Forget Scooter Libby. Got it?
Larry C. Johnson has a really good post on the subject that I'm going to mirror in it's entirety.
Well, the theater of the absurd that tries to pass for journalism has gone to new lows with a goofy story in today's Chicago Tribune. The article, Internet Blows CIA Cover claims, "It's easy to track America's covert operatives. All you need to know is how to navigate the Internet."
Oh really? Okay Mr. Crewdson (the author of this nonsense). Please search the internet and identify 100 CIA officers for me. Go ahead. Give it a shot. Oh, I forgot, first you need a name. You do not just enter a random name and come up with a flashing sign that says, "this guy is CIA". So really what you are saying is that if I tell you someone works for the CIA you can do a search and find out that someone, who is a private consultant, once worked for the U.S. State Department? In other words, you first have to be tipped off to look at a particular person.
Well, Valerie Plame was safe until the White House pointed reporters in her direction. Even if Crewdson's assertion that Valerie's cover was "thin" (it was not), what we know for a fact is that her neighbors did not know she worked for the CIA. Only those who had a need to know knew.
Crewdson insinuates, but doesn't demonstrate, that a simple search of the internet enables one to easily identify CIA employees. The true story is more complicated. Crewdson's searches were conducted after the names of individuals and companies appeared in the news. He searched on those names and found links to the U.S. Government. Nowhere on the internet will you find a list of undercover folks that says, "they really work for the CIA". Crewdson is right about one point, the CIA has done a lousy job of developing effective cover positions. But that is a failure of leaders like Tenet rather than officers, such as Valerie Plame.
But here is what is really fascinating. Crewdson says he identified 2600 CIA officers but, out of concern for national security, declined to out them. Thank you Mr. Crewdson. At least you understand that blowing someones cover, even a thin one, would be an act of treason. I am in favor of having Crewdson give Bob Novak a lesson in journalistic ethics and responsibility.
There is no such thing as ironclad cover. Whether Valerie Plame's cover was thin or deep, the basic fact remains--she was an undercover intelligence officer and expected senior government officials to protect this secret. Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney, who learned that she was a CIA officer, were obligated to protect that secret. Instead, they betrayed Valerie and helped destroy an intelligence network that was devoted to trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That's the real story that true Americans should be fretting over.
I share Johnson's scepticism that the Chicgo Tribune's reporters have done what they claim. If they really had, they wouldn't have published the article. (And the scenario seems to come from an alternate universe in which the printed phone book was never invented.) But it does seem that this takes the Plame Wars to a whole new level in which our intelligence agents are now to be outed in bulk and not individually. While the agency is not staffed entirely by perfect angels, and while I enjoy a good outing as much as the next blogger, if we are to have intelligence services at all, this kind of political operative gamesmanship has got to stop.