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Robert Novak’s Blame Plame Game

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March 22, 2007

By HAL BROWN 

Even if you have to hold your nose when you click here, read Robert Novak’s column so you get the full monty of this pouty wiener’s view of Valarie Plame Wilson.


Robert NovakI understand that newspaper’s don’t censor their OpEd columnists or even correct their factual errors.

However, I think they should insist their columnists are up front in revealing personal involvement in a case about which they offer opinions. This holds even when they may assume "everybody" is aware of it.

Here Novak is a principal in the Valarie Plame investigation because it was he who first revealed her identity to the public in his column, disputes that she was a covert agent when she was outed. He omits the salient point in this column that it was he, Robert Novak, who was accused of outing her as part of the so-called "White House machinations".

The glamorous Mrs. Wilson was depicted as the victim of White House machinations that aborted her career in intelligence.


Novak, again without mentioning his central role, goes on to lambast the Democrats:

Waxman and Democratic colleagues did not ask these pertinent questions: Had not Plame been outed years ago by a Soviet agent? Was she not on an administrative, not operational, track at Langley? How could she be covert if, in public view, she drove to work each day at Langley? What about comments to me by then CIA spokesman Bill Harlow that Plame never would be given another foreign assignment? What about testimony to the FBI that her CIA employment was common knowledge in Washington?

I watched the hearing and the only question I didn’t hear was the one about her being outed years ago by a Soviet agent.

It sounds to me that Novak is making up a dual track system whereby administrative agents are less covert than operational agents, if the CIA even differentiates between the two.

But Novak doesn’t mind splitting semantic hairs when it comes to defining what we call a spy in Plame Wilson’s case. This is from Meet the Press: 

MR. RUSSERT: But she was undercover, you grant her that?MR. NOVAK: I don’t think she — there’s a difference between being undercover and being a covert agent. She was doing analytical work at the CIA. She was not involved in any covert activities.

MR. RUSSERT: Her friends and neighbors did not know that she worked for the CIA.

MR. NOVAK: Well, other people contend to me that it was very widely known in circles in town that she did work for the CIA.

MR. RUSSERT: Her official status was not to be public –

MR. NOVAK: There’s a lot of people like that. But she was a person who went to work every day as an analyst because I am told she’d been outed by the traitor, Aldrich Ames, many years ago. But as a matter of fact, getting back to Harlow (a former CIA spokesman), what Harlow said to me was that if she were to make a trip overseas in the future it might be embarrassing for her, but he also said before that, he said it is highly unlikely she will ever do — make a trip for the agency abroad. In other words, he was telling me that she was not going to do any covert activity. He never said she was in danger. (Link) 

According to Novak, then, there’s a difference between being undercover and covert, and it’s okay to out a CIA operative who is doing secret administrative work at headquarters which apparently isn’t covert because it doesn’t involve making trips overseas.

The question of her driving to work at CIA headquarters in Langley was addressed, with Valarie Plame Wilson explaining that she’d been trained to assure she wasn’t being followed. In other words, she may or may not have been taught to rip someone’s throat out with her bare hands at The Farm (the CIA’s "spy school"), but she was trained in some elements of spycraft.

Whether or not Valarie Plame Wilson would have been given another foreign assignment is irrelevant to whether she was covert at the time she was outed.

Novak’s own "big excuse" that he did nothing wrong in outing her has always beem  that Valarie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment was "common knowledge in Washington" was addressed directly, and refuted, in the hearing. 

On a related matter, Novak points to the testimony of Victoria Toensing (I didn’t expect him to mention her far right credentials):

Toensing testified that Plame was not a covert operative as defined by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which she had helped draft as a Senate staffer in 1982, if only because she was not stationed overseas for the CIA the past five years.

He doesn’t bother to explain that this is only relevant to whether she would be defined as a covert operative within that act, which is separate from how the CIA defines their covert agents. This came out under questioning of both Toensing and Plame Wilson. In fact in the five years prior to being outed , Plame Wilson said she had traveled abroad as part of her work a number of times even though she hadn’t been stationed there. 

I don’t know the specifics of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and I’m not a lawyer, but I assume that if it ever came down to a criminal prosecution of Novak much would be made of the meaning of the word "stationed".

But now I’m engaging in wishful thinking, visualizing Robert Novak taking up residence in a federal penitentiary. 

Afterthought: I don’t regularly read any of the Washington Post OpEds with the exception of E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Eugene Robinson , and I don’t think I’ve read I’ve read a Robert Novak piece since his infamous column outing Valarie Plame Wilson.

I prefer to pay my $50 a year to read Maureen Down, Tom Friedman, Nicholas Kristoff, Frank Rich, Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman in the New York Times. I often check out what their token conservative David Brooks has to say. 

I clicked on Novak’s column today only because of its title, "Was Valarie Plame Covert."

 

I have always wondered why the Washington Post keeps publishing him. They don’t even have him exclusively as his column is syndicated by Rupurt Murdoch’s tabloid Chicago Sun Times (not the well respected if right leaning Chicago Tribune).

The New York Times’ David Brooks is a level headed conservative who eschews hyperbole and, while I don’t often agree with him, he does present cogent arguments. I think Novak diminishes the Washington Post.