By DALE McFEATTERS
The mystery of who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame has been solved. It was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage who owned up after special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald released him from a vow of confidentiality.
Much grief would have been spared if Armitage had spoken up — and Fitzgerald allowed him to — at the outset of this overblown affair three years ago.
In Washington, leaks of information to the press are rarely the kind of clandestine exchange in a dark parking garage popularized in the movie "All the President’s Men." They are, most often, an organic part of long-range, regular contacts between reporters and their sources, and they are integral to how a large, sprawling democracy functions.
Rarely sinister and most often innocuous, leaks are intended to provide context, background and, yes, since we’re all adults here, to further an agenda. Often, they’re just idle capital gossip.
In 2003, the question of how former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Niger to check on a possible Iraqi uranium-buying mission was of intense interest in Washington because his findings contradicted a White House assertion about Iraq’s weapons program.
It was natural that the subject would come up between reporters, like The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and columnist Bob Novak, and a senior State Department official.
In an interview with a contrite Armitage, the Associated Press this week said:
"He described his June 2003 conversation with Woodward as an afterthought at the end of a lengthy interview.
"(Woodward) said, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with Wilson?’ and I said, ‘I think his wife works out there.’
"He described a more direct conversation with Novak, who was the first to report on the issue: ‘He said to me, "Why did the CIA send Ambassador Wilson to Niger?" I said, as I remember, ‘I don’t know, but his wife works out there.’ "
Armitage told the AP he assumed that Plame was not covert because he had seen her name in a State Department memo.
The exchange rings true. While the White House, specifically the vice president’s office, went on to vigorously defend itself against charges that it fudged intelligence, Armitage’s inadvertent disclosure was hardly the start of a concerted campaign to discredit Wilson.
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent three months in jail for refusing to talk to Fitzgerald. And Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, faces trial in January on charges of perjury, false statement and obstruction from Fitzgerald’s questioning of him about the leak.
Other than a couple of ruined careers and a bunch more ruinous legal bills, this story is over.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)