Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blowing Smoke: Did "Everyone" Know that Valerie Plame Worked for the CIA?

Never underestimate the right-wing's ability to manufacture a favorable story, even when the evidence is against them. Consider the case of whether Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operatiave was widely known before Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and the mysterious Mr. X started blabbing it to reporters.

The Minuteman has taken NBC's Andrea Mitchell to task for changing her story about whether Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative "was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community." Mitchell made this claim back in October of 2003, but more recently she has given difficult-to-understand explanations of why she didn't mean what she said. She now claims that she did not learn of Plame's identity until Robert Novak published it in his column.

The Minuteman seems to think that Mitchell's original story is the truth, and that Plame's identity really was broadly known. He has cited statements by other reporters in support of this contention. Matthew Yglesias, on the other hand, is inclined to believe that Mitchell's current story is true, since her original story has not been supported by other journalists who cover the intelligence community.

I agree with Yglesias, for the following additional reasons. The Minuteman's examples of other people that supposedly back the claim that Plame's identity was widely know are unimpressive. The late Hugh Sidey doesn't actually claim that he knew Plame's identity, just that her identity was known: "That name was knocking around in the sub rosa world we live in for a long time." Martin Peretz is similarly vague: "everybody in Georgetown" knew. But did he know? He doesn't say.

It's easy to say "everybody knew." Another thing to find someone who credibly claims, "I knew." And who will say so under oath.

But why would these journalists blow smoke like this? One possibility is that they want to appear in the know. In Peretz's case, animus towards Plame's husband Joseph Wilson seems also to be a factor. And clearly in Sidey's case, and possibly Mitchell's, another factor could be a desire to minimize the significance of the whole case, the better to portray prosector Patrick Fitzgerald's subpoenas of journalists (and subsequent jailing of Judith Miller) as overreaching harrassment of journalists-just-trying-to-do-their-jobs.

The Minuteman also mentions Republican National Committee communications director Cliff May and Fox analyst and retired General Pete Vallely as supporting the idea that Plame's identity was known. Media Matters has shown that the claims of these two men are highly dubious. Vallely's stories have been contradictory, were raised only after Scotter Libby was indicted, and have been partially withdrawn. May, after asserting his story in 2003, has not reasserted it despite numerous opportunities to do so. May continues to assert that Plame's identity was not a well-kept secret, but without actually saying that he had personal knowledge of her identity.

So was Valerie Plame's CIA identity a carefully-guarded secret, or something that lots of people knew about? Citizen Cain doesn't know. But so far the evidence presented that everyone knew seems like a lot of smoke. If there's someone out there who lacked a security clearance but knew Plame's identity, he or she has failed to come forward clearly and consistently, despite assertions to the contrary.