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Missing the Point on CIA Leak Case

By Brent Budowsky
August 31, 2006

Editor's Note: The U.S. news media -- and conservative pundits -- are seeing vindication for the White House in the disclosure that former State Department official Richard Armitage may have been the first official to blurt out Valerie Plame's CIA identity to a reporter. After all, they say, Armitage was not an Iraq War hawk and apparently was not part of any cabal to willfully leak Plame's identity to the news media as a way to undercut her war-critic husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

But this overriding fact remains: other administration officials were intentionally passing on word about Plame's undercover CIA role. The likes of White House aides Lewis Libby and Karl Rove were peddling Plame's identity to some half dozen journalists under the guidance of Vice President Dick Cheney, who was livid when Wilson challenged the White House case for war with Iraq. There's also the question of why political adviser Rove was given access to the sensitive information about Plame; he had no legitimate "need to know."

In this guest essay, political analyst Brent Budowsky argues that the Armitage angle in the Plame case is just the latest diversion from the treachery and corrupt partisanship that implicates some of the top officials in George W. Bush's White House:

With the latest "news" on this case, several points should be clearly understood at the outset. First, Dick Armitage's role was widely and publicly discussed as early as March, and second, Dick Armitage clearly screwed up but was NOT the primary source of the leak. While he does share moral culpability, the driving force behind the leak came from the neocon and partisan wings of the White House.

It is their spin, and nothing more, to try to defend themselves by shifting blame to the anti-Iraq war Armitage, and to the anti-Iraq war State Department, who they believe "needs an American desk." If Armitage never existed the leaks would have happened exactly the same way. If the White House-neocon axis never existed the leaks would never have happened. Whatever the shortcomings of Armitage and State, the real culpability for the identity disclosures reside elsewhere and progressives should be very careful to avoid unknowingly pushing the neocon line.

This whole episode of a political vendetta that involved distorting the debate about WMD in Iraq and naming intelligence identities is the single most shameful, unpatriotic, and totally dishonorable business that I have seen from the moment I first set foot in Washington.

And let me disclose my one and only bias: to protect the men and women who serve our country courageously and covertly, and the men and women of foreign nations who help our country courageously and covertly.

I was in the core group of writers of the CIA Identities Bill from the beginning, working for its original sponsor, Senator Bentsen. I was sufficiently involved to have been commended at the level of Director of Central Intelligence. There were many others involved in this law, from both parties. I only state my history to make it clear that my views on this are not stated casually, offered politically or arrived at recently.

I know a lot about the covert business on both the policy and operational sides and this whole business of "naming names" is sickening, nauseating and the ultimate symbol of how far Washington under George Bush has come from what used to be the nonpartisan treatment of intelligence and the traditional standards of honor.

I have always refused to comment, even in off the record conversations with journalists, on the legal guilt or innocence of any party in this case. That is a decision by the legal system, without trial by media, and without trial by partisans. But this matter affects the core of our national security, the heart of our decision- making process about going to war, and the soul of our spirit of patriotism and honor that should rule out public disclosure of intelligence identities by any person, for any reason, ever.

The people most responsible for peddling Plame’s name were the same people peddling WMD stories to Judy Miller and others.

Sadly, shamefully, the issue lives. We now have the House Intelligence Committee issuing a public report attacking Iran-related intel, a move that is clearly designed to bang the war drums for an attack on Iran, and to politicize intelligence for ideology and partisanship yet again. We almost certainly do have shortcomings about intelligence from Iran, in part caused by the very people who try to manipulate the issue, in part caused by events and mistakes, but this should not be used and abused to push yet another rush to another unwise war.

One point that the neoconservatives and the partisan Right has never understood is this: when they say don't negotiate with this country or that country, don't do business with this country or that country, the result is that major intelligence dries up. That's how it works. On a country by country basis, sometimes it is best to negotiate, or not; to trade, or not. But the way intelligence works, much intelligence comes directly or indirectly from the processes and people of diplomacy and world trade.

It is disingenuous or dishonest for some to say we should go to war with everyone, negotiate with no one, have sanctions against everyone, and then attack the intelligence loss from their very obsessive policies. And I would repeat my point that those who are universally hostile to diplomacy and universally favorable to war should be asked: where will you get the troops, and do you favor a return to the draft?

All of the pressures, distortions, politicization of intelligence cannot hide or mask this matter, as we witness today in Iraq, while the drums of war are being banged again by those who know little about how to fight wars, how to win wars, or how to exit the wars they rush into.

They never learn. They should be respecting, not demeaning, the advice of our military commanders. They should be improving and analyzing the product of intelligence, not twisting or distorting it, to push a predetermined policy for yet another war.

This business about leaking identities is not only about partisan and political vendettas. It is about how and when we go to war, how and when we should not go to war, and why it is so fundamentally important that intelligence should be based on facts and truth, and not twisted and distorted for the ideology of going to war, or the partisanship of exploiting war.

What went wrong in Iraq, is that the democratic process of making the decision to wage war was corrupted and warped from the beginning.

There is plenty to blame to be apportioned, on all sides, for that. It is not partisan. The issue for us, today, is that we not repeat these corruptions again. Intelligence must be returned to its pre-Bush nonpartisanship. Intelligence must be used objectively, to help us achieve the most acceptable outcome in Iraq, and to avoid repeating the fiasco elsewhere.

In my view, whatever the legalities, there is a special place in hell on this issue for Bob Novak, who named the name, and for the Washington Post Editorial Page, which then published the name, and for Bob Woodward, who attacked the prosecutor without disclosing to his readers or the nation his private interest in the case. Though I will give Woodward credit for this: he never published the Plame story, and neither did Judy Miller, by the way.

This whole episode demonstrates how far from traditional moral and patriotic bearing Washington has come, during what historians will call, not fondly, the Bush years. In this environment anything goes, and insiders, surrounded by courtiers, substitute politics and spin for honesty and truth even on the matter of going to war.

Whatever the legal outcome, on fundamental issues of patriotism, morality and honor there is a higher standard for those of us who know how the real world works, on these matters.

Bob Novak is a smart guy who has been around this town for decades. The Washington Post is the paper of record for the national security establishment in Washington and knows exactly how real world intelligence works. These are people who chortled when Bill Clinton defined what is, is, and now they chortle playing word games with what "covert" is.

Without getting into details, right now, today, as you read these words there are brave and courageous Americans working under cover, risking their lives, often giving their lives, to defend our security. Right now, today, as you read these words there are brave and equally courageous foreigners working with our people, some for ulterior motives, others are authentic freedom and democracy fighters in their native lands.

Intelligence can help us avoid wars; intelligence can help us minimize casualties of wars; and intelligence can help us avoid obsessive and disastrously planned wars. Had this been applied before Iraq, we would not be in the mess. If this is applied going forward, we can avoid a future mess at a time when some seem to want war, everywhere.

When any identity is published, by any party, for any reason, at any time, every single one of them is disserved. The message goes out, we cannot be trusted with secrets. Some new information goes out, which can be traced back to our people, or our friends. Our communities are endangered and the terrorists and hostile governments are helped.

The same people who bang the drums of war the loudest, are helping our enemies, by disclosing names. They are hurting our troops, by distorting our intelligence that is so essential to knowing when to wage war and how to wage it, when we must, and why to avoid it, when we can.

Let the courts decide the law, but those who do these dirty deeds deserve a special place in hell, and those who never risked their lives for our country themselves, and endanger the lives of covert people who risk their lives every day, and endanger the lives of troops who go to war with politically distorted intelligence, deserve the hottest place of all.

Let the courts decide the law, but I guarantee that when the sun has set on the Administration now in power, those who did these dirty deeds will be indicted by the court of history, while others will have to clean up the mess they leave.


Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net .


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