Recently, many TPM readers have written in to tell me that they thought the broadside of attacks against Joe Wilson might be timed to blunt, head off, or someway affect expected indictments in the Plame affair. I discounted that notion -- in part because it wasn't that clear to me that the administration had much to worry about in that regard. The Journal has made it pretty clear they'd like to use the recent furor to get friends in the Vice President's office off the hook. But whatever you think of Joe Wilson, the White House -- and conservatives generally -- have plenty of reasons for trying to discredit him besides the the Fitzgerald investigation.
Now, though, I'm not so sure.
Today there's an article in the Washington Times entitled 'CIA officer named prior to column'. The article says that Plame's name was twice compromised prior to the Novak column -- once by a Russian spy in 1990s and then again in a snafu when a bundle of documents sent to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana were sent unsealed, and apparently read by the Cubans.
First of all, this isn't even news -- at least not the more sensational example.
As was reported here and elsewhere almost a year ago, Plame's identity may have been compromised by CIA arch-turncoat Aldrich Ames. My understanding is that there was a range of agents and assets that the CIA wasn't sure Ames had compromised or not. And she was in that category, thus leading her bosses to avoid placing her and others in her position in more vulnerable positions. As for the other example, I've never heard of it before.
These are interesting details, to be sure. But if you read the article the angle of the piece is definitely along line of arguing that this undermines any legal case against the potential leakers.
To quote the last three grafs of the piece ...
However, officials said the disclosure that Mrs. Plame's cover was blown before the news column undermines the prosecution of the government official who might have revealed the name, officials said.
"The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone's cover," one official said. "In this case, the CIA failed to do that."
A second official, however, said the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of the Plame matter.
There does seem to be a rush of articles aimed not simply at discrediting Wilson but specifically at arguing that there is no legal basis for a prosecution of the folks who leaked Plame's name. Who's so concerned? It makes me wonder.