The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Debriefing the Libby affair

My new issue of Commentary arrived today, and as always I literally ripped into the plastic wrapping the moment I saw it in my mailbox; this is after all the "All Things Considered" of the center-right magazine world--the writing is exceptional and no stone is left unturned. One article in this month's issue which struck me immediately is Brian M. Carney's Lessons of the Libby Affair. An excerpt:

... On July 6, 2003, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV charged in the New York Times that the administration had manipulated intelligence findings in order to rationalize the invasion of Iraq. He knew this, Wilson wrote in a lengthy op-ed, because he himself had been sent to Africa by the CIA a year earlier to investigate a report that Niger was supplying uranium ore to Iraq. He had come across nothing to support this allegation. Yet not only had his negative finding been ignored by the administration, but the President, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, specifically invoked the supposed connection between Saddam Hussein and Niger. “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war,” Wilson summarized, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.”

A week after Wilson’s op-ed appeared, someone leaked to the press that the ambassador’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was employed by the CIA as a covert agent, and that her husband’s trip to Niger had been little more than a “junket” conducted at her behest. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), signed into law in 1982, it is a felony knowingly to divulge the identity of a covert agent (if the information was received through official channels). The disclosure of Mrs. Wilson’s identity, jeopardizing her undercover work for the CIA and potentially compromising national security, might have constituted a violation of IIPA—this, in pursuit of a petty official vendetta against her husband for having dared challenge the Bush White House. In view of the seriousness of the possible offense, a government investigation ensued, leading in time to the trial of Scooter Libby.

The trouble with this narrative is that Libby was not the source of the information; nor was he ever charged with the crime of leaking it. This, however, has not appeared to trouble his accusers. As Joseph Wilson would put it after the trial, Libby’s conviction for perjury rather than for violating the IIPA was like putting Al Capone behind bars for tax evasion; when you are dealing with known criminals, the particular crime you catch them at is less important than catching them at all. Similarly, in the judgment of Max Frankel, the former executive editor of the New York Times (writing in the Sunday Times Magazine), the essential point to be gleaned from the trial is that Libby was indeed engaged in a White House campaign to expose Mrs. Wilson and discredit her husband; the fact that the information about her was first leaked through other channels was a matter only of happenstance, or perhaps incompetence.

But despite the wishes of those who take their history via synecdoche, this reading of the Libby trial is wrong on every point. Indeed, for a trial that is said to have been about the nature of truth-telling and lying, it is amazing how mistaken is the impression most people have both of the proceeding itself and of its meaning. This is the case not only for Libby’s enemies but also for his defenders, who tend to construe his fall as a tale of tragic personal sacrifice in the name of a higher cause—protecting his superiors and, through them, the continued prosecution of the war against terror. In fact, it is a tale of something else entirely.

Read the rest here; this is devastating to anyone who still is clinging to the notion that the Libby trial was about Intelligence secrets.

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DiscerningTexan, 5/01/2007 03:20:00 PM |