The right aims at Larry Johnson -- and misses

The Weekly Standard's impotent attack against a Valerie Plame defender.

Published July 25, 2005 7:57PM (EDT)

When presented with information that challenges their narrative, the Bush administration and its allies immediately attempt to discredit the source of the information. It is their default setting. Paul O'Neill was disgruntled and marginal, they said. Richard Clarke had been demoted; therefore he was disgruntled and was not "in the loop." (Plus, maybe he was a racist.) Joseph Wilson, we've been told, is a pathological liar whose career was in the toilet, while his wife Valerie Plame is a limelight-seeking CIA diva.

Now there's a new target: Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and a classmate of Plame's in 1985 at the agency training facility known as "the Farm." Johnson has become an outspoken critic of right-wing efforts to paint Plame as a glorified secretary whose identity was not a secret. He and 10 other former CIA analysts wrote a letter to Congress arguing that the identities of all undercover agents -- even those with "mere" desk jobs -- should be protected. He echoed this sentiment in the Democrats' weekly radio address on Sunday.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before someone took a shot at him. The problem, though, is that there isn't any dirt to throw at Johnson, a registered Republican who entered the CIA with a letter of recommendation from Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. So in a new Weekly Standard piece titled "Meet Larry Johnson," the best that Gary Schmitt, director of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, could muster was to accuse Johnson of having a "pre-9/11 mindset." Schmitt points to an Op-Ed that Johnson published in The New York Times on July 10, 2001, called "The Declining Terrorist Threat," in which he argued that fears of terrorist attacks in the U.S. were overblown.

We read Johnson's piece and, we'll admit, it does make him look foolish. But there's a good reason why Johnson's argument suffered from a pre-9/11 mindset. Namely, he wrote it before 9/11. To show that Johnson still suffers from a pre-9/11 mindset, what Schmitt needed to do was find an example of Johnson clinging to reactionary views after 9/11. But he was unable to provide one.

It's worth remembering what The Weekly Standard and the Project for a New American Century were talking about prior to 9/11. It wasn't the threat posed by Islamic terrorists. It was the need to invade Iraq. Furthermore, no organization had a mindset that was more doggedly pre-9/11 in the year leading up to 9/11 than the Bush administration itself, as sources from Richard Clarke to Bob Woodward have attested.

While Schmitt's attempt to discredit Johnson is a total non-starter, he did write something that we agree with -- "Obviously, the leak of Valerie Plame's name to the media is not something to be tolerated." Now that's a message we hope catches on within the Republican leadership.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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