In all the "what did he know and when did he know it" intrigue of the Valerie Plame investigation, it's easy to lose sight of the larger significance of the case. Leaking the identity of a CIA agent -- whether it turns out to have been a criminal act or not -- was a slimy, shameful and at least small-t treasonous thing to do. But it's a forest-for-the-trees deal. The leak was unforgivable, but what's worse is the context in which it came. The Bush administration, having sold a war to the American people based on facts that weren't facts at all, was trying to discredit its critics and cover its tracks.
Today's New York Times brings it all back into sharp focus. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, the Times says, a former CIA officer claims he was fired in 2004 because he questioned the agency's assumptions on a series of weapons-related matters -- including its conclusion that Saddam Hussein was actively working to develop nuclear weapons.
The former officer, whose identity remains secret, says in his lawsuit that an informant told him in the spring of 2001 that Iraq had abandoned its uranium enrichment program, the Times says. The officer passed along the information to his superiors, he says, but his report was ignored. The CIA was already building the case -- a false one, it turned out -- that Hussein was reconstituting Iraq's nuclear program, and the informant's report didn't fit in with the agency's plans.
While the officer didn't find himself outed in Robert Novak's column, he says he has suffered other forms of retribution from those above him. As the Times reports, he says in his lawsuit that he became the subject of a counterintelligence investigation and was accused of having sex with a female contact and keeping for himself money that was supposed to have been used to pay informants. He denies those allegations, the Times says.
The CIA won't comment on the case. The officer's lawyer will, and he draws parallels between his client's plight and the one Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson have faced. "In both cases," attorney Roy Krieger tells the Times, "officials brought unwelcome information on WMD in the period of the Iraq invasion, and retribution followed."