People in Washington may not agree on much, but there was a time when they agreed on this: Leaking the identity of a CIA agent is serious business. We know that because the president told us so. When George W. Bush was asked on Oct. 6, 2003, about the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, he said: "This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously."
But that was before -- or at least we'd like to think that it was before -- Bush knew that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were involved in the leaking. With Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation hitting a little too close to home, the president's supporters seem to have a different view about the importance of leaking now.
In an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, Bob Dole does a reverse Viagra on the notion that the leaking of Plame's identity constituted a crime. Never mind what the Intelligence Identities Protection Act actually says, Dole says Congress meant for it to apply only when a leak "clearly represented a conscious and pernicious effort to identify and expose agents with the intent to impair America's foreign intelligence activities." The Plame leak can't rise to that level, Dole suggests, because Plame "held a desk job at CIA headquarters and could be seen traveling to and from work" and because a CIA official confirmed for Robert Novak that Plame was a CIA employee before he wrote his column outing her.
A group of former U.S. intelligence officers put the lie to Dole's first point long before he made it. In a letter to members of Congress last month, the former officers said that claims about Plame's "desk job" reveal "an astonishing ignorance of the intelligence community and the role of cover. The fact is that there are thousands of U.S. intelligence officers who 'work at a desk' in the Washington, D.C. area every day who are undercover. Some have official cover, and some have non-official cover. Both classes of cover must and should be protected." As for Dole's second point, both Novak and former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow have said that Harlow asked Novak not to reveal Plame's name.
But Dole isn't the only one who is apparently underwhelmed by the news that the president's top advisor may have outed a CIA agent for political gain. During a Court TV panel discussion in New York this morning, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen said that Plamegate isn't worth all the attention it's getting. "This is not a major story," he said, according to an account posted by Editor & Publisher. "It's a crappy little crime and it may not be a crime at all."