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Don't Buy the "Smear Campaign" Hype (Or Be so Sure About Who Is Smearing Whom)

[Note: a whole lot of people are coming to this relatively old post, so I thought I'd point out that I've picked up the topic again with all the latest information (which isn't much more than all the old information) as of September 29 here and here.]

Sheesh! Pop a controversial name like "Valerie Plame" into Google, and you uncover a whole lot of speculation presented as evidence for a lynching. The left half of the Internet is seething that "the White House" "outed" Valerie Plame, who works in some undisclosed capacity within the CIA, as the wife of Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who filed the now-famous report about the Niger-Iraq documents being false. This story will certainly expand, and it's already meeting up with the dubious claims of a "smear campaign" against the reporter who quoted some malcontents in the military. As Drudge subsequently illustrated, in that case, word choice, vague or specific, appears to be of utmost importance, and questionable parsing seems to be the dagger in the dark.

The Minuteman, in the best roundup of the Plame/Wilson epoch that I've seen, observes the web of quotation attributions and careful references to "administration" versus "government" officials. They are obviously being treated as different by all sources involved, and nobody with direct information has disclosed from which group the damning Wilson-Plame-CIA connection came. The Minuteman concludes, for the time being:

My current evaluation - Novak was coy in his original column as to sources. TIME pretty probably had CIA, or at least "government" sources, for info similar to Novak's. Consequently, the headline for this scandal might be "CIA in Disarray - Feud Outs Agent". If fallout from the Iraqi war includes a politicized and divided CIA, that is bad for the nation.

But better for Bush than the alternative, which is that his own aides outed a covert agent and compromised national security in order to punish an opponent.

If you're inclined to go in search of information, don't; there's just not enough out there to justify the time beyond what the Minuteman provides. Based on the little that is known (and I'm sure more is forthcoming), I'm thinking that there are deeper, broader battles being fought than simply the administration versus the Wilsons or even internecine feuding in the CIA. Consider this statement from Wilson to Newsday:

Wilson, while refusing to confirm his wife's employment, said the release to the press of her relationship to him and even her maiden name was an attempt to intimidate others like him from talking about Bush administration intelligence failures.

What strikes me as odd, in that paragraph, is that every bio of Wilson that I've found, such as this one, identifies his wife as "the former Valerie Plame." In that light, neither the release of "her relationship to him" nor the divulgence of her maiden name appears to be sinister. It is the "outing" of her as a CIA agent that is causing the rumbles of accusations, which makes this, from Wilson, peculiar, too:

But he said she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment. "They [the officers who did ask Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she was married to, which is not surprising," he said. "There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason," he said. "I can't figure out what it could be."

So, did the "administration officials" out Plame, or are they significant mostly for claiming that she suggested her husband take the trip? What's the controversy, as it relates to the White House, here? I'm starting to get the sense that a whole lot is going on underneath the surface. As I've said, if it is the White House attempting various smear campaigns, the administration is doing so in about as bumbling a manner as possible, something that it can ill afford in a nation with a hostile press. Of course, another possibility is that somebody is (or somebodies are) trying to damage the President's credibility and cast him as a less trustworthy figure than the American people take him to be.

Hmmm. Let's take another look at Wilson's biography...

Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:39 AM EST


Hey, good catch on Wilson and his wife's maiden name. "Seamole" caught it too.

And, if Wilson can't "figure out" why they are trying to suggest he got the job because of his wife, rather than his qualifications, well, that doesn't say much for his skill as an investigator of analyst.

The Minuteman @ 07/23/2003 11:52 PM EST

investigator of analyst

Don't you hate it when your criticism of someone else is shot through with typos?

I know I doo-doo.

The Minuteman @ 07/23/2003 11:54 PM EST

Wilson put his wife's maiden name and her relationship to him in his bio on his company website. Link on my blog.

I guess he did so to intimidate himself.

Bill Hobbs @ 07/24/2003 11:05 AM EST


Good one... I wish I'd thought to phrase it that way.

Justin Katz @ 07/24/2003 03:31 PM EST

The point has been clearly missed here. It doesn't make any difference what Wilson's wife's name is or that her name accompanies his biography. The point here is that it was divulged that she is with the CIA. If she (is or was) an operative or undercover agent, divulging the name of someone in that capacity is a felony!

Cathy @ 10/01/2003 08:45 PM EST


I address that question in the subsequent posts linked at the top of this one. The point is that Wilson and his accomplices emphasized then and have emphasized now, the divulging of her maiden name.

Justin Katz @ 10/01/2003 08:50 PM EST