Monday, October 13, 2003

Digging deeper holes

The Note helpfully reminds us that it really doesn't matter when White House officials might have revealed Valerie Wilson's identity (before or after Novak's column). Revealing the identity of a covert agent is illegal regardless of when it is done.

The White House seems to be seeking to suggest (and Newsweek seems to be buying) that if officials simply called reporters to call attention to the Novak column and what it said about Wilson's wife the Agents Identities Act does not apply. This seems wrong.

The Act was specifically drafted to cover a situation where a person conveys information other than a name which has the effect of identifying someone as a covert agent. That is what the statutes says "discloses any information identifying such covert agent" rather than "identifies a covert agent."
A reporter reading the Novak column would have no way to know if the fact reported was correct. However, after the phone call he or she would know it was correct and hence would have the identity of a covert agent.
Nor can the administration claim that because the name appeared in the paper once it was no longer classified and that the government was no longer keeping it a secret. This Administration (and past ones) has often argued that something is still secret even if it was published once without collaboration. The government in fact still asks people not to use the name and still take the position that the fact of whether or not she was or is a covert agent is still classified.
Just ask the CIA.

For the terminally dumb in the audience (i.e., Bush defenders): if you called up reporters to tell them that they should pay attention to what Novak said in his column then you are confirming the facts of that column and thus compounding the original criminal act of blowing a cover agent's cover. In fact, it is quite likely that you are committing the additional crime of advancing a conspiracy to release that information.

What's most amazing about this is that the Bush administration appears to be admitting to journalists that they were doing this. Yet the brilliant minds in the media can't seem to figure this out.

Perhaps it is time for someone to consider the age-old advice that when you find yourself in a hole stop digging!

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