MoonDawg's Den: Untenable...?

MoonDawg's Den

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The dictionary defines the word untenable as an adjective meaning "not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection." The word is especially useful when discussing an argument or a position--ie. His thesis was untenable.

Now, I'm not giving a vocabulary lesson to appear superior or elitist (as many liberals are called). I'm just baffled by the right's arguments on leaks, and I want to be sure that I use the proper word to voice my confusion. The right's position is untenable--BIG TIME!

Garry and I have debated ad nauseam the Plame leak, and we have briefly discussed the leak of information regarding the NSA domestic spying program. We obviously see them a little differently. In response to my February 28 post about the possible national security effects of the NSA leak, Garry said:

This is why the administration is upset - unlike the disclosure of the name of a CIA desk jockey, this leak may have caused actual damage to national security. And unlike the Plame disclosure, the NSA leak was an actual, demonstrable violation of the Espionage Act. (emphasis mine)

He later says:

You ask do I "really believe that enough of a difference has been made in the alert level of al Qaeda operatives to make a difference?". My point was that even the possibility that the leak has raised their alertness and made them more careful could be damaging to our national security interests. We don't know whether there is any "credible evidence" of this or not - such information would be at a classification level above yours or mine. One thing is certain - there is no possibility that the leak has enhanced national security. (emphasis mine)

In response to my May 1st post about reports that Plame was working on nuclear proliferation in Iran when she was outed, Garry said:

[E]ven if true, would this not indicate that Plame was an analyst (propably [sic.] with the WINPAC section) instead of a field NOC? Shuster claims that without Plame at CIA, "our ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged". Give me a break - there were no other desk jockeys at CIA to take her place?

I'd hardly say it was damaging for CIA to lose someone who actually thought it was a good idea to send a retired diplomat with zero field experience, zero proliferation experience, and zero investigative experience to a country that he hadn't served in for decades, to check out whether Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger
- regardless of whether that person was her husband or not. (emphasis mine)

I don't know if I'm the only one who sees the problem with this argument, but here we go. I apologize if I get long winded; brevity is not my strong point.

First, in both leaks, classified information was released to the press. I don't think that's disputable although Garry might argue that since he says the Plame leak was not a "demonstrable violation of the Espionage Act." So, let's put that one to rest now. Newsweek reported in February that

special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion.

In other words, her status was covert, and her identity was therefore classified. Whether she was a "desk jockey" as Garry and other conservatives try to paint it is irrelevant. Her name was classified, and it was released.

Second, both leaks apparently had a negative effect on national security. Garry's refusal to recognize the negative effects of the Plame leak astonish me, but let's examine his argument critically.

"[T]here were no other desk jockeys at CIA to take her place?"

Well Garry, there is absolutely no way to know this. However, I would put forth that Plame probably had sources that trusted her and access that cannot be obtained overnight. A CIA employee, even of an analyst (although she was a NOC), is not something that can be easily replaced. It's not like replacing the office secretary, which is how you make it sound.

Furthermore, throughout our debate you have made assumptions based on right-wing bloggers and idealogues that say that NOCs don't drive to Langley every day or sit at a desk or work on nuclear proliferation in Iran (You said that her work on Iran suggested that she was an analyst and not an agent). How do you know that? Where is that documented? Where does it say that a covert CIA agent's identity can be exposed if she sits at a desk?

My point is that the published evidence says that she was covert, that her name was classified. Any other suggestions are based on assumptions that cannot be proven by the information available. In other words, the position is untenable.

Now let's look at the damage caused by the NSA leak. Alberto Gonzalez said this about the effects of this leak:

I think, based on my experience, it is true - you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance. But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

For the sake of brevity, I won't comment on this except to say that its absurdity speaks volumes about the minuteness of the effect that the leak had. However, to be fair, I'll admit that's an assumption that I can't verify--ie. untenable.

Third, one of these leaks is defended under the Whistleblower's Act and one isn't. The Whistleblower's Act and the National Whistleblower Center are in place to protect public employees who reveal potentially illegal dealings that their organization is involved with.

The leakers in the NSA case were exposing potential wrong doing by the government, which has been vindicated by Republican senators who are seeking to introduce legislation to "bring the program within the law." I interpret that to mean that the program was outside of the law, and the law is being changed to remedy that. I disagree with the premise of changing the law to shield the president, but that's just my opinion. In this case, the whistleblowers had reasonable evidence to suggest wrong doing, they came forward, and investigations began.

Contrast that with the Plame leak. It was definitely not public employees revealing potentially illegal activity from their employer. It was the Executive Branch of the United States government trying to shield itself from a political opponent. Period. Now, if you're okay with leaking classified information for that purpose, that's fine. That's your prerogative. However, it is unreasonable and untenable to argue that the NSA leakers should be prosecuted because they did something terrible and that the Plame leakers did absolutely nothing wrong. I'm sorry; it just doesn't work.

It is my experience that people only argue untenable positions when they are blinded by something. In my opinion, it is partisanship and blind support of Bush that are the culprits in this case.

Please understand that I have incredible respect for Garry and the clarity of his arguments and points of view. Even though we disagree a lot, I respect his commitment to having a spirited and honest debate. I do, however, feel that his argument doesn't hold up in this case.


PS- I apologize for the length of this. I wanted to be thorough.


  • Ay-yi-yi - it might be useful to recall how this whole thing got started in the first place: the OSC was tasked to learn whether there was a violation of the IIPA. Under that controlling legal authority, a covert agent is defined as someone "who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States". This did not apply to Plame, period.

    You will note that Fitzgerald has not indicted anyone for violation of the IIPA. Why is that?

    By Blogger Garry, At 12:01 PM, May 23, 2006  

  • Garry said:

    "Under that controlling legal authority, a covert agent is defined as someone 'who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.' This did not apply to Plame, period."

    Newsweek said (from my original post):

    "special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done 'covert work overseas' on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA 'was making specific efforts to conceal' her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion."

    I believe "overseas" qualifies as "outside the United States." Doesn't it? So, "this did not apply to Plame, period" isn't really accurate. In fact, it's not accurate at all. Second, Fitzgerald talked at length during the Libby indictment why he hadn't indicted anyone of violating the IIPA. He was being lied to! It's powerfully hard to prove guilt if people aren't being straight with you. Rove and Libby both lied to save themselves. Libby's been indicted on perjury charges, and it looks like Rove will be too. Who knows how the case would have turned out if people had been honest with the prosecutor?

    I still don't think that your argument holds up. The case has been spun to death by the right, but the truth is starting to come out. Finally!


    By Blogger Jeff, At 8:44 PM, May 23, 2006  

  • I've addressed the Newsweek story previously - analysis of the relevant court documents indicates that Newsweek's interpretation of Judge Tatel's opinion was flawed. Read the documents yourself, as I have, if you find fault with this analysis.

    Speaking of Newsweek, it was not so long ago that the magazine (along with 3 dozen other major media organizations) joined an amicus filing in the Judith Miller case, which stated that:

    "Plame was not given 'deep cover' required of a covert agent...She worked at a desk job at CIA headquarters, where she could be seen traveling to and from, and active at, Langley. She had been residing in Washington — not stationed abroad-- for a number of years. As discussed below, the CIA failed to take even its usual steps to prevent publication of her name."

    Newsweek needs to make up its mind on this, methinks. As to Fitzgerald, he has never claimed that Libby's (or anyone else's) alleged perjury has prevented him from making a prosecution under IIPA - show me where he said such a thing. There is also zero indication of any pending Rove indictment - although it does seem that Richard Armitage may be in jeopardy.

    By Blogger Garry, At 3:49 PM, May 24, 2006  

  • Garry,

    First, I find York's analysis lacking for a couple of reasons. 1- The only inconsistencies he can find are whether Libby knew Plame was covert, not whether she was covert. That's comparing apples and oranges. 2- His point that Fitzgerald is not releasing the documents isn't real solid either since the case is about perjury and not Plame's status. I don't see that it has much relevence in the trial; therefore, it wouldn't need to be released by the prosecutor. 3- In Fitzgerald's press conference when he indicted Libby, he said that Plame was covert. Ergo, he's been consistent throughout, not inconsistent as York claims. Of course, York is a conservative hack, not a real journalist, so what can you expect?

    Second, you said: "As to Fitzgerald, he has never claimed that Libby's (or anyone else's) alleged perjury has prevented him from making a prosecution under IIPA - show me where he said such a thing."

    During his press conference when he indicted Libby, Fitzgerald said:

    "But as important as it for the Grand jury to follow the rules and follow the safeguards to
    make sure information doesn't get out, it's equally important that the witnesses who come before
    a Grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a Grand jury who may be under an
    investigation, tell the complete truth. It's especially important in the national security area" (page 2).


    "The laws involving disclosure of classified information in some places are very clear; in some
    places they're not so clear. And grand juries and prosecutors making decisions about who should
    be charged, whether anyone should be charged, what should be charged, even make fine
    distinctions about what people knew, why they knew it, what they exactly said, why they said it,
    what they were trying to do, what appreciation they had for the information and whether it was
    classified at the time. Those fine distinctions are important in determining what to do. That's
    why it's essential when a witness comes forward and gives their account of how they came
    across classified information and what they did with it, that it be accurate" (ibid.).

    And, after being asked why no indictment was handed down for violating the IIPA, Fitzgerald gave a bad baseball metaphor, and then said the following:

    "In this case, it's a lot more serious than baseball. The damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't to
    Valerie Wilson, it was done to all of us. As you sit back, you want to learn why was this
    information going out? Why were people taking this information about Valerie Wilson and
    giving it to reporters? Why did Mr. Libby say what he did? Why did he tell Judith Miller three
    times? Why did he tell a Press Secretary on Monday? Why did he tell Mr. Cooper? And was
    this something where he intended to cause whatever damage was caused or did he intend to do
    something else? And where are the shades of gray?
    And what we have when someone charges obstruction of justice is the umpire gets sand thrown
    in his eyes. He's trying to figure out what happened and somebody blocked their view. As you
    sit here now and if you're asking me what his motives were, I can't tell you, we haven't charged
    it. So what you were saying is the harm in an obstruction investigation is that it prevents us from
    making the very fine judgments we want to make" (page 6).

    It seems obvious to me that he's saying, "I can't get all the facts because I'm being lied to."

    As for Rove, he recently testified for the 5th time before the grand jury, and many analysts are saying he's in trouble. I hadn't heard about Armitage.


    By Blogger Jeff, At 12:50 AM, May 25, 2006  

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