Monday, February 20, 2006

New Twist in the Plame Game

Everybody knows that Bob Cesca's exclusive first photo of Cheney's shooting victim that ran on the Huffington Post was a silly Photoshop job (it's Scooter Libby in a hospital bed, see), but the vice president may end up wishing it were true before all is said and done.

According to an article on the Raw Story website, the outing of ex-covert CIA agent Valerie Plame (by Dick Cheney's office, amongst others) may have been a much bigger liability for the U.S. intelligence community than previously imagined.

The Raw Story post, which relies on unnamed sources from within the intelligence community, discloses that at the time of her unmasking by columnist Robert Novak, Plame "was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran." This is quite a revelation considering the amount of attention Iran's nuclear program is getting these days.

According to intelligence sources, Raw Story reports, "her outing resulted in 'severe' damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation." Furthermore, the Raw Story article states that three intelligence officers all confirmed that Plame's outing resulted in the exposure of other non-official cover CIA officers, although they did not say how many. Another officer said that the Plame leak resulted in the exposure of "both people and agency operations that involve the 'cover mechanism,' 'front companies,' and other CIA
officers and assets."

Perhaps most damning, considering the current policy on nuclear proliferation and Iran, is this:
Several intelligence officials described the damage in terms of how long it would take for the agency to recover. According to their own assessment, the CIA would be impaired for up to "ten years" in its capacity to adequately monitor nuclear proliferation on the level of efficiency and accuracy it had prior to the White House leak of Plame-Wilson's identity.
If all of this is true, then it belies the insistence coming from the right that Plame was never a covert agent and her exposure really had no effect because her clandestine activities were over. I'm a bit wary of this story because of its total reliance on anonymous sources. While that's understanding considering the subject matter, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Still, if it turns out to be true, this scandal could end up destroying more than a few careers in Washington. What it may have cost us in terms of the Iranian nuclear program is something I don't even want to contemplate.
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