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Tuesday, October 25, 2005 

Two quick updates.

I'm still trying to sort things out from being away, so here's two quick news stories. They'll be something with more depth tomorrow.

Report ties Cheney to CIA leak investigation:

Pressure increased on the White House today as new claims emerged concerning the investigation into the leaking of a covert CIA agent's name.

The New York Times reported that documents held by the investigation show that Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to the US vice president, Dick Cheney, learned the name of the agent from Mr Cheney himself.

If this is accurate, it would appear to differ from Mr Libby's evidence to a grand jury that he first heard the name of the agent, Valerie Plame, from journalists.

The idea that Mr Cheney was directly involved in the information flow would also, if correct, increase the political pressure facing the White House.

The New York Times described its sources for the claims about the previously undisclosed conversation in June 2003 as lawyers involved in the investigation who had seen Mr Libby's notes.

The criminal investigation into the leak, headed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, draws to a close this week and prosecutions are possible. Mr Libby and Karl Rove, the chief adviser to the president, George Bush, are at the centre of the investigation.

Ms Plame was a covert CIA agent whose husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went on a CIA-sponsored trip to Niger in 2002 to investigate whether Iraq was seeking to buy uranium for nuclear weapons. On his return, Mr Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of exaggerating the case for going to war.

In an effort to discredit Mr Wilson, White House officials allegedly revealed Ms Plame's identity by suggesting that she helped arrange her husband's trip. Mr Fitzgerald's investigation was triggered because it is illegal to publicly name a covert CIA agent.

The notes cited by the New York Times today contain no suggestion that Mr Cheney or Mr Libby knew at the time of their alleged conversation that Ms Plame had undercover status or that her identity was classified.

It would not be illegal for the two officials, who presumably have the highest security clearance, to discuss her name.

However, any effort by Mr Libby to steer investigators away from his conversation with Mr Cheney could be considered by Mr Fitzgerald to be an illegal effort to impede the inquiry.

In other words, if this is true, the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan. Libby lied to a jury. Cheney was the real source of Libby's briefing of journalists. It almost seems too good to be true for those who want to see the Bush administration fail or even fall. Juan Cole's analysis is as always excellent:

If both things are true, it makes perfect sense of our weird American news reporting. Cheney isn't just "a" journalist, he is The Journalist--who calls up Roger Ailes at Fox Cable News and tells him what to report and how. Why, Jimmy Olson and Clark Kent are pikers compared to super-Dick.

Or it could just be that Libby was lying, in which case he get's Martha Stewart's old cell.

I saw Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson say that she hoped Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald would not bring a charge like perjury, which would be a sign that he could not discover a real crime, or words to that effect. She was speaking off the current Republican Party talking points aimed at spinning this scandal.

So let's get this straight. The Republicans roiled the country for two years and impeached Clinton for lying about sex under oath, but now all of a sudden perjury is a minor crime not worth bothering about. Remember that 1998 was a period when Clinton needed to focus on the threat of al-Qaeda, but he was being distracted by the Republican bulldogs and everything he did about al-Qaeda was dismissed as "wag the dog." Vicious partisan politics was put before the benefit of the nation. (Many of the major Republican figures who impeached Clinton had themselves had affairs and covered them up, and besides, who cared or cares?)

But what Cheney, Libby and Rove did was not just a private impropriety. The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity did enormous harm to US national security, since it blew the cover of the dummy corporation the Company was using to investigate weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

Although it was not illegal for Cheney to share classified information with Libby, since both had clearances, there is a question of whether the idea of leaking Valerie's name originated with Cheney. Even if that were not true, there is a question of propriety. Undercover CIA operatives' names should not be bandied about without some serious purpose. At a time of a War on Terror, when the nation's security is under assault by a sinister and determined terrorist organization, do we want a vice president in the White House who has the kind of loose lips that sink ships?

It makes a mockery of the Patriot act and continuing attacks on civil liberties in the US. Tying in nicely with the above, Reporters without Borders have released their Annual World Press Freedom Report. Coming top is Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands. The United Kingdom is down in 24th place, largely due to our repressive "Official Secrets Act" and libel laws, I would assume.

And to quote them:

Some Western democracies slipped down the Index. The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources. Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened the privacy of sources and sometimes turned journalists into “court auxiliaries.” France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offences.

The US ranks lower than Namibia, Benin, El Salvador, South Africa, Mali and Jamaica. Something to be proud of for all those who shove the constitution down the throats of those who don't have one.

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