Politics trumps national security
On April 26, 1999, George Herbert Walker Bush was addressing the Central Intelligence Agency at the dedication ceremony of the George Bush Center for Intelligence.
“We need more human intelligence,” he said. “That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country. Even though I’m a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are … the most insidious of traitors.”
Last Friday a group of Democrat House and Senate leaders conducted a hearing at the Capitol on the national security implications of disclosing the identity of covert intelligence officer Valerie Plame Wilson. In answering the recent oft-repeated talking points disseminated by the White House, the Republican National Committee and their cheerleaders on right wing talk radio, the testimony revealed how the Bush administration has damaged our national security in the process.
The agent’s cover was blown in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak, who recently stated that two White House sources came to him with the information. It has been widely suggested that the outing was retaliation for an op-ed piece written a week earlier in the New York Times by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. That piece destroyed a major argument for Bush’s case for invading Iraq: that it was procuring uranium for weapons of mass destruction from Niger.
Like the Downing Street Memo story last May, last week’s hearing received scant media coverage. Yet the testimony of the five witnesses, all former key intelligence people, provides tremendous insight into the severe costs to the nation of the political outing.
“For the first time in the history of the United States by any administration, a political operative went after an active intelligence officer and leaked their name for petty, trivial, political reasons, and at the end of the day have caused terrific damage to the United States,” said former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, who disclosed that he had voted for George Bush in 2000 because he “wanted a president who knew what the meaning of ‘is’ was… (and that he had) the understanding that (Bush) was going to come to Washington and bring a new set of ethical standards.”
Senator Byron Dorgan, the committee co-chair, asked Johnson whether identifying her role would have had a ripple effect across the world involving other agents.
“This problem almost certainly damaged intelligence assets that were connected with providing the United States information about rogue states and terrorist organizations trying to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear material,” Johnson answered. “And that goes to the very heart of some of the threats that we face today.”
Colonel Patrick Lang, former Director of the Defense Human Intelligence Service, explained the adverse effect that exposing a covert operative would have on existing agents and recruitment efforts. “This is a human phenomenon of deep relationships and trust,” he said. “And so anything you do which causes this person either doing the recruiting or the person being recruited to believe that his fate is going to hang on the basis of whether or not somebody was exactly covered in this way or that way under some law or other – if they come to believe that, then they’re gone.”
Jim Marcinkowski, deputy city attorney in Royal Oak, Mich., and a former CIA officer, addressed the oft-repeated Republican talking point that Plame simply had a desk job. “An officer performing a street buy… uses a very light cover, meaning he could pose as something as simple as a drug user, operate only at night, and during the day… have a desk job at the police station,” he explained. “The exposure of Valerie Plame by anyone in the White House is the same as a local police chief announcing to the media the identity of his undercover officers.
“But there is also an added dimension,” continued Marcinkowski, a former Young Republicans president in the Detroit area. “(When) an informant in a major sophisticated crime network or a CIA asset working in a foreign government is exposed, they have a rather good chance of losing more than just their ability to operate… What has suffered irreversible damage is the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince an overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us.
“Each time the leader of a political party opens his mouth in public to deflect responsibility, the word overseas is loud and clear: politics in this country does, in fact, trump national security. Each time a distinguished ambassador is ruthlessly attacked for the information that he provides, a foreign asset will contemplate why he should risk his life when his information will not be taken seriously.”
Our former president who addressed the CIA in 1999 could hardly have expected that scarcely a half-decade later his son would be heading a posse that would be earning just the contempt that he was condemning.
(For a full and thorough comprehension of how our national security has been compromised by the political retribution in outing Valerie Plame Wilson, one should take the time to read the complete transcript which can be obtained by going to http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20050722145835-13707.pdf )
– Michael Zucker is a South Lake Tahoe resident.
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