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June 14, 2006

The CIA Leak Panel at YearlyKos

This panel was the best panel I’ve ever seen on any topic anywhere.  Put together by the irrepressible Jane Hamsher of the Firedoglake blog, it included Ambassador Joe Wilson; writer and investigator Murray Waas of the American Prospect; former CIA operative and writer Larry Johnson; former prosecutor Christy Hardin-Smith, aka Reddhedd of Firedoglake; Marcy Wheeler who researches and writes under the handle emptywheel at The Next Hurrah; and Dan Froomkin, online blogger for the Washington Post. 

Jane opened by saying that if NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and PBS had been doing their jobs, this panel would not be here.  She thanked them from the bottom of her heart for not doing their jobs and allowing Firedoglake, which has been doing the best reporting on this issue anywhere, to do so.  Then we got to see what it’s like to get a picture of one of the most important and underreported stories of our time from someone who used to be a Hollywood producer.  This woman knows how to tell a story.

She talked about the villains and the heros of this story and said how lucky we were to have this panel with us, starting with a real American hero – Ambassador Joe Wilson.  She introduced the new Bob Woodward, Murray Waas, still the only reporter in the country on this story full time.  She said the story could not have been told without the bloggers, people like Larry Johnson, who was in the same CIA class as Valerie Plame and who now writes on his own blog, No Quarter.  Johnson’s unique insider perspective is picked up routinely by several other blogs.   Jane introduced her compatriot on Firedoglake, Christy Hardin-Smith, who has consistently pulled together the best information from everywhere else and then speculated about what it meant from her perspective as a former prosecutor.  Much of what the bloggers and Waas writes is based on the work of Marcy Wheeler, researcher and writer at The Next Hurrah, whom others talked about as being perhaps the most knowledgeable person on the planet about this issue.  Dan Froomkin, online blogger at the Washington Post, has been the only national media person to cover this story routinely and he often makes use of what he learns from the other panelists.   

Jane talked about the power of blogs to start and maintain a conversation.  Without them, this story would have gone away, as the Iran-Contra story did in the mid-eighties.  We are in a different era now, an era where anyone with passion and knowledge can participate. 

Then Joe Wilson stood to rousing applause.  There are video clips of the opening remarks of this panel online and I hardily recommend that anyone interested in this story take a look if they can access it.  Here (hard to find) or here (have to register)  I will cover just the highlights of what I heard.

Joe Wilson

After the applause died down, Wilson said, “I am Mr. Valerie Plame.  I used to  be Joe Wilson, the last American diplomat to talk with Saddam Hussein.  Now I am the husband of the first intelligence agent in the history of this country to be outed by her own administration.  Think about that, the US government compromising the safety and cover of a CIA agent.   He went on to say that Plamegate has never been about Joe Wilson and his wife.  “The story here is who put the 16 words in the State of the Union Address and why did they do it?” 

He talked about the war and the price that has been paid. He added that we have a right to hold the people who made the decision to go to war accountable.  “This is about war and why we wage it.  It is also about how we conduct debate in this democracy of ours.  There has been a systematic pattern of disenfranchisement and smears from people inside our government.  “If there is any lesson it is that we can stand up to schoolyard bullies and make sure that these decisions are made in the public arena.” 

He ended by quoting George Orwell.  “In a time of universal deceit, the simple act of telling the truth is revolutionary.”   

Dan Froomkin

Dan Froomkin was up next.  Dan said, “I want to talk about the job of telling the truth on the part of the traditional media. . . .  I could almost stop there.  The exception here is Murray Waas, the only journalist effectively scrutinizing the facts.  Without him, Judith Miller might still be considered a fine reporter.”   

He added, “Joe and others see this as the tip of the iceberg, the narrative of an administration that selectively leaks to the media to tell their story.”

“So, why aren’t they?”  He speculated that the media is actually liberal, as they have been painted to be, and is bending over backwards not to get called, “liberal”.  Plus, the culture in newsrooms is to please the boss.  He ended by saying he appreciated that the blogs were adding resistance.

Murray Waas

Murray Waas then spoke, saying “I am the only full-time reporter on this story.  The American Prospect is a publication with only 13,000 subscribers.  It should not be the case that a publication with this low a subscription is the only one covering this story full time.  Bloggers have filled the void and done what newspaper reporters used to do.”  He added that we don’t know where this story could go.  Rove could be indicted (more on that later.)  The Vice President could be implicated.  Only then will they pursue it.  He said, “A lot of reporters are so compromised that they just hope this story goes away.”

Waas then reminded us of the time of the Clinton impeachment when Ken Starr, the special prosecutor then, fed the reporters, unlike Patrick Fitzgerald now.  It brings up the question of what stories are not being told.  He ended with a plea.  “Let’s not close the public square.  Let’s open up the public square and try to reclaim our media.”

Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler was up next.  She started by saying, “The reason I got interested in this story is that I didn’t want to have happen to this story what happened to Iran-Contra.”  There was a lot of nodding of the heads by panelists and members of the audience.

She talked about the advantages that bloggers have over journalists.  She said that bloggers can present the story in terms of character and add flavor.  For example, in discussing Judith Miller, we can label her “Steno Sue”, a term which clarifies her role to readers quickly.  Marcy was able to speculate about who Judith is and most of those speculations have held up.  Bloggers can also deal with the way and the reasons that the MSM is spinning a story.  For example, she guessed that Ari Fleisher was cooperating with Fitzgerald because of the stories that had been planted against Fleisher. 

Marcy also said that she would pit the understanding of any regular Firedoglake reader up against the writers of ABC’s “The Note”.  Of course we all liked that.

Larry Johnson

Larry Johnson spoke next.  He began by saying, “One thing is clear.  Valerie Plame was an undercover agent until the Administration revealed her status.” 

Johnson said he has been a life-long conservative and he has been particularly puzzled that conservatives have gone along with Bush and Cheney on this issue.

He stood up for the CIA’s information.  He said that the CIA had said that there was no operational relationship between the events of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.  They said there were no WMD in Iraq.  Then they said that Hussein had not purchased yellowcake from Niger.  He added, “You have lost your heart and soul if that does not outrage you.”

Johnson said that Valerie was undercover since the day they walked into the building in 1985.  Johnson has posted in the past on being in the same class of CIA agents as Plame.  (Joe Wilson said that he found out from Johnson that Valerie was the best agent with an AK-47 in that class.  Wilson said it was not something he really wanted to know.)

Johnson said that the Justice Department would not be investigating this case if Plame were not still a protected agent.  The case she was working on was the investigation of Iran’s ability to obtain materials that would allow them to acquire nuclear weapons.  There was an internal damage assessment done that found that there was damage done to the CIA and ultimately to the nation as a result of this leak. He said the leaking was nothing short of treasonous.

Christy Hardin-Smith

Christy Hardin-Smith followed Johnson up.  She talked about the law in regards to this issue.  She began by saying it would be helpful if journalists talked with prosecuting attorneys when discussing this case.  If they did, they would know that you don’t waste the time of the Grand Jury unless you have a case.  You are very careful not to start something with a Grand Jury that you don’t intend to finish. 

Christy also said that she knows the issue of protecting sources is critical from the point of view of a journalist.  However, from a prosecutor’s point of view, the constitution does not provide cover for journalists who are committing a crime or assisting a politician to commit a crime. 

Q&A

There were also some interesting points brought out in the Q&A, of which I will only cover a few.  Joe Wilson said he remains confident that the rule of law will be successfully implemented in this case. 

Murray Waas cautioned that we still want to make the presumption of innocence.  He also said, however, that the government has the ability to close down the investigation as George H.W. Bush did with the Iran-Contra case by his wholesale pardoning of suspects.  Waas also brought up a related question that he considers very important – “Who is paying for Scooter Libby’s defense?”

Larry Johnson said he is convinced this story is heading toward implicating Dick Cheney.  He thinks this is a systematic cover-up.

Marcy Wheeler said that all journalists covering this story are being spun. 

You see why I said at the beginning that this was not only the highlight of a spectacular convention but also the best panel ever on any topic? 

Addendum:

Yesterday, the story came out that Karl Rove was off the hook.  The folks at Firedoglake said they weren’t surprised.  Here’s a long excerpt of what Jane had to say:

I have to say I don’t know what all the fuss is about. 

When I first heard that Rove got a letter saying that Fitzgerald did not intend to bring charges against him, I immediately thought — as emptywheel did — of a conversation we had between the Plame panelists last Thursday.  Emptywheel took a poll of those who thought Rove had flipped and both Joe Wilson and Larry Johnson raised their hands.  Christy acknowledged that it was awfully weird for someone to testify before a grand jury five times and NOT be cooperating in some fashion with the prosecution.  Today emptywheel offers this account:

I was one of those who raised her hand halfway. My logic is this:

Dick Cheney is dragging down the White House. He is largely responsible for the mess in Iraq. He is trying to sabotage any attempts to negotiate honestly with Iran. And he is exposing everyone in the Administration to some serious legal jeopardy, in the event they ever lose control of courts. At some point, Dick Cheney’s authoritarianism will doom Bush’s legacy.

But you can’t make him quit. His is a Constitutional office, he was elected along with Bush, so you can’t make him resign like you can with your Treasury Secretary or your Environmental Secretary. What better way to get rid of him, then, than to expose him to legal proceedings? It gives you the ability (farcical, but no matter) to say that you have severed all ties with his policies and legacies.

It’s become ever more apparent as time goes on and Fitzgerald releases bits of information in his filings that this was a Dick Cheney operation.  Rove may have gotten involved because smearing people is his idea of a good time, but the Cheney scrawlings on Joe Wilson’s op-ed are the "blue dress"  of this case.  Look at Conrad Black.  Look at George Ryan.   I’m sorry, but Fitzgerald had Rove dead to rights if he wanted him, and anyone who thinks he got nothing for something has been following the story of a different prosecutor than I have been.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 14, 2006 at 11:38 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

Comments

I wasn't able to be at Kos yearly. Now I feel I almost have.

The power of independent bloggers to keep news alive is almost scary -- no wonder Internet freedom is under attack. This is becoming one of the next big progressive battles - defending a free and open Internet.

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Jun 14, 2006 3:17:56 PM

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