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Collateral Damage


Sources close to Richard Armitage have confirmed for the NYTimes that he was, indeed, the source not only for Bob Novak, but also for Bob Woodward and another journalist as well who did not write about Valerie Plame Wilson.  (Any guesses on that journalist’s identity?  There’s a whole Beltway to choose from…UPDATE:  But, as P points out in the comments, the poorly worded bit in the NYTimes may only be indicating Woodward and Novak.  I’m open to argument on the fact that the "third" journalist that I was reading into this after one cup of coffee was really only meant to be Woodward.  What do you guys think?  I need more coffee…)  According to the NYTimes:

In the accounts by the lawyer and associates, Mr. Armitage disclosed casually to Mr. Novak that Ms. Wilson worked for the C.I.A. at the end of an interview in his State Department office. Mr. Armitage knew that, the accounts continue, because he had seen a written memorandum by Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman.

Mr. Grossman had taken up the task of finding out about Ms. Wilson after an inquiry from I. Lewis Libby Jr., chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Libby’s inquiry was prompted by an Op-Ed article on May 6, 2003, in The New York Times by Nicholas D. Kristof and an article on June 12, 2003, in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus.

The two articles reported on a trip by a former ambassador to Africa sponsored by the C.I.A. to check reports that Iraq was seeking enriched uranium to help with its nuclear arms program.

Neither article identified the ambassador, but it was known inside the government that he was Joseph C. Wilson IV, Ms. Wilson’s husband. White House officials wanted to know how much of a role she had in selecting him for the assignment.

Ms. Wilson was a covert employee, and after Mr. Novak printed her identity, the agency requested an investigation to see whether her name had been leaked illegally.

Some administration critics said her name had been made public in a campaign to punish Mr. Wilson, who had written in a commentary in The Times that his investigation in Africa him to believe that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to justify an attack on Iraq.

The NYTimes also makes clear that the memo that Armitage had seen was one done by Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman that did not contain any references to Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert status.  So the intent to out a covert agent is not something that could be proved by evidentiary standards under this set of facts, as far as I can tell from what we know at this point.  It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does make Armitage more difficult to prosecute under the laws as they stand.  (See here for more discussion on that.)

And there is a lesson buried in the midst of the NYTimes story that I want to emphasize for a moment, as a former prosecutor: Armitage realized he was the source of the initial leak, and he immediately went to the State Department’s offices of legal and intelligence affairs, owned up to what had occurred, and discusssed his errors with the FBI before Patrick Fitzgerald was even appointed as Special Prosecutor.  According to the NYTimes:

The Justice Department was quickly informed, and Mr. Armitage disclosed his talks with Mr. Novak in subsequent interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, even before Mr. Fitzgerald’s appointment.

The book quotes Carl W. Ford Jr., then head of the intelligence and research bureau at the State Department, as saying that Mr. Armitage had told him, “I may be the guy who caused this whole thing,’’ and that he regretted having told the columnist more than he should have.

Mr. Grossman’s memorandum did not mention that Ms. Wilson had undercover status.

Apart from Mr. Ford, as quoted in the book, the lawyer and colleagues of Mr. Armitage who discussed the case have spoken insisting on anonymity, apparently because Mr. Armitage was still not comfortable with the public acknowledgment of his role.

He was also the source for another journalist about Ms. Wilson, a reporter who did not write about her. The lawyers and associates said Mr. Armitage also told Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post and a well-known author, of her identity in June 2003.

Two things: First, as defense counsel, I cautioned my clients to keep their mouths shut, other than requesting that I be present when they spoke with police officers. And as a criminal defense attorney, it’s good advice — advice that Martha Stewart ought to have heeded, just as one example of many.

But as a prosecutor, I can honestly tell you that when you have a genuinely contrite person in front of you, who has owned up to all their activity, put everything out on the table, and you have all the facts to look at — both the prosecutor and the criminal investigators are more likely to work with that person in terms of using them as a witness against others, cutting a deal, everything.

It does not in any way excuse the behavior, but acceptance of responsibility and willingness to work with authorities can go a long, long way sometimes.  Something that Scooter Libby failed to do from the get go — big mistake.  Never lie to investigative officers, repeatedly, becuse if you do, you will have to deal with the legal consequences of your behavior.  Period.  Karl Rove may only have come around to honesty in some form by his fifth attempt at Grand Jury testimony, but it’s tough to tell from the outside.  I do hope that, at some point, we get to the backstory on all of this during the Libby trial…there are way too many holes remaining for my legal brain to be comfortable.

But this leaves me wondering what the FBI and/or Patrick Fitzgerald may or may not have ultimately gotten from Richard Armitage. And others in this investigative mess.

But the second thing is this: no matter how much of a "decent guy" Richard Armitage may have been considered by colleagues (and reports from a number of people are that he’s a "good guy," fun at work, considerate of colleagues, tough when he needs to be, he and his wife have taken in hundreds of foster kids through the years, etc., etc.), he opened his yap and outed a covert CIA operative through careless gossip.  On multiple occasions.

Shameful. Wrong. Deadly careless.

Back in October of 2005, I had this to say — and I still feel the same today:

Why has your cover been blown? Because you work as a CIA colleague of the wife of a man who dared to question the veracity of the President of the United States on a matter of national security, a matter of an exaggerated claim that was inserted in his State of the Union address to bolster his case for war in Iraq. And the President’s cronies and hatchet men decided to out this man’s wife for political payback, as a lesson to anyone else who would dare to question their decisions and as a means to staunch the bleeding from this initial salvo of criticism. Damn the consequences.

No consideration for all the lives interconnected in this network of agents and field assets, or the years it took to cultivate them. No thought of the impact that this betrayal by highly placed governmental officials would have down the line — how hard it would make it to recruit human intelligence assets in the field at the very time that we need them most to gather information inside the terrorist networks that threaten us more and more each day….

"Even though I’m a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors." President George H. W. Bush, on the 26th of April, 1999, at the dedication ceremony of the George Bush Center for Intelligence.

Richard Armitage gossiped about a member of the CIA to journalists. He violated the first principle of national security clearances — disclose information on a "need to know" basis only. I do not care how valuable his knowledge may be, he should never, ever have a high level security clearance again, because he is not to be trusted. (And while we are at it, why does Karl Rove still have his? Given his admission to discussing Valerie with journalists as well, he should be held to the same standard. He is also not to be trusted.)

National security is not some game. I don’t care about the "everybody does it" argument that Washington, D.C., is one big pit of gossip about who does what portfolio in intel or covert ops — this is not a game. And anyone who has ever known an officer who put their life on the line in a covert operation knows that for a fact.

David Corn has been saying that the book he and Michael Isikoff have written with the Armitage revelations is predominantly about the selling of the Iraq conflict and subsequent occupation based on false information — about the Bush Administration’s perpetration of a fraud on the American public to gin up a war of their choosing.  I’ll be interested to see what, if any, new information they have dug up in the cesspool that is Washington.  But I’m also keeping in mind that we are talking about Michael Isikoff and David Corn — both of whom have had their fingers in this pie for quite a while, and wondering how, if at all, that will color the information they disclose in the book — and wondering what information they may have held back.

In any event, this all gives Byron York something to do with his time — and apparently Christopher Hitchens has thrown himself into the mix as well now.  Lord, if Rita Cosby shows up, I’m going back to bed.

PS — No legal discussion contained herein is to be considered legal advice.  Every legal situation is different, and requires tailored information.  Please talk to an attorney in your jurisdiction if you are accused of outing a CIA agent as a means of revenge against her husband for outing your boss’s obfuscations to the American public to gin up a war of his choosing.  Thanks.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com