Tuesday, July 05, 2005

PLAME HYPOTHETICALS We still don't know for sure who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, or the precise role the White House played in spreading the story.

But before the details get filled in--and that should start to happen in the next week or two--it's worth ruminating, in the abstract, over a couple of scenarios that fall short of the indictment of a White House official.

First, suppose it emerges that a White House official leaked Plame's identity to the press, but Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is unable to make the case that the official knew Plame was a covert operative.

A number of questions demand answers: How was Plame's identity learned by the official in the first place? Who did he call? On what grounds was the information made available? Was the President's name invoked?

Whatever the answers, though, it seems clear that individuals participating in--or orchestrating--that kind of leak should be forced to resign on the spot by the President.

A person who leaks a CIA agent's identity--without definitive knowledge that she isn't covert--is guilty of collosal negligence or worse. There's no place in government for someone with that kind of ethical tin ear.

But what if it turns out that White House officials, while not responsible for the initial leak, did confirm Plame's identity to reporters?

If that's where things end up, the Bushies will likely try to construct an ethical distinction between leaking and confirming. But it's hard to see why one should be seen as less egregious than the other: Both actions facilitate the outing of a covert agent's identity for partisan gain. Both actions ignore the line between political hardball and abuse of power.

Anyone who can't grasp this intuitively has no business with access to sensitive information.

The latest on the story can be found here.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.