Topic: Government & Politics
No Winners in the Plame Matter
The Ethics Scoreboard continues to search for a good and original term to describe those events that have so much intersecting unethical conduct by so many participants that it is difficult, if not impossible, to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. Ethics car wreck? Ethics gazpacho? We’re still on the hunt, obviously.
But we need to find one fast, because these situations seem to be proliferating, especially in Washington DC. The latest one is the oh-so-strange Sandy Berger incident, which, frankly, is bizarre to the point where the Scoreboard can’t yet persuade itself to attempt to analyze it. Preliminary indications are that we have a former National Security advisor, Berger, who intentionally lifted classified material (astounding and unethical) from under the noses of National Archive staff who were asleep at the switch (incompetent, dangerous, and unethical) allegedly stuffing some of them in his sock (funny and unethical); a former President who says it’s all a big joke (not unethical, but predictable) and that he knew about it for months, apparently without telling the person most likely to be affected by the story, John Kerry, who claims he didn’t know about it (too confusing to figure out, but either somebody’s lying or somebody hid the ball.) Meanwhile, the whole story was leaked, possibly by a Bush official, and leaks are almost always unethical one way or the other. Yeeesh, as Ed Norton used to say on “The Honeymooners.”
The current prize for Whatever It’s Called, however, must go to the Valerie Plame matter as it has played out to date.
Let us recall how the whole mess started:
President Bush inadvertently lit the fuse in his 2003 State of the Union speech before invading Iraq, when he said. “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Joseph Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger to check out reports that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake, which is milled uranium oxide refined to make nuclear-weapons material. After the U.S. invasion, Mr. Wilson wrote a newspaper opinion piece asserting that the intelligence on Iraq and yellowcake had been “twisted” to exaggerate the Iraq threat. He also said that the President had, in effect, lied. Eight days after his piece was published, Columnist Robert Novak wrote a piece naming Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as the one who had recommended Wilson for the job. The problem: Plame was a CIA agent, and Novak’s source effectively blew her cover. Wilson and the Democrats claimed that the source had revealed his wife’s name to punish Wilson for his report. He also denied that his wife put his name forward for the investigation assignment. An investigation was launched, because it violates Federal law to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert intelligence officer with the intention of damaging national security, and it’s a felony for any U.S. official with a security clearance to disclose an intelligence officer’s identity to anyone not authorized to receive such information.
Meanwhile, Wilson had a ball. Victim, protective husband, brave truth-teller, he reveled in a new role as the darling of war opponents and Bush-detesters. He was profiled in Vanity Fair. He even rushed a quickie book to press, full of dark theories about the evil that lurked in the hearts of the current administration. The press, meanwhile, turned the “yellowcake in the State of the Union” into front page stuff for weeks.
Then a Senate Intelligence Committee report comes out and reveals that a) Plame did recommend her husband for the yellowcake investigation b) Wilson’s Times piece greatly over-stated the case that the “yellowcake” incident was a fabrication, and in fact the best evidence indicates that Bush’s original statement was correct, if somewhat overly emphatic. Plame, meanwhile, may not have been undercover after all. So here is the ethics score on the Plame story as it now stands and it isn’t pretty:
Does any one see any winners here?
Meanwhile, the search for the perfect description continues. Maybe we should call these ethics disasters “Plames.”