From THE VN/VO:
Unlike most Americans, I don’t watch a lot of thriller movies laden with gritty yet efficiently secretive government agents. I tend to find the idealized perfectionism of any governmental process… let’s just say, unrealistic. That being said, while I’ve always understood that agencies such as the FBI or CIA certainly possess some of the same political inefficiencies as any large organization, I’ve always assumed that by rule detrimental politics never made its way to the front lines- where agents are supposedly doing work of paramount importance, not merely, say, processing drivers license renewals.
The Karl Rove/Valerie Plame controversy sheds a little more light on the surprisingly bungled inner workings of the most powerful government in the world. But not for the reasons everyone is focusing on. The leak itself isn’t actually all that surprising. Politics is naturally and inescapably dirty business, hence we have multiple autonomous branches of government in check with each other. American democracy was built under the knowledge that, no matter what rules are in place, those in power will often tend to do short-sighted- even illegal- things for political reasons. The architecture of the system- not laws or unwritten rules- is what is supposed to keep the government from cannibalizing itself.
Sure, whoever leaked Plame’s identity- be it Karl Rove or the White House mailroom clerk- most likely did something wrong, and should be punished justly. The problem, however, is that our fetish with political scandal may cause the investigation to stop there. Taking a step back from the admittedly sexier “Yet Another Watergate Redux,” we should really be wondering how a secret agent of the CIA would ever be allowed anywhere near such a political situation.
You see, neither a Karl Rove, nor a Bob Novak, nor any individual should ever be in a situation where they could put a Valerie Plame’s CIA career- or life- in peril through an unveiling of her secretive position. Thus, it is the system that should be examined for fault first here. Unfortunately, we’re finding out yet again that our most important non-political, security-focused agencies- namely the CIA- is not impervious to the downfalls of political infighting.
This whole mess came about when Joseph Wilson, Plame’s husband, was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate certain claims of Iraq attempting to buy uranium from the African nation. Wilson found no evidence of pending uranium sales, and reported his facts back to the CIA. Later, Wilson becomes angered by his reports being ignored by the Bush Administration, and goes off and writes an angry Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Low and behold, a smear campaign erupted. His wife’s identity was leaked.
Beyond the leak, one of two things is very wrong with this picture: either Wilson, as a CIA operative, shouldn’t be entering the realm of political punditry, or the CIA shouldn’t be allowing their secret agents to be all that close to people who have the ear of both the New York Times and The Bush Administration.
As an opinion writer myself, I have great awe and respect for the ability our democracy affords me to share my opinions with potentially millions of people. Of course, I have always assumed that my exercising of that ability in such a public manner precludes me from having certain jobs- such as, oh, I don’t know, a CIA operative? Maybe in the movies, apparently not in real life.
Fine, so Plame’s husband himself probably required a low enough level of secrecy in his identity and actions that he could afford to take advantage of his free speech rights and not compromise anything. If this is the case, how does the CIA allow an agent- who’s identity, when unveiled, would cause a national crisis- marry or be close with a man that close to ugly Washington politics?
I’d like to assume that there are fairly strict standards to how secret agents live their personal lives. Marrying an accountant? Probably fine. Marrying a guy who has the ability and desire to play Sean Hannity/Michael Moore and send the current administration into a political tizzy? I’d think not.
Apparently, however, there is a lot less control than we think. That scares me. Will our agents in the Middle East, while attempting to capture Osama Bin Laden, be pitching book deals back in the states? Will internal FBI agents, while attempting to thwart the next 9/11, be posting to blogs about their workplace issues?
In the coming months, the media and its viewers are going to focus on the leak itself. While this was certainly a dubious political card to play, it is not the issue. The issue is how- in a world where intelligence is becoming the most important asset in international conflicts and affairs- our intelligence system can successfully be kept apart from a world where partisan political punditry and smear campaigns are becoming more prevalent. Right now it is apparently not, and that is dangerous.
So I think back to all the government agency thriller movies that I tend to skip past on television. Maybe, indeed, certain government personnel should be more like their stereotypical counterparts on the screen. No, not in the erase-your-memory-with-a-stick kind of way. Rather, in the way where every piece of their lives are held to an extremely controlled standard- a standard that doesn’t include partisan politics.
View story at THE VN/VO:
Rove and Plame: It’s not about a leak