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Joe Wilson's 60 Minutes

Another media outlet falls to the Plame storyline without so much as a whimper.

11:00 PM, Nov 1, 2005 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The company's existence was entirely fictional and the CIA did not do a very good job making it look real either. The lone piece of data that Washington Post could find on the company in 2003 was a listing in the Dun & Bradstreet database of company names. But the Post's reporters found that the company's telephone number was not in service and when they contacted the property manager for the address listed, they found that no company with that name was located there. Robert Novak, the reporter who originally reported Plame and her firm's real identities, also quickly became "convinced" that no such firm existed.

Fooling family members and friends is one thing, fooling foreign intelligence operatives is quite another. Good front companies have at least a nominal existence and are not fictions easily revealed by reporters.

Wilson called the leaking of his wife's name and her fictional employer's true purpose "abominable." He further explained, "But when he [Robert Novak] published her name, it was very easy to unravel everything about her, her entire cover. You live your cover. And so you live Brewster-Jennings. So, she would have had business cards that said Brewster-Jennings on them. So, that was just insult to injury."

But if Wilson and his wife were so concerned about her cover, and possibly the cover of other agents, being blown, then why did he publish an editorial in the New York Times discussing a classified intelligence-gathering mission he went on? Why did he then go on to make many media appearances peddling his own fictional version of his mission? Did Wilson think that foreign intelligence services would not do a little background work on him, his family, and all of their ostensible connections? Ed Bradley was not interested in answering any of these questions.

The 60 Minutes segment further argued that the leak "gives America's enemies clues about how the CIA operates." Marcinkowski explained, "[Valerie Plame] is the wife of an ambassador, for example. Now, since this happened, every wife of an ambassador is going to be suspected. Or they'll know there's a possibility that the wife of a U.S. ambassador is a CIA agent."

But, it is doubtful that this affair revealed any new information about the CIA's tactics. This country's enemies have long known that covert operatives are seeded in the ranks of embassies and other diplomatic offices around the world. This has been the standard operating procedure for intelligence services as long as nations have practiced the art of espionage. In fact, one of the main reasons the CIA did not have better and more human intelligence assets in the Taliban's Afghanistan and Saddam's Iraq was that there was no formal diplomatic presence in those countries from which to operate.

It is a safe bet, too, that the family members of U.S. diplomats and ambassadors, especially those who write fictional accounts about their classified intelligence-gathering missions in the world's most famous newspaper, are immediately suspected as well.

For further speculation on the effects of the Plame leak, Bradley turned to Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee:

Bradley asked the leading question, "Is it possible that someone overseas, someone is going to jail because of this?"

Holt replied, "Sure, it's possible."

Bradley then led a little further, "Is it possible that somebody lost their life?"

Holt replied, "It's possible. I don't know."

Thus, according to 60 Minutes, not only did the outing of Valerie Plame destroy her career--an act of retribution against a man who dared to criticize the war in Iraq--it also possibly led to other agents being imprisoned or even killed. Such speculation is certainly designed to leave the viewer even more enraged over this whole affair.

None of this is meant to excuse any alleged wrong-doing on Scooter Libby's part. Nor should the outing of any CIA operative be taken lightly. But, behind the 60 Minutes version of events lies a host of unanswered questions.

Thomas Joscelyn is an economist and writer living in New York.