Thursday, November 03, 2005

Plots

This morning, in her op-ed "Investigate the CIA," Victoria Toensing calls for a congressional investigation to determine whether or not the CIA is engaged in “covert action against the White House.” It’s worth pausing for a moment to savor the lunacy of the charge that the American intelligence community is conducting subversive activity against the United States government. If Toensing has evidence for this charge, she might be well advised to submit it to the appropriate authorities, provided they aren’t in on the plot as well.

Of course, she has no such evidence, which is why she has repaired instead to the Journal op-ed page, where lack of evidence is never held against you. Her dark hints about CIA plots are a response to a broader dilemma. When Toensing complains about the horrible unfairness of investigating the leak of Valerie Plame’s covert status, her argument rests heavily on the claim that Plame was not really a covert agent at all. But since the CIA referred the case to the Justice Department for investigation as a leak of classified information, there can be no doubt that the CIA believed that she was covert. So the “CIA plot” thesis provides an ingenious method of squaring the circle. Yes, the CIA says she was a covert agent. But the CIA only says that because they are either incompetent or plotting against the government.

Rather than joining in Toensing’s pursuit of scheming intelligence operatives, let’s focus on a particular point that both she and the Journal editorial board lay great stress upon today. According to Toensing, when Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate claims about Iraq’s efforts to purchase uranium, “the assignment was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, at Ms. Plame's suggestion.” Toensing makes several references to the “bipartisan 500-page report” of the Intelligence Committee, from which she takes this claim. What she fails to mention is that the section from which she takes it is not the report itself, but the appended “additional views.” (pdf file; see p. 443) Senators Pat Roberts (the chairman of the committee), Kit Bond, and Orrin Hatch make the claims she attributes to the whole committee. But before they do, they say that

Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report, however, there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree: 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s public statements were not based on knowledge he actually possessed, and 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador’s wife who recommended him for his trip to Niger.

In other words, the Intelligence Committee was specifically unable to reach a bipartisan agreement on this point, and it was left out of the bipartisan report. In fact, several CIA officials have asserted that Plame did not, and was not in a position to, recommend anyone for the mission. Toensing may feel that they are part of the plot against the government, or she may have some other reason for disbelieving them. She should not, however, claim the unanimous bipartisan support of the Intelligence Committee on the strength of the views of three Republican senators.