Remember the Plame Affair? You know, when a CIA employee who was not operating undercover had her name make it into the press allegedly -- but, it turned out, not -- at the behest of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and other allegedly nefarious Bush Administration hardliners? Remember the discussions of their having allegedly broken federal law with the alleged outing, and the outrage of the Left-o-sphere and the anti-Bush mainstream media? Well, we have a case today in which there seems to have been the actual outing of an undercover CIA official, but the silence in this case is deafening. Why? because the person doing the outing is a reliably left-wing blogger whose web-traffic puts him unquestionably in the category of "Internet Journalist".
Here's the background.
John Cook of Gawker attempted this week to out the CIA staffer who spearheaded the effort to kill Osama bin Laden.
In a post titled “Is This the Guy Who Killed Bin Laden?” Cook attempts to isolate the staffer, referred to in the AP’s coverage as an anonymous “John”, within press photography of then CIA-now SecDef Leon Panetta testifying about the successful raid, and from the same individual’s presence in the background of White House photos. The AP was probably told too much in that piece to give people like Cook something to dig into, but that’s another story.
Cook does not know the man’s title, the man’s name, nor does he give any indication in his piece of having made a call to the relevant offices to determine his identity (he bases his post entirely on the accusations of another blogger). He could be a scheduler or a personal staffer. Or he could be the key figure Cook speculates he is.
But whether Cook is correct or not, this once anonymous staffer at the CIA is now a target.
Now I have had my differences with Ben Domenech, but I have to agree with him on this point. This isn't the non-outing of a non-secret agent like Plame (whose cover had been blown years before anyone heard of her and her dishonest husband). This is an actual effort to out someone who would immediately have a target on his back for his involvement in icing Osama. What possible good could come from exposing him? And what's more, how does this square with the outrage of liberals -- including Cook -- over the Plame affair.
Now back at the height of the Plame affair, Senator Gary Hart (a reliable liberal) wrot the following at the reliably liberal Huffington post:
. . . the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) of 1982 . . . mak[es[ it a felony to knowingly divulge the identity of a covert CIA operative. It carries penalties of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for each offense. There are those who dismiss the crime by saying, "Oh, Wilson only had a desk job." That is not a defense under this felony statute. It is for the CIA, not Karl Rove or Robert Novak, to determine who requires identity protection and who does not.
As we later were told (and as independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knew from Day 1 of his investigation but refused to divulge to the public), Rove had nothing to do with the disclosure. But note that Hart argues that the law applies fully to journalists who disclose such information as a part of their reporting. And, as Hart notes, the law applies to stateside analysts working at a desk as well as to agents in the field.
Gary Hart also made the following observation about the IIPA in his column.
So, there's the crime. To casually and willfully endanger the life of an undercover CIA agent is a felony. You either believe in taking the laws of the United States seriously or you do not. Citizens - even highly placed ones - do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey and which they will not.
And so, in a spirit of bipartisanship, let me update and paraphrase Senator Hart in relation to the current situation -- So, there's the crime. To casually and willfully endanger the life of an undercover CIA agent is a felony. You either believe in taking the laws of the United States seriously or you do not. Citizens - even prominent internet journalists like John Cook of Gawker - do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey and which they will not.
Now, will Barack Obama order Eric Holder and the Justice Department to investigate this matter thoroughly, seek an indictment of John Cook and then prosecute him to the full extent of the law? Will those denizens of the Left-o-sphere who insisted that non-responsible parties who were in no way responsible for the non-outing of non-covert CIA employee Valerie Plame forthrightly join in that call for such legal action against Cook?
After all, as John Cook himself argued at the height of PlameGate, as he advocated for the punishment of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby (for something it turned out they never did), "People ought to be held accountable for the things they do and say, for good or for ill." And you know what -- that even applies to internet journalists in the field of opinion-infused non-objective reporting.