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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why This Matters

The news is flying fast and furious this evening: Raw Story has an excerpt from tomorrow's WSJ saying that the investigation may have broadened to include the whole of the White House Iraq Group. (More on this soon, I promise.) They dragged Victoria Toensing out from under her rock again to flog the IIPA bandwagon on Olberman's MSNBC show this evening (Note to Vicki: that is sooooo last year.), and to talk about prosecutorial overreach and general meanness. (Note to Norah O'Donnell: try getting legal information from sources on both sides of the issue.) Hardball was good again today, but a summary of the show will have to wait until tomorrow, I'm afraid, due to my desperate need for some sleep.

But there is something that has been bugging me, and I have to get it off my chest. I have been thinking about this all day long, ever since someone made a stray remark about this investigation that just set my teeth on edge. Thought I would share my thoughts with everyone else in the Traitorgate obsessed world.

Imagine that one day you wake up to the incessent ping of your beeper. It is still dark outside your window, and you slide out of bed, pad quietly down the hallway and try not to wake up the wife and kids, as you slip into your home office and place a call on a secure phone. You are told that your cover has been blown, that your family may be at risk. You have to make instant decisions for your own safety, that of your family, and of every asset you have in the field - and to do that, you have to prioritize which assets are more valuable and which you can afford to lose, if necessary. You have to decide then and there which of the people you cultivated, the ones you promised safety in exchange for information and cooperation, which of them may have to die because you may not have time to save them all.

Why has your cover been blown? Because you work as a CIA colleague of the wife of a man who dared to question the veracity of the President of the United States on a matter of national security, a matter of an exaggerated claim that was inserted in his State of the Union address to bolster his case for war in Iraq. And the President's cronies and hatchet men decided to out this man's wife for political payback, as a lesson to anyone else who would dare to question their decisions and as a means to staunch the bleeding from this initial salvo of criticism. Damn the consequences.

No consideration for all the lives interconnected in this network of agents and field assets, or the years it took to cultivate them. No thought of the impact that this betrayal by highly placed governmental officials would have down the line -- how hard it would make it to recruit human intelligence assets in the field at the very time that we need them most to gather information inside the terrorist networks that threaten us more and more each day.

No concern for the years of set up it took for Brewster-Jennings and Company, the cover company set up by the CIA that both you and this man's wife used, to get up and running. The fact that you and she worked along with a number of other highly trained CIA officers around the world -- trained in tracking down the weapons used by terrorists and thugs and the very people that threaten our nation's safety every single day wasn't important to them. Nor was the loss of the millions of taxpayer dollars it took to set this up and maintain it as viable cover in a number of countries worldwide.

Seemingly, no thought of the loss of ongoing investigations. If there was any consideration or calculation, a discounting of the loss of human intel assets dealing with WMD issues at a time of war, with terrorists who would like nothing more than to get their hands on the very chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and materials that you have risked your life to keep out of their hands.

The next time someone opens their yap and says to me that this case doesn't matter. That everyone does it. That it was just politics. That this is how things are done in Washington. That the President is going to pardon them anyway. That they'll find a way to weasel out of it. That she wasn't really under cover anyway. That they didn't know she was a NOC when they outed her CIA status. Or whatever other talking head pundit crap comes out of the pipeline on the next talking points bilge memo...well, it just doesn't matter.

Fitzgerald is going to do is job, and all the spin in the world is not going to stop him. What does matter is that everyone -- on the right and on the left -- understand what it means to out a CIA operative. And that it never, ever happens again as a sanctioned means for political revenge.

Look at the picture. Just look at it for a moment. Every star on that wall represents a CIA officer lost in the line of duty. Every single star. Below those stars is a book of names that records the officer and the loss. Some of the names attached to those stars cannot be revealed publicly, because the operation in which they lost their life was either so secret that it can never, ever be revealed, or because those agents have other friends and assets still in the field who would be jeopardized by their simple name being printed on a piece of paper inside the walls of Langley. In a few cases, the families of these agents are not told how the death of their loved one occurred, because the safety of others and of other agents is paramount, even to the satisfaction of a grieving widow and her children.

How dare anyone say that this case does not matter. You tell that to the family of anyone who has a star on that wall. Or to anyone who has ever had the honor of knowing and working with or living with any law enforcement hero who walks out their front door every day, knowing that it could be the last time they ever see their family. Knowing that a deep cover assignment risks not only their own life, but sometimes the lives of everyone close to them.

These officers do not serve this nation for glory. They do not seek fame, or fortune, or even accolade. Officers who serve on the line -- be they CIA, or special forces ops, or undercover local narcotics cops in your town -- these people serve because they must. Because someone has to keep the bogeyman at bay. They risk their lives so the rest of us can kiss our children goodnight, crawl into our comfortable beds, turn out the light, and feel safe. They put their body in front of all of ours as our last shield against the darkness.

The next time someone says to you, "What's the big deal?" you tell them. What was done to Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie and their twins is despicable, and goes much further than political payback ever should. It crossed way over a line. They will have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives, just in case. But it did not just touch their lives. It touched the life of every CIA agent working under Brewster cover, every employee of a Brewster company in ever country in which they maintained an office. And every single person with whom those people ever met, because all of them would be considered national security risks in their own nations for meeting with a potential CIA agent.

You see, it wasn't just payback. Take a long, hard look at that wall of stars. None of us will know how many were added because of this. But if Patrick Fitzgerald can ascertain who was responsible, then each and every person should be held to account. And I am not the only person who thinks so.

"Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors." President George H. W. Bush, on the 26th of April, 1999, at the dedication ceremony of the George Bush Center for Intelligence.

Too bad his son doesn't seem to have listened to the old man.

UPDATE: After reading a comment from Gotham Image, I feel obliged to point out that those stars on the wall represent CIA officers who have died while on duty for this country. There are no stars for any of the assets who have given their lives assisting us and our agents in protecting this country -- no way of assessing the loss of life of our human asset network from all of this from the outside. The CIA will have done an internal assessment of the losses and difficulties caused by this breach of national security, but it is something the general public will never know (for good reason, I might add.) Just something to think about. Collateral damage ripples out endlessly in this environment, and we may never know how far to the edge of this particular pond that this has gone.