In some respects, the Valerie Plame affair is really just a skirmish in a long-running war between the Bush Administration and the CIA. Elements within the agency, long-opposed to White House policies in the War on Terror, have waged a guerilla campaign of anonmyous criticism and carefully designed leaks, all intended to embarass the administration, and cast doubts on our policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
Thankfully, I don't work at Langley and can't say whether this is an organized conspiracy, or just the collective grumblings of a few current (and former) senior officials. But it is very interesting that the agency okayed Joe Wilson's fact-finding trip to Niger before the Iraq War, despite his lack of expertise in WMD matters, his past political leanings, and the fact that his wife, the world's most famous CIA employee, recommended him for the job. And, after his return, the agency never requested a formal report, and remained silent when Wilson went public with his op-ed in The New York Times, contradicting statements he'd made in his CIA debriefing.
When reporters began asking about the Wilsons, the White House (it could be argued) walked into a CIA trap. Discussions about Ms. Plame led to accusations that her cover as a "covert" operative had been blown, prompting the Fitzgerald investigation and the eventual indictment of Scooter Libby.
Two years after the Plame affair--and despite serious house-cleaning efforts by new CIA Director Porter Goss--the war between the Bush Administration and the agency is continuing, as evidenced by the "exclusive" in today's Washington Post. In a lengthy, front-page article, reporter Dana Milbank offers a rare look into the CIA's network of secret overseas prisons, used to house suspected terrorists. The article is largely based on observations from unnamed CIA officers, both on active service and retired.
Milbank suggests that agency officials are split over the secret prisons, but there are a number of quotes from CIA officers who express concern about the program, noting that some detainees are returned to Muslim countries (such as Egypt and Morocco) with a long history of abusing prisoners. There are also concerns that some prisoners don't meet the standards originally envisioned for the program (which was designed for high-ranking Al Qaida members), and the secrecy "burden" it places on the agency. One source suggests that the current level of secrecy associated with the program "isn't sustainable."
Well, duh...So, is that why CIA officials decided to unburden themselves to Mr. Milbank? I'll give the reporter props for his digging and legwork, but the sudden willingness of CIA officers to discuss this "black" program seems more than suspicious. The front-page story about the secret prison network will likely raise more questions about U.S. treatment of terrorist detainees and give more ammuniion to anti-war critics.
By disclosing details of the detention program, it could also be argued the the Post is endangering national security. While the paper did not publish the location of a detention facility in Eastern Europe, some of the revelations about facilities and Afghanistan and elsewhere could make it more difficult for the CIA to continue this sensitive mission. The same MSM outlet that expressed concern about security leaks in the Valerie Plame case has no problem reporting sensitive information that could ultimately harm detention and interrogation efforts, by "exposing" host countries, and raising new questions about U.S. detention and interrogation efforts.
Another example of media hypocrisy? You be the judge. Meanwhile, the MSM remains a convenient mouthpiece for CIA elements waging a covert war against the White House--a war with no end in sight.