A hat tip to A.J. Strata and Tom McGuire for being the first to debunk NBC reporter David Shuster's ridiculous report on "Hardball" last night. For those of you that missed the show, Shuster reported that CIA operative Valerie Plame was tracking Iran's acquisition of nuclear technology at the time her cover was "blown," imparing the intelligence community's ability to follow that issue.
As A.J. and Tom point out, such claims are asinine. Given the threat posed by Iran's nuclear weapons program, it's absurd to think that the revelation of a single analyst could actually make a difference. Lest we forget, Ms. Plame had not been "undercover" for years, and was apparently working as a desk analyst at Langley when her identity was revealed in Bob Novak's column. It doesn't take an agency insider to realize that Ms. Plame was merely one of dozens of analysts following that important issue.
To confirm my suspicions, I called a former colleague, still active in the trade. I asked him to use a tool on INTELINK (the classified intranet of the intelligence community) that allows searchers to locate analysts by their speciality, or area of interest. No names and agency affiliations, I told him. Just run a quick analyst search, using the terms "Iran" and "nuclear weapons." See what kind of a list it generates.
He called back a few minutes later. His search had produced scores of analysts--well over a hundred, in fact (he wouldn't reveal the exact number). And incidentally, the search results did not include military analysts that follow Iran's nuclear program. Adding them to the pool would further increase the number of analysts working that issue. And, I have no doubt that a similar number of analysts were assigned to the problem back three years ago, when Ms. Plame was still working at Langley.
Like so much of the Plame affair, claims that Valerie's "outing" caused grave damage to national security are demonstrably false, even laughable. Whatever her duties back in 2003, she was likely an insignificant cog in a vast analytical machine that monitors Iran's nuclear program. I say "insignificant" because she apparently spent more time lobbying for her husband's trip to Niger than performing serious analytical work. Her retirement from the intelligence community has hardly been a death blow for our Iranian analytical efforts.
For the record, I once had great respect for David Shuster. As an enterprising TV reporter in Little Rock, his dogged pursuit of former Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker led to the governor's indictment and conviction on corruption charges. Since he moved to Washington, Shuster's become just another member of the drive-by media, gleefully reciting the day's talking points from the anti-Bush cabal. Someone should ask Shuster how it feels to be a sell-out, partisan hack, masquerading as a journalist.