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The Fitzgerald Legacy: Shutting Down Leaks

By Jack Kelly

President Bush's plunge in the polls began when Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV accused him of lying when he said in his 2003 state of the union address that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa."

Investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Robb-Silverman Commission, and the British Butler Commission have made it clear it was Wilson who lied, but this is rarely noted by a news media more interested in repeating the charge than in reporting the facts.

Ever since then, the president has been playing defense against a series of leaks undermining his foreign policy. The New York Times won a Pulitzer this year for disclosing that the National Security Agency has been listening in on conversations between al Qaida operatives abroad and people in the United States. The Washington Post won a Pulitzer for disclosing the CIA has "secret prisons" in Europe for al Qaida bigwigs.

Thanks to constant repetition of the "Bush lied!" meme, a plurality of Americans now believe Bill Clinton (!) is more truthful. But the worm may be about to turn.

The Wilson story achieved critical mass when Robert Novak disclosed in his column that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA. A special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was appointed to determine if the Intelligence Identities Protection Act had been violated.

Most in the news media applauded Mr. Fitzgerald's appointment. The outing of Ms. Plame was a serious breach of national security, they argued.

Journalistic ardor cooled somewhat when Mr. Fitzgerald jailed then New York Times reporter Judith Miller for contempt when she refused to disclose who told her about Ms. Plame.

After 85 days, Ms. Miller tired of prison food. Her source was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then chief of staff to the vice president, she told Mr. Fitzgerald, who indicted Mr. Libby last October on a charge of having lied to the grand jury about from whom he had learned of Ms. Plame's identity.

This was a Martha Stewart charge -- lying to cover up something that wasn't a crime -- because it's pretty clear the Intelligence Identities Protection Act hasn't been violated. Though she'd been an under cover operative early in her career, for more than five years preceding her outing, Ms. Plame had been an analyst at CIA headquarters in Langley.

Being liberal requires flexibility of principle, but it's been fascinating to watch the contortions of journalists who argue that revealing Ms. Plame's identity was a serious breach of national security which must be prosecuted, but the other leaks are boons to the republic which should be applauded.

The Bush administration disagrees. Investigations into the NSA and "secret prisons" leaks are nearing completion. A senior CIA official has been fired for leaking, and, reportedly, is singing like a canary to avoid prosecution. The FBI knows who's been talking to journalists, ABC's Brian Ross said a source told him.

Journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said on ABC's "This Week" program Sunday.

I doubt journalists will be charged under the Espionage Act, but I do expect vigorous application of the precedent Mr. Fitzgerald set when he jailed Ms. Miller. Reporters who have published or broadcast classified information can expect subpoenas, and can expect to cool their heels in the pokey until they disclose who leaked to them.

That precedent may be Mr. Fitzgerald's lasting legacy. The case against Mr. Libby is weak, and he is disappointingly small potatoes for liberals who have their hearts set on bigger game. (Washington journalists were all atwitter May 12 over a report on a left-wing Web site, since debunked, that Mr. Fitzgerald had secretly indicted Bush political consigliere Karl Rove on perjury charges.) At a conference at Princeton University last week, Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman told several Web loggers the actual target of Mr. Fitzgerald's apparently endless investigation is Richard Armitage.

Adm. Inman is a former director of the NSA and deputy director of the CIA, who presumably has better sources than the left-wing blogger who floated the Rove rumor.

Mr. Armitage, who was deputy secretary of state, is thought to be Mr. Novak's source, and the source also for Washington Post editor Bob Woodward. He is a logical target, but a most unsatisfying one for Bush haters.

After all the cheerleading journalists have done for Mr. Fitzgerald, it would be ironic if he were remembered most for handing prosecutors the weapon they used against journalists to shut down the leaks on which journalists depend.


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