[UPDATE - Since this article was written, Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in a military prison.]
The day was June 22, 2005. In the congressional hearing room, former CIA agents and covert ops professionals were stating, one after the other, how the leak of Valerie Plame's undercover status as a spook had harmed the country.
CIA officer Plame was engaged in nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, that is, uncovering and stopping the movement of nuclear weapons, to and from the hands of terrorists. Special Operations Colonel Pat Lang told the committee:
So when you have an instance like this, in fact, in which not just the intelligence community, but the elected government of the sponsoring government, of the major country in the world, deliberately, and apparently for trivial and passing political reasons, decides to disclose the identity of a covered officer, the word goes around the world like a shock, in fact, that, in fact, "The Americans can't be trusted -- the Americans can't be trusted. If you decide to cooperate clandestinely with the Americans, someone back there will give you up -- someone will give you up, and then everything will be over for you." So you don't do it.
And so the very kinds of people you need to get into the heart of this galaxy of jihadi groups and people like this will make a judgment that they are not going to trust you in this way. And once that happens, then the possibility of penetrating these groups, the possibility of knowing that they're going to carry 10-pound bags of explosive in the subway stations, will go right down the drain.
[CSPAN coverage of committee hearing, "Special Joint Oversight Hearing on the National Security Consequences of Disclosing the Identity of a Covert Intelligence Officer"] [Transcript of hearings]
It was two years after the most serious scandal of the Bush administration thus far, and the first one pundits were saying Bush or Cheney, or both, might not survive. An outraged intelligence community was frantically trying to backtrack over anyone who had ever been associated with Plame, because then his or her cover was blown as well. There was already no question that the leak came from the White House. Bush himself said July 12, 2007:
Somebody in his administration leaked the name of that person, Valerie Plame
That much was not even up for grabs. Then somehow the Karl Rove-Bush spin machine went into action, and before it was over had everyone convinced that Plame, who graduated near the top of her class at the required FBI weapons school in Quantico, VA, was a prima donna and a crybaby.
But the rest of the world didn't think it was funny. The Washington Post quoted a former diplomat worrying that:
every foreign intelligence service would run Plame's name through its databases within hours of its publication to determine if she had visited their country and to reconstruct her activities.
People were going to die.
Now a young private, Bradley Manning, is being recommended for 60 years in prison by the military prosecutor. No one can point to exactly what national interest might have been harmed by Manning's disclosures. Even Manning doesn't know, although now it is undisputed that he was reporting war crimes in the process. Indeed, a military jury acquitted Manning of the charge of "aiding and abetting the enemy."
With the leak from the Bush White House, later to be narrowed down to the vice president's office, vital intelligence networks years in the making were, as Lang said, going "down the drain."
Only a Cheney underling was mildly punished for the Plame leak, falling on his sword to shield the vice president, and expecting people to believe that a control freak like Cheney knew nothing about the leak of Plame's name in order to retaliate against her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for punching holes in George W. Bush's case for war against Iraq. Neither Scooter Libby or Dick Cheney will be sitting in jail for 50 years.
But a young private might, for disclosures not nearly as explosive, or tangible in their assault on US national security. If a nuclear device is ever smuggled into the US, we might have Dick Cheney to thank for it.
If the prosecutor gets his wish, then heretofore every time the name Bradley Manning is mentioned, it should be followed by another name: Valerie Plame.
One of the war crimes leaked by Bradley Manning, starting at about 9 minutes.