Defenders of Rove maintain that he received the information that Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, worked for the CIA from reporters and not vice-versa. Also, they claim that Rove did not mention her by name and that his intent was not malicious, but merely to confirm that the CIA sent Wilson to Africa, at the suggestion of his wife, to determine whether Saddam Hussein had sought to buy yellow cake uranium to build nuclear bombs. These defenses are shaky, but even if they are true, Rove has still acted unethically and should be fired.
These latter details may keep Rove out of jail. The law is written narrowly and requires a high threshold of criminality: a government official who has disclosed an operative 's identity must have known that the agent had active covert status (which Plame did). But those legal technicalities should not keep Rove out of hot water.
Washington is a rough and tumble political town in which everyone, including journalists, has been socialized into accepting the culture of playing the game with hardball tactics. And Rove is the king of bare knuckle brawling. Remember, Rove had the chutzpah to smear two decorated war veterans --John McCain and John Kerry --to better the chances of George W. Bush, who didn 't even show up regularly during the Vietnam era for a safe, hard-to-get National Guard position that he got through political connections. (But George W. Bush is not the first president to hire a crack political hatchet man; remember Dick Morris during the Clinton administration?)
The problem with being socialized into such an "anything goes " culture is that it becomes hard for political operatives to know when they 've crossed the line. And Rove has stepped way over it this time.
Even merely confirming that Plame worked for the CIA without naming her violates ethical responsibilities for officials with government security clearances --which Rove, Libby and other senior administration officials possess. CIA employees, whether in covert status or not, do not usually advertise where they work as a precaution against being targeted by foreign espionage. Worse, covert agents who are exposed could face death or torture. In Plame 's case, however, the jeopardy to her was probably less than the danger to her cooperating informants in the autocratic nations trying to obtain WMD. If a reporter asked Rove about Plame working for the CIA, the proper response was "no comment, " not "I heard that, too. "
Allegedly, the United States invaded Iraq to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Yet in retaliating against Wilson, an envoy who challenged the Bush administration 's claims on Saddam 's efforts to get WMD, Rove and perhaps others undermined the CIA 's efforts to get information on such proliferation by "outing " Plame. This contradiction is one more indication that the invasion of Iraq had little to do with Iraqi WMD programs.
It is fine for presidents to have aggressive political consultants, but those advisors shouldn 't be given government policy positions that require security clearances. The "Rove affair " is a confirmation of the mischief that arises when those two roles are merged.
President Bush has promised to fire any administration official who leaked the name of a CIA operative. This administration implicitly and unfairly accused opponents of the Iraq War of being "unpatriotic, " but now is the time for the president to keep his promise and fire his top political aide for engaging in real unpatriotic activities.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute 's Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting "Defense " Back into U.S. Defense Policy.