Contempt of a Nation
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Judith Miller left a Federal Courthouse today in handcuffs, bound for a stint in a minimum security institution for the crime of contempt of court. Weeks ago, she’d been ordered to testify before a Grand Jury investigating the Summer of ’03′s outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame by anonymous officials of the Bush administration, and was finally jailed for refusing to identify her confidential sources in a story she never even wrote about.
As crimes go, the unmasking of a suburban soccer mom as a covert spook is comparatively minor among the many committed by the current administration. While Ms. Plame had served honorably for more than 20 years in the government’s most well-known espionage unit, and despite the modicum of huffing and puffing around the untoward compromise our clandestine national security interests might suffer by her public exposure, the revelation of Ms. Plame’s true identity resulted in far fewer deaths, and in nothing near the increase in worldwide terror than have, say, the President’s illegal wars of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the Plame case is something in which people, and a heretofore sonambulant media, seem capable of sustaining interest. At least the law is clear.
It’s called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 –we can be sure it’s a good law because it stems from the reign of Reagan.
Any government official who “knowingly reveals information identifying a covert agent” is criminally liable. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in prison. Journalists are protected from prosecution, unless they engage in a “pattern of activities” to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities.
Some may remember the controversial personality Robert Novak as the first person to publicly name Ms. Plame as a “non-official” covert agent of the CIA. A real journalist, named Matthew Cooper, also divulged Ms. Plame’s identity in an article published by Time magazine shortly after Mr. Novak’s initial story broke the news. It was Mr. Cooper’s potential imprisonment for refusing to testify in the investigation –and Time‘s decision last week to turn over Mr. Cooper’s notes and files on his article to the Grand Jury– which brought today’s events to a head.
After the magazine surrendered his files, Mr. Cooper obtained a personal release from his own source for the information regarding Ms. Plame’s job, and today apparently testified before the Grand Jury, thereby avoiding jail time. It is unknown whether or to what extent Mr. Novak has cooperated in Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s investigation, nor whether any of the other three journalists alleged to have been contacted by Bush administration officials has been identified.
Ms. Miller, like Martha Stewart before her, is a complex, high-profile woman revered and despised for her success –both were made to take the fall for things men do in their professions all the time. Unlike Ms. Stewart, who only tried to game the casino, Ms. Miller took one for the team that seems decidedly in the losing column these days. Which, in it’s way, seems the least she could do given her previous reporting during the run-up to war in Iraq.
Beyond the personalities and the ‘celebrity‘ associated with the Plame case, the most surreal aspect of how it’s playing out is in the time it’s taking to do so. Here’s a simple case of something cut-and-dried illegal done by someone in the Bush administration and two years on we are still teased with allegations it ‘might’ have been Karl Rove?
The sham of a farce of a parody of government process that Americans are willing to put up with is a testament to the rot in the core of our democracy. Would we were less concerned with shining the light of Freedom abroad and more with finding our way by it at home.