Friday, October 28, 2005

Kitty Genovese and the cold call six

On March 13th, 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her apartment building in an assault that lasted thirty-five minutes. Thirty-eight people witnessed the attack, not one took any step to stop it, not even to call the police.

In July of 2003, Scooter Libby shopped a story with six different journalists, Matt Cooper, Judith Miller, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Robert Novak, that Joe Wilson’s wife was the CIA Case officer in charge of monitoring the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Libby was trying to paint Amb. Joe Wilson as the beneficiary of nepotism, that his wife was responsible for his assignment to investigate claims that the Iraqis were trying to obtain Niger uranium.

Not a single reporter put his country first. Not a single reporter understood that his first obligation was to his readers/viewers/listeners. The real story here was that the administration was so desperate to discredit its critics, that they were prepared to blow an entire intelligence operation for the sake of political payback. It should never had required a special investigation. All of these reporters should have run with the story instantly, and the story should have been that Scooter Libby’s political warfare was placing an intelligence operation at risk. It would have been possible to write such a story without indicating which intelligence operation. Let me make this clear. Citizens have certain obligations, one of them is to report crimes in progress. A reporter’s obligation to their source is trivial by comparison.

Try to imagine what it was like to have been Valerie Wilson that morning, to wake up before dawn to the sound of your beeper, to be informed that your cover has been blown and you have hours to warn whichever agents you can.

Try to look at this from point of view of international opinion. The world sees the United States insisting that a war against Iraq is necessary to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The world is told we cannot wait for diplomatic efforts. As the war progresses it becomes embarrassingly clear that there are no weapons of mass destruction.

Imagine the diplomatic corps opening their Washington Post on the morning of July 14, 2003. Imagine them reading Robert Novak’s column to discover the name of the CIA case officer in charge of monitoring the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Attach├ęs from our allies are on the phone with their counterparts in the CIA demanding an explanation. Attach├ęs from hostile intelligence agencies are convulsed in laughter. But for the American people this is no laughing matter.

It will now be far more difficult for our spies to recruit agents. Allied intelligence agencies will be hesitant to share information. Hostile intelligence agencies will be more aggressive, and with Plame’s network shot to pieces (in some cases literally) we will have great difficulty monitoring developments. We are at great risk.

All of this we owe to the pernicious practice of anonymous sources. And who are these sources? Well, in many cases our clients. Let us put an end to this evil practice.


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