Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spy Games

If I were going to write a rank spy novel that was so outlandish, it could only be based on real people and events, I would have as my morally and ethically challenged agent a reporter for the "paper of record." I thought the conspiracy crowd would invent that plot line in the wake of Judith Miller's bizarre account of the principles and facts that led her to spend 85 days in jail for refusing to testify about conversations she had with Cheney operative Scooter Libby over another CIA agent, who happened to be married to a former ambassador and part-time Company contractor, who was exposing as fake one of their chief justifications for invading Iraq--that Saddam was trying build a thremonuclear weapon. But I've not seen that the conspiracy crowd wants to go near this one.

Eric Alterman , a respected and rational writer, called Miller, "the Manchurian reporter.' That's close. I always figured that she went to jail not to protect a source for a Valerie "Flame" article she never wrote--and how can anyone believe she doesn't remember who gave her the name?--this is the same woman who had a fit after Robert Novak "scooped" her in outing "Valerie Plame"--rather she sat in a cage for 85 days so she wouldn't have to reveal the prime sources for her bogus WMD reports for the New York Times. Those sources would invevitably reveal the depths of her connection to the Bushies and blow her cover, if she had a cover to blow.

Were I inventing a "Judith Miller" and wanting her story to make sense--and right now it doesn't--I would make her a double player in the Great Game--first, as a card-carrying journalist and, second, as an agent of some obscure intelligence service, acting out of a sense of duty, a love for adventure, and overarching arrogance paired with extreme self doubt. The only way for this fictional agent, "Judith," to deal with her subpoena is, in fact, to resist until she can exact a promise that the prosecutor won't question her about her conversations with anyone but Libby--and that because Libby is basically irrelevant. Who seriously doubts that the chief bushbucker himself, along with his Dick, ordered the exposure of Valerie Plame--the Bush is all about petty vindictiveness? Why Fitzgerald took that deal is another question, especially in light of "Judith's" selective memory of sources names, but once he did accept it, she was home free. Or so she thought. She didn't consider that in order to protect her covert identity, she would have to discredit herself as a reporter, in large measure by portraying herself as a clueless ditz, who can't recall the name of the source for whom she spent 85 days in jail or much of anything else of substance. The irony there is that jail time as a martyr to the First Amendment was supposed to redeem her journalistic reputation after the WMD debacle. (It did for the Society of Professional Journalists.)

I say debacle, but from the standpoint of the Bushies, she performed to perfection, consistently placing complete bullshit about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction on the front page of the New York Times, which most memorably in the case of Saddam's nuclear dreams, the Bushies, most visibly Cheney and Rice, then used as "objective" evidence. Everyone knows how much they hate the Times, so no one would seriously believe that anyone at the Times would be working for them, would they?

I don't think that reality based Judith Miller is a secret agent for any national security agency. She would be more understandable if she were, because now we're left to believe that she is a lousy reporter who allowed herself to be duped repeatedly by her "sources" and made things up as she went along or out of hubris or a need for the attention of powerful men became a fellow traveler with the neocon Bushies. By all accounts, including her own, she is "Miss Run Amok," who has used her close personal relationship with New York Times's publisher Arthur Sulzberger. Jr., to do what she wanted within the Times.

The question is why he allowed her to do so, why Bill Keller allowed it? As by now, scores of people who have read Sunday's New York Times have observed--just, for example, see today's Financial Times--you don't want to let Judith Miller get her hands on....the wheel of your car, unless you're willing to sail off the cliff into a crowd of people.

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