VALERIE PLAME’S CAREER….Today’s Nick Kristof column on Valerie Plame actually contains some new information:

First, the C.I.A. suspected that Aldrich Ames had given Mrs. Wilson’s name (along with those of other spies) to the Russians before his espionage arrest in 1994. So her undercover security was undermined at that time, and she was brought back to Washington for safety reasons.

Second, as Mrs. Wilson rose in the agency, she was already in transition away from undercover work to management, and to liaison roles with other intelligence agencies. So this year, even before she was outed, she was moving away from “noc” ? which means non-official cover, like pretending to be a business executive. After passing as an energy analyst for Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a C.I.A. front company, she was switching to a new cover as a State Department official, affording her diplomatic protection without having “C.I.A.” stamped on her forehead.

The first part is an interesting tidbit, and the second part, while not really surprising, also adds a piece to the puzzle.

Kristof’s conclusions about this are all sound. I agree that while the Plame affair is indeed very serious, it’s unlikely that her life has been endangered or her career destroyed (although in fairness, those haven’t really been the major talking points from the critics in any case). And I’m also skeptical that a special counsel should be appointed, although I’m more open to the idea than Kristof.

On the opposite side, however, it’s unquestionably true that “Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it.” What matters, after all, is not so much the actual damage done by this exposure, but the potential damage. Senior White House officials are supposed to have the good sense to know that you treat information like this seriously because you don’t know what kind of damage exposing it might cause. And you sure as hell don’t leak it as part of a petty partisan smear campaign.

And finally, Kristof thinks journalists should shun Robert Novak for being a party to this smear. He’s probably right about that too.

UPDATE: One more thing, though: Kristof really ought to tell us in general terms who his source for this column is. Someone in the CIA? Someone in the White House trying to downplay the damage? Plame’s next door neighbor? Since this story has been all about spin and counterspin from the very beginning, knowing where the spin is coming from is a crucial part of any story.

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