PREPARING FOR THE WORST?….Swopa notes that the Washington Times has a piece today about the Plame investigation. It’s written by Bill Gertz, a national security reporter with pretty reliable links to the Bush administration, and peddles the suggestion that outing Plame’s name was no big deal because her identity had already been exposed before:

Mrs. Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. [Note: this was reported last year by Nick Kristof. The CIA has suspected for a long time that Aldrich Ames gave Plame’s name to the Russians sometime before 1994.]

In a second compromise, officials said a more recent inadvertent disclosure resulted in references to Mrs. Plame in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana.

Gertz’s source suggests that outing an undercover agent is a crime only if the CIA was seriously trying to protect her cover, and these disclosures show that the CIA wasn’t taking the whole thing seriously in the first place.

Since this story appeared out of nowhere and has no obvious hook, Swopa theorizes that it’s a sign that indictments are coming down the pike soon and the administration is trying to “prepare the media battlefield” in advance. After all, why else would someone call Gertz out of the blue to explain why outing an agent isn’t really outing an agent? If the prosecutor was planning to close up shop and announce that he hadn’t been able to collect enough evidence for indictments you’d probably just leave well enough alone.

Sounds plausible to me, so I thought I’d pass it along. Based on previous scuttlebutt, it sounds like we’ll know for sure within a couple of weeks or so.

UPDATE: In comments, fellow Plame enthusiast Tom Maguire suggests that maybe this leak actually came from the prosecutor as a way of laying the groundwork for a forthcoming announcement that no indictments will be forthcoming. Could be, except that (a) Gertz is a national security reporter and it’s more likely his source is in the Bush administration, (b) the prosecutor’s team has been remarkably leak free so far, and (c) why would the prosecutor need to lay any groundwork anyway? He’s not running for office or anything, so he’s more likely to just announce his decision whenever he announces it.

On the other hand, I confess that it’s a little hard to see how this really lays any groundwork anyway. I mean, if the prosecutor ends up announcing that, say, Karl Rove leaked Plame’s name but that he’s decided it’s not technically a violation and Karl will therefore be avoiding Martha Stewart’s fate, what’s the difference? It’s still a big scandal and he’d still have to resign, right?

In other words, it’s all a little murky. But we’ll find out what’s going on soon enough.