Unless the last Trumpets of Judgment are sounded this week, nothing will upstage the eagerly awaited report of the Fitzgerald inquiry into the leak of Valerie Plame's name to the press. According to the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 - After a 22-month inquiry, the special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, is expected to announce this week whether he will seek indictments against White House officials, a decision that is likely to be a defining moment of President Bush's second term. ... It is not publicly known when Mr. Fitzgerald will take action, if any, but whatever he decides, the prosecutor is expected to make an announcement before Friday, the final day of the term of his grand jury.
This is a subject on which everyone has a theory and not a few the illusion of a supposed inside track. Whatever Fitzgerald concludes, and whatever serious policy questions arise from his inquiry, the process has provided a glimpse into that other celebrity world, the universe of Washington power politics. This one has it all: the big name media, intelligence agencies, White House operatives, partisan politics. And a backdrop provided by war. The subjects couldn't be more serious: national security, nuclear weapons, federal statute, jail time: all diminished by the pettiness of politics, whichever side one is on.
But personally, the most fascinating aspect of the Plame affair is the illustration of how information is used within Washington as a weapon, whether offensively to spread a story or defensively to discredit it; whether to build up the credibility of a source or to cast the gravest aspersions on its integrity. Whatever the power of a 2,000 lb smart bomb in the Outlands may be, it is as nothing beside the whispered word, the glimpsed memorandum, the indictment or the leak in Washington DC. That central fact almost determines the dramatis personae. The confluence of the media, intelligence agencies and partisan politics is not only unsurprising in that context, it is almost inevitable. Who else would be involved in the Plame affair except those whose jobs revolve around the processing of insider information?
And although the Fitzgerald inquiry is ostensibly about stopping leaks, no one actually wants them to stop. An amicus curae brief filed by 36 media organizations including ABC News, AP, CNN, CBS News, WSJ, Fox News, USA Today, NBC News, Newsweek, and Reuters, argued that it would be a bad idea to force journalists to identify the purveyors of confidential information. The brief itself (via Wikipedia) says
The Media organisations' interest in this case is that of preserving the right of journalists such as Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper not to be compelled to reveal the identities of their confidential sources absent a heightened degree of searching scrutiny ... In this case, there exists ample evidence on the public record to cast serious doubt as to whether a crime has even been committed under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act ...
Leaks are used to source stories, to start investigations; leaks are even used to track the progress of investigations into leaks. The only thing in the universe more useful than duct tape or WD-40 is the leak. Therefore even those who hope Karl Rove or Scooter Libby are indicted are praying it will be on grounds of perjury or obstruction of justice, lest the whole show grind to a screeching halt.
(Speculation alert) I'd guess that thoughtful bloggers watching the Plame affair are now regarding every email and news release they ever received in a new and somewhat sinister light. Whatever they actually say, the subtext of those emails and releases is really 'welcome to the party, pal'. The hard question to answer is 'whose party', 'whose pal'?