Croak and Dagger
The Raw Story has this just up:
CBS News has confirmed, in advance of a 60 Minutes interview with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame to be run this Sunday, that Plame "was involved in operations to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons."
"Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys, basically, did not get nuclear weapons," Plame told 60 Minutes. Plame also indicated that her outing in 2003 had caused grave damage to CIA operations, saying, "All the intelligence services in the world were running my name through their databases" to see where she had gone and who she had met with.
CBS states further that Plame "was involved in one highly classified mission to deliver fake nuclear weapons blueprints to Tehran. It was called Operation Merlin, and it was first revealed in a book by investigative reporter James Risen."
Reached on Saturday morning, Alexandrovna said she had known of Project Merlin when she wrote her 2006 article but was not allowed to discuss the operation, as per her agreement with sources, just the country involved. "I cannot confirm or deny that Plame was connected with Project Merlin, only that I was aware of it," Alexandrovna told Raw.
A Guardian story explaining the Risen reference to Merlin does not inspire confidence.
She had probably done this a dozen times before. Modern digital technology had made clandestine communications with overseas agents seem routine. ... by 2004, it was possible to send high-speed, encrypted messages directly and instantaneously from CIA headquarters to agents in the field who were equipped with small, covert personal communications devices. So the officer at CIA headquarters assigned to handle communications with the agency's spies in Iran probably didn't think twice when she began her latest download. With a few simple commands, she sent a secret data flow to one of the Iranian agents in the CIA's spy network. Just as she had done so many times before.
But this time, the ease and speed of the technology betrayed her. The CIA officer had made a disastrous mistake. She had sent information to one Iranian agent that exposed an entire spy network; the data could be used to identify virtually every spy the CIA had inside Iran.
Mistake piled on mistake. As the CIA later learned, the Iranian who received the download was a double agent. The agent quickly turned the data over to Iranian security officials, and it enabled them to "roll up" the CIA's network throughout Iran. CIA sources say that several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed, while the fates of some of the others is still unknown.
This espionage disaster, of course, was not reported. It left the CIA virtually blind in Iran, unable to provide any significant intelligence on one of the most critical issues facing the US - whether Tehran was about to go nuclear.
Ha-ha-ha. Somebody prop me up. If that story is false I can hardly stand from laughing. If it's true I can hardly stand for crying. But there's more.
But it's worse than that. Deep in the bowels of the CIA, someone must be nervously, but very privately, wondering: "Whatever happened to those nuclear blueprints we gave to the Iranians?" ...
The story dates back to the Clinton administration and February 2000, when one frightened Russian scientist walked Vienna's winter streets. The Russian had good reason to be afraid. He was walking around Vienna with blueprints for a nuclear bomb. To be precise, he was carrying technical designs for a TBA 480 high-voltage block, otherwise known as a "firing set", for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon. ...
The Russian's assignment from the CIA was to pose as an unemployed and greedy scientist who was willing to sell his soul - and the secrets of the atomic bomb - to the highest bidder. ... But Tehran would get a big surprise when its scientists tried to explode their new bomb. Instead of a mushroom cloud, the Iranian scientists would witness a disappointing fizzle. ... The Russian studied the blueprints the CIA had given him. Within minutes of being handed the designs, he had identified a flaw. "This isn't right," he told the CIA officers gathered around the hotel room. "There is something wrong."
In Vienna, however, the Russian unsealed the envelope with the nuclear blueprints and included a personal letter of his own to the Iranians. No matter what the CIA told him, he was going to hedge his bets. There was obviously something wrong with the blueprints - so he decided to mention that fact to the Iranians in his letter. They would certainly find flaws for themselves, and if he didn't tell them first, they would never want to deal with him again. ...
Just days after the Russian dropped off his package at the Iranian mission, the National Security Agency reported that an Iranian official in Vienna abruptly changed his schedule, making airline reservations to fly home to Iran. The odds were that the nuclear blueprints were now in Tehran.
The Russian scientist's fears about the operation seemed well founded. He was the front man for what may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA, one that may have helped put nuclear weapons in the hands of a charter member of what President George W Bush has called the "axis of evil".
The point of the Guardian's breathless account is that the CIA may have managed to send the Iranians useful weapons design information by mistake, just like that unnamed "officer" at headquarters sent a list of intel assets in Iran to the Iranians by mistake. And now I guess we're going to hear about how George Bush recklessly endangered National Security by exposing Valeria Plame, thus compromising this travesty of an operation.
The Press is supposed to be the public's intelligence agency. On occasion one gets the impression that it too is a participant in a Wilderness of Mirrors. And not a very smart one either, which isn't to say those on the other side of the fence are always better. Imagine working in an environment where a serious intelligence operation is just a fancy name for planting rumors in a Risen book. And where the press sees itself as "players" in the great game. What is the truth or are they all recycling each other's sea stories? Should I laugh or should I cry?