CIA leak probe still hamstrung?

Many people, including some members of Congress, believe the way has now been cleared for a truly independent investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

This sudden surge of optimism results from the announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft that he was withdrawing from the probe and the naming of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to take his place.

But veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern warns Americans not to be misled, despite the claim of The New York Times that Ashcroft has done the right thing.

McGovern notes that Fitzgerald still will be under the control of Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, who is a close friend of Fitzgerald, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. McGovern said the Bush administration shunned the opportunity to name an outsider as special counsel. That, of course, would be the right thing.

Why wasn’t that done? Many assert that the White House obviously has something to hide.

The question, is did one or more senior official commit a felony by endangering intelligence operatives’ lives, by undermining the ability of a senior intelligence official to gather critical information on weapons of mass destruction, and by effectively blowing the cover of the CIA front company that Plame worked out of in Europe? The felony can bring the convicted up to 10 years in prison.

The naming of Fitzgerald is intended to make us believe that rock-solid integrity will prevail and the truth will come out. McGovern is not so confident.

“Past experience,” he said, “strongly suggests that if Fitzgerald is told to string the investigation out until after the November election, he may well oblige. If he is told to pin the blame on White House small fry willing to take the fall, he may do it.”

Fitzgerald did not indict former Gov. George Ryan until he had been out of office for more than a year, with the Illinois governor’s race well behind Republicans.

McGovern indicated that there may well have been an administration shredding party some months ago. When the announcement came that the Justice Department would handle the investigation, it was stated that the formal order to save all relevant documents would come a day or two later. And let’s not forget the White House counsel insisted on reviewing everything before it went to the Justice Department.

Valerie Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, is not optimistic at the naming of Fitzgerald. How serious Fitzgerald is will be indicated by whether he retains John Dion, the career lawyer leading the investigation.

McGovern said it is no secret in law enforcement circles that Dion’s record with leaks is poor. He is said to be reluctant even to go to the men’s room without permission from his superiors.

There is one hopeful possibility. Plame was revealed to no less than six journalists. One of them may come forward to say who told him, rather than being a technical accomplice to a felony.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak, who is the only journalist who published the revelation, has said he will not reveal his source because his career as a journalist would be over.

McGovern believes the truth about this incident eventually will come out, but is not likely to come from a Fitzgerald-led probe. He also thinks the outcome of this investigation may not surface until after the November election.

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