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Daily Howler: An e-mailer challenges ''no harm, no foul.'' With lightning speed, we answer
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TRANSITIONS ARE HARD! An e-mailer challenges “no harm, no foul.” With lightning speed, we answer: // link // print // previous // next //

TRANSITIONS ARE HARD: We aren’t going to post today, except for one brief e-mail Q-and-A. A reader asked a good question about the notion of “no harm, no foul” in the Plame “outing” matter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/25/05). Here was his statement:
E-MAIL: “No harm, no foul?”

If I throw a cinderblock off an overpass, just because no one got hurt I should be let off the hook?

And that one's easy to determine harm.

In security matters, the CIA may have to discontinue some operations, may have to disown some operatives, but publically say, "No harm done" to not make matters even worse and allow some covering up of the trail. How can we ever know? And what is the message, "Hey, misuse your security clearance for all the fun you want, only if someone actually gets provably damaged will we complain?” Sorry, it doesn't work like that. There may be some mitigation of sentencing, but in general, if it's a bonehead or malicious move, it's treated seriously or all security measures fall apart.

Also, the "need to know" principal is very important. There can be spies with security clearances. By limiting information to those with a need to know, you limit the access and damage of internal spies.

With lightning quickness, we replied:
REPLY: Good points. But I would want to know if there was harm, and I'd want to know if the "outing" was knowing and deliberate. By "no harm" in this case, I would mean that Plame's identity was "overclassified"—that she wasn't really a covert agent any more, and that nothing actually turned on "outing" her. I have no idea what the facts are on that, although I assume that Fitzgerald does. (As I've often said, I got the impression from his hard pursuit that he may have found that real harm was done.) I don't assume the accuracy of what Wilson’s presentations on these matters, or of the CIA's statements and judgments. If there was real harm, and the outing was deliberate, I'd favor full prosecution.

For the record, classified material is divulged all day every day. This is how prosecutors typically decide which cases are worth pursuing.

Our mailer replied with a proposed rephrasing: “Still, I have problems with your statement: ‘If there was real harm, and the outing was deliberate, I'd favor full prosecution.’ Perhaps I'd rephrase it: ‘If Plame and the CIA were really treating her role seriously as an undercover position, and the outing was deliberate, I'd favor full prosecution.’ There is no way of knowing if there was ‘real harm’ unless she's essentially already outed herself.”

Fitzgerald is more experienced than we are. In general, we’d prefer that this be prosecuted in as normal a manner as possible. (Obviously, this is a fairly distinctive case.) We think the liberal cheerleading for prosecution is unbelievably childish and unwise—a childish portent of future disaster for liberal and progressive interests. We did a post on this today—one we decided not to present. Who knows—maybe we’ll post it tomorrow? Yes, transitions are clunky.