Adventures in set theory

by Daniel on September 30, 2003

Related to Ted’s point below, could I just clarify that there are only two ways in which it can be true that X is “not a covert CIA operative”.

1) X is not a CIA operative
2) X is a CIA operative who is not covert

If you are making the claim “X is not a covert CIA operative”, then it may be helpful to your audience if you explain which of the two claims above you are making. I can draw a Venn diagram if it makes things clearer.



Keith M Ellis 09.30.03 at 3:43 pm

This line of defense is now defunct with the news this morning of the official FBI probe and the WH counsel Gonzales’s memo that uses the phrase “undercover CIA employee.” I haven’t yet checked the usual suspects for their backpedaling on this.



ogged 09.30.03 at 3:50 pm

Ok, you offered, let’s see the diagram.


Kevin Brennan 09.30.03 at 4:20 pm

CNN is reporting that she actually handled field agents in WMD investigations. If true, this is about as serious as it could possibly get, and the fallback “I didn’t know it was important” which we’ve been hearing isn’t going to cut it either.


JP 09.30.03 at 5:43 pm

This line of defense is now defunct with the news this morning of the official FBI probe and the WH counsel Gonzales’s memo that uses the phrase “undercover CIA employee.”

Just to be a prick: I’m not sure this is necessarily the case. The memo said, “[The DOJ] has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.” On first read, it sounds like an admission, but on the other hand you could interpret “possible” to cover everything that comes after it and not just “unauthorized disclosures.”

Hmm, that’s not very clear. Let me try again. If you say, “There is an unsubstantiated allegation that Mr. X murdered a police officer named Mr. Y,” this doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr. Y is a police officer. Since the whole sentence is just an allegation, everything in it is just meant to characterize the nature of the charge. So the parentheticals within the sentence aren’t necessarily admissions of fact.

Ugh, that’s still not very clear. But you know what I mean. (Of course, I still think Plame was probably undercover based on all the other evidence.)


JRoth 09.30.03 at 7:15 pm

I appreciate the thought, jp, but I think most native speakers of English (American or otherwise) would take your example to mean that Mr. Y is (was), indeed, a cop.

Although your explication does, technically, make sense, when newscasters address your example, they do, in fact, say, “Allegedly Mr. X murdered a Mr. Y, who is believed to have been a police officer.”

But of course, this is a lawyer speaking, not a communicator – any legal types want to speculate on which way a lawyer would lean in composing (not parsing) this? Seems to me Gonzales would want to throw in as many “alleged”s as possible.

Anyway, consensus seems to be that she was; I think it’s only the folks who mocked Clinton who want to debate what the meaning of “covert CIA operative” is.


Jon H 09.30.03 at 8:18 pm

I think the real version is “has not been a covert CIA operative within the last 5 years”.

That would help prevent the problem where the person ‘is’ an analyst, not a covert operative, but *was* a covert operative until last week.


Jim Miller 10.02.03 at 11:57 pm

Maybe everyone else spotted the error, but is too polite to mention it. There are three ways the statement can be false. The person can be not covert. They can be not employed by the CIA. They can have a job other than “operative”. Novak, in his latest column actually alludes to the point, saying that he uses “operative” for all sorts of people, not necessarily in the technical way that the CIA might–whatever their internal terms are. Much of the argument seems, as far as I can tell, to be about whether she is an “operative” or an “analyst”.

When you do the Venn diagrams–and I am looking forward to them–don’t miss that case.

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