This post is one of the biggest wastes of time of my lifetime…

by Ted on January 12, 2006

Ann Althouse has taken issue with my post comparing the Plame leak to the NSA leak. In that post, I made, more or less, three points.

The first was that the NSA leak seemed to fit the classic definition of whistleblowing, while the Plame leak quite clearly did not. (Julian Sanchez has some good thoughts on this.) She doesn’t contest this, exactly. Rather, she takes the position that any leak with national security implications is a grave matter.

The second was that it was easy for me to see how the Plame leak compromised national security, whereas its not obvious how the NSA leak did. Since Althouse proposes that security was harmed more by the NSA leak than the Plame leak, I asked her to explain herself. After all, we have to expect that terrorists would have known their communications could be listened to; I still don’t understand how it helps them to know that they were being tapped without warrants, rather than with them. As far as I can tell, Ann does not try to answer this question.

My third point was that Bush-backers who dismiss the Plame leak and decry the NSA leak seem to have little ground on which to accuse people like me of hypocrisy. Ann finds that outrageous. She argues that she has always been consistent- that contrary to my characterization, she did take the Plame leak seriously. To support this assertion, she quotes her reaction to Scooter Libby’s indictment. She quotes herself as saying:

I have avoided writing [about] the Plame story. There is too much detail to it for me to analyze it and come to a fair conclusion. A man faces criminal prosecution. The temptation is to say either this is a huge deal or this is practically nothing based on how much you’d like to see the Bush Administration wounded. How many bloggers have fallen prey to that temptation? How many bloggers have written about the indictment of I. Lewis Libby without imbuing it with their own political wishes? A man faces criminal prosecution. Let him go to trial, then.

Now. I think that leaking Plame’s identity was an outrage. Bush’s supporters in the blogosphere and conservative media did not. Most of them have expressed little but bemused contempt for what they call “Nadagate” or the “Plame kerfuffle”.

If Ann had a problem with that, she had two years to raise her voice. Instead, her limited commentary on that “dreary woman in the news” was either contemptuous (“The Plame Rove Affair is One of the Biggest Wastes of Time of My Lifetime”) or ostentatiously bored (“Do you mind if I continue not paying any attention to news stories with the word “Plame” in them?”). She called the Plame leak a “tiny scandalette”. As recently as last week, she incorrectly asserted “Plame seems to have had a desk job where nothing about her identity mattered, and her identity seems to have been generally known anyway.” Finally, after Scooter Libby was actually under indictment, she goes so far as to say that Libby should stand trial for the crimes for which he was indicted.

Even though the Plame leak damaged national security (what happened to the other CIA agents who were “employed” by the same CIA front company that provided a cover job for Plame?), she treated it as a boring non-story for two years. She says now, “I wasn’t saying I didn’t care about that leak. Not there or anywhere else!” Sorry, but she did. After calling the Plame investigation “one of the biggest wastes of time in my lifetime”, it’s really not appropriate to be outraged by my characterization.

On the other hand, she won’t stoop to make an actual argument that the NSA leak damaged national security. But she’s boiling mad about it, on the principle that any leak that could compromise national security is deadly serious.

And she wants to be patted on the back for her consistency?

Sorry, no.

Ann asks, “The question is: Are you concerned, in a politically neutral way, about national security?” But despite her protestations, her reactions to the two leaks could not plausibly be described as “politically neutral”. It seems to me that Ann has several options.

(1) She can try a little harder to make an actual argument about why the Plame leak did not constitute a threat to national security, but the NSA leak does. Some commenters in the original thread made much more of an effort than Ann did. Copy them!

(2) She can admit that her opinions about what constitute a threat to national security are colored by her political preferences.

(3) Or she can ignore this post.

I’m betting on (3).

For the record, I’m more upset by the Plame leak than the NSA leak, in part because I believe that both leaks reveal alarming abuses of power, and in part because I believe that the Plame leak damaged national security, while the NSA leak did not. I might be wrong, but I think that this position is consistent with an apolitical concern for national security (CWAACFNS). The contrary position, outlined in (1), is (I think) wrong, but it’s also CWAACFNS. Being genuinely upset about all leaks is totally CWAACFNS.

Also, the NSA leakers probably understood that they were breaking the law, and so do I. If they face prosecution, that’s the rule of law, and I’m not going to protest.



Kieran Healy 01.12.06 at 12:23 am

Admirably calm and lucid, Ted. But you are forgetting option (4) which allows Ann to focus on some random sentence of your post and rag on that. This one is a good candidate: ‘After calling the Plame investigation “one of the biggest wastes of time in my lifetime”, it’s really not appropriate to be outraged by my characterization.’ This leaves you open to a (non-partisan) lecture on “appropriateness” and standards surrounding it.

I’ve also just realised there’s option (5), too, which is to focus on those snarky CT commentators who are so unfair and what good nonpartisan would lower themselves to engage with _that_ sort of thing. Sorry.


MQ 01.12.06 at 1:30 am

Althouse is a complete idiot. She’s not even a good propagandist for her right-wing line, like Instapundit is. Do you remember her post on all the positive effects that would flow from the London police shooting of that poor Brazilian guy? Impossible to get through with a straight face. Basically, her major use is a punching bag for people who want to find something silly in the right-wing blogsphere. Amazing that she could teach law, her arguments don’t even hang together on their own terms.


MQ 01.12.06 at 1:33 am

Also, do you notice how almost all right-wing discussion of the wire-tapping scandal tries to blur the difference between wire-tapping American citizens (allowable with an easily obtained warrant) and wire-tapping citizens *without a warrant*? The press coverage too has systematically blurred this distinction. But without it you can’t understand why this is a problem at all.


ArC 01.12.06 at 2:23 am

My goodness, I think I’ll stick to reading the Altmouse.


Chris Bertram 01.12.06 at 2:36 am

Actually, there is one good reason to surf over to Althouse today. She has a really nice photo of an old socialist campaign poster in Madison


Pooh 01.12.06 at 3:09 am

Arc, it’s really the same thing. The original is so close to self-parody and the parody is so close to herself that they are distinguishable only by the volume of posts.

In recent weeks, I’ve begun to suspect that her whole blog is one monstrous troll, the frequency of her saying things like “why should I have seen the movie to comment on it?” growing at an ever increasing rate.


Doug 01.12.06 at 3:37 am

Sorry, no.

I thought the canonical response was sadly, no.


nick s 01.12.06 at 5:58 am

The Althouse blog = “Arseholier-than-thou”.


gus 01.12.06 at 6:30 am

The Plame leak also destroyed the front company that she and other agents worked for. Rebut that,wingnuts.


Brett Bellmore 01.12.06 at 6:45 am

The NSA leak informed terrorists that not only could their calls to and from the US be monitored, but that calls between to places outside the US might be monitored by the US. And it’s quite likely to have the long term effect of less telecomunications being routed through our country, and thus less electronic intelligence being available to our government.

That IS damage, isn’t it?


Daniel 01.12.06 at 7:15 am

The NSA leak informed terrorists that not only could their calls to and from the US be monitored, but that calls between to places outside the US might be monitored by the US.

No, this was not new information. The new information was that this could happen without getting a warrant, even a quickie warrant from the special quickie warrant court set up to grant quickie warrants. How is that damage?


notjonathon 01.12.06 at 7:16 am

No damage, Brett. Islamic fundamentalists knew they were being monitored outside the U. S. ten years ago.


Ginger Yellow 01.12.06 at 8:45 am

Also, unless I’m greatly mistaken, it was Bush himself who said the programme involved calls between places outside the US. The original story just talked about the FISA implications of domestic spying.

mq is right. Althouse is a none-too-bright hack, as her ridiculous response to that Eschaton post about feminism amply demonstrated.


Ted H. (not B.) 01.12.06 at 8:51 am

Why always, inevitably, “complete idiot” (or the like)? Hey CT commenters, the people who write the posts on which you’re commenting don’t call those with whom they disagree “complete idiots” (etc.). You might learn by example.

It matters, it really does, that Ted B. is making a specific criticism of Althouse on a specific issue, not a wholesale condemnation of her character. I happen to think his criticism is apt, but it hardly follows that she’s a “complete idiot.”

I looked at the thread generated by the Althouse pose on her blog, and no one there calls Barlow names. In fact, many of her commenters disagree with her, and what follows is strenuous debate to which she contributes.

You may reply that mq’s #2 above, to which I’m reacting, is not representative of where comments threads tend to go on CT, but it seems to me that it is representative. It leads those under legitimate criticism to feel they’re instead under an illegitimately personal attack.

It doesn’t help.


Ted H. (not B.) 01.12.06 at 8:59 am

pose = post in #14. (The typo shows my unconscious wants to join the rest of you in mocking. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to resist.)


Seth Gordon 01.12.06 at 9:01 am

According to Executive Order 12958, section 1.8, paragraph (a)(1), information may not be classified to conceal a violation of the law. So the NSA leakers could make a case that the information they revealed was improperly classified, and therefore they weren’t breaking the law by leaking.


Barry 01.12.06 at 9:39 am

ted h, one of the points raised by Ted Barlow is that Althouse was caught lying through her teeth about her comments about the Plame affair. She repeatedly downplayed it, but, when it was convenient, begged off from judgement. However, with the NSA leak, she’s leaping to judgement, and demanding the same of everybody else.


Semanticleo 01.12.06 at 9:42 am

These people are ‘idiots’ in character only.
Otherwise, their genius is unsurpassed in the
realm of doublespeak.

They don’t give a crap about the truth. all
they care about is winning, and they don’t
care who or how many get hurt in their
quest for venal perfection.


Barry 01.12.06 at 9:48 am

Which, not coincidentally, is the same tactice used by Glenn “Oh, it’s complicated!” Reynolds.


Raw Data 01.12.06 at 9:51 am

Why are you paying so much attention to such a lightweight?


Barry 01.12.06 at 9:54 am

Sorry, post #19 referred to post #17


Barry 01.12.06 at 10:33 am

raw data, because the hot air generated by those ‘lightweights’ can be accepted as truth, if others don’t point out the lies.


roger 01.12.06 at 10:38 am

Surely there is some hypocrisy on both sides. On the liberal side, the idea that preserving the rules pertaining to CIA secrecy is paramount, and on the right side, the idea that those rules can be violated at the King’s whim, but only by the King.

That the CIA’s business front was imperilled by the leak of Plame’s name might well be a good thing. The CIA, let’s remember, put us into the last five years of peril by supporting jihadis in Afghanistan in the eighties, and using fake companies and shield laws to keep us from knowing that they were putting us all at risk. It was a cia case officer in Sudan who signed off on Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman’s visa, which sent him to New Jersey, where he helped plan the first WTC bombing. And it was the CIA who encouraged the idea that to get a superpower to back off, you go into its territory and enable a terroristic bombing campaign there — which is what Casey was encouraging the jihadis to do against the Soviet Union.

So if Althouse’s larger point is that the structure of the national security state that produces maximum national insecurity be taken down by all means necessary, one could understand her position. But that isn’t her larger point — her larger point is more whimsical. It is that the King, which is basically how she treats Bush, can do what he wants. Just that King — if the King were Edward Kennedy, she would no doubt think differently.

The late senator Moynihan was dead right when he said that the CIA should be disbanded. Unfortunately, he spoke up in 2000, instead of 1980. If the CIA had been disbanded in 1980, though, we would not have had 9/11.


roger 01.12.06 at 11:19 am

ps — the elaborate structure of excuses people like Althouse build for the Bush administration is not evidence of idiocy, but of a permanent teenage crush. This is groupie conservatism. It has no principles, it holds out no standards of success, and all of its arguments bend to a libidinous urgency that has, as its puzzling object, the President. Naipaul, long ago, analyzed the similar cult around Eva Peron in Argentina.


nick s 01.12.06 at 11:59 am

And it’s quite likely to have the long term effect of less telecomunications being routed through our country, and thus less electronic intelligence being available to our government.

Brett Bellmore seems to be unaware of ‘RAF’ Menwith Hill. That’s 0.8 on the Althouse Scale of Ignorance.


Pooh 01.12.06 at 2:23 pm

Ted H., re: #14 you must have missed the parts in the AA comments where they start referring to “Turd” Barlow…


Barry Freed 01.12.06 at 3:06 pm

Lest the conditions for for Althouse and her fans to exercise option #5 as outlined by Kieran Healy above allow me to reprise my comment from Ted’s previous post ob this matter:

Althouse shows yet again that she’s dumber than a box of rocks.

*I live to serve


Ted H. (not B.) 01.12.06 at 3:18 pm

Re: #26 — I stand corrected; there is indeed one such reference (that ‘they’ should be singular).

I also note that Kieran has proleptically placed me on the side of the ‘wingnuts’ in the first comment of this thread (which I didn’t notice before).

Look, it’s fair to point out how making a fetish of nonpartisanship can yield self-deception about one’s de facto partisanship. In my view, that a legitimate criticism of Althouse.

But I did not make my point in the name of ‘nonpartisanship.’ I made it in the name of not giving a legitimate criticism the appearance of a slur, thereby making it easier for the target of that criticism to ignore it.


Ted H. (not B.) 01.12.06 at 3:33 pm

Okay I get Kieran’s #1 now — this whole thread is just a provocative joke on people like me. I’m not amused, but then we wingnuts wouldn’t be…


Hal 01.12.06 at 4:33 pm

a) seems to me there is only one such reference here as well.

b) if you think it’s a joke, you’ll never get the punchline.


Ted H. (not B.) 01.12.06 at 4:59 pm

There are ten comments here that amount to slurs on Althouse: one in three. (Most of these question her intelligence.) I take it that that’s the point, so she can fulfill Kieran Healy’s prediction in the first comment.

And yes, I know that I’m acting like a troll. I won’t comment further.

(And to think my intervention is premissed on my agreement with Barlow’s post!)


Pooh 01.12.06 at 5:41 pm

Is it really a ‘slur’ to question someone’s intelligence? The criticism may be unfounded or flat out wrong, but I don’t see it as rising to the level of a slur.


Anderson 01.12.06 at 6:27 pm

It’s not a slur if she really *is* a complete idiot. For which ample evidence has been presented.

God help her students. I wish some graduates would blog her up.


Functional 01.12.06 at 7:44 pm

After all, we have to expect that terrorists would have known their communications could be listened to; I still don’t understand how it helps them to know that they were being tapped without warrants, rather than with them.

And I still don’t understand why seemingly intelligent people frame the issue in this way.

The NSA leak revealed: “The NSA is monitoring via an innovative program that tracks international calls that traverse U.S. telephone switches, and it does so without a warrant.”

You’re framing the issue as if the only leak were about the last phrase of that sentence: “without a warrant.”

This is a stupid way to frame the issue, when OBVIOUSLY the harmful part of the leak was what it revealed about the NATURE of the NSA program.


Peter 01.12.06 at 9:35 pm

The NSA leak informed terrorists that not only could their calls to and from the US be monitored, but that calls between to places outside the US might be monitored by the US.

Wrong. The NSA leak informed American citizens that their telephone conversations to/from the US are monitored in violation of FISA.

We’ve had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be — that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program.

That is Attorney General Gonzales admitting that the program was so illegal that they couldn’t get Congress to legitimize it.


MQ 01.12.06 at 11:22 pm

I actualy often wonder about whether certain conservative hacks really are idiots, or they have to make idiotic arguments because the policies they are trying to argue for are so bad and so inconsistent. My general belief is that the conservatives are smart people who have deliberately destroyed or turned off their ability to detect falsehoods or inconsistencies in the current Republican propaganda line. But Althouse somehow gives the impression that she never had the ability in the first place, and seems genuinely mystified when people point out the obvious contradictions in her argument. She is a law professor, though. So probably I’m inferring wrong, and she is a Republican hack who possesses intelligence but chooses not to use it when it comes to policy or politics. That would make her not an idiot. But as an idiot she would have a lot more integrity, so I don’t know which is better. Perhaps she really doesn’t see the contradiction, in which case she is an idiot but an honest one.

Also, as I understand it the NSA wiretap program under discussion requires one party in the U.S., so comment #34 is off.

There is a non-idiotic argument to be made here, which is hey, you don’t have any rights anyway, it’s not like the secret rubberstamp warrant court was really protecting them, so why make such a fuss? I don’t hear it a lot, but I suspect it underlies some peoples thinking.


Barry 01.13.06 at 7:29 am

Althouse and Reynolds and Hewitt (and a couple more of the Powerline crew) are lawyers; they’re smart and have been through rigorous training about arguments and logic. They aren’t fooled by these arguments, IMHO, they seek to fool others.


Functional 01.13.06 at 9:48 am

MQ — the program might not necessarily be “as you understand it.” In fact, the program might be as I understand it, which means that you’re wrong. (Of course, we’re all a little in the dark here.)

BTW, I really find it hard to take seriously any of the liberals who are whining about the latest NSA program but didn’t complain about the overwhelmingly more intrusive Echelon program.

Talk about hypocrisy.


Walt Pohl 01.13.06 at 9:58 am

38: We complained about Eschelon too.


Functional 01.13.06 at 10:08 am

Really? Who is “we”? When and where did you complain? Even now, when I search for Eschelon, I get mostly conspiracy websites, even though it was a legitimate story.


MQ 01.13.06 at 1:31 pm

Well, I didn’t like Echelon and I complained about it to my friends. Does that count? When you’re a liberal you get used to being part of the silent disgruntled minority.

As I said above, a legit response to this is that the 4th amendment is already a dead letter. But making noise as we pass each each signpost on the way to its demise seems worthwhile, puts down markers for a road back if that ever happens.


JJ 01.13.06 at 4:57 pm

RE #38:
Some whining about Echelon:,1282,32905,00.html,1283,33026,00.html,1283,32039,00.html

Plenty of complaining. I found 87 Echelon-related articles listed on alone, and a good number of them originated pre-9/11.

Here’s my question: Would the absence of whining about Echelon somehow delegitimize complaints about the Plame leak or about what the NSA is doing?



Functional 01.13.06 at 7:04 pm

“Delegitimize” — no. It just gives a little context for the liberals who lament that we’re descending into “fascism” and “monarchy.”


rollo 01.14.06 at 1:44 am

There’s a lot of benefit to the iniquitous in arguing points of absurdity against the real claims of noble goals like human rights and justice, and freedom.
Freedom’s that thing the terrorists hate us for having so much of, or so we were told repeatedly at the beginning of all this.
Speaking madness with a straight face and an assertive tone is a great weapon in the war against decency and common sense.
It cheapens the venue, devalues it, makes it less meaningful; it asserts the power of the abuser to direct the dialog in whatever direction he chooses, legitimate and rational or not; it throws chaff into the radar space, and given enough volume over time will render the instruments useless.
It is clearly and provably absurd to think this country’s gone into a state of near lockdown against the threat of an enemy who could be enlightened by the information revealed.
That it could possibly have been useful news to anyone actively involved in plotting dastardly exploits against America that international phone calls originating in the US were being monitored by government agencies and their computers, with or without legitimacy or warrants, is a bucket of chopped-up tinfoil.


Brendan 01.14.06 at 7:00 am

At the risk of wading in where angels with legal degrees fear to tread isn’t the salient point about the current situation (as opposed to Echelon) not to do with the nature of the monitoring, but about the fact that Bush may well have broken the law in doing it? I think what worries liberals is not so much that this thing is intrusive, nor even that Bush may well have broken the law (plenty of Presidents have broken the law) but that Bush seems to be boasting of having broken the law or even stating that this is a precedent which he (and his successor) can draw on. The last time someone tried that (‘when the president does something that means it’s not illegal’) he was dispatched very quickly and rightly so.

Incidentally, I don’t think that the comparisons between Bush et al and fascism are very apt. If I was an American I would be more worried by the comparisons that one could draw between the US and the Roman Republic about 100 years before the whole system collapsed and was replaced by the Empire.

(On second thoughts, perhaps 50 years rather than 100).


aaron 01.15.06 at 4:55 pm

I still don’t understand what damage was caused by the Plame leak. Could someone please provide me with some facts?


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