Scandal with real victim ignored


THERE were developments this week in a nonscandal that has attracted enormous media attention and in a major scandal that has attracted hardly any.

Washington Post editor Bob Woodward admitted he had learned from a source other than I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, that Valerie Plame, wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, worked at the CIA.

Mr. Libby was indicted Oct. 27 for perjury. Mr. Libby was lying when he told a grand jury he had learned of Ms. Plame's relationship to Mr. Wilson from journalists, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said.

"Mr. Libby is the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

But Mr. Woodward said he had learned this weeks before Libby told Ms. Miller, then of The New York Times, and Matt Cooper of Time magazine about Ms. Plame.

His source wasn't trying to out Ms. Plame to get even with Mr. Wilson, Mr. Woodward said. "When the story comes out, I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started kind of as gossip, as chatter," he told CNN's Larry King.

But what really makes Mr. Woodward, in the delicious phrase of Web logger Mark Coffey, "the Grinch who stole Fitzmas," is his admission that it might have been he who mentioned to Mr. Libby that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA:

"Woodward's revelation undermined the prosecutor's claim that Libby was working to out Wilson's wife, since Woodward revealed he spoke to Libby twice about Iraq's weapons around that time, but Libby never mentioned her," wrote Deborah Orin of the New York Post.

Mr. Fitzgerald has a lot of egg to wipe off his face, said Web logger Tom Maguire: "Fitzgerald blew it - he had White House phone logs, he had sign-in sheets, he had testimony from many, many people; he had two years and still, somehow, he did not include Bob Woodward on his contacts-of-interest list."

When he finishes wiping the egg off his face, Mr. Fitzgerald should dismiss the indictment against Mr. Libby, say two former Justice Department officials.

Speculation among journalists in Washington now rages over who it was that told Mr. Woodward about Ms. Plame. Mr. Woodward said he talked to three "present and former" administration officials in June, 2003. One was Mr. Libby. Another was White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who Mr. Woodward has said wasn't his source. Could it have been then Secretary of State Colin Powell or his deputy, Richard Armitage? Stay tuned.

It would be better for the country if journalists would devote some of the effort they've been wasting on this nonscandal into getting at the truth in the Able Danger cover-up.

Able Danger was a military intelligence unit which, through a process known as data mining, uncovered hijack leader Mohamed Atta and the members of his cell more than a year before 9/11. Or so claims Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who was the liaison between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Colonel Shaffer also said lawyers at the Pentagon forbade the Able Danger team from passing this information along to the FBI.

"The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry," wrote former FBI Director Louis Freeh in The Wall Street Journal.

A half-dozen former members of the Able Danger team are ready to back up Colonel Shaffer's story, according to U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Pa.), who first made Able Danger public.

But the Defense Department has prevented Colonel Shaffer and other Able Danger team members from testifying before Congress. And the Defense Intelligence Agency is trying to fire Colonel Shaffer on a variety of trumped-up charges, the most "serious" of which is that as a teenager, Mr. Shaffer stole note pads and pens from a U.S. embassy to use in his high school classwork.

Mr. Weldon has gathered the signatures from 201 colleagues for public hearings on Able Danger, but attracted next to no media attention.

Gallons of ink and hours of airtime have been devoted to faux victims Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson in a case that has much to do with politics and nothing to do with national security. Shouldn't journalists devote some attention to Tony Shaffer, a real victim and a scandal that really does involve national security?