After the fallout

We know our Novak but who is the Scooter Libby here?

Do we remember somewhere deep in our minds that famous Plamegate scandal of Whitehouse?

A story of dirty selfish politics at its worst and where the identity of an undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, ex Ambassador Wilson’s spouse, to undermine latter’s position against the WMD case, was disclosed!

Why? It was merely because Wilson, an ex-ambassador to Niger, was sent to Niger by the CIA on the reference of his wife Valerie to examine if there was any connection between Saddam & Niger on the nuclear issue.

Wilson couldn’t find any but was shocked when the Bush Administration made a case of attacking Iraq on the basis of WMD; his remonstration appeared in the form of an op-ed in July 2003 in the New York Times and that was the moment the Oval Office decided to castigate the ‘culprit’.

Richard Armitage and David Corn used the White House Chief of Staff; poor Scooter Libby was picked to release information about Valerie Plame Wilson to columnist Robert Novak in order to undermine Wilson’s arguments; this was politics at its worst. His column appeared a week later.

Other officials from the State Department were of the view that the leakage of the information was political payback for Wilson’s article. Judith Miller, yet another NYT incumbent who became enmeshed in controversy after her coverage of Iraq’s (WMD) program both before and after the 2003 invasion was somehow later implicated in the Plamegate, in which the status of Valerie Plame as a member of the (CIA) became widely known. When asked to name her sources, Miller cited reporter’s privilege!

She bluntly refused to reveal her sources in the leak and preferred to spend 85 days in jail protecting her source – Scooter Libby – never forget for a moment that we are also in search for ours. Miller later was forced to resign from her job at the New York Times in November 2005. Scooter Libby the source was convicted of obstruction of justice and false swearing to federal investigators in the Plame investigation thus sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and fined $250,000, nevertheless, was pardoned by President George W. Bush.

A decade later, the scene changes, locations and the governments are dissimilar and so are the characters, however, the state of affairs are surprisingly matching. One fine morning a story appeared in a venerated daily which was founded by none other than father of the nation Quaid e Azam about seventy-five years back at Delhi, years before the partition.

The columnist has a solid standing among the journalistic circles and the readers. My friend Cyril Almeida is well-known for contributing priceless write-ups. However, a week back he contributed an article that suddenly created hullabaloo in the political, military circles and the public. His write up “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military” was less of an op-ed and more of a news piece; Cyril, never the type to write an ordinary piece. It appeared as if out of sheer elation to share this breaking news he forgot to care for the style.

The question is not that what was said, rather the issue is how come it reached Cyril and if at all it reached to our Robert Novak then who was the Scooter Libby in this case? Was the information placed on the editor’s desk through Islamabad resident editor after routine editorial checks or was it an unusual ‘direct throw’? Cyril isn’t at fault. It is his profession to get the sizzling stories by any means. The puzzle is the source’s anonymity that certainly is not General Rizwan Akhtar as the damage is done to the army’s repute and self inflicting injuries are never popular with Khakis. So, should we say someone from governmental circles? That can’t be ruled out as majority of the political parties have shown unanimity over army bashing in the recent past.

Although, Cyril has a history of scripting  controversial thrilling pieces and making off the record conversations public, however, I shall never blame him for so, as I said earlier that this is his vocation where some are responsible enough while others care damn about the ethics. As a matter of fact the onus lies upon those who expect that what they share will remain off the record. Of course, some, on purpose share sensitive information and deliberately ‘warn’ the stooges to ensure that what they shared is shared further.

I remember that Cyril once earlier made the GHQ authorities uncomfortable by extensively quoting from a background briefing given by the then COAS General Kayani and as usual summing up his story with a footnote that, “All comments were made strictly on the condition of anonymity being maintained.”  However, Mr. Almeida, both as a journalist and as a citizen of the country, failed to reciprocate the responsibility and trust by leaking that information which was related to war and diplomacy and by no way as urgent as exposing corruption and underhand deals, thus shattered the confidence of his hosts.

Our friend’s write-ups never confirm his inclination towards left but that doesn’t mean that his soft corner for the right is across the board for odds and ends. Many of his articles written in the past spelled his fondness for the current ruling party while for the PPP he would always be critical.

In his article of 18 February 2011, ‘The Myopia Continues’, Cyril Almeida, conveys the following message – only he knows who asked him to do so – to President Zardari, “When the interior minister, the ex-foreign minister and the all-powerful spy chief met to decide the fate of Raymond Davis, two of those gents were of the opinion that Davis doesn’t enjoy ‘full immunity’.

“One of those two has now been fired by Zardari. The other, well, if Zardari tried to fire him, the president might find himself out of a job first”. In yet another piece in Dawn on 16 Sep 2011, ‘Inside Zardari’s mind, the update’, Cyril writes, “Only two things can stop him: Sharif, if he wised up and somehow stops the election from being stolen; the army, if it decides the costs of non-intervention are higher than the benefits of the status quo.”

My only question to the concerned quarters is that such controversies always offer fodder to otherwise defeated Indian media onslaught against Pakistan, hence in that light, did our Scooter Libby think at least once before feeding this reckless story to our ambitious Robert Novak about the disastrous fallout? Or he is so confident that our Richard Armitage and David Corn are going to save his skin and will keep him as the unnamed source?

Sohail Parwaz

The writer is a bilingual columnist, playwright and a media strategist. He has authored a predictive fiction titled ‘The Cornered Rogue.’ He can be followed on Twitter at: @penpricker