The current spin from administration defenders within and without the mainstream media is that Valerie Plame was only an analyst, and not an operative. This, somehow, is supposed to lessen the blow of an administration willing to attack the families of its critics. Yet the characterization of Plame as an analyst is factually incorrect. For one, Robert Novak himself indicated that she was an operative in the original report that birthed this scandal. “Wilson never worked for the CIA,” wrote Novak, “but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.”

Ray McGovern, who was for 27-years a senior analyst for the CIA, further confirms the status of Plame within the CIA. “I know Joseph Wilson well enough to know,” said McGovern in a telephone conversation we had today, “that his wife was in fact a deep cover operative running a network of informants on what is supposedly this administration’s first-priority issue: Weapons of mass destruction.”

McGovern further elaborated on the damage done when such an agent has their cover blown. “This causes a great deal of damage,” said McGovern. “These kinds of networks take ten years to develop. The reason why they operate under deep cover is that the only people who have access to the kind of data we need cannot be associated in any way with the American intelligence community. Our operatives live a lie to maintain these networks, and do so out of patriotism. When they get blown, the operatives themselves are in physical danger. The people they recruit are also in physical danger, because foreign intelligence services can make the connections and find them. Operatives like Valerie Plame are real patriots.”

It’s been fun to watch fair-and-balanced Fox try to spin this. And as for the B-listers from the right half of the blogosphere — well, let’s just say that, with a few exceptions, any pretense toward nonpartisan independence of thought is rapidly being revealed as the charade it’s always been. Word to the wise, from someone who acknowledged that Clinton was lying right out of the gate: if you want to ever have a shred of credibility, you have to concede the obvious. What were the motivations here? We don’t know yet. Maybe it was vindictiveness, as Wilson believes. Or maybe the neocons, noted for their distrust of the intelligence they were getting (in retrospect, good intelligence which did not fit into their ideological preconceptions) believed that association with the CIA would discredit Wilson’s story with reporters — his wife’s CIA, and you know how skeptical they are. Maybe the full story will come out, maybe it won’t. There’s always more to the story than what the White House Press Secretary will tell you — you have to be very, very naive not to understand this — and most of what any of us who watch politics from a distance do is try to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes, as best we can, by reading various accounts, looking at the history of the players involved, and by applying basic common sense. Occam’s razor is always useful — if you have to contort logic until it screams in order to come up with a story that fits your beliefs, then you probably need to reexamine those beliefs. Whatever is “really” going on here, the basic facts seem pretty clear: somebody in the White House burned a CIA operative for political gain. Beyond that we shall see — sooner rather than later, I would guess. And if it turns out there was any direct damage to national security, the Bushies might as well not wait for ’04 to pack their bags.