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October 13, 2005

Does Richard Cohen Know Anything At All About Anything Anywhere Ever?

One of the great things about writing a column for the Washington Post is that you don't have to know anything about life on earth. Finding stuff out is hard. Life is much easier when you can just go to parties, hear stuff there that might be true or might not—who cares?—and then vomit it all over your readers.

Richard Cohen demonstrates this for the 1000th time in his column today. It's about why Patrick Fitzgerald should just stop pestering people, for God's sake, and go home. Some people think the column is as stupid as a pound of fungus.

And it is. But what struck me was not the column's main, stupid point, but this brief aside: was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated (which happened once)...

Cohen here is referring to the 1975 killing of Richard Welch, the CIA's Athens station chief, by a Greek guerilla group calling itself "November 17." (November 17 was named after the November 17th, 1973 massacre of dozens of Greek students by the US-installed junta.)

There are two problems with this:

1. William Colby, head of the CIA in 1975, famously denied Welch was killed by having been named by anyone:

Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1977

[William] Colby said 'bad cover' contributed to the assassination two years ago of Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens. This was partly a result of administrative practices that made it easy to identify CIA employes from embassy lists, he said.

Besides, Colby said, Welch 'accepted the bad cover' by living in the same house as his predecessor and by making only minimal efforts to disguise his identity.

Although an Athens newspaper published a story naming Welch as a CIA official shortly before his death, Colby said this had only the indirect effect of inflaming potential killers to strike at CIA employes. He said Welch's cover was not adequate to hide him, even without the newspaper account.

Subcommittee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) reminded Colby that CIA spokesmen called a number of newspapers the morning after Welch's death to suggest that the assassination was a direct result of the newspaper's printing his name.

'I have pretty specifically avoided saying that,' Colby said. 'Maybe you are right about the first few telephone calls.'

2. To say that the people who named CIA agents in the seventies—mostly Philip Agee and Counterspy magazine—intended for those agents to be assassinated is ludicrous. They intended to make it impossible for the agents to continue to operate undercover, thus forcing the CIA to bring them back to the US. (And indeed, this is what was done with many agents.)

Now, why would Richard Cohen believe something so very, very wrong? Well, as I say, I'm sure he just heard it at some dumb Washington party and never bothered to find out whether it was true. However, there's a reason why certain things are said at dumb Washington parties and certain things aren't. As founder Daniel Brandt has pointed out:

The Welch assassination was also seen a convenient "hook" for stopping the Congressional investigations of the CIA, by changing the focus from "what is the CIA doing around the world," to the issue of "endangering the lives of officers by naming names." The media, which the CIA can manipulate by planting stories and calling in chits from friendly reporters, pretty much fell for this.

And I'm sure Richard Cohen will continue falling for it, year after year after year, even as "it" changes. No matter what "it" is, Cohen will eagerly fall.

Posted at October 13, 2005 09:36 AM | TrackBack

You know, I'm not. In fact, I'm embarrassed to say I don't even know how, at least with my creaky old Movable Type 2.64.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 13, 2005 12:01 PM


I feel it's always a good time to point that out, including in the middle of weddings and funerals.


Thank you! Much appreciated. I also had no idea the extremely useful Ping-O-Matic existed, and will now use it enthusiastically.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 13, 2005 05:14 PM

I think Cohen puts it best himself: "My own diligent efforts to find out anything have come to naught."

Posted by: bob at October 14, 2005 08:53 AM

Jonathan and Tex,

Just wanted to say thanks for the tip about Ping-o-Matic.

And Jonathan, nice follow up with the Richard Welch item. It does add some perspective to what's going on.

Posted by: dwahzon at October 14, 2005 10:10 AM

All new pingers - you're welcome! May your hits be fruitful and multiply.

Posted by: Tex MacRae at October 14, 2005 08:26 PM

You gotta admit though, the people in the Dubya administration who outed her to get back at Joe Wilson probably wouldn't have been too upset if anything happened to her or Joe.
They would have additionally seized on the action to broaden the ‘war on terror’ through a variety of means, in whatever country the killers originated from – Miss Plame was in charge of a CIA front organization that was tracking and monitoring illegal black-market sales and distribution of WMD parts, technology & knowledge so you can bet there are more than a few people pissed off with her work and those agents who worked in the front company; former CIA agent Larry Johnson claims that a threat assessment report [I seem to recall that is its name, I can’t remember 100%] was carried out in the wake of her outing and has since been classified, he claims this would not have happened if no one came to harm as a result, that if no one came to harm it would not have been classified and leaked to the media in some way or another to say “hey look - no harm, no foul!” and it is his assessment that the fact that this has not occurred means someone somewhere is dead or injured as a result of this [never mind the front organization itself had to be shut down, depriving the CIA of the alibility to track and monitor very dangerous people trying to buy very dangerous things] – and if Joe Wilson or his wife had been among those who were harmed the Dubya administration wouldn’t have felt too bad, they’d have just smelt and opportunity.

Posted by: at October 19, 2005 02:47 PM