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The next CIA leak case

A CIA leak to be investigated and maybe punished ... What! Not again!

Now, as with the leak of the identity of covert agent Valerie Plame, the offense is the leak, not what was leaked. In the case of Valerie Plame, the news was that her husband, Joseph Wilson, had been sent to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium to make a nuclear weapon, and had returned with word that there was no evidence of this.

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This was embarrassing to a White House, which had taken America to war on the assertion that we were in imminent danger from unconventional, possibly nuclear, arms. But that issue was buried in the quest to find out who had leaked.

After a two-year investigation by a special counsel, vice presidential aide I. Lewis Libby was indicted, and Judith Miller lost her job with the New York Times. But the Bush administration still has not provided a convincing rationale for a war for which America is still paying in money and lives.

So now the latest lethal leak: a Washington Post story on Nov. 2 saying that the CIA is maintaining a network of secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere where suspected terrorists can be interrogated, free of whatever rules would apply to interrogations in this country. The story caused a commotion, not so much about the secret prisons as about how the story got out. The leak even became an issue in the US Senate.

The CIA has asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into the leak. House speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate majority leader Bill Frist have asked for an investigation by the intelligence committees of both houses. Senate committee chairman Pat Roberts was asked how long such an inquiry would take. "Decades!" he joked.

But what about the secret prisons - "black sites" as they are called in the intelligence business? The Republican leaders in Congress have not addressed the issue of why the CIA has these prisons in the first place.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.