There's one thing that I find especially puzzling about Novak's side of the Plame story. According to Novak, the CIA issued a half-hearted request not to publish her name. He insists that they weren't really that alarmed.
Now, what do we know about this? First, people love to point out that if it weren't very important the CIA wouldn't have taken the highly unusual step of formally requesting that Justice look into the leak. The problem with this, as I have pointed out, is that the CIA might simply be trying to screw the admin.
Second, a bunch of former CIA people have come out and said that, yes, Plame was undercover and the Admin are bastards for leaking it. One possibility is that these people are saying this because they have an ideological axe to grind with the admin and want to make it look bad.
Third, some people claim that it was common knowledge that Plame was in the CIA. But they're also suspect, because they have an obvious ideological axe to grind: they want to make the admin look good.
Fourth, for independent reasons it is looking more and more as if Plame was pretty important to the CIA and that real damage was in fact done by the leak.
So, on balance, the leak looks very serious, though not for the reasons critics of the admin sometimes give.
But this brings us back to Novak's claims about the CIA's half-hearted response to his request. Could Novak be lying? Sure, given the other inconsistencies in his story, it wouldn't be surprising. Could the CIA person who spoke with Novak have screwed up?
Here's a strong possibility, on the assumption that Novak wasn't lying. The CIA knew that the admin was leaking this by the time Novak called. On a popular theory, Novak's contact with the admin came after the admin officials made their fateful 6 calls to other reporters. If even one of the other reporters had called the CIA by this point, they would already have known that the cat was out of the bag and begun damage assessment. And that would explain the CIA's response to Novak, as Novak describes it.
Remember that something doesn't need to be printed in the paper to be an intelligence disaster. If the admin calls 6 people in the press, the cover is blown, even if none of the 6 puts it into print. It's not just that foreign intelligence is smart enough to pick up the rumour and check it out. It's that prudence requires you to assume that they're smart enough to pick up the rumour and check it out.