The Da Libby Code

By Bruce Kluger and David Slavin. "You went to jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover -- Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out west, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life."
-- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in jailhouse letter to Judy Miller

Of all the mind-numbing details surrounding the Valerie Plame-CIA leak investigation, the most perplexing is a letter sent to jailed New York Times reporter Judy Miller by Vice Presidential Chief of Staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Tender, picturesque and, at moments, downright poetic, the text continues to be picked apart by political pundits, who remain convinced that the language is coded.

It is. As the millions of readers of Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, already know, sometimes words carry deeper meaning when they're unscrambled. And just like with any crime, an anagram is at its most effective when it's letter-perfect.

"You went to jail in the summer" = "Name me to the jury? Not! Lie with us."
Clearly an appeal for Miller to remain mum about revealing her source of the Plame leak, here Libby is frank and unrepentant. He is also clever, using a double-entendre ("lie") to describe both the practice of deceit, and that of lying down with dogs. Touché!

"You will have stories to cover" = "I serve wealthy virtuoso. Cool!"
In a surprisingly audacious implication of his boss, Libby appears glib in alluding to Vice President Dick Cheney's wealth and cunning. Was Halliburton involved in the Plame fiasco? Does Libby's use of the word "cool" also implicate Harriet Miers? Reporters swoon.

"Suicide bombers, biological threats" = "Diabolical bores obscure mightiest."
A bombshell. One needn't be a Watergate historian to know that scandals quickly unravel once the mastermind is named. Here Libby not only implicates President Bush as the brains behind the Plame operation, but also acknowledges his utter disdain for his colleagues. Witness for the prosecution, perhaps?

"The Iranian nuclear program" = "Plame? An Antiguan error."
At first blush, the implication seems preposterous. And yet some of America's greatest historical embarrassments boasted a Caribbean connection. The slave trade. The Bay of Pigs. Ricky Martin. The notion that the bungled Plame operation originated off-shore sends investigators into a frenzy as they "follow the money." Tom DeLay immediately goes into hiding.

"Out west, where you vacation" = "He can't waver. You owe it to us."
A blatant reference to the need for Karl Rove to maintain his innocence, this Libby remark encourages Miller to do the same. It also plays on her guilt. Why does she "owe" them? Is it because she was the only embedded reporter in Iraq with 400-count sheets and a masseuse? The questions, the questions...

"Aspens will already be turning" = "Willingness and pure betrayal."
The two tenets of any undercover operation, this mob-like slogan is rumored to be tattooed on Libby's chest. But why taunt Miller with it? Was she really involved? Has she seen the tattoo? How deep does this thing go?!

"They turn in clusters" = "The scrutiny! Let's run!"
Growing increasingly desperate, Libby reveals a possible plot twist. Could his allusion to a joint flight indicate a romantic relationship between politico and prisoner? Us Weekly jumps on the story.

"Their roots connect them" = "Them rich neo-cons totter."
A skillful ploy: Is Libby revealing that the Plame cover-up is falling apart -- or does he just want to make her believe that it is? Either way, the us-them tactic is inspired.

"Come back to work -- and life." = "No trace of WMD. I leak, OK? (BC.)"
Apparently under enormous pressure, Libby now falls apart, confessing not only to his involvement in Plamegate, but also to the events that precipitated it. Sadly, the parenthetical at the end of his message reveals the Administration's standard operating procedure in times of trouble: When in doubt, blame the guy who came before you.

Bruce Kluger and David Slavin write satire for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."