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Context of '1997: Undercover CIA Agent Valerie Plame Returns to US'

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CIA agent Valerie Plame leaves Europe after a long and distinguished career as a nonofficial cover (NOC) agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and July 21, 2003) in Greece and Brussels. The New York Times will report in 2003 that Plame may have been forced to return to the US after her name was given to the Russians by double agent Aldrich Ames in 1994 [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] , though that possibility remains unconfirmed. Plame takes a position as a case officer with a new bureau in the agency, the counterproliferation division (CPD), a part of the covert Directorate of Operations. She is hand-picked by the division chief of CPD, James Pavitt, for the slot. The CPD is an unconventional entity, the first bureau without a geographical affiliation; Plame will affectionately refer to it as “the island of misfit toys.” CPD and its counterpart, the Counterterrorism Center (CTC), are tasked to deal with emerging unconventional threats from rogue nations, stateless terrorist, and extremist groups. “The older divisions eyed CPD with deep suspicion and distrust,” Plame will later recall. Pavitt’s decision to include former NOCs such as Plame is controversial, and creates something of a turf war between CPD and the Office of External Development, which generally deals with NOCs. Pavitt wins out because of his close relationship with CIA Director George Tenet. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 349-350]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Aldrich Ames, James Pavitt, Valerie Plame Wilson, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to anonymous current and former intelligence officials, the CIA has carried out an in-house investigation of the damage done to the agency by the exposure of covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003). That damage is described by the officials as “severe” and potentially far more damaging than has been previously reported, particularly to the agency’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program (see February 13, 2006). The officials say that while CIA Director Porter Goss has not submitted a formal assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure to Congressional oversight committees, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations did conduct a serious and aggressive investigation. That investigation, a “counter intelligence assessment to agency operations,” was ordered by the agency’s then-Deputy Director of the Directorate of Operations, James Pavitt. Former CIA counterintelligence officer Larry Johnson says that such an assessment would have had to have been carried out: “An exposure like that required an immediate operational and counter intelligence damage assessment. That was done. The results were written up but not in a form for submission to anyone outside of CIA.” A former counterintelligence officer says that the CIA’s reason for not submitting a report to Congress is that its top officials “made a conscious decision not to do a formal inquiry because they knew it might become public. They referred it [to the Justice Department] instead because they believed a criminal investigation was needed” (see September 16, 2003). According to that official, the assessment found the exposure of Plame Wilson caused “significant damage to operational equities.” Another counterintelligence official explains that “operational equities” includes both people and agency operations that involve the “cover mechanism,” “front companies,” and other CIA officers and assets. The assessment also shows that other CIA non-official cover (NOC) officers (see Fall 1992 - 1996) were compromised by Plame Wilson’s exposure. The officials will not say if American or foreign casualties were incurred as a result of her exposure. Several intelligence officials say it will take up to “10 years” for the agency to recover from the damage done by Plame Wilson’s exposure, and to recover its capability to adequately monitor nuclear proliferation on the level it had achieved prior to the White House’s leak of her identity. [Raw Story, 2/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Directorate of Operations, Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, James Pavitt, Porter J. Goss

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jim Marcinkowski (left) and Larry Johnson.Jim Marcinkowski (left) and Larry Johnson. [Source: CNN]Former CIA case officer Jim Marcinkowski, a former classmate of outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see Fall 1985), is outraged by the revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status and the allegations that the leak of her identity is not a crime (see July 14, 2003 and September 29, 2003). Another former classmate of Plame Wilson’s, former CIA agent Larry Johnson, says: “[W]hat I keep seeing in the newspaper is the spin and leak that this is no big deal. And that’s got to stop.… The problem with this is a lot of the damage that has occurred is not going to be seen. It can’t be photographed. We can’t bring the bodies out because in some cases it’s going to involve protecting sources and methods. And it’s important to keep this before the American people. This was a betrayal of national security.” Marcinkowski concurs: “This is an unprecedented act. This has never been done by the United States government before. The exposure of an undercover intelligence officer by the US government is unprecedented. It’s not the usual leak from Washington. The leak a week scenario is not at play here. This is a very, very serious event.” Plame Wilson was an NOC, or nonofficial cover officer (see Fall 1992 - 1996). “It was the most dangerous assignment you could take. It takes a special sort of person,” says Marcinkowski, who is now a prosecutor in Michigan. Former CIA official Kenneth Pollack agrees, describing an NOC’s identity as the “holiest of holies.” Many believe that the outrage among the rank and file of CIA agents and officials at Plame Wilson’s outing was so strong that CIA Director George Tenet had little choice but to recommend that the Justice Department investigate the leak (see September 16, 2003). Marcinkowski says: “In this particular case, it was so far over the line, I think myself and a lot of us were truly outraged that the government would do this.… I mean, we kept our mouths closed since 1985, when we joined.” Johnson, noting that both he and Marcinkowski are registered Republicans, says: “As a Republican, I think we need to be consistent on this. It doesn’t matter who did it, it didn’t matter which party was involved. This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about protecting national security and national security assets and in this case there has been a betrayal, not only of the CIA officers there, but really a betrayal of those of us who have kept the secrets over the years on this point.” [Guardian, 10/22/2003; CNN, 10/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Jim Marcinkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Valerie Plame Wilson, Larry C. Johnson, US Department of Justice, Kenneth Pollack

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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