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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 (Ward 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)
Author and liberal political columnist David Corn writes that he believes conservative columnist Robert Novak deliberately blew “the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security.” It seems as if Novak broke the law as well, Corn observes, all to “strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others.” Corn calls it a “smear” against Wilson and “a thuggish act” by “Bush and his crew [who] abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation’s counterproliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.” Corn is referring to a recent column by Novak in which he outed Valerie Plame Wilson, the husband of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). Corn believes the Novak column came about as part of a White House attempt to besmirch the reputation of Wilson, who recently wrote a column challenging the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). Corn cites Wilson’s qualifications for such a task, and notes that ever since the June 12, 2003 revelation that “an unnamed ambassador” had gone to Niger to investigate the claims and reported that the uranium deal likely never happened, the questions over the veracity of the claims as touted by the Bush administration have grown far louder. Administration explanations that the claims were based on “faulty evidence” were not going over well. Corn believes that Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity, and his supposition that she “sent” her husband to Niger, was triggered by a White House effort to impugn Wilson’s reliability and integrity. Corn also notes that Wilson refuses to answer questions about his wife’s career, saying only: “I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the president’s statement in the State of the Union speech.”
Deliberately Damaging a Covert Operative to Punish a Critic? - If Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA agent, Corn writes, then “the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.” Not only has Plame Wilson’s undercover status been compromised, Corn notes, but “her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration.” Her husband notes: “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames.” Philby and Ames were notorious traitors.
Violation of Federal Law - As for the “two senior administration officials” whom Novak claims as his sources, if Novak is accurate, then “a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what’s known as ‘nonofficial cover’ and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material.… This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.” Novak is not liable for an offense because journalists are protected from prosecution unless they engage in a “pattern of activities” to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. But it is possible Novak’s sources are so liable.
Intimidation Tactics - “Stories like this,” Wilson says, “are not intended to intimidate me, since I’ve already told my story. But it’s pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears.” Corn writes that the silence of the White House on the matter tends to give credence to Wilson’s view of the matter, since the Bush administration has heretofore been a jealous guardian of government secrets. “[O]ne might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job,” he writes. “Yet two days after the Novak column’s appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.” (Corn 7/16/2003)
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