Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Turdblossoms Bloom

“They will offer more lectures, and legalisms, and carefully worded denials. We offer another way -- a better way -- and a stiff dose of truth.”
-Dick Cheney

We're cultivating quite a field of 'em, too! It takes a special kind of fertilizer to suggest that Karl Rove deserves a medal. (For treason? They're giving medals for that, now?) Fortunately, we have The Left Coaster, Robert Parry, and David Corn, persons with a higher tolerance for crap than most, to debunk the latest bout of media ridiculousness. They certainly make for an interesting contrast with the RNC's official talking points.
Oh, and in case you hear that Ms. Plame hadn't done undercover work in the last five years, and that makes everything okay - she had. And it wouldn't.

TALKING POINT: Rove "was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story" based on Joe Wilson's "false premise" (that DCI Tenet or VP Cheney authorized his trip)
FACT: False. Moreover, Joe Wilson did not make such a claim before Rove exposed Valerie Plame's identity.
UPDATED: False. Moreover there's no "...'trying to prevent a bad or innaccurate story from being run' exception to the relevant statute..." [updated 7/14]


Blogger Management said...

David Corn
Karl Rove's Reality-Free Defense

Let's play the trendy, new game: which Karl Rove line of defense is worth bupkis?

As you probably know, George W. Bush's friendly architect is in trouble because an email revealed by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff showed that Time's Matt Cooper had spoken to Rove on July 11, 2003--three days before the Plame/CIA leak was first published by conservative columnist Bob Novak--and that Rove had told Cooper that "Wilson's wife" apparently worked for the CIA. This evidence, of course, contradicted previous White House statements that Rove had nothing to do with the leak--which is why the White House has been engaged this week in a ridiculous act of stonewalling by refusing to answer any and all questions related to Rove.

But while the White House tries to wish this scandal away, Rove's pals at the GOP and within the conservative media have fashioned a defense. It breaks down to three main points. All are them are untrue or misleading. So spin the wheel:

Rove did not reveal classified information. Wrong. He did. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 defines the CIA employment status of an undercover CIA officer (which Valerie Wilson was) as "classified information." So by disclosing that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA, Rove--wittingly or not--was indeed passing classified information to a reporter. I explain this further in another column. Click here to read that.

Rove did not ID Plame/Wilson by name. Perhaps. In Cooper's email, Cooper reported that Rove had discussed "Wilson's wife." Maybe he didn't use her name in his conversation with Cooper. But this is irrelevant. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, it's a crime for a government official to disclose intentionally "any information identifying" an undercover intelligence officer. To commit a crime, it is not necessary to say the person's name. Noting that a person's spouse is a CIA officer is certainly identifying that CIA officer. After all, it would not have been too hard for Cooper--or any other reporter--to find the name of Wilson's wife; it was available on the Internet.

Rove was merely trying to help Cooper. How kind of him. First, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act does not say that it's okay to out a CIA official as long as you're trying to assist a journalist. This is no defense. Secondly, Rove's pals claim that he was attempting to prevent Cooper from writing a piece with false information in it. But, according to that infamous memo, Rove said that "Wilson's wife" had "authorized" Wilson's now-controversial trip to Niger, where he was sent to by the CIA to check out allegations that Iraq was shopping for weapons-grade uranium there. (He concluded there was nothing to this charge.) The aim for Rove was to challenge Wilson's account of his trip. But Wilson's wife had not "authorized" the trip. She had recommended to her colleagues that they talk to Wilson about the Niger allegation, and his trip emerged out of these discussions. Rove was passing bad info to Cooper. He was not performing community service as a pro bono factchecker for Time magazine.

So what's left for Rove? He can argue that he did not know Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald cannot prove that Rove was aware of her undercover status, he has not much of a case under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. (Perjury might be another matter.) But the Bush White House, Rove and his comrades in the conservative media cannot argue Rove did nothing wrong--unless they want to claim it's fine to leak classified information that reveals the identity of a covert CIA officer (who was working to prevent the spread of WMDs) in order to undermine a critic. That's the spin-free reality.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Rove Did Leak Classified Information

"The fact is, Karl Rove did not leak classified information." So said Ken Mehlman, head of the Republican Party.

"I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name." So said Karl Rove of Valerie Wilson/Plame last year on CNN.

"He did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." So said Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, after Newsweek reported Rove had been a source for Time magazine's Matt Cooper but before Newsweek revealed a Cooper email that said Rove had told Cooper that "wilson's wife...apparently works at the agency on wmd issues."

The White House may be stonewalling on the Rove scandal, but the Rove camp--aided by its echo-ists in the conservative media--has been busy establishing the twin-foundation for his defense: he did not mention Valerie Wilson/Plame by name; he did not disclose classified information. The first of these two assertions is misleading and irrelevant; the second is wrong.

Did not disclose her name

According to Cooper's email, Rove told Cooper that "Wilson's wife"--not "Valerie Plame," or "Valerie Wilson"--worked at the CIA. But this distinction has absolutely no legal relevance. Under the relevant law--the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982--a crime is committed when a government official (not a journalist) "intentionally discloses any information identifying" an undercover intelligence officer. The act does not say a name must be disclosed. By telling a reporter that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA officer, Rove was clearly disclosing "identifying" information. There was only one Mrs. Joseph Wilson. With such information in hand, Cooper or anyone else could easily have ascertained the name of this officer. (A Google search at the time would have yielded the name--and maiden name--of Wilson's wife.) Revealing the name is not the crime; it's disclosing information that IDs the officer. Imagine if a government official told a reporter, "At 3:15, a fellow in a green hat, carrying a red umbrella and holding a six-pack of Mountain Dew, will be tap-dancing in front of the Starbucks at Connecticut Avenue and R Street--he's the CIA's best undercover officer working North Korea." That official could not defend himself, under this law, by claiming that he had not revealed the name of this officer. The issue is identifying, not naming. Rove and his allies cannot hide behind his no-name claim.

Did not disclose classified information

A reading of this law also indicates that if Cooper's email is accurate then Rove did pass classified information to Cooper. It's possible that Rove did so unwittingly. That is, he did not know Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified information. But he and his posse cannot say the information he slipped to Cooper was not classified.

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a crime to identify "a covert agent" of the United States. The law defines "covert agent," in part, as "a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information." (My emphasis.)

This definition clearly recognizes that the identity of an undercover intelligence officer is "classified information." The law also notes that a "covert agent" has a "classified relationship to the United States." Since the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the Plame/CIA leak and the Justice Department affirmed the need for an investigation and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, once handed the case, pursued the matter vigorously, it is reasonable to assume that Valerie Wilson fits the definition of a "covert agent." That means she has a "classified relationship" with the government.

By disclosing Valerie Wilson's relationship to the CIA, Rove was passing classified information to a reporter.

"There is little doubt," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, that the employment status of an undercover CIA officer, "is classified information." He notes that the "most basic personnel information of the CIA--the number of personnel, the salaries--is classified. Anything more specific--like the identity of a NOC [an officer working under "nonofficial cover," as was Valerie Wilson] or the numbers and identities of officers working in a particular region of the world--is classified."

To sum up, it does not matter if Rove did not mention Valerie Wilson by name, and it is not true that the information he passed to Cooper was not classified.

Rove may still have a defense against criminal prosecution. Under the law, a government official is only guilty if he or she discloses information "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies" a "covert agent." Rove could claim that he was not aware that Valerie Wilson was working at the CIA as a covert official. After all, there are CIA employees--analysts, managers, and others--who do not work under cover. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicts Rove or anyone else, the most difficult part of the case will likely be proving that the person charged with the crime meets this he-knew-she-was-undercover test.

Not all wrongdoing is a crime. But leaking classified information is always serious business. George W. Bush took an unambiguous stand on the leaking of classified information when he was asked on September 30, 2003, about Karl Rove's possible role in the Plame/CIA leak. Bush noted,

I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.

Well, now Bush knows. Rove, according to the Cooper email, did not leak a name but he did leak classified information. Much of his defense is in tatters. And where is Bush's "appropriate action"?

1:12 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Wednesday :: Jul 13, 2005
Treasongate (Part VI): Response to GOP talking points

A number of rebuttals have been provided around the liberal blogosphere to the fakery from the GOP and their media arms about the Valerie Plame expose. Here's a roundup.
[NOTE: This page will get continually updated over the next several days as more information comes in. Make sure you bookmark it and visit The Left Coaster for daily updates. Please feel free to add items in the comments if I missed anything - and distribute far and wide].

TALKING POINT: Valerie Plame (Joseph Wilson's wife) was not covert.
FACT: She was. (More here).

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove did not leak Valerie Plame's name.
FACT: Please. Her name was not the secret, her identity was (which is the issue here) and he leaked that. (also see here and here).

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove was "not the leaker".
FACT: Rove's attorney's statement and Cooper's email shows this claim is false. Rove did leak Plame's identity. (Whether or not this is found to be prosecutable is another matter).
P.S. It's not like this is the first time Rove has been in the spotlight for leaking secrets.

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove did not reveal classified information.
FACT: A CIA agent's identity is considered classified.

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove has never lied about his role in this matter.
FACT: Yes, he has.

TALKING POINT: The White House has never lied or misled people about its role in this matter.
FACT: False.

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove never knew that Valerie Plame was covert.
FACT: Really? Then why not state this on the record, something Rove's attorney refuses to do.

TALKING POINT: Matt Cooper of Time magazine "burned" Rove.
FACT: Rove's lawyer, who made the above fake claim, himself has been expounding again and again about how Rove gave complete waivers to all his journalist contacts to testify.

TALKING POINT: Bob Novak used the word "operative" by accident and his sources did not say she was one.
FACT: This is false, after-the-fact spin from Novak.

TALKING POINT: Rove "was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story" based on Joe Wilson's "false premise" (that DCI Tenet or VP Cheney authorized his trip)
FACT: False. Moreover, Joe Wilson did not make such a claim before Rove exposed Valerie Plame's identity. False. Moreover there's no "...'trying to prevent a bad or innaccurate story from being run' exception to the relevant statute..." [updated 7/14]

TALKING POINT: All Rove was doing was trying to reveal the truth to Matt Cooper of Time magazine. [added 7/14]
FACT: False.

TALKING POINT: The Senate Intelligence Committee said that Valerie Plame was the one who set up Joe Wilson's trip.
FACT: False and false. (Also see here). (In fact, there is no consensus view that Valerie Plame even suggested that Wilson be sent on the trip.)

TALKING POINT: The White House/GOP cannot comment on questions regarding Rove or his role because of the ongoing investigation.
FACT: False. A completely bogus claim considering that they are talking behind the scenes or issuing false/misleading press releases (also see here and here) spreading fakery about Wilson. (Not to mntion, they felt free to comment self-servingly about the whole matter until the Rove story broke.)

TALKING POINT: Karl Rove is not a target of Fitzgerald's investigation.
FACT: He is a subject of the investigation.

TALKING POINT: The Butler Report etc. vindicated Bush's "uranium in Africa" State of the Union claim
FACT: False. The Butler Report was intended to exonerate Tony Blair and George Bush to prevent them from facing criminal charges. For obvious reasons, it excluded reams of information about Bush's claim that showed that the White House lied through it's teeth in defending Bush's claim. (Indeed, as the link shows, people from the NSA, CIA etc. themselves stated that the SOTU claim did not have a sound backing.)

TALKING POINT: This is all just a partisan attack by Democrats (or Joseph Wilson)
FACT: False. The GOP leadership has a habit of minimizing numerous acts of treason from individuals inside the Bush administration over the last several years, by smearing truth-tellers. This is just the latest episode among many. In private, even Republicans admit that this kind of nonsense would have resulted in Congressional hearings "in a second", if the President had been a Democrat. Not to mention the hypocrisy of Rove himself.

TALKING POINT: Even if Karl Rove leaked Valerie Plame's identity, it's no big deal and deserves a medal.
FACT: The GOP's Ed Gillespie and George Bush disagreed (with an emphasis on 'd'). In fact, if it's so not a big deal, why all this intrigue about what the White House can or cannot comment on? Just tell the truth then rather than hiding behind reporters and smears of people who had nothing to do with the expose. (As for medals, it probably deserves a medal in prison, to define the "role model" for fellow prisoners at Gitmo - while eating rice pilaf in the process).

TALKING POINT: There was no legal crime committed with the Plame expose.
FACT: False and false. So much for offering "a stiff dose of truth" instead of "more lectures, and legalisms, and carefully worded denials".

TALKING POINT: Joseph Wilson supported John Kerry.
FACT: He also supported Republicans in the past, including a $1000 campaign contribution to George W. Bush in 2000 (before the GOP turned on him and his wife, treasonously) and was recognized by George Bush Sr. for his bravery against Saddam Hussein in Iraq - where he was acting* ambassador before Gulf War I. He not only "sheltered 800 Americans at the embassy in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait," his wife has long been a CIA WMD operative working to keeps WMDs away from terrorists. His pre-Iraq war (II) stance even got some support from George Bush Sr. Also see here. [*added/updated on 7/14]

TALKING POINT: President Bush is committed to upholding the honor and dignity of his office.
FACT: For the umpteenth time, false, false and false.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Leak of Agent's Name Causes Exposure of CIA Front Firm

By Walter Pincus and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 4, 2003; Page A03

The leak of a CIA operative's name has also exposed the identity of a CIA front company, potentially expanding the damage caused by the original disclosure, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The company's identity, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, became public because it appeared in Federal Election Commission records on a form filled out in 1999 by Valerie Plame, the case officer at the center of the controversy, when she contributed $1,000 to Al Gore's presidential primary campaign.

fter the name of the company was broadcast yesterday, administration officials confirmed that it was a CIA front. They said the obscure and possibly defunct firm was listed as Plame's employer on her W-2 tax forms in 1999 when she was working undercover for the CIA. Plame's name was first published July 14 in a newspaper column by Robert D. Novak that quoted two senior administration officials. They were critical of her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for his handling of a CIA mission that undercut President Bush's claim that Iraq had sought uranium from the African nation of Niger for possible use in developing nuclear weapons.

The Justice Department began a formal criminal investigation of the leak Sept. 26.

The inadvertent disclosure of the name of a business affiliated with the CIA underscores the potential damage to the agency and its operatives caused by the leak of Plame's identity. Intelligence officials have said that once Plame's job as an undercover operative was revealed, other agency secrets could be unraveled and her sources might be compromised or endangered.

A former diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that every foreign intelligence service would run Plame's name through its databases within hours of its publication to determine if she had visited their country and to reconstruct her activities.

"That's why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name," the former diplomat said.

FEC rules require donors to list their employment. Plame used her married name, Valerie E. Wilson, and listed her employment as an "analyst" with Brewster-Jennings & Associates. The document establishes that Plame has worked undercover within the past five years. The time frame is one of the standards used in making determinations about whether a disclosure is a criminal violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

It could not be learned yesterday whether other CIA operatives were associated with Brewster-Jennings.

Also yesterday, the nearly 2,000 employees of the White House were given a Tuesday deadline to scour their files and computers for any records related to Wilson or contacts with journalists about Wilson. The broad order, in an e-mail from White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, directed them to retain records "that relate in any way to former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, his trip to Niger in February 2002, or his wife's purported relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency."

White House employees received the e-mailed directive at 12:45 p.m., with an all-capitalized subject line saying, "Important Follow-Up Message From Counsel's Office." By 5 p.m. on Tuesday, employees must turn over copies of relevant electronic records, telephone records, message slips, phone logs, computer records, memos, and diaries and calendar entries.

The directive notes that lawyers in the counsel's office are attorneys for the president in his official capacity and that they cannot provide personal legal advice to employees.

For some officials, the task is a massive one. Some White House officials said they had numerous conversations with Wilson that had nothing to do with his wife, so the directive is seen as a heavy burden at a time when many of the president's aides already feel beleaguered.

Officials at the Pentagon and State Department also have been asked to retain records related to the case. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday: "We are doing our searches. . . . I'm not sure what they will be looking for or what they wish to contact us about, but we are anxious to be of all assistance to the inquiry."

In another development, FBI agents yesterday began attempts to interview journalists who may have had conversations with government sources about Plame and Wilson. It was not clear how many journalists had been contacted. The FBI has interviewed Plame, ABC News reported.

Wilson and his wife have hired Washington lawyer Christopher Wolf to represent them in the matter.

The couple has directed him to take a preliminary look at claims they might be able to make against people they believe have impugned their character, a source said.

The name of the CIA front company was broadcast yesterday by Novak, the syndicated journalist who originally identified Plame. Novak, highlighting Wilson's ties to Democrats, said on CNN that Wilson's "wife, the CIA employee, gave $1,000 to Gore and she listed herself as an employee of Brewster-Jennings & Associates."

"There is no such firm, I'm convinced," he continued. "CIA people are not supposed to list themselves with fictitious firms if they're under a deep cover -- they're supposed to be real firms, or so I'm told. Sort of adds to the little mystery."

In fact, it appears the firm did exist, at least on paper. The Dun & Bradstreet database of company names lists a firm that is called both Brewster Jennings & Associates and Jennings Brewster & Associates.

The phone number in the listing is not in service, and the property manager at the address listed said there is no such company at the property, although records from 2000 were not available.

Wilson was originally listed as having given $2,000 to Gore during the primary campaign in 1999, but the donation, over the legal limit of $1,000, was "reattributed" so that Wilson and Plame each gave $1,000 to Gore. Wilson also gave $1,000 to the Bush primary campaign, but there is no donation listed from his wife.

Staff writers Dana Milbank, Susan Schmidt and Dana Priest, political researcher Brian Faler and researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Rove's Backers Use 'CounterSpy Defense'

By Robert Parry
July 26, 2005

In defending White House political adviser Karl Rove, American conservatives have adopted an argument used by U.S. leftists three decades ago to rebut accusations that CounterSpy magazine's naming of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece contributed to his murder.

The argument – used then to defend CounterSpy and now to protect Rove for outing CIA officer Valerie Plame – was that the covers for the two CIA officers had previously been blown and that the CIA hadn’t done enough to maintain the secrecy.

Over the past two weeks, following revelations that Rove discussed Plame’s CIA role with journalists in 2003, right-wing commentators have asserted that no crime was committed because Plame’s CIA identity was “common knowledge” to some of her friends and because her cover had already been breached.

For instance, an editorial in the right-wing Washington Times asserted that Plame’s identity “was compromised twice before her name appeared” in Robert Novak’s column of July 14, 2003.

“Mrs. Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy,” the Times said. “In a second compromise, officials said a more recent inadvertent disclosure resulted in references to Mrs. Plame in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. … Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them, the officials said.” [Washington Times editorial, July 19, 2005.]

Denouncing Agee

In the mid-1970s, a similar debate raged over CounterSpy, a magazine associated with renegade CIA officer Phil Agee, for listing Welch’s name before the CIA station chief was gunned down in Athens in 1975.

Though U.S. officials, including then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush, blamed CounterSpy for contributing to Welch's death, the magazine’s defenders noted that Welch had been previously fingered as a CIA officer by a European publication and that the CIA had carelessly assigned him a house previously used by CIA station chiefs.

But the CounterSpy defense didn’t stop Congress from citing the Welch assassination as the principal justification for passing a law in 1982 making the willful identification of a CIA officer a criminal offense.

That law is now at the center of the investigation into whether officials in George W. Bush’s administration committed a crime by disclosing Plame’s identity as retaliation for her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, writing that Bush had “twisted” intelligence in hyping Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

Ironically, conservatives – who staunchly supported the 1982 law and denounced Agee as a traitor – are now claiming the law should not apply to Rove. In doing so, they are citing some of the same reasons that caused liberals to oppose the law’s enactment as a response to the outing of Welch.

But the flaw in both the CounterSpy and Rove defenses is that just because information might have reached a limited number of unauthorized people doesn’t mean that everyone who might want to harm a CIA officer knows the facts. For instance, there’s no evidence that Moscow or Havana shared what they might have known about Plame with al-Qaeda or other Islamic terrorists.

Yet by leaking the Plame information to Novak, Bush administration officials exposed to al-Qaeda and its allies not only a CIA officer who was involved in tracking weapons of mass destruction, but also overseas agents who may have assisted Plame in her work and the cover company she used while spying abroad.

Similarly, the Greek assassins who gunned down Welch may or may not have known about the earlier leak of his name or about the use of his residence by previous CIA station chiefs. It’s also unclear if the terrorists read CounterSpy.

But by listing Welch’s name, CounterSpy increased the danger to the CIA station chief – just as Rove and other Bush administration officials heightened risks for Plame and anyone who assisted her in tracking WMD shipments.

A ‘Secret’ Memo

In July 2003, Bush administration officials also had reason to know that Plame was still an undercover agent, since the paragraph in a State Department memo that mentioned her identity and her marriage to Wilson was marked “S” for secret, according to press reports. [Washington Post, July 21, 2005]

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is heading the leak investigation, has reportedly focused on the memo, which was carried aboard Air Force One on July 7, 2003, a day after Wilson wrote a New York Times op-ed article criticizing Bush’s assertions that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium from Niger.

A day later, on July 8, right-wing columnist Robert Novak told Rove that he (Novak) had heard that Plame had sent Wilson on the mission to Niger, according to a lawyer who has spoken to several news organizations. The lawyer said Rove responded, “I heard that, too.” [Washington Post, July 17, 2005]

Although the administration has never spelled out why it considered Plame’s alleged role in sending her husband on the Niger mission so significant, the point apparently was to raise doubts about Wilson’s manhood, as a guy who needed his wife’s help to get a job.

The more salient point would seem to be that Wilson’s judgment that Iraq was not seeking yellowcake uranium turned out to be correct. Even by July 2003, U.S. weapons inspectors were discovering that pre-invasion claims about Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and a nuclear weapons program weren’t checking out.

On July 11, 2003, CIA Director George Tenet apologized for not keeping the yellowcake reference out of the State of the Union speech. “This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches,” Tenet said.

Despite that admission, the Bush administration continued its behind-the-scenes assault on Wilson and his credibility. Time correspondent Matthew Cooper interviewed Rove about Wilson on the same day as Tenet’s apology and Rove disclosed that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA on WMD issues.

According to an internal Time e-mail, Cooper informed his editor that Rove offered a “big warning” not to “get too far out on Wilson” and that “KR said” the Niger trip was authorized by “wilson’s wife, who apparently works at the agency (CIA) on wmd issues.” [Newsweek, July 18, 2005, issue]

‘Said Too Much’

In a little-noticed part of Cooper’s account, Rove also revealed that he was aware of the classified nature of the information surrounding Wilson’s trip.

Cooper said his notes reveal that after discussing Wilson’s CIA wife, Rove said “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.” In ending the conversation, Rove said, “I’ve already said too much,” according to Cooper. [Time, July 25, 2005, issue]

The next day, July 12, 2003, Cooper said he received confirmation of Rove’s information about the CIA employment of Wilson’s wife from Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

In the same time period, White House officials reportedly were circulating the information about Plame to other reporters. “A senior administration official flagged the role of Wilson’s wife, almost in passing, to the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus,” the Post reported in a later chronology of the case.

On July 14, 2003, Novak’s column made public the secret about Plame’s CIA identity. Novak also wrote that “two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate” the yellowcake report.

Although the CIA soon submitted a criminal referral to the Justice Department about the leaking of Plame’s name, the case languished until December 2003 when U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald was appointed as a special prosecutor. The case gained new momentum in July 2005 with the disclosure of Rove’s role in identifying Plame.

Yet almost as stunning as this month’s revelations about Rove has been the lock-step reaction from right-wing commentators – as well as the Republican National Committee – as they lined up to defend Rove and continue trashing Wilson.

A major point in Rove’s defense has been that Plame was based at CIA headquarters at Langley, Va., supposedly making her CIA employment “common knowledge” around Washington. The reasoning seems to be that identities of home-based CIA officers are so readily known in Washington that no one can blame Rove for giving up Plame’s identity.

This pro-Rove argument has a jaded worldliness popular with TV pundits who are fond of quipping that “there are no secrets in Washington” – except, of course, the many that they don’t know about.

In the Plame case, Rove’s defenders are suggesting that the identities of CIA officers are everyday fodder for Washington cocktail parties, after which journalists supposedly rush back to the office to spice up their stories with “secret” CIA identities.

But that just isn’t true. As a journalist who has covered intelligence issues for a quarter century, I have never encountered that kind of cavalier attitude toward the naming of CIA officers. In interviews and conversations that I’ve had even with government officials I’ve known for years, they steer clear of naming CIA personnel they work with

The rule of thumb is to assume that a CIA officer’s name is a national security secret unless you specifically know otherwise. At the CIA, public identities are mostly limited to employees in the press office and senior agency officials, such as the director and deputy directors.

Not only do most government officials take pains to protect the identities of CIA employees, but so do most journalists who may learn the names of CIA officers while working on articles. CIA identities are only used in stories if the countervailing principle of the public’s right to know is so compelling that use of the name can’t be avoided.

Novak’s column was an aberration from these longstanding Washington ground rules. Plus, the violation was striking because the justification for disclosing Plame was so weak – that she may have recommended her husband for the trip to Niger.

Since Wilson was otherwise qualified for the assignment and since his conclusion about the bogus Niger claims turned out to be true, it’s never been entirely clear why the White House considered his wife’s role in the trip important enough to override the mandate for protecting the identity of CIA officers.

It’s also still a mystery why the discrete secret of Plame’s identity would have been shared with political operative Rove – and by whom.

Wilson concluded that the outing of his wife was an act of retaliation – and there is evidence to support that suspicion. In September 2003, a senior White House official told the Washington Post that at least six reporters had been informed about Plame before Novak’s column appeared. The official said the disclosures about Plame were “purely and simply out of revenge.”

(The myth that Plame was not a clandestine officer at the time of Novak’s column gained traction because of a mistaken report on July 15, 2005, by the Associated Press, which misinterpreted a comment that Wilson made during a CNN interview. The AP took Wilson’s comment that “my wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity” to mean that she had already left the covert world, when Wilson actually meant that Novak’s column ended her covert career. AP ran a correction but conservatives widely circulated the erroneous report.)


Another stunning part of the Rove defense has been how quickly right-wing commentators have flip-flopped from their traditional hard-line stance decrying the unauthorized disclosure of national security secrets.

For instance, six months ago, Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of the Washington Times, suggested prosecuting New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh on espionage charges (carrying a possible death penalty) for disclosing secret U.S. military reconnaissance operations inside Iran.

In a Jan. 19, 2005, column entitled “Espionage by any other name,” Blankley argued that Hersh had given sensitive secrets to the enemy by describing U.S. preparations for war with Iran. Blankley cited the precedent of the government using the Espionage Act to convict Navy analyst Samuel Morison for selling photos of a Soviet ship to a Jane’s military publication in the mid-1980s.

Yet Hersh’s article had an obvious importance to a national public debate about whether the Iraq War should be extended to Iran. Hersh’s New Yorker article was alerting the American people to how advanced the war planning already was.

No similar argument could be made about an overriding need for the public to know the identity of Valerie Plame. Yet, the Washington Times – along with other conservative news outlets – decried the Hersh leak while defending the Rove-Novak leak.

There is also irony in the Washington Times making pronouncements about espionage when it has been kept afloat since 1982 with secret financing from Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who was unmasked in a 1978 congressional investigation as a covert agent of the South Korean government trying to penetrate U.S. media and politics.

[For more on Moon’s espionage role – and his ties to the Bush family – see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

But the right-wing campaign to continue denigrating Joe Wilson carries another troubling message: that some Washington conservatives care less about genuine national security than they do about protecting their friends and maintaining their political dominance.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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