Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Valerie Plame Revisited: Who Outed Whom? 

OK, now that there are indictments out both sides are using it as vindication of their positions. For the Democrats, this proves that the Bush Administration is just as corrupt and underhanded as any other and that they tried to cover up their lies by exposing a covert CIA operative. The Republicans rebut this characterization by accurately pointing out that nowhere in the indictments does Fitzgerald mention the "outing" as a criminal act. What I'm still trying to get, though, is an unambiguous answer to who did the alleged "outing," when it occurred and what specific event constituted "outing."

It's been beat into the ground sufficiently for me to take as given that any honest party to the discussion will agree that neither Valerie Wilson's maiden name (Plame) nor her relationship with Joe Wilson (wife) was classified information. Where confusion starts to enter into the picture is if her contemporaneous employment status with the CIA was classified. A July 15, 2005 article in The Washington Times quotes Fred Rustmann, a self-acknowledged former covert agent and supervisor of Ms. Plame, as saying she had been employed at CIA headquarters in Langely for more than five years and that "she made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat." Given that she got up every day, drove to the CIA headquarters and, presumably, received paystubs and W2s all openly acknowledged her employer I believe it would be a difficult thing to argue that her working for the CIA in 2003 was classified. So, assuming I am correct concerning the unclassified nature of her contemporaneous employment status, would "Scooter" Libby's telling anyone "you know, Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, works at the CIA and got him that gig" constitute "outing" her as a covert operative? I don't think so.

So who, specifically, was the first to say outside of official channels that she had previously been employed in a covert status? Many say it was Robert Novak, who in a July 14, 2003 article said the following:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.
It's interesting to me that while Novak clearly attributes the information that Wilson was sent based upon his wife's suggestion, the connection between the two "senior administration officials" and Ms. Plame's status as "an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction" is not explicitly, or even implicitly, made. Also, does it necessarily follow that Mr. Novak, who consistently uses present tense, by his statement means that she was also previously a covert operative? While one might assume based upon the word "operative" that she was working in a classified capacity, for reasons I provided before I don't think that characterization would be accurate for her employment status at the time the article was written. In fact, in an October 1, 2003 follow up that emphasized the "common knowledge" aspect of Ms. Plame's employer, Mr. Novak expresses regret at having used the word "operative" in retrospect. The only thing in the two sentences that gives me pause was the specificity with which he identifies her area of expertise.

The first linking of Valerie Plame and "undercover" seems to be the July 22, 2003 Newsday article by Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce (I couldn't find the piece on Newsday's site, but the link appears to be a complete copy of the original article). It contains the following information:
Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday yesterday that Valerie Plame ... works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity...

"If what the two senior administration officials said is true," Wilson said, "they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships and operations." What's more, it would mean that "this White House has taken an asset out of the" weapons of mass destruction fight, "not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile."
So, if I have the chain of events right, "senior administration officials" (including Mr. Libby) tell Mr. Novak "the CIA sent Joe Wilson to Niger because his wife, who works there, asked them to." Mr. Novak pairs this with other information he has that Wilson's wife was Valerie Plame and she worked for the CIA on WMD programs, publishing on July 14. Within about a week we have a CIA official confirming the supposedly classified status of Ms. Plame's employment and Joe Wilson and another CIA agent making dire predictions as the consequence if the administration officials outed a covert agent. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Anyone who ever worked with "special" (i.e. nuclear) weapons in the Navy is well familiar with the standard reply to any questions concerning their location:
I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons onboard this vessel, I can only say this vessel is capable of carrying such weapons.
This was often the source of much pleasure and private jokes, as you stood on the deck of your SSBN with sixteen closed missile hatches, a vessel whose mission relied upon the assurance it was indeed carrying such weapons, and tried to relay the standard reply with your best poker face.

When the movie "Hunt for Red October" came out several Norfolk area theaters reserved the first showing for submarine crews and the SUBLANT PAO provided specific guidance on replying to press inquiries. It was a good time, but the best show was on the evening news watching the reporter receive basically the same answer from sailor after sailor:
Q: How accurate was the movie?

A: The movie was a work of fiction based upon a work of fiction. The Navy does not discuss submarine operations so I cannot provide an analysis of the relative accuracy of the film.
The point being, if Novak got it right or wrong, any CIA official that was truly concerned about protecting the status of an agent and preserving any potential deniability concerning her previous operations could simply have said "we don't discuss the employment status of individuals." Joe Wilson, if he was honestly concerned with his wife's safety, could have refused the trip or simply kept his mouth shut. Instead we have CIA officials falling out of the woodwork to ironically tell us how much damage is done by outing a covert operative, led by Joe Wilson in ascribing to "senior administration officials" statements that Mr. Novak not only didn't say they made but specifically denied in his later follow up.

Simply put, if Valerie Plame was, indeed, employed in a covert status on July 14, 2003 the CIA was negligent in both having her work out of its headquarters in Langley and in tacitly permitting the "common knowledge" of her employ without either seeking the source of this knowledge or attempting to shore up the cover story. If, however, she was operating in a defacto open status at the time then we have CIA officials intentionally misrepresenting the situation in order to slime a sitting administration. Neither of these possibilities speaks well of the organization.

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