Sorry to again beat what some of you may believe is a dead horse, but a reporter from a major news organization told me today that they are still arguing in his/her newsroom about whether Valerie Plame was covert. The journalist who told me this is a talented, smart person but is still confused about the terms "covert", "cover", and "non-official cover". So here's my gift to confused journalists.
The relevant section of the law relevant to the Libby investigation states:
(b) Disclosure of information by persons who learn identity of covert agents as result of having access to classified information
Whoever, as a result of having authorized access to classified information, learns the identify of a covert agent and intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
(4) The term “covert agent” means— (A) 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—
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and (ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; or
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There are two types of people who work at CIA. First are the "overt" employees. These are folks who can declare on their resume or any credit application that they are a CIA employee. Their status is not classified and their relationship with the CIA is openly acknowledged. Valerie Plame was never an "overt" employee. At no time during her entire time at the CIA did she identify herself as a CIA employee. Although she appeared in Who's Who as the wife of Ambassador Wilson there is no reference whatsoever to her having a job at the CIA. Zippo!
The remaining category of employee is covert. Covert employees include people who work under "official cover" and people who work under "non-official cover". A former CIA officer, Tom Gilligan, discussed both types of cover in his book CIA Life: 10,000 Days With the Agency. Official cover means the employee can say that he or she works for the United States Government, e.g. State Department, but at no time do you admit publicly that you work for the CIA. You get the added benefit of carrying an official or diplomatic passport. If you get caught overseas engaged in intelligence activity it means you have diplomatic immunity and the equivalent of a get out of jail free card.
Non official cover or NOC also is covert but is more sensitive (and dangerous). A NOC does not work for the U.S. Government. A NOC does not have an official or diplomatic passport. A NOC works for a business or organization with no tie to the U.S. Government. If you are caught overseas while conducting espionage activities as a NOC you are screwed. You do not get a jail out of free card. You remain in jail or may be executed.
Now I will write this in big block letters: VALERIE PLAME WAS STILL UNDER NON OFFICIAL COVER WHEN NOVAK PUBLISHED HER NAME. Valerie and I started our career together and both of us were given official cover. But Valerie later took the additional and more dangerous risk of going under Non Official Cover. She became a NOC and, thanks to the Corn/Isikoff book Hubris, we now know she was helping hunt down Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
Right wing hacks like Victoria Toensing, Cliff May and Byron York not only deny Valerie was covert but also insist that Valerie was not covered by the IIPA because she had not lived overseas in the five years preceding the July 2003 Robert Novak article. But that is not the law. The law states, "serving outside the United States". Although she was based in Washington, DC, Valerie traveled overseas and conducted espionage activities. She served outside the United States during the period 1998-2002 and was a covered person under the IIPA.
If Valerie had been an overt employee or a covert employee who had been sitting quietly at a desk, never venturing overseas, the CIA would not have sent the Department of Justice a letter on 30 July 2003 stating:
the CIA reported to the Criminal Division of DoJ a possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
Here is the irony? If Valerie had been an overt employee or a covert employee not covered by IIPA then Scooter Libby would not have had to lie to FBI agents because there would not have been an investigation. But Valerie was a covert agent. Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and Richard Armitage, among others, put her name in circulation with members of the press. They harmed a covert agent and in the process did serious damage to our nation's security. This may not be relevant to the charges Scooter faces, but it is relevant to our nations security. We now know that the Bush White House was as cavalier with the identity of a CIA officer as they have been of late with the medical care for wounded Iraqi war vets at Walter Reed. And in both cases people have probably died because of their carelessness.
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