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Was She Covert? More on Valerie Plame
Wednesday, 21 February 2007 09:21
by Larry C. Johnson

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.

Scooter Libby is not on trial for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. He faces a jury because he lied about his role in giving out Valerie's name and obstructed the investigation into the leak. Can you leak the name of an overt employee? No.

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.
So what is a "covert agent"? Here's what the Intelligence Identities Protection Act states:
(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.
The CIA knew that Valerie was a covert agent. But they did not know if the Novak leak was an intentional disclosure. That was for the FBI to determine.

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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Comments (4)add comment

a guest said:

I know that Larry Johnson has been on the record for some time with the real story on Valerie Plame's status. I find it reprehensible that the major U.S. news outlets have not made this distinction unequivocal and have also allowed the reasons for Mr. Libby's prosecution to remain murky. It needs to be underlined that, in part, this is an obstruction of justice case. Mr. Libby's alleged lies hampered the proper investigation into who leaked Plame's identity and why. The American public deserves to know how deeply involved the VP and President (and any other administration officials) were in this operation of leaking and covering up.
February 21, 2007
Votes: +0

a guest said:

I'm Not Buying It.
Show me where Plame travelled outside of the U.S. on CIA business from 1998 to 2002? How would you know? You haven't been CIA in years. Did someone tell you? If it is true you may have violated federal law?

If she was covert, why didn't the CIA make a bigger deal about it when Novak approached them about the article?

You mention Toensing, York and May as political hacks. Toensing helped write the IIPA law!!! I think you're the hack.

If the CIA was protecting Plame, then why in the HELL would they send her goofy husband to Niger without a confidentiality agreement and allow him to publish an OP/ED in the friggin NYT!!!! I mean do you honestly think she was going to remain so-called covert after THAT!!! Are they that THICK at CIA?? Frankly, based on your articles, I must say I'm not that impressed at the intellectual horsepower of former CIA employees.

The question was not so much WHY Wilson was sent as much as WHO Wilson was!!!

And by the way, is it standard practice for CIA to allow its covert agents to CONTRIBUTE TO POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS as VALARIE E. PLAME did???
February 22, 2007
Votes: +0

a guest said:

Valerie Plame Was Not So Covert When I Met her In 1996.
Valerie Plame was not all that covert when I met her in 1996 after applying for a job at CIA.
February 23, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

a guest said:

could you contact Waxman?
Yesterday I saw Victoria Toensing say that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent because she had not served abroad in a covert capacity with the CIA within the last five years. On the other hand, in her testimony she said she had done so. No one asked Victoria Toensing about this apparent contradiction. In checking earlier writings of Victoria Toensing I notice she says that under the law she helped draft, one must have served covertly at a permanent overseas CIA post within the last five years in order to be considered covert, yet the actual law says nothing about the amount of time or permanent or temporary. No one on the ocmmittee questioned Victoria Toensing about this discrepancy. Since you have some expertise on this matter, could you contact Waxman?
March 17, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

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