Plame Sheds Little Light in Leak Case
Valerie Plame Wilson testified before Congress today, claiming that she was a covert operative at the time Richard Armitage leaked information to Robert Novak and that the content of that leak–that she had been behind sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to Niger, was false.
Her opening statement is transcribed here.
AP’s Matt Apuzzo, who has been reporting the ins-and-outs of this case for quite some time, sees little new.
Plame, the operative at the center of the leak scandal that resulted in last week’s criminal conviction of a former top White House official, created more of a stir by her presence on Capitol Hill than by her testimony. She revealed little new information about the case, which sparked a federal investigation and brought perjury and obstruction of justice convictions of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. No one has been charged with leaking her identity.
Still, Plame’s appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was a moment of political theater that dramatized Democrats’ drive to use their control of Congress to expose what they see as White House efforts to intimidate dissenters.
“My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department,” Plame testified in her first public comments about the case. “I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.”
Plame repeatedly described herself as a covert operative, a term that has multiple meanings. Plame said she worked undercover and traveled abroad on secret missions for the CIA. But the word “covert” also has a legal definition requiring recent foreign service by the person and active efforts to keep his or her identity secret. Critics of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation said Plame did not meet that definition for several reasons and that was why nobody was charged with the leak.
Plame said she did not select her husband for a CIA fact-finding trip to Niger. Wilson later wrote in a newspaper column that his trip debunked the administration’s prewar intelligence that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.
That conflicts with senior officials at the CIA and State Department, who testified during Libby’s trial and told Congress that Plame recommended Wilson for the trip.
Columnist Novak has said that former Deputy State Department Secretary Richard Armitage first revealed Plame’s job to him and Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, and CIA spokesman Bill Harlow confirmed it.
Wilson has written a book, and Plame is working on one, “Fair Game.” Plame’s book is subject to a mandatory review by the CIA. On Thursday, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg would say only that the book was “in progress” and that publication was expected soon.
I don’t blame Plame for being outraged that her career was jeopardized by her identity as a CIA officer being revealed in the press. She told the committee, “I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained. I could no longer travel overseas or do the work . . . which I loved. It was done.” [ellipses in original] If true, it’s truly a shame.
On the other hand, numerous people, including CIA official Bob Grenier, testified at the Libby trial that Plame suggested her husband for the Niger trip. Either they–and all the CIA paperwork behind the trip–are wrong, she’s lying, or she’s playing a Clintonian wordsmithing game in saying she “did not have the authority.”
Frankly, I think the same is true of her claims as to her status. The fact that Harlow confirmed her status to Novak without flinching makes it pretty clear he didn’t think she was a covert agent. And he told the VP’s press secretary about Plame’s connection in the assignment of Wilson without so much as a “Hey, don’t spread this around” warning. That’s simply not how CIA people treat information that’s remotely sensitive. Oh, and there’s this:
Plame said she wasn’t a lawyer and didn’t know her legal status, but said it shouldn’t have mattered to the officials who learned her identity.
As Tom Maguire snarks, “She’s so covert that not even she knows if she is covert!”
Goodness, it’s been four years now. You can get a night school law degree in that much time. Or spend five minutes talking to one of the CIA’s lawyers. Or, hell, perhaps a double naught spy would just know that they’re covert agents. And, if they weren’t smart enough for any of that, you’d think they’d at least be smart enough not to testify to Congress about their covert-osity.
And this is a bit melodramatic–if not disingenuous:
The harm that is done when a CIA cover is blown is grave but I can’t provide details beyond that in this public hearing.
But the concept is obvious. Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who, in turn, risk their own lives and those of their families to provide the United States with needed intelligence.
Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers to analysts to technical operations officers to even the secretaries, understand the vulnerabilities of our officers and recognize that the travesty of what happened to me could happen to them.
We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies.
Regardless of whether her status was “covert” in any meaningful sense of the word–and, as I have argued, it makes no sense that it could have been given how her own agency handled the matter–she was not an undercover field agent but rather a supervisor at headquarters. Her life was not in danger by this revelation. Again, the CIA press spokesman took Bob Novak’s call and confirmed that she worked there. Does anyone think he would have done that had her life been in danger? Or that former Infantry officer Bob Novak would have printed it in his column had he thought there any chance that harm would come to one of his country’s intelligence officers?
A far more likely explanation for this over-the-top testimony, it seems to me, is that Plame is angry at the Bush administration for — even if unintentionally — turning her life topsy turvy, making her into a major public figure, and saying mean and nasty (if arguably true) things about her husband. She’s perfectly willing to use whatever platform she can to get her licks in. And, as it happens, she and her husband have a book to peddle.