Plame Working on Iran WMD When Outed

The lefty blogosphere is abuzz over a story reported on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” (which, for reasons never quite clear to me, they ordinarily consider right wing propaganda) that Valerie Plame was working on Iranian WMD when she was outed by Bob Novak and others.

Raw Story, quoting a report by David Schuster:


John Aravosis:

As Joe would say, this is huge. According to US intelligence officials, White House employee, and top Bush aide, Karl Rove destroyed Valerie Plame’s career in the CIA at a time when Plame was working on tracking whether and when Iran would get nukes.

So not only was CIA agent Valerie Plame still working undercover, she was in fact working on stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And senior Bush adviser Karl Rove is the person who ended her career by leaking her identity to conservative writer Bob Novak.

The only problem is that, if the “intelligence sources” are right (and Tom Maguire is skeptical), it still doesn’t tell us anything like that. Everyone working at CIA is “part” of an “operation” of some sort. The question is which part. She was, by all accounts, working at a desk in Langley, living with her husband and helping raise their twins. Because her status is classified, causing us to have to speculate, we do not know whether she was some sort of analyst or a case manager. We do now that she was not, at this juncture, a field officer.

Whoever blew her identity–and it’s far from clear that Rove was the first to do so, even discounting the fact that Aldridge Aimes had already done so years before–ruined whatever prospects she had for returning to work as an undercover officer in the future. That’s a bad thing. Depending on intent and the sequence of events, it’s also illegal. Peter Fitgerald and company are working on that angle as we speak. As Matt Drudge would say, it’s “DEVELOPING . . . ”

What the leak did not do, however, is damage Valerie Plame/Wilson’s ability to contribute her expertise as a desk officer at Langley. It did not, therefore, harm her ability to do whatever supervisory, managerial, and/or analytical work she was doing to track Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, she continued to work for the CIA for more than two years after the Novak story broke.

Further, no one I’m aware of has argued that our ability to track Iran’s progress in gaining nuclear weapons is at issue, period. The problem is our decided lack of good options in responding to what we do know.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lily says:

    It does, however, show the unseriousness of this administration when it cmes to fighting terrorism. An administration that either really cared about fighting terrorism, or was able to competently pursue that goal, would not be interfering for political purposes with any aspect of intelligence gathering and would not tolerate within its upper eschelons people who did.

  2. James Joyner says:

    lily: What aspect of intelligence gathering did they interfere with in this case? The story was about discrediting Joe Wilson’s motives in the Niger trip. It still appears that those who “outed” his wife did so without the understanding that her employment at CIA was a secret.

    If Rove and company actually knew she was “covert” and released her name simply to embarrass her husband, they should go to jail. Regardless, it would have had zero impact on intelligence gathering, merely on Plame’s theoretical career track.

  3. legion says:

    It still appears that those who â??outedâ?? his wife did so without the understanding that her employment at CIA was a secret.

    That’s completely irrelevant to the amount of damage that may (or may not) have been done by her outing. I hadn’t heard that she was actively working undercover when she was outed… if that’s true, then this just took a whole new, ugly turn. Perhaps some intel pro on the site can comment, but I can’t think of any reason why a simple ‘desk analyst’ would simultaneously have NOC status – it makes no damn sense.

    But even if she wasn’t actively undercover, she still got dragged through the mud in front of the national media for purely partisan revenge against her husband. If that happened in your office, to one of your co-workers, do you really think it would have no effect on the office’s ability to work? To provide unvarnished truth to decision makers?

    Further, no one Iâ??m aware of has argued that our ability to track Iranâ??s progress in gaining nuclear weapons is at issue, period. The problem is our decided lack of good options in responding to what we do know.

    This statement makes no sense… nobody argued about the impact on our Iran tracking because before now, nobody outside the CIA knew she was working on Iran. We still have no clear idea of what she was actually doing at the CIA, so there’s no way we can tell what sort of impact her outing might have had.

  4. James Joyner says:


    Unclear how she was “dragged through the mud” other than the assertion that she helped get her hubby the Niger assignment.

    We still have no clear idea of what she was actually doing at the CIA, so there�s no way we can tell what sort of impact her outing might have had.

    But we know that Iran has been building nukes, unabated, for years. We’ve got a pretty good idea how close they are. So, unless she was personally in charge of leading a SEAL team in to take out the locations, there’s no reason to think that anything at the CIA had any impact on the Iran program. After all, Novak didn’t publish the name of anyone working the North Korea desk and the CIA did nothing to stop their program.

    The fact that the exact nature her job remains secret does not mean we can simply posit that the world as we know it would be radically different had Bob Novak not published her name.

  5. Stormy70 says:

    Valerie should not let her husband leak to the NYT if she was planning on staying “undercover”. Instead she introduced Wilson to Kristof and played hostess, while he spilled lies about what he found. He was a campaign advisor to Kerry at the time, as well. Nice set up, if you can get it. Too bad his lies were exposed, and Kerry dropped him like a hot potato.
    The judge in the case just demanded the referral letter from the CIA, it will be interesting whose names are listed on it. Why was Fitz so adamant in not giving it up to the defense?

  6. Bithead says:

    Well, that’s an amusing notion. Let’s assume for the moment, that we’re being told the truth, here… always a large assumption where this woman is concerned, particularly when the leftist media gets ahold of it. This also makes the assumption that someone in the Bush administration leaked the name… again, a large (and unwarranted) assumption.

    But for the hell of it, let’s go with this…

    Given the intel water was so muddy on Iraq.. (and I think we’ll see her and her camera-hound husband, were responsible for a good deal of that mud…) …one wonders if the reason she got outted was so that the waters weren’t quite so muddy for Iran. If so, the obvious conclusion is that the Administrations ability to track Iran’s Nuke program wasn’t damaged by her outting, but rather, damaged by it being her task to track it….her very involvement with it.

    Of course, that’s not how the KOSsacks will take this one.

  7. Ugh says:

    It still appears that those who â??outedâ?? his wife did so without the understanding that her employment at CIA was a secret.

    The fact that they didin’t bother to find out is evidence of their non-seriousness about WMD and terrorism issues.

  8. Randy says:

    Another relevant point is that by disclosing her status as a “CIA operative”, Rove made it easy for Novak to expose the entire operation she was associated with. Brewster-Jennings, the brass plate cover company she was working for was effectively destroyed as an intelligence-gathering organization. Now that Bush has destroyed our intel out of Iran, he can catapult any sort of propaganda without the facts getting in the way. Anybody that can’t see recent history repeating itself must be wearing blinders.

  9. soccer dad says:

    The notion that Bob Novak was the administration’s tool to “out” Valerie Plame and discredit her husband is absurd. It might hold some water if Novak supported the war; but he was against it. Most likely Novak was curious why someone as anti-war as Wilson was hired to make the administration’s case. He asked why Wilson was sent because it made no sense for the administration to request his services.
    He probably went to someone in the administration and asked “Could you tell me why this administration that was hellbent on starting the war would use a war opponent to uncover data to make the case for war?”
    And the answer was, “Oh didn’t you know that his wife works for the CIA and she recommended him?”

  10. Randy says:

    Novak looked into Valerie Plame’s history and found Brewster-Jennings. Like the dumb-f#%$ that he is, he wrote about Brewster-Jennings in the column he wrote a week after the one that revealed Plame worked for the CIA. He was a tool, just probably an unwitting one.

  11. Randy says:

    James Joyner, you wrote “It still appears that those who â??outedâ?? his wife did so without the understanding that her employment at CIA was a secret.”

    That’s a valid point, which brings us back to the all-too-familiar question, “Is the Bush administration against American interests, or are they just incompetent”. I for one am sick of the incompetence defence.

  12. legion says:

    I seem to recall a rather Swiftboat-esque smear campaign hinting at cronyism on Plame’s part, but I can’t pull a reference to my fingerips…

    But as for the WMD issue, I wan’t implying she was some sort of early-model Jaqueline Bauer, single-handedly foiling terrorist plots; rather that the Administration’s revenge-leaking and ham-fisted propagandizing could have had a chilling effect on other CIA folks’ work tracking WMDs… Novak didn’t _have_ to drop a dime on anyone working on NK nukes (or AQ Khan, etc) for that.

  13. Luv2Box says:

    Give me a Democrat that has a solid plan that is better/different than the Bush administration and I will support him. The simple fact is that we don’t have all the facts about Plame and her outing. What we do know is that at least Bush is actively pursuing terrorism and trying to stamp it out. A very difficult task indeed.