Plame’s Identity Marked As Secret
Plame’s Identity Marked As Secret (WaPo, A1)
A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked “(S)” for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials. Plame — who is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson, in the memo — is mentioned in the second paragraph of the three-page document, which was written on June 10, 2003, by an analyst in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), according to a source who described the memo to The Washington Post.
The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the “secret” level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as “secret” the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.
Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame’s name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said. It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a federal official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA official if the person knows the government is trying to keep it secret.
Well, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The law is aimed at protecting the identity of officers undercover overseas, something Plame/Wilson had not been for well beyond the statutory period of five years.
Almost all of the memo is devoted to describing why State Department intelligence experts did not believe claims that Saddam Hussein had in the recent past sought to purchase uranium from Niger. Only two sentences in the seven-sentence paragraph mention Wilson’s wife.
The memo was delivered to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on July 7, 2003, as he headed to Africa for a trip with President Bush aboard Air Force One. Plame was unmasked in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak seven days later.
Karl Rove, President Bush’s deputy chief of staff, has testified that he learned Plame’s name from Novak a few days before telling another reporter she worked at the CIA and played a role in her husband’s mission, according to a lawyer familiar with Rove’s account. Rove has also testified that the first time he saw the State Department memo was when “people in the special prosecutor’s office” showed it to him, said Robert Luskin, his attorney.
The memo was drafted June 10, 2003, for Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, who asked to be brought up to date on INR’s opposition to the White House view that Hussein was trying to buy uranium in Africa. The description of Wilson’s wife and her role in the Feb. 19, 2002, meeting at the CIA was considered “a footnote” in a background paragraph in the memo, according to an official who was aware of the process.
It’s rather unlikely that Rove or Libby saw a memo for the eyes of an Undersecretary of State, let alone read the footnotes. It’s also unclear to me why her name would be classified “Secret,” given that she had not worked in a covert capacity or overseas for years. It’s rather odd for the fact that someone who works at CIA headquarters under their own name to be classified.
Of course, that won’t stop the conspiracy theorists. Kos and John of AmericaBlog think this thwarts the administration’s plan to divert attention from the Rove affair by rushing the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Because, goodness knows, trying to get a new Justice to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, who is often the deciding vote against their interests, in place by October would not be something the Administration was interested in.
Juan Cole takes the story at face value:
That it says “Secret” on it singlehandedly gets rid of all kinds of false assertions of the Republican noise machine, that Plame’s identity as an undercover operative was widely known, etc. […] On the other hand, that Pincus and VandeHei have to go to so much trouble to prove that the identity of a CIA operative working on Weapons of Mass Destruction was secret and shouldn’t have been blown by Rove is a tribute of sorts to Rove the master of spin and propaganda.
But these things are not mutually exclusive. Something can be simultaneously classified and widely known through open soures. Agencies are quick to classify and slow to declassify. Doing archival research, I’ve found such things as press releases for the next day’s paper classified as high as “Top Secret.” Even the likes of Andrea Mitchell have said that Plame’s employment by the CIA was well known.
At any rate, Kevin Drum is likely right: The most interesting thing here is that the State Department thought the Wilson trip was unnecessary, since the Niger-yellowcake story had already been discounted.