State Memo Did Not Indicate Plame’s Role Was Secret
The State Department memo seen by most as the smoking gun in the Valerie Plame leak investigation contained no hint that she was a covert operative, Josh Gerstein reports.
Contrary to published reports, a State Department memorandum at the center of the investigation into the leak of the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, appears to offer no particular indication that Ms. Plame’s role at the agency was classified or covert. The memo, drafted by the then head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and addressed to the then secretary of state, Colin Powell, was carried aboard Air Force One as President Bush departed for Africa in July 2003. A declassified version of the document was obtained by The New York Sun on Saturday.
“In a February 19, 2002, meeting convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD manager, and the wife of Joe Wilson, he previewed his plans and rationale for going to Niger,” the memo from the State Department intelligence chief, Carl Ford Jr., said. Mr. Ford also drafted an earlier version of the memo, addressed to an undersecretary of state, Marc Grossman. Mr. Grossman apparently sought the information about Mr. Wilson’s trip after receiving inquiries from the then chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis Libby. Mr. Libby was indicted last year on charges he perjured himself and obstructed justice during the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty. While the indictment alleges that he discussed Ms. Plame with reporters, neither Mr. Libby nor any other person has been charged with illegally disclosing the CIA employee’s identity.
The gist of Mr. Ford’s memo has been previously reported in news accounts, but it has not been quoted from directly. In addition, the early leaks about the memo were selective, perhaps deliberately so. A Wall Street Journal article on July 19, 2005, citing an unnamed person familiar with the memo, reported that the memo “made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband’s intelligence gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn’t be shared.” The Journal account said the paragraph discussing Ms. Plame’s role in her husband’s trip was marked in a way to indicate it shouldn’t be disclosed.
A story the following day in the Washington Post, “Plame’s Identity Marked as Secret,” said correctly that the paragraph carried the mark “S,” signifying the middle level of three major tiers of classification.
Not noted in the previous press reports was the fact that six of the seven paragraphs in the memo are marked “secret,” while only one appears to mention Ms. Plame. In addition, virtually every paragraph in the attached supporting documents from the State Department about alleged Iraqi uranium procurement in Niger carries the “secret” designation. With most, if not all, of the Niger-related documents marked “secret” in a host of places, there is no particular reason a reader would think the classification was derived from Ms. Plame’s status or involvement.
A fair point, although one that has a dual edge. It’s often the case that it is not clear to a reader what elements of a classified document render it classified at a particular level. Indeed, it is sometimes the case that no particular bit of information in a document would itself be classified but that, taken in its totality, the package has been deemed sufficiently sensitive to merit classification. Regardless, however, the procedures for handling classified material requires authorized recepients of the information to treat the entirety of the received information as classified at highest level of the document or briefing unless otherwise authorized.
Hat tip: Jason Smith