What Was Plame’s Job?

In an earlier post, James clipped from a humorous take on the Lewis Libby indictment written by Michael Kinsley. In the article, Kinsley reiterated a piece of conventional wisdom:

Two and a half years ago, Robert D. Novak published the name of an undercover CIA agent in his column.

But is there any evidence that this statement is true? Not that Novak outed Valerie Plame, but that she was “an undercover CIA agent.” This description of Plame has been used carelessly and consistently, but the terms “undercover” and “agent” are highly specific, and in fact at the heart of whether any serious crime was committed in this case.

Most people who work for the CIA are not undercover agents — they are non-covert analysts who work desk jobs in an office building in Langley, Virginia. And while they like to romanticize about their jobs, pretending to be secret agents who would have to kill you if you knew what they did for a living, in fact they are little more than researchers and paper-pushers (but with really cool business cards).

I’m not necessarily accusing Kinsley of trying to spin the story, but the terms used to describe Plame’s position at the CIA are essential, and the haphazard use of “undercover” and “agent” only obfuscate the very issue special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was charged with investigating.

UPDATE: Fitzgerald refers to Plame as a “CIA officer,” but fails to mention that not all CIA officers are clandestine agents. Also, Fitzgerald states that Plame’s job status was classified, but this is a vague statement — wouldn’t you assume that most (if not all) positions at the CIA are classified? It’s not like you’d expect them to have an online employee directory or something. Finally, Fitzgerald makes the completely ambiguous statement that Plame’s status “was not widely known outside the intelligence community.” It sounds to me that Fitzgerald had/has no case related to the purported violation of the federal Espionage Act, but found something to charge Libby with along the way. If in fact Valerie Plame was not a covert agent, or even if she was but was outed unknowingly, then this investigation should have ended once this was established. That Fitzgerald cannot definitively say that Plame’s outing meets the legal threshold for espionage calls into question the rationale for the entire investigation.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, US Politics, , , , ,
Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. ken says:

    Well since any information regarding her true job was, and as far as we know still is, classified I doubt if you will ever see any ‘evidence’ like a performance report or a pay stub that satisfies your definition of ‘evidence’.

    But if you are willing to take Fitzgeralds word for it he said that her job was classified and not known outside the CIA in todays press conference.

    Why are you conservative people making such a big deal out of information you are not supposed to have in the first place?

    She was a secret agent, a covert operative, a undercover spy, or whatever. It doesn’t matter what you call her job title. What does matter is that for national security reasons you, and I, and our nations enemies were never supposed to know that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

  2. Brian says:

    The problem with your rational is that Libby still lied and obstructed justice. Once those crimes were committed, they must be prosecuted. And by the way, if Fitzgerald was just looking for an excuse to indict someone in the administration, wouldn’t he have indicted Rove?

  3. jimbo says:

    At the time that Fitzgerald was appointed it was assumed, by the media especially, that a crime had been committed, namely outing a clandestine CIA operative. Unspoken in the indictment is a finding that no such crime was committed. Maybe so, but that does not excuse lying under oath in order to obstruct the investigation. If that is what Libby did, then he should be punished for it. I enjoyed Kinsley’s piece and thought it very well captured the idiocy that prevails both in the Bush administration and its enemies in the mainstream media. A pox on all of them.

  4. spencer says:

    Within the CIA the term “agent” has a very specific meaning that the Agency is very carefull about how they use it. As far as the CIA is concerned, the FBI has agents but the CIA does not.

    Within the CIA, agent means a foreign national that is providing information about their country to the USA. A US employee of the CIA is never an agent. US employees of the CIA are always refered to as “officers” with the organization.

    So anyone who calls a US employee of the CIA an agent is just showing that they are ignonorant of what they are talking about.

  5. Anderson says:

    Most people who work for the CIA are not undercover agents — they are non-covert analysts who work desk jobs in an office building in Langley, Virginia.

    Yes, but as Josh Marshall’s pointed out, Plame worked in Counterproliferation under the Ops directorate. The spook side. Anyone who gave a damn about honoring his oath to protect classified info, and who knew as much about CIA as Libby did, would at least have done some more checking before blowing Plame’s cover.

    All in all, not a very impressive argument, sir. The simple fact appears to be that, other than the general statutes against disclosing classified info, there is no law against blowing a classified operative’s cover, unless she comes under the very narrow IIPA. And the prosecutor was pretty plain about why an Espionage Act case was worth avoiding, on the facts to date.

  6. Just Me says:

    Good question.

    Now that I think about it, my husbands employment in the US Navy wasn’t classified, but the details of the job he did for the Navy were classified.

    Also, I remember trying to figure out a few years ago, how many employees the CIA has, and the number of employees is classified.

    This is why in the end, I am irritated with the fact that Fitzgerald didn’t at least say “My investigation discovered Plame does/does not meet the criteria for “covert” agent under the statute” I could understand if he determined she was covert, but couldn’t gather enough information to meet the rest of the statute in order to charge, but he should be able to state clearly whether or not her employment met the criteria for the statute.

  7. James says:

    Actually, the CIA is obliged to “no comment” any inquiry about the status of covert agents (recall Novak’s saying that the CIA did not tell him anything about her status). Moreover, the CIA is obliged to classify ANY information on the damage resulting from the disclosure of Plame’s status.

    This should not be so difficult for the conservative hawks to understand; it is exactly the same reason why the guests at Guantanamo are prevented from any contact with lawyers or the outside world; for fear of giving out important information affecting our security. ANY explanation from the CIA about Plame’s status or any resulting damage will be lapped up by our enemies and used to further destroy our clandestine networks. Duh!

  8. Keith says:

    Ah, you disprove your own theory. You’re convinced Valerie was merely a desk jockey. There’s no way she could have been undercover if she worked at Langley. Right? See how well that works. The perfect disguise.

    The fact is you can never know, I can never know, and Fitzgerald could never know. Read the 1947 National Security act, even the President is not authorized to know who is covert. Only the “Company” knows. And the “Company” claims she was covert. End of speculation.

    If Dick Cheney can classify which oil executives advise him on our national enery policy, then the “Company” can surely classify who’s covert. In fact, the law of the land grants that authority to the “Company” but no law grants Cheney his claim to secrecy.

  9. Anderson says:

    This is why in the end, I am irritated with the fact that Fitzgerald didn’t at least say “My investigation discovered Plame does/does not meet the criteria for “covert” agent under the statute”

    Just Me, this issue may still be the subject of debate inside Fitzgerald’s investigation. It’s certainly odd that they were quizzing neighbors last week about Plame’s status. Note the “not generally known” language in the indictment.

    It seems pretty clear that the fact that Plame was a CPD operative (tho apparently not active overseas since 1997), and not an “energy analyst” or whatever, was classified.

    Weirdly, the only law we know of that criminalizes the disclosure of that info is the Espionage Act. We need a better statute. Maybe if the Dems ever get Congress back, we’ll get one. The Repubs, judging by actions thus far, could care less.