Wednesday, July 27, 2005

CIA Spokesman: Valerie Plame Was Covert

Many of the Republican apparatchiks who appear on the cable news and Sunday morning talk shows, led by RNC chairman/confirmed bachelor/Rovian protege Ken Mehlman, try to downplay the damage done in the Plame leak case by arguing that no crime was committed because Valerie Plame wasn't really a "covert" agent. Remember, under the Intelligence Identity Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert CIA operative to someone without a security clearance. But if Plame wasn't really "covert," as the Bush administration's apologists have argued, then no crime was committed and we can all continue happily with the business of moving America forward into the 19th century.

The culmination of this "not covert" argument came Sunday when Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Late Edition that Valerie Plame's covert status was problematic because "driving back and forth to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert." Roberts, through his spokesperson, later went on to say that he would hold hearings into "the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities" to see if perhaps the CIA is too generous in handing out a "covert" status to its employees. Roberts' spokesperson also said that Roberts will "review the probe of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame case for nearly two years."

On TPMcafe, former CIA agent (and Republican) Larry Johnson exposed the absurdity of Robert's argument that Plame couldn't be considered covert because she showed up to work at CIA headquarters every day:

"I guess Senator Pat Roberts believes that if he repeats a lie long enough it eventually becomes true. While it is one thing for a political bag carrier like Ken Mehlman to be woefully ignorant about CIA practices and procedures, it is downright alarming that Senator Roberts can be so misinformed. Today, while appearing on CNN's Late Edition, Roberts repeated the specious claim that Valerie Plame could not be undercover because she went to work everyday at CIA Headquarters.

Folks, there is no excuse for this level of incompetence. There are thousands of undercover CIA employees who drive through the three gates at CIA Headquarters in McLean, Virginia everyday. And this Senator from Kansas who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee has the audacity to blame CIA for intelligence failures? How can he recognize failures when he does not even understand the very simple basics about people who work undercover at CIA. He should spend more time reading up on the CIA and less time memorizing Ken Mehlman talking points."

Today, we get more evidence that Valerie Plame was indeed considered a "covert" agent by the CIA. In a front page article in The Washington Post, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow says that he testified before the grand jury last year that he spoke with journalist Robert Novak in the days before Novak outed Plame as a covert CIA operative in a column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Harlow says he "warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about her, her name should not be revealed." Harlow then checked Plame's status after his discussion with Novak and "confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified."

We have two CIA employees, including the former CIA spokesman, saying Plame was "covert" while Pat Roberts, Ken Mehlman, David Brooks, Bill Safire, Tucker Carlson, Congressman Peter King (R-NY), and other administration apologists argue that she wasn't "covert enough". Now let's ask a simple question: what if a Clinton administration official had revealed Plame's identity to a journalist as political payback instead of Bush administration officials committing this act? What would Pat Roberts, Ken Mehlman, David Brooks, Bill Safire, Tucker Carlson, Peter King and the rest be saying?

Simple: they would be saying that people in the Clinton administration had placed partisan politics above national security and somebody needed to be held accountable for it. And they would be right. Just as the people who today demand that the senior administration officials responsible for the leaking of Plame's name for partisan gain be held accountable for placing politics above national security are right.

Remember, it is not for Pat Roberts, Ken Mehlman, David Brooks, Bill Safire, Tucker Carlson, Peter King or any other Bush administration apologist to decide who gets "covert" CIA status. Only the CIA decides that.

POSTSCRIPT: As Josh Marshall has noted at, Pat Roberts wouldn't allow the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to look into the origins of the Niger document forgeries which allowed the Bush administration to argue in the first place that Saddam was attempting to buy uranium from Niger. Roberts' reasoning was thus: the FBI was looking into the matter and Roberts didn't want to interfere with an ongoing investigation. Yet now Roberts is happy to probe Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the Plame leak case while it is still ongoing! Obviously Roberts received his orders from the White House that Fitzgerald's investigation must be discredited in case Fitzgerald comes down with indictments of senior officials like Rove and Libby. So Roberts will attempt to paint Fitzgerald's investigation as political hackery, just the way the administration (and Roberts in the SSCI report on the Niger controversy) attempted to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson as a political partisan who got his job through nepotism. As Craig Crawford told Keith Olbermann on Countdown

"This is the politics of distraction. If you don't want to meet the merits of a charge, then just attack somebody else. It's what's happened with this effort to discredit Joe Wilson. It's what got them into trouble in the first place, and here they are doing it again. But if you spot the critics of Joe Wilson everything they want to say about him and his wife, it doesn't change the fact that the CIA basically launched an investigation of the White House for leaking an undercover agent's identity. None of that changes no matter what you say about Joe Wilson." (MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 7/25)

And since the Bush administration apologists can't meet the merits of the charges against Rove, Libby, et al., they attack and attack and attack. But none of that will matter if Fitzgerald comes down with indictments.

Or convictions.

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