Thursday, July 21, 2005

State Dept. Memo Marked Plame's Identity "Secret"

The plausible deniability angle for senior Bush administration officials involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak case is getting smaller and smaller. The Washington Post has the story:

"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.

Prosecutors attempting to determine whether senior government officials knowingly leaked Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative to the media are investigating whether White House officials gained access to information about her from the memo, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

The memo may be important to answering three central questions in the Plame case: Who in the Bush administration knew about Plame's CIA role? Did they know the agency was trying to protect her identity? And, who leaked it to the media?

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.

Wilson has said his wife's identity was revealed to retaliate against him for accusing the Bush administration of 'twisting' intelligence to justify the Iraq war. In a July 6 opinion piece in the New York Times and in an interview with The Washington Post, he cited a secret mission he conducted in February 2002 for the CIA, when he determined there was no evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium for a nuclear weapons program in the African nation of Niger.

White House officials discussed Wilson's wife's CIA connection in telling at least two reporters that she helped arrange his trip, according to one of the reporters, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, and a lawyer familiar with the case.

Prosecutors have shown interest in the memo, especially when they were questioning White House officials during the early days of the investigation, people familiar with the probe said."

Okay, three points here:

1. Anybody who read or saw the memo should have known Plame's identity was "secret". According to The Wall Street Journal, the federal government has three designations for sensitive material: "top secret," "secret," and "confidential" - all indicating various levels of 'damage' to national security." The memo - and everything in it - was designated the second level - "secret."

2. The memo shows that the State Department didn't believe the Bush administration's assertions that Saddam had tried to purchase uranium from Niger. Only two sentences were devoted to Ms. Wilson. Yet the Bushies conveniently ignored the contents devoted to showing why the State Dept. believed the Saddam/Niger uranium tie was bullshit and focused on the two sentences devoted to Ms. Wilson.

3. The current and former government officials who divulged the "secret" designation of the memo to the Washington Post seem to be sending a message to other current and former Bush administration officials. I'm guessing Colin Powell is one of the "former" government officials and the message he seems to be sending to Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and perhaps even the preznit and the vice preznit, is - don't try blaming this Plame mess on me. I know where the bodies are buried and I can hurt you more than you can hurt me.

Finally, this story also shows that the administration's apologists, led by RNC chairman/confirmed bachelor Ken Mehlman, are way off base when they assert that the Plame leak was not a crime because Valerie Plame wasn't really a covert agent. This memo clearly shows that her identity should have been kept "secret". Many of the apologists have tried to minimize the story by saying Plame was nothing but a partisan Democrat out to get the administration. But I think the memo clearly puts that lie to rest.

And secret means not confirming the identity to Robert Novak or leaking it to Matt Cooper.

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