Seriously, was Plame 'covert'?
July 12, 2006 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I need to know, definitively, was Valerie Plame's status 'covert'?

A right-wing nutjob twit I argue with on the internet (blahblah...special olympics...blahblah...I know) refuses to acknowledge this. I've thought this headline was clear enough, but apparently not for him.

My assertion is that 1) she was 'covert' by the legal definition for this circumstance, and 2) Novak was investigated because this was the case, and 3) the question was whether he/others knew of her covert status when the leak happened. In order for points 2 and 3 to follow, I have to show 1 is true.

And then, once I prove this to this fool, I will stop arguing with him and bemoan the waste of my weekly question on MetaFilter. Thanks in advance.
posted by Kickstart70 to Law & Government (16 answers total)
I don't know if this will convince your debating partner, but the Special Counsel's indictment of Scooter Libby
makes a finding that her status was classified and not known outside of the intelligence community.
posted by pasici at 10:30 AM on July 12, 2006

I have not been able to find enough spin-free information to make my my own mind on the matter, and there appears to be an equal number of people making convincing-sounding arguments on both sides of the matter. It certainly seems to me, from what I read, that someone broke the law. But...

The exhaustive investigation into the matter does not appear to have turned up credible evidence that the law in question was broken. My faith in our justice system is neither blind nor absolute, but I do tend to err on giving it the benefit of the doubt.

I wouldn't be comfortable strenuously arguing that Plame was covert when people with access to more and better information than me couldn't make the case.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:37 AM on July 12, 2006

I go back to the Special Counsel; read his press conference where he was asked, "Why no indictment for the leak?" His answer is very clear: he was not uncertain about Ms. Plame's status, but Mr. Libby's motives.

That being said, he interestingly makes a distinction between what I said earlier and being covert:

QUESTION: Can you say whether or not you know whether Mr. Libby knew that Valerie Wilson's identity was covert and whether or not that was pivotal at all in your inability or your decision not to charge over the intelligence identity --

MR. FITZGERALD: Let me say two things. Number one, I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert and anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002 forward, I will confirm; that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003; and all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally, outted a covert agent. We have not charged that and so I'm not making that assertion.

Fitzpatrick is very clear that outing Ms. Plame was bad for all of us:

Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community. Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life. The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known for her protection or for the benefit of all of us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, they be protected not just for the officer but for the nation's security.

Shouldn't that be the bottom line?
posted by pasici at 11:06 AM on July 12, 2006

The "definitive" proof for me is the Director of the CIA (Wm. Tenet) formally asked the Attorney General (J. Ashcroft) to investigate the potential breakage of the Intelligence Protection Act.

With no covert agent, the Intelligence Protection Act has not been broken, and there is nothing to investigate. The CIA knows whether an agent is covert or not, so merely requesting the investigation is proof the agent (Plame) was covert.
posted by ewagoner at 11:07 AM on July 12, 2006

In a February 15, 2005 ruling [PDF] on the issue, the court's opinion stated:
"As to the leaks’ harmfulness, although the record omits specifics about Plame’s work, it appears to confirm, as alleged in the public record and reported in the press, that she worked for the CIA in some unusual capacity relating to counterproliferation. Addressing deficiencies of proof regarding the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the special counsel refers to Plame as 'a person whose identity the CIA was making specific efforts to conceal and who had carried out covert work overseas within the last 5 years' —representations I trust the special counsel would not make without support."

(8/27/04 Aff. at 28 n.15.)
posted by ericb at 11:13 AM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Interesting...any ideas why they call her 'classified' and have her name marked with an 'S' for secret, but that it's apparently extremely difficult to translate that to the word 'covert'?
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:24 AM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: Here's the definition of a covert agent:
(4) The term “covert agent” means—
(A) a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency—
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and
(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States; [snip B and C]
The "Plame was not covert" argument focussed on 4Aii. Did Plame serve outside the U.S. in the 5 years before she was outed? The wingnuts say no since she moved to Virginia and had kids about 6 years before she was outed. But it's a pretty big assumpted to just assume that meant she never travelled overseas and did her job.

And it would appear that she did travel overseas and do work as a clandestine agent. Is that "serving"? If so, she was covert.
posted by fleacircus at 11:43 AM on July 12, 2006

Here's a couple of blog posts by former CIA officer Larry Johnson that speak to the issue. It's nothing that'll sway the mind of someone whose mind is made up, but if all you're looking for is clean hands & logic on your side so you can declare victory & walk away, here it is.
posted by scalefree at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2006

This doesn't answer the question, per se, but the real trouble is that Plame's "cover" was that of an employee of an energy company that was a front for the CIA. Therefore, no only was her "cover" blown, it was also blown for every person that was tied to the company in any way, shape or form.

This has a tremendous ripple effect. Plame's cover was blown, the company's cover was blown, the other agents cover was blown, and any agent of a foreign government that even talked to anyone at this energy company would now be considered compromised by their own government, so now they're considered useless as a contact for the CIA.
posted by frogan at 1:10 PM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: Justice launches probe into CIA leak, October 2003:
The CIA declined to discuss Plame's intelligence work, but an agency official disputed suggestions that she was a mere analyst whose public exposure would have little consequence.

"If she was not undercover, we would have no reason to file a criminal referral," the CIA official said, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The Prosecutor Zeroes In, October 2005:
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, never worked for WINPAC, an analysis unit in the overt side of the CIA, and instead worked in a position in the CIA's secret side, known as the directorate of operations, according to three people familiar with her work for the spy agency.
From paragraph 1F of the Libby indictment [PDF]:
At all relevant times from January 1, 2002 through July 2003, Valerie Wilson was employed by the CIA, and her employment status was classified. Prior to July 14, 2003, Valerie Wilson's affiliation with the CIA was not common knowledge outside the intelligence community.
they call her 'classified' and have her name marked with an 'S' for secret
The paragraph about Valerie Plame was classified as secret; the entire memo was top secret.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:14 PM on July 12, 2006

The short answer is that it's not publicly known whether and when she was a covert officer. The CIA hasn't said one way or the other.

One can speculate until the cows come home, based on what information is available and on the CIA's and Fitzgerald's action and inactions, and many people (including in the media) have done so, but speculation is all it is.
posted by jaed at 5:29 PM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: At this point I'd like to point out that this could well be the effect a very conventional (and effective) PR strategy.

If you can't categorically *negate* what the opposition is saying, then you introduce as many terms as possible to blur it. From the point of view of public perception, introducing doubt of the opposition points is almost as valuable as categorical proof to negate it.

Which is to say, if you can't say, "no, she was not covert," then you surround the subject and shift the debate. I know folks who do this for a living, it's not theory, and it's wildly effective. It's not about distracting from the truth, it's about redefining what truth is up for grabs.

No disrespect, Kickstart (serious!), but I think you're using other people's language, and that language is designed to exhaust a truth, to starve it out. With the debate framed such, you can debate these points forever, and that's exactly the point.
posted by cloudscratcher at 8:46 PM on July 12, 2006

Response by poster: cloudscratcher: Thanks. That makes it clearest of all...I can't win this argument until the CIA says "she was covert" or not, and that doesn't sound likely to happen. The twit can feel superior for today, I suppose.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:52 PM on July 12, 2006

Kickstart, that's effectively what I said in the second reply to this posting (but apparently not sufficiently clearly not to have it flagged and killed) -- you have to define with your RWNJT precisely what he thinks you're supposed to be trying to prove, before you can actually prove it.
posted by baylink at 9:00 PM on July 12, 2006

Plame sues White House figures over CIA leak --
Former CIA officer and husband file lawsuit against Cheney, Libby, Rove.
posted by ericb at 12:48 PM on July 13, 2006

And here's the CNN piece; I *just* got the breaking news page; apparently MSNBC scooped CNN good on this one.
posted by baylink at 1:02 PM on July 13, 2006

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