November 3, 2005
In a surprise, closed-door debate,
Senate Democrats demanded an investigation of pre-Iraq War intelligence.
Here's an issue for them: Assess the validity of the claim that Valerie
Plame's status was "covert," or even properly classified, given
the wretched tradecraft by the Central Intelligence Agency throughout the
entire episode. It was, after all, the CIA that requested the
"leak" investigation, alleging that one of its agents had been
outed in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column. Yet it was the CIA's bizarre
conduct that led inexorably to Ms. Plame's unveiling.
When the Intelligence Identities
Protection Act was being negotiated, Senate Select Committee Chairman Barry
Goldwater was adamant: If the CIA desired a law
making it illegal to
expose one of its deep cover employees, then the agency must do a much
better job of protecting their cover. That is why a criterion for any
prosecution under the act is that the government was taking
"affirmative measures" to conceal the protected person's
relationship to the intelligence agency. Two decades later, the CIA, either
purposely or with gross negligence, made a series of decisions that led to
Ms. Plame becoming a household name.
* First: The CIA sent her husband, former
Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a sensitive mission regarding WMD.
He was to determine whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake, an
essential ingredient for nonconventional weapons. However, it was Ms.
Plame, not Mr. Wilson, who was the WMD expert. Moreover, Mr. Wilson had no
intelligence background, was never a senior person in Niger when he was in
the State Department, and was opposed to the administration's Iraq policy.
The assignment was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee,
at Ms. Plame's suggestion.
* Second: Mr. Wilson was not required
to sign a confidentiality agreement, a mandatory act for the rest of us
who either carry out any similar CIA assignment or who represent CIA
* Third: When he returned from Niger,
Mr. Wilson was not required to write a report, but rather merely to
provide an oral briefing. That information was not sent to the White
House. If this mission to Niger were so important, wouldn't a competent
intelligence agency want a thoughtful written assessment from the
"missionary," if for no other reason than to establish a record
to refute any subsequent misrepresentation of that assessment? Because it
was the vice president who initially inquired about Niger and the
yellowcake (although he had nothing to do with Mr. Wilson being sent), it
is curious that neither his office nor the president's were privy to the
fruits of Mr. Wilson's oral report.
* Fourth: Although Mr. Wilson did not
have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at
taxpayer's expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about
this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us,
writing about such an assignment would mean we'd have to bring our
proposed op-ed before the CIA's Prepublication Review Board and spend
countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional
oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the
publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with
the thrust of Mr. Wilson's oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had
been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency
never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in
* Fifth: More important than the
inaccuracies is the fact that, if the CIA truly, truly, truly had wanted
Ms. Plame's identity to be secret, it never would have permitted her
spouse to write the op-ed. Did no one at Langley think that her identity
could be compromised if her spouse wrote a piece discussing a foreign
mission about a volatile political issue that focused on her expertise?
The obvious question a sophisticated journalist such as Mr. Novak asked
after "Why did the CIA send Wilson?" was "Who is
Wilson?" After being told by a still-unnamed administration source
that Mr. Wilson's "wife" suggested him for the assignment, Mr.
Novak went to Who's Who, which reveals "Valerie Plame" as Mr.
* Sixth: CIA incompetence did not end
there. When Mr. Novak called the agency to verify Ms. Plame's employment,
it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to
publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA
really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the
top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.
* Seventh: Although high-ranking
Justice Department officials are prohibited from political activity, the
CIA had no problem permitting its deep cover or classified employee from
making political contributions under the name "Wilson, Valerie
E.," information publicly available at the FEC.
The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert
action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. It is up to
Congress to decide which.
Ms. Toensing, a Washington lawyer, is a former chief
counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and former deputy assistant
attorney general in the Reagan administration.