Mar 05 2007

Imagining a Covert Agent

Published by at 2:50 pm under Guest Bloggers,Plame Game

As the trial of Scooter Libby nears its end, the pundits on each side of the case have been fighting about one fundamental issue: was Plame a covert agent when Novak published her CIA credentials? Larry Johnson says yes, Victoria Toensig says no. I’ll admit up front that I am biased against Mr. Johnson, and would tend to believe anyone other than him. His many attempts to intimidate me, his (hollow) legal threats, and his (flamboyant) ad hominem attacks, all are signs to me that this man has a hard time dealing with the truth. Unfortunately for Mr. Johnson, it is not my personal bias towards him that drives my doubt as to whether Plame was covert, per legal definition; it is a collection of facts that seem to indicate that he is not being honest.

At the outset we must ask ourselves why this has become an issue at all. The answer to that is very simple and perhaps not all that surprising. Two days after Novak’s article was written, David Corn, after interviewing Mr. Wilson, indicated that Mrs. Wilson was a covert agent and that the disclosure of her affiliation with the CIA would possibly constitute a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. David Corn was the first person to disclose publicly that Plame “apparently has worked under what’s known as “nonofficial cover”” and in the same article insinuated that Plame was “a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security”. He then related the possible violation of law, not simply disclosing classified information but:

Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent.

Corn noted that it had been a whole two days, two days, without any public outcry or investigation. After Corn claimed, for the first time, that Plame may have been a covert agent protected by a specific statute, it became a hot issue. No one would have ever known whether Plame had “nonofficial cover” or that she was any kind of covert agent had it not been for David Corn writing this article, and we must assume he got this information directly from Mr. Wilson. If not, who else would have told Corn that Plame had nonofficial cover or that she was a covert agent? Enter Larry Johnson.

Larry Johnson has operated as the PR agent for the Wilsons since this whole thing began, covering for Jason Leopold when his Wilson-friendly “scoops” went sour, and consistently spinning for the Wilsons in the media or on his blog. Mr. Johnson, aside from Corn, has been the most conspicuous contributor to the notion that Valerie Plame was a covert agent covered by the IIPA. However, this was problematic because Johnson had known Valerie since their early CIA days together, why would anyone believe simply him or a journalist like Corn? That’s where Johnson’s group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), stepped in. Johnson recently tried to defend his position against that of Mrs. Toensig by arguing that there were a lot of CIA folks who backed him up:

Ask Tyler Drumheller, Chief of the European Division ofthe CIA Directorate of Operations. Ask Robert Grenier. Ask me. Ask Jim Marcinkowski.Ask Mike Grimaldi. Ask Brent Cavan. Ask Gary Berntsen. Ask Mike Gorbel. instead of talking to CIA officers who know firsthand, you rely on Victoria Toensing, who has ZERO experience as a CIA officer. Hell, ask John McLaughlin. Ask Bill Harlow(oops, I forgot, he already told your reporters she was undercover and asked them ot to report it.)

You’ll have to forgive Johnson for not being a very good typist. You’ll also have to forgive Johnson for making things up, as he has a habit of doing. I checked the record to see whether all of these people have stated that Plame was in fact covert. Tyler Drumheller has never stated such a thing. Neither has Robert Grenier. Neither has Gary Bernsten. Who the hell is Mike Gorbel, does anyone know? Google sure as hell doesn’t. John McLaughlin and Bill Harlow, make a wild guess as to whether they have ever stated that Plame was covert. Johnson tries to pretend Harlow said so, when in fact the Libby trial has shown that he simply told Novak not to publish her name (something Novak disputes), and that it would cause “embarrassment” if she were named; nothing about her being “covert”.

So already Johnson has tried to inflate his own claim, that Plame was covert, by putting words in the mouths of six people! None of these people have ever stated this on record, as far as a search on their comments about the case shows. If Johnson would like to provide cites of these people saying this, I’d love to see them, since he has never done so. The remaining people are Jim Marcinkowski, Mike Grimaldi, and Brent Cavan. All of these guys are associated with Johnson’s VIPS group and are thus as reliable about this matter as Johnson.

In summary, the only people fronting the view that Plame was a covert agent protected under the IIPA are David Corn and VIPS, all of whom are closely tied to Wilson and cannot be seen as independent corroboration for this issue as a factual matter. Why would Johnson have to exaggerate the number of people who stood behind his claim if it was the truth? More importantly, why haven’t the Wilsons fronted this view themselves? If it’s OK for Johnson to parade around town saying she was covert, why can’t the Wilsons just say so themselves?

In the civil suit that the Wilsons filed, Plame’s job with the CIA is always referred to as her “classified CIA employment”. The word “covert” only appears once in the entire document, and is being used in the sense of her identity with the CIA not being publicly known, stating, “The disclosure of Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity…” Valerie’s job with the CIA was covert in the plain English sense, but that is not the matter at hand here, as David Corn and Johnson contend that she was a covert agent according to the law (IIPA). Should not the Wilson suit have stated “covert CIA employment” if that is in fact what it was? The Wilsons have never stated for the record what Plame’s actual status at the CIA was, aside from classified.

Something I have learned over the past few years is that those who are good at leaking information to the press know to leak information that they will most likely not be held accountable for, because whoever the information is about will be expected to deny it, whether it is true or not, and that they will not be likely to share any information that refutes it. Larry Johnson can claim that Plame is covert all he wants. He knows that the CIA is not likely to go on record with the truth in either case. Even if the CIA were to deny it, he could contend that they were simply denying it to shield the truth, because they would be expected to deny such a sensitive matter. Either way, Johnson wins. He knows this. This is exactly why it is Johnson, and not the Wilsons, who are claiming this publicly. The Wilsons play the “we can’t speak about this because it is a sensitive issue” card, while Johnson is given full freedom to claim whatever he wants.

In attempting to back up his claim, Johnson manages to contradict himself. After arguing that there are only two types of agents at the CIA, overt and covert, Johnson delivers this:

Here is the irony? If Valerie had been an overt employee or a covert employee not covered by IIPA then Scooter Libby would not have had to lie to FBI agents because there would not have been an investigation. But Valerie was a covert agent.

Back up the bus here, Johnson says here that it is possible for a covert employee to not be covered by the IIPA, and then says that Valerie was a covert agent. OK? But if a covert employee doesn’t necessarily have to be covered by the IIPA, according to Johnson, then simply stating that Plame was covert doesn’t resolve whether she was covered by the IIPA, does it? The IIPA itself states that a “covert agent” is only a person who is governed by the definitions laid out in that law. If those conditions are not met, they are not a “covert” agent. As Tom Maguire tried to relate to Johnson in the comments (to which Johnson characteristically responded that he was “thick as mule shit”), you are either an overt agent, a classified agent, or a covert agent. Only covert agents are covered by the IIPA.

The Wilson suit names her as having had “classified CIA employment”. The CIA referral to the DoJ, as reported by Johnson himself, stated that it was about a “possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of classified information”. Judge Walton, the presiding judge over the Libby trial, has stated that he has seen this referral letter, but still does not know what Plame’s exact status was at the CIA. If Plame were covert and thus covered by the IIPA, would not this referral have stated a possible violation of criminal law concerning the unauthorized disclosure of a covert agent’s identity?

So far, we have allies of Wilson being the only ones fronting the argument that Plame was covered by IIPA; Johnson trying to inflate his claim by pretending more people back him up than actually do; and the referral letter to the DoJ stating it as being a matter of classified information, not about leaking a covert agent’s identity. We have absolutely no independent evidence to suggest that what Johnson says is true. In fact, the facts that we do have, and Johnson’s behavior, seems to indicate the opposite. There is one final piece of evidence that would seem inconsistent with Plame being a super secret agent.

In last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Departed, the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, William Costigan, is an undercover cop who infiltrates the Irish mob. He is employed by the Special Investigations Unit at the Massachusetts State Police. Matt Damon’s character, Sergeant Sullivan, works at this unit, and is a mole for the Irish mob. Now, it becomes apparent to the Irish mob that they have been infiltrated, but Sullivan cannot find out that it is Costigan for one simple reason: he was not allowed to know the identity of his own unit’s undercover cops. Costigan was handled by Captain Queenan and a sergeant played by Mark Wahlberg. No one else at the SIU was to know his identity.

With this in mind, consider the INR dossier sent to Marc Grossman, which included the meeting notes from the meeting where Valerie introduced Joe:

Meeting apparently convened by Valerie Wilson, a CIA WMD managerial type and the wife of Amb. Joe Wilson … Two CIA analysts seem to be leading the charge on the issue [redacted] the other guy’s name not available.

Now, for the movie The Departed, they hired a consultant who had worked with the Massachusetts State Police for 30 years to ensure that things were as accurate as possible. Thus I would expect that it was accurate that undercover cops were only known by identity to a very limited set of people within the unit they were operating for. This is state police we are talking about, now consider the CIA. If Plame was a covert agent, why would her name, position, and spousal relationship be related to counterparts from INR? More importantly, why was one of the analysts from the CIA not identified to INR, yet Plame’s details were passed on like a blunt at a rock concert?

These are the reasons why I do not believe Mr. Johnson’s self-inflated claims that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert agent covered by the IIPA. If the Massachusetts State Police Special Investigations Unit would protect the identity of an undercover cop from people within their own unit, it would seem highly unlikely that Plame’s details would have been so carelessly disclosed to people from an entirely different intelligence agency if she was in fact a covert agent.

If there was anyone at that meeting between INR and the CIA that was covert, it was the unidentified second analyst, not Mrs. Wilson. Larry Johnson can come up with as many imaginary friends on this issue as he wants, but he cannot erase the evidence that seems to prove him wrong.

62 responses so far

62 Responses to “Imagining a Covert Agent”

  1. Bikerken says:

    Well Soot, I have heard some more, this time from the horses mouth! These jurors are telling the press that they even felt sorry for Libby because they thought he was a scape goat for all the other conspirators Rove Cheney etc! What they are saying is not jury misconduct itself of course, but it does indicate how they judged the trial! None of that conspiracy nonsense was even allowed to be debated so they are admitting that they used outside the trial information to come to a verdict! Check and Mate!

  2. sbd says:

    There is no doubt that Plame\’s employment status was classified. Unless you can prove Valerie Plame Wilson was at no time outside of the United States in the 5 years preceding July 14, 2003, then you can not prove Plamewas not a covert agent.

    She married a high profile ambassador in 1998. Was pregnant with twins in 1999. Had the twins in 2000. Was not covert or out of the country for the previous five years. Period…