May 15, 2006
Fitzgerald and Plame's Covert StatusBy Douglas Hanson
Lost in all of the legal analysis by the punditry involving the Plame case is the fact that operational security terminology is being used by Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald to deliberately muddy the waters concerning Plame's covert status. This is what lies at the heart of the case; not some trumped up perjury charge against Scooter Libby.
Classified versus unknown
Fitzgerald and some in the media often refer to Plame as a 'classified' CIA agent. In fact, his indictment of Libby states that Plame was 'classified.' The term is used as if it applies to a person; but no person, including Plame, is ever 'classified' whether he or she is covert or not.
The term "classified" is used by the government to designate documents, briefings recordings and other media that must be withheld except to certain cleared individuals.
For example, the Army's personnel security program defines 'classified' as official information or material that requires protection in the interests of national security.
Meanwhile, 'access' is the ability and opportunity to obtain knowledge of classified information. I can't imagine that the CIA or other DoD agencies would be too much different in their interpretation of these terms. Plame and many millions of federal employees and service members therefore may be cleared at a certain level to view classified media, and may be granted access by virtue of their position and need to know.
But these people are not classified in and of themselves, and their job duties are known by friends, co—workers, and neighbors.
It is true every employee has a a federal job skill classification. But it is also important to split hairs. Mr Levin gets to the nub of the issue:
He is correct in that a classification doesn't necessarily mean that she was undercover. Being cleared to view classified material does not mean that one's identity is any kind of a secret.
The correct term for Plame, if she were she a true covert agent, would be 'unknown.' She would not be recognized as undercover even by her own intelligence community at large, with the exception of a very select few supervisors and perhaps a very few of her peers.
Fitzgerald's characterization of her being not 'widely known' as a CIA officer outside of Langley is irrelevant.
The janitor, the gate guard, and her co—workers knew she was a CIA officer, and therefore she in all likelihood was not an "unknown" covert operative. Unknown operatives don't generally drive through the front gate every day to go to HQ, and the person's status is not common knowledge in the building. And most of all, covert operatives don't normally attend Senate Democratic Policy strategy meetings with their husbands. Or, I guess they could, but wouldn't that be domestic spying?
Fitzgerald Avoids Exposing the Real Leak
Fitzgerald is now reluctant to address Plame's status at the time of her outing. Libby's defense team asked Fitzgerald to produce evidence that Plame was actually a covert agent at the CIA. They also asked the prosecutor to provide an estimate of the damage caused to national security by the revelation of her identity. Fitz refused both requests. Judge Walton then asked him for his rationale in not providing that information:
Perhaps unintentionally, Judge Walton had just hit upon the key concept in this whole affair. That is, if Plame were a true covert operative, she would be on a Non—official Cover list (NOC), which is itself a very highly classified document. Therefore, any NOC information passed along to any reporter or any government official outside of her select circle of supervisors and peers would be divulging classified information of the highest order.
Fitz is in another pickle. As Byron York states, he probably can't produce tangible evidence that the downstream effects of her outing damaged national security. And he can't produce direct evidence that Plame was in an unknown status as documented on a NOC list because, umm...err... that's highly classified.
We would probably never know if bits of the sacrosanct NOC list were divulged. I would hope that the CIA leakers' hypocrisy knows some bounds; after all, some of their real covert operatives' lives might be at stake if such were the case.
And in reality, it would be astounding if Plame were actually on the list. But, if the leakers would go so far as to reveal an operative on the list in order to further hurt the administration, then the agency is in much deeper trouble than we ever imagined.
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.