Some Plame Truths

This weekend some interesting developments appeared to rip some holes in the Wilson Gambit and further erode Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's  credibility.

David Corn of The Nation magazine and VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) have pushed nonsensical claims that Valerie Plame was a nonofficial cover agent (NOC), supplying the necessary predicate for an Agee Act (Intelligence Identity Protection Act) prosecution. While I could find scant reporting in the pre—indictment period poking holes in this ridiculous notion, Saturday's Chicago Tribune carried five stories doing just that.

In two of the most significant articles, the paper showed how easy it was to mine data online and determine who was working for the agency, including finding people who'd worked at the reported Plame undercover front Brewster—Jennings, people who listed that outfit in their online resumes.  

Even more significant was another article in which for the first time agency insiders revealed the long bruited claim that  she was properly classified as a NOC was utter nonsense.  Here are some of those insiders' assertions:

A former senior American diplomat in Athens, who remembers Plame as "pleasant, very well—read, bright," said he had been aware that Plame, who was posing as a junior consular officer, really worked for the CIA.
According to CIA veterans, U.S. intelligence officers working in American embassies under "diplomatic cover" are almost invariably known to friendly and opposition intelligence services alike.

"If you were in an embassy," said a former CIA officer who posed as a U.S. diplomat in several countries, "you could count 100 percent on the Soviets knowing."

Plame's true function likely would have been known to friendly intelligence agencies as well. The former senior diplomat recalled, for example, that she served as one of the "control officers" (snip)
After Plame left her diplomatic post and joined Brewster—Jennings, she became what is known in CIA parlance as an "NOC," shorthand for an intelligence officer working under "non—official cover." But several CIA veterans questioned how someone with an embassy background could have successfully passed herself off as a private—sector consultant with no government connections.

Genuine NOCs, a CIA veteran said, "never use an official address. If she had (a diplomatic) address, her whole cover's completely phony. I used to run NOCs. I was in an embassy. I'd go out and meet them, clandestine meetings. I'd pay them cash to run assets or take trips. I'd give them a big bundle of cash. But they could never use an embassy address, ever."

Another CIA veteran with 20 years of service agreed that "the key is the (embassy) address. That is completely unacceptable for an NOC. She wasn't an NOC, period."

After Plame was transferred back to CIA headquarters in the mid—1990s, she continued to pass herself off as a private energy consultant. But the first CIA veteran noted: "You never let a true NOC go into an official facility. You don't drive into headquarters with your car, ever."
A senior U.S. intelligence official, who like the others quoted in this article spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that Plame "may not be alone in that category, so I don't want to suggest she was the only one. But it would be a fair assumption that a true—blue NOC is not someone who has a headquarters job at any point or an embassy job at any point."

To Libby's lawyers the issue is an important one. For if she never was covered by the IIPA it is hard to determine a motive for him to lie about his conversations with reporters, which supposed criminal lies form the basis of the indictment.

It will be harder still, I should think, for the Special Prosecutor to assert if she weren't a NOC that he had any legitimate purpose to continue with this investigation.  If you, like me, think the Constitution has a big 'no fishing' sign on it, prosecutors are not allowed to take testimony when no underlying crime is at issue. And that could certainly explain  Patrick Fitzgerald's refusal to turn over in discovery to Libby documentation of her status — which he mentioned as 'classified' in both his indictment press conference and the indictment itself.

But I am curious as to why this story suddenly, after all this time appears. Was Crewdson simply a far better reporter that the others who for the most part seem to have in their rolodex under "CIA" just the names and numbers of the anti—Administration VIPS? Or did, these people seek out the reporter? Now that Goss is cleaning house and much of the Plame gang is out, are the professionals feeling it's long past time to reprise the agency's tattered reputation?

Even more significant, as the federal prosecutors and investigators have descended on the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee and its staff, are they learning more about the Wilson Gambit, freeing from fear those who knew this was baloney?

With the exception in the Chicago Tribune, the press remains fairly incurious at the odd confluence of the sudden turning of Wilson, the defection of Clarke and Beers to the Kerry campaign and the Rockefeller memo on how to use Wilson to turn the Senate Intelligence Committee to partisan advantage. But the bloggers work on.

Last week, the Special Prosecutor went to great lengths to protect the source of the leak to Novak and Woodward, a seemingly identical source, against Libby's demand for this information. But the affidavit in which he named the source to the Court has been subjected to some preliminary typewriter analysis (similar to the one that exposed the TANG memo as a fraud), and that analysis suggests that the most likely source of all the named suspects  was Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's Deputy Secretary of State.

This would not be the first time Armitage has been suggested as the source of the leak. Newsweek suggested this some time ago, and analysis at the premiere Plamaniac site, Just One Minute, determined last year that supposition had much to commend it

What makes the efforts of the Special Prosecutor so puzzling is that these are the first documented reports of anyone in the Administration mentioning Plame's name to reporters. Even more puzzling is that this source actually does seem, unlike Libby, to have obstructed the Special Prosecution though he is not only uncharged, but the Prosecutor is taking great pains to keep his name secret.

As Tom Maguire notes:

IF the official leaked to Novak and Woodward, it is highly likely that the official neglected to mention the Woodward conversation until November 2005.  So here is someone who leaked to Novak, gave incomplete or misleading information to the prosecutor about his leaks, and yet his anonymity is being protected because, per the WaPo's paraphrase of Judge Walton, "there is no reason to sully the source's reputation because the person faces no charges". 

An official leaked Plame's identity to the press twice and misled the prosecutor about it; now, not only does he not face any charges, but the court is going out of its way to avoid sullying his reputation.  I can't wait to see how that is explained, and I bet Libby's defense will make this an issue.

Finally, Woodward has conceded that on June 23, 2003, he may have asked Libby about Plame after receiving this leak, and that he thinks Libby did not respond to it. June 23 is that date that Fitzgerald focused on, indicating that Libby first disclosed such information to a reporter—— Judy Miller—— on that date. Her own recollection of her grand jury testimony on what Libby, in fact, said to her on that date is so baffling and unclear that Fitzgerald only dared to throw it in the omnibus kitchen sink obstruction charge.

No one who's paid attention thinks she'll be a compelling prosecution witness. Moreover,since Libby's defense is that reporters were asking him, not that he was telling them, the fact that a reporter concedes he might have done just that on June 23 makes Fitzgerald's fixation on that date seem preposterous.

Perhaps if the man he was trying so hard to protect, the unidentified government source (UGO), is Armitage, it goes beyond being preposterous to become an attempt to cover up a fatally flawed investigation never designed to ferret out the truth.


According to Drudge

THE WASHINGTON POST's famous Watergate editor Ben Bradlee claims that it was former State Department Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage who was the individual who leaked the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame.

In the latest issue of VANITY FAIR: "Woodward was in a tricky position. People close to him believe that he had learned about Plame from his friend Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's former deputy, who has been known to be critical of the administration and who has a blunt way of speaking. 'That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption,' former WASHINGTON POST editor Ben Bradlee said."

'I had heard about an e—mail that was sent that had a lot of unprintable language in it.'"