October 4, 2003


The Laws of the Father Are Visited Upon the Son (Philip Agee, LA Times, 10/3/2003)

The current brouhaha over the outing of an undercover CIA officer brings to mind vivid memories and comic ironies. The 1982 law that now threatens Karl Rove, or whoever it was who leaked the officer's name, is the Intelligence Identities Protection Act — and it was adopted to silence me.

I was a CIA agent for 11 years in Latin America, but I quit in 1969 and wrote a book that told the true story of my life in the agency....

Bush the elder and other CIA officials repeated the same lie many times over: That by publicly identifying Richard Welch, the CIA chief in Athens who was assassinated by terrorists in December 1975, I was responsible for his death....

The son of George and Barbara is now a sitting American president with a harsh, neo-imperialist agenda, including waging war to ensure U.S. control of Middle East oil....

U.S. intelligence officers are being outed, and the law violated, by the Bush administration itself as part of a cheap political tactic to punish an enemy and to maintain support for a dishonest and indefensible war.

Agee, living as a guest of Fidel Castro, seems to be a model of modern leftism. He has certainly kept up with the slogans. Perhaps he was just ahead of his time.

Today the Agees at the CIA seem to be quite at home: to judge by the eagerness of senior CIA officials to sabotage Tony Blair and George Bush, new Agees have taken over the shop. CIA leakers, for instance, appear to have helped drive the July media frenzy over the Niger statement that came near, some thought, to toppling Blair. We know this to be true on testimony of the media: the press accounts of the time attributed their revelations to CIA officials. And there are other indications, as Representative Peter King suggests, that the CIA has acted as a rogue agency.

In order for the White House leaks of Ms. Plame's status as a CIA employee to qualify as a crime, the relevant parts of the anti-Agee act (50 U.S.C. sec. 421,text of the law, Pejman quotes & comments, summary by Washington Post) require that the leaker must "authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent" and "[know] that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent." It seems unlikely that the CIA would have authorized access to White House political appointees to classified information about Ms. Plame's Clinton-era covert trips; why should they? And if the CIA did not, then how could White House staff have learned that Mrs. Wilson, who apparently took her last collections management trip abroad in 1999, had been a covert agent within the prior five years? They arrived in government in 2001, knew Mrs. Wilson only as an analyst, and the CIA presumably does not gratuitously distribute information about past covert activities of its employees. Therefore, it seems unlikely that White House leakers can be criminally culpable, at least under this act.

The back-story behind the leaks remains interesting. When the vice president asked the CIA to investigate the Niger uranium matter, they selected a partisan Democrat, not a CIA employee; and this man went on a very public journey, did an apparently cursory investigation, and quickly thereafter published a piece hostile to the administration in the New York Times. And when this remarkable behavior caused members of the press to ask White House sources why they apparently selected a partisan Democrat to investigate a sensitive political matter, White House officials apparently provided the following explanation: Wilson was selected by the CIA, not the White House; and the CIA's reason for this choice was likely either a case of nepotism or perhaps a more troublesome desire to orchestrate a partisan attack. (Tom Maguire has similar thoughts about motive.)

Now consider this speculative possibility: suppose Valerie Wilson was among the CIA officials leaking the CIA's negative assessment of the British Niger uranium claim. If Mrs. Wilson was indeed a CIA leaker, she would have had to identify herself to news reporters as an employee of the CIA. Therefore, as she knew herself to have been a covert agent, she would herself have been in violation of the anti-Agee statute. Would it not be deliciously ironic if the Justice Department's investigation should find that the only criminal violation of the anti-Agee act was perpetrated -- by Valerie Plame Wilson?

Posted by Paul Jaminet at October 4, 2003 4:45 PM

You guys are kind of reaching here. IN an admininstration that even hinted at integrity, people would have been charged by now. So, Ashcroft will probably let them walk...

Posted by: Philip Shropshire at October 4, 2003 5:12 PM

What planet are you from Philip? Can you give any evidence whatsoever to back up that claim?

Posted by: Timothy at October 5, 2003 10:21 AM

Philip - No administration with integrity would charge people before investigating, uncovering the facts, and comparing deeds to law to discover whether the laws were violated. We'll have to see what they come up with. I think it's likely that no one will be charged, and that that judgement will be reached in integrity and fidelity to both law and national security.

Posted by: pj at October 5, 2003 12:57 PM