The Scooter Libby indictment is rather straightforward. He first told FBI agents and later the grand jury that he had no independent information regarding Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie (and her employment at the CIA). He said that he only had picked up rumors about Wilson’s wife from reporters and that this was the information he passed to other reporters. He said he wasn’t even certain the scuttlebutt he had shared with the journalists was correct. Yet special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald uncovered evidence, which seems rather strong, that Libby actively gathered information on the Wilsons from the CIA and the State Department before talking to reporters about Valerie Wilson.
And the most intriguing piece of evidence Fitzgerald mentioned in the indictment (with, alas, no elaboration) was that on June 12, 2003–nearly a month before Joseph Wilson published his now-infamous op-ed piece on his trip to Niger but several weeks after he had shared information about this trip with the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof as an anonymous source–Vice President Dick Cheney told Libby, in the words of the indictment, that “Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division.”
By sharing this information with Libby, Cheney was telling his chief of staff that Wilson’s wife was employed by the Operations Directorate of the CIA–the clandestine service of the intelligence agency where undercover officers work. The Counterproliferation Division is part of the DO–as it been called within the CIA–and anyone familiar with the CIA, especially a senior administration official obsessed with weapons of mass destruction ought to know that. This short sentence suggests that Libby had reason to assume that (or wonder if) Valerie Wilson was working undercover at the CIA. As Barton Gellman noted in an important front-pager in Sunday’s Washington Post, this statement from Cheney was …an unambiguous declaration that [Valerie Wilson’s] position was among the case officers of the operations directorate…
It’s possible that Libby didn’t catch the significance of Cheney’s assertion. Or that he figured–wrongly–for some reason that Valerie Wilson worked in the Operations Directorate but was not operating under cover. But if the indictment is accurate–and Cheney’s office has not challenged it–Libby at the very least was profoundly careless in discussing Valerie Wilson with two reporters (Judith Miller of fhe New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time) without first checking on her position at the CIA. After all, it was the Vice President who had told him that she worked in the clandestine portion of the CIA.
Let’s sum up: Libby disclosed identifying information about a covert official of the US intelligence service after being told she was employed by a division of the Operations Directorate. This scenario comes close to being a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and it does appear that Fitzgerald, even recently, had contemplated seeking an indictment of Libby or someone else under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Just last week, FBI agents working with Fitzgerald were investigating issues that would be relevant to such a prosecution. But perhaps Fitzgerald realized it would be difficult to pursue this sort of case because Libby (or anyone else) could mount a defense by claiming he had not checked to see if Valerie Wilson specifically was under cover and, thus, did not really, really know her status.