“The fact is, Karl Rove did not leak classified information.” So said Ken Mehlman, head of the Republican Party.
“I didn’t know her name. I didn’t leak her name.” So said Karl Rove of Valerie Wilson/Plame last year on CNN.
“He did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.” So said Robert Luskin, Rove’s attorney, after Newsweek reported Rove had been a source for Time magazine’s Matt Cooper but before Newsweek revealed a Cooper email that said Rove had told Cooper that “wilson’s wife…apparently works at the agency on wmd issues.”
The White House may be stonewalling on the Rove scandal, but the Rove camp–aided by its echo-ists in the conservative media–has been busy establishing the twin-foundation for his defense: he did not mention Valerie Wilson/Plame by name; he did not disclose classified information. The first of these two assertions is misleading and irrelevant; the second is wrong.
Did not disclose her name
According to Cooper’s email, Rove told Cooper that “Wilson’s wife”–not “Valerie Plame,” or “Valerie Wilson”–worked at the CIA. But this distinction has absolutely no legal relevance. Under the relevant law–the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982–a crime is committed when a government official (not a journalist) “intentionally discloses any information identifying” an undercover intelligence officer. The act does not say a name must be disclosed. By telling a reporter that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA officer, Rove was clearly disclosing “identifying” information. There was only one Mrs. Joseph Wilson. With such information in hand, Cooper or anyone else could easily have ascertained the name of this officer. (A Google search at the time would have yielded the name–and maiden name–of Wilson’s wife.) Revealing the name is not the crime; it’s disclosing information that IDs the officer. Imagine if a government official told a reporter, “At 3:15, a fellow in a green hat, carrying a red umbrella and holding a six-pack of Mountain Dew, will be tap-dancing in front of the Starbucks at Connecticut Avenue and R Street–he’s the CIA’s best undercover officer working North Korea.” That official could not defend himself, under this law, by claiming that he had not revealed the name of this officer. The issue is identifying, not naming. Rove and his allies cannot hide behind his no-name claim.
Don’t forget about DAVID CORN’s BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Rove and the Plame/CIA leak, the latest GOP pro-Rove spin, how a conservative columnist tried to recruit Corn for Rove’s defense, and other in-the-news subjects.
Did not disclose classified information
A reading of this law also indicates that if Cooper’s email is accurate then Rove did pass classified information to Cooper. It’s possible that Rove did so unwittingly. That is, he did not know Valerie Wilson’s employment status at the CIA was classified information. But he and his posse cannot say the information he slipped to Cooper was not classified.
The Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a crime to identify “a covert agent” of the United States. The law defines “covert agent,” in part, as “a present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency or a present or retired member of the Armed Forces assigned to duty with an intelligence agency whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information.” (My emphasis.)
This definition clearly recognizes that the identity of an undercover intelligence officer is “classified information.” The law also notes that a “covert agent” has a “classified relationship to the United States.” Since the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the Plame/CIA leak and the Justice Department affirmed the need for an investigation and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, once handed the case, pursued the matter vigorously, it is reasonable to assume that Valerie Wilson fits the definition of a “covert agent.” That means she has a “classified relationship” with the government.
By disclosing Valerie Wilson’s relationship to the CIA, Rove was passing classified information to a reporter.
“There is little doubt,” says Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, that the employment status of an undercover CIA officer, “is classified information.” He notes that the “most basic personnel information of the CIA–the number of personnel, the salaries–is classified. Anything more specific–like the identity of a NOC [an officer working under “nonofficial cover,” as was Valerie Wilson] or the numbers and identities of officers working in a particular region of the world–is classified.”
To sum up, it does not matter if Rove did not mention Valerie Wilson by name, and it is not true that the information he passed to Cooper was not classified.
Rove may still have a defense against criminal prosecution. Under the law, a government official is only guilty if he or she discloses information “knowing that the information disclosed so identifies” a “covert agent.” Rove could claim that he was not aware that Valerie Wilson was working at the CIA as a covert official. After all, there are CIA employees–analysts, managers, and others–who do not work under cover. If special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicts Rove or anyone else, the most difficult part of the case will likely be proving that the person charged with the crime meets this he-knew-she-was-undercover test.
Not all wrongdoing is a crime. But leaking classified information is always serious business. George W. Bush took an unambiguous stand on the leaking of classified information when he was asked on September 30, 2003, about Karl Rove’s possible role in the Plame/CIA leak. Bush noted,
I don’t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.
Well, now Bush knows. Rove, according to the Cooper email, did not leak a name but he did leak classified information. Much of his defense is in tatters. And where is Bush’s “appropriate action”?
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