Monday, October 31, 2005

Collateral Damage

In an effort to convince the public that the Valerie Plame case really is a serious matter, 60 Minutes offered a segment last, outlining the consequences that result when a covert operative is "outed."

The report featured extended interviews with none other than (surprise!), former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who has parlayed exposure of his wife's CIA affiliation into a second career as a liberal icon, and former colleagues of Ms. Plame, who no longer work for the agency. Not surprisingly, all believe that "outing" of Ms. Plame caused serious damage to U.S. national security, by exposing the methods and techniques used to conceal operatives in the field.

Taking the segement at face value, you'd believe that exposure of Ms. Plame's CIA ties was the most serious intelligence scandal since the Hansen and Ames spy cases. As correspondent Ed Bradley gravely intoned:

"Valerie Plame was also exposed as a “NOC,” an agent working under non-official cover. That means shwasn'tsn’t attached to a U.S. Embassy or any other government agency when she worked overseas, which would have provided her protection if she was caught spying. In other words, she had no diplomatic immunity."

Sounds bad, doesn't it? But there's only one problem with that assertion. At the time her CIA connection was exposed, Ms. Plame hadn't been in a NOC assignment in more than five years--that's one reason Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald hasn't been able to indict anyone under the original referral in the case, that someone in the White House deliberately "outed" a covert agency operative. For the record, Ms. Plame was, at the time of Robert Novak's original column, an analyst working WMD issues for the CIA. The idea that the Plame leak exposed a NOC operative is simply fiction.

60 Minutes also expresses concern about the "outing" of the front company (Brewster-Jennings Associate) that provided cover for Valerie Plame and other agents. But once again, CBS conveniently omits certain salient facts that put this revelation in a different light. First of all, operative cover stories (or "legends, as they're known in the trade) are frequently changed, to help protect NOCs, or allow them to initiate new operations. The fact that Ms. Plame's "cover" hadn't changed underscores the non-sensitive nature of her position. Occupying a desk billet at Langley, there was little reason for the CIA to give her a new legend, because she wasn't undercover. (Emphasis mine). We can also assume that the agency changed or modified the legends for covert operatives using the Brewster-Jennings cover when the Novak column was first published. I'll also go out on a limb and speculate that Brewster-Jennings probably wasn't an "active" legend for CIA operatives at the time of the Plame disclosure, given the nature of the business, and the need to update legends on a frequent basis.

CBS also trots out the myth that the Wilson-Plame marriage will somehow endanger other Americans overseas. One of Plame's former agency associates postulates that the spouses of U.S. ambassadors might be in jeopardy, since Ms. Plame is married to a former ambassador. Based on that logic, hostile regimes might somehow assume that the spouses of many American ambassadors are really CIA operatives.

What absolute nonsense. Training wives or husbands of ambassadors as operatives would not only place them in danger, it would potentially threaten a host of diplomatic activities, something the State Department or the White House would never allow. Additionally, it's doubtful that such "espionage" would yield anything in the way of useful information, other than vague tidbits gleaned at diplomatic functions (which are already covered by other personnel), or at the local marketplace.

Finally, Wilson hints darkly that his wife has received threats since her cover was blown. "Did your wife ask the agency for protection?" Bradley inquired. At that point, in typical Wilsonian fashion, the story gets a little vague. "I don't go into security matters, " Wilson replied, "But you can be sure we discussed security at great lengths with various agencies."

For the record, the CIA maintains a protective staff which provides security for agency facilities and senior personnel. If CIA felt Ms. Plame was in grave danger, it would be easy for them to move her to a secure location, or provide 24-hour protection. So far, there is no indication that Ms. Plame is under the protection of her employer, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, or any other security organization. Additionally, there is no indication that the Wilsons have moved or significantalteredted their lifestyle in response to these reported "threats." As with many Wilson stories, his claims simply don't hold up to objective scrutiny.

But that's of little concern to the crew at CBS. Because Wilson has challenged the hated Bush Administration, his claims are automatically correct and truthful, no matter how ludicrous they actually are. Personally, I wish Ms. Plame and long and healthy life; I can only imagine the stories Joe Wilson would spin if she faced serious threats, or God forbid, something actually happened to her.


John Byrnes said...

Great analysis!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the kind words...I'm a fan of your blogs; glad you made it back from Iraq safely.

davod said...

Was her book published under the umbrella of the same corporatuo which owns CBS.

I often wonder what the proffessional journalists working for 60 Minutes think of these segments.

Surely, their research must reveal the errors in their presentation.