The idea that the Bush administration, led by Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, plotted its revenge of a critic by endangering the life of his covert CIA agent wife is irresponsible and reprehensible enough. But this despicable, treasonous act also put at grave risk and danger the lives of countless other agents, presently stationed overseas on highly sensitive missions. And for this crime someone needs to go to jail. Let's hope that's what special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald meant after announcing the Libby indictment when he said the investigation "is not over."
Valerie Plame, wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, was outed in a July 14, 2003 column by conservative pundit Robert Novak. The outing was an act of revenge by Libby, Rove and Cheney in retaliation for Wilson's July 6, 2003 NY Times Op-Ed in which he refuted the Bushies' claim of an Iraq-Africa Uranium connection after his CIA-sponsored fact-finding mission to Niger proved nothing. Subsequently, it was inadvertently disclosed that Plame "worked" at Brewster Jennings & Associates, a front company set up in Boston for covert agents. Plame was surely not the only agent to have used Brewster as a cover, and its disclosure has likely put many in serious jeopardy. The company's identity became public because it appeared in Federal Election Commission records filled out in 1999 by Plame after contributing to Al Gore's presidential primary campaign.
Plame, a specialist in WMD, and like many agents, was a "non-official cover" operative, or NOC. As one former CIA official, Larry C. Johnson, explained, "that meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed." NOCs are not attached to a U.S. embassy or the State Department. Therefore they have no diplomatic immunity if caught spying.
On CBS's 60 Minutes Sunday, correspondent Ed Bradley interviewed Jim Marcinkowski, a deputy city attorney in Michigan and former CIA agent who trained with Plame in the late 80's. According to Marcinkowski, NOCs "are out there, what they would call "naked." With diplomatic immunity, the worst that can happen to you is that you get kicked out of the country. You don't have that kind of protection when you're a NOC."
Bradley cited the case of Hugh Redmond, "a NOC who was caught spying in Shanghai in 1951 and died after 19 years in a Chinese prison. To this day, the CIA denies he was an agent."
Bradley also spoke with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) about the potential harm that CIA agents worldwide now face resulting from the exposure of Plame's identity.
Bradley: "Have you had assurances that the agency is handling the fallout from this leak?"
Holt: "They have taken the usual procedures to protect the damage from spreading."
Bradley: "Is it possible that someone overseas, someone is going to jail because of this?"
Holt: "Sure, it's possible."
Bradley: "Is it possible that somebody lost their life?"
Holt: "It's possible. I don't know. There hasn't been a formal assessment. If there were, and I had been briefed on it, I couldn't talk about it."
The Plame outing could have serious lasting effects on the ability of agents to remain undercover. As Marcinkowski pointed out, Plame is the wife of a former ambassador, and that foreign intelligence agencies will be making the assumption that wives of other ambassadors could be CIA agents as well, exposing a large number of individuals to risk.
As for Plame's safety since she's been exposed, "There have been specific threats, beyond that I just can't go," said Wilson.
That these faithful, loyal U.S. servants, who put their lives at risk for the nation's security, have been undermined by the highest officials in their own country is a damn shame and one of the worst acts of treason imaginable.