by Julian Borger / The Guardian –
NOTE: Former CIA agent Valerie Plame reportedly was running as many as 70 deep-cover CIA “assets” around the world, with the express mission of preventing transfers of WMD to terrorists. This network took 10 years to build. One report said that all 70 are now dead. How many covert CIA networks are tracking WMD’s being sold to terrorists? We hope that Plame’s was not the only one. [Editor]
WASHINGTON (October 2, 2003) — The CIA agent identified by a White House leak was operating under cover and her unmasking could have damaged national security, one of her former colleagues said yesterday. Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer, said he was trained 14 years ago with Valerie Plame, a specialist on weapons of mass destruction, whose naming by a Washington journalist quoting senior administration officials has triggered a criminal investigation of the White House.
The journalist who published Ms Plame’s name, Robert Novak, said he was told she was an analyst and that although he was asked by the CIA not to use her name, he did not think it would endanger anyone.
Mr Johnson, now a business security consultant, vehemently disagreed. “I was an analyst. She’s not,” he told the Guardian. “In any case, it is a red herring. Even when I was an analyst my own parents did not know who I worked for. The day we walked into the agency we were under cover and we only knew each other by last initials.
“She’s under cover, working in a clandestine situation, and it was exposed for the sake of cheap, tawdry politics. Assessing the damage for this could be difficult and will take some time,” Mr Johnson said. “I’m a registered Republican and I’m sickened by this,” he added. “I’ve spoken with four colleagues who have since left the agency who worked with her. And they are livid.”
Plame was named because she was the wife of Joseph Wilson, a critic of President Bush’s policy on Iraq. Mr Wilson, a former ambassador, had questioned the White House’s assertions about Saddam Hussein’s attempts to buy uranium in Africa.
Democrats, who are demanding an independent public inquiry, claim that the leak was a Nixon-style effort at political intimidation. “A signal that is sent to everyone in politics — nothing is off limits if you cross us,” said Barbara Boxer, a Democratic senator from California.
Novak, a conservative columnist, was one of half a dozen journalists informed of Ms Plame’s identity by White House officials, one of whom is widely reported to have been Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political adviser. The White House has denied that Mr Rove was involved, but has promised to cooperate with FBI agents and justice department prosecutors investigating the leak.
The offence carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Mr Wilson has said he was told by one journalist that Karl Rove had declared his wife “fair game”, and he has given investigators the names of the journalists who contacted him about his wife.
The White House would not say whether administration officials would be asked to take a lie detector test. However, its chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, said all staff had been asked for “full cooperation”.
David Corn, a journalist who has covered the affair for The Nation magazine, said he thought the administration was vulnerable. “I think there are a couple of people in the administration who are pissed enough about this to say what they know if they’re asked,” he said.
Corn, a persistent critic of the administration who published a book this week entitled the Lies of George W Bush, said: “Unlike Watergate, this starts with people who are close to the president.”
Another comparison with the Watergate scandal, in which the Nixon White House spied on political rivals and tried to cover up its role, came from a surprising source, the chairman of the Republican national committee, Ed Gillespie.
Gillespie agreed with a TV interviewer that the allegations, if proven, would amount to a crime that was “worse than Watergate”.
Johnson compared the scandal to Bill Clinton’s impeachment for trying to hide the affair with Monica Lewinsky. “We’re going to find out if this is Bill Clinton without the sex or if Bush is a different kind of president,” he said.
In a new column about his role in the affair, Novak said Plame’s unmasking was not a “planned leak.” He said that her identity came in passing during a conversation with a “senior administration official.” He wrote: “It was an offhand revelation from this official, who is no partisan gunslinger. When I called another official for confirmation, he said, ‘Oh, you know about it’.”
However, he told Newsday newspaper in July that the sources had come to him with the information. “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me,” he said. “They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.”
Mr Novak may not have to explain these apparent inconsistencies under oath. In accordance with the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, journalists are rarely pressed to name their sources.
Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post‘s media correspondent, said: “It is possible that Novak could be subpoenaed by federal investigators and asked to reveal his sources, although such requests are extremely rare except in cases where crucial information cannot be obtained any other way.”