Saturday, March 17, 2007

Plame was covert, but Fox won't let go of the myth

...Yet Fox News continues to rely on Victoria Toensing, the woman who, as far as I've been able to learn - has never spoken to either the CIA or Valerie Plame and has never seen any of the classified information regarding Valerie Plame's work or role, as an "expert" commentator.

And by the way, pay attention to the last minute and a half, where Hannity and Toensing try to tell us how it's Plame's and Wilson's fault that Plame's cover was blown. Plame apparently donated $1000 to Al Gore's campaign in 2000 and attended some (gasp) Democratic meetups. In Toensing and Hannity's warped world, Plame should've known that doing so was a dead giveaway that she was a covert CIA agent specializing in monitoring the proliferation of WMD. And Joe Wilson writing that op-ed exposing the lies the President told about uranium tubes from Niger? Well, he should've known better. Naturally the White House was going to expose the name of a covert CIA operative, as well as her entire network of contacts, seriously damaging our ability to follow WMD and possibly resulting in the killing of other undercover operatives - all to discredit a critic. Who wouldn't have expected them to do that?

Also, note how the "Fair and Balanced" network doesn't invite anyone to dispute Toensing:


Paul said...

This story reminds me of a mold that just won't go away. I am struck by the continuing obsfuscation, imprecise use of specific terms and a seeming willful attitude on both sides to mislead.

I still do not know if Ms Plame was "covert" at the time Richard Armitage disclosed her identity or not. I am not saying she was or wasn't - as many seem convinced she was or wasn't. I've not seen definitive, legally supportable documentation that would settle this. There has been far too much "he said/she said/I know her/I worked there" portrayed as "evidence."

This strikes me as something Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald should have ascertained at the outset of his investigation - it wouldn't have been difficult. After all, he knew Mr. Armitage leaked her name. Next he should have determined if Ms Plame was covert under applicable statute, then determine if a basis for indictment existed. But, it seems Justice is no different from other organizations - promotions follow those who indict and convict, not those who spend years on a project and say "can't indict, can't convict."

Regarding the limited questions and the seemingly unlimited response: of course she held covert status during her career. That was never in question. Her response about "once a general, always a general" is appropriate. But to ask the general "are you a pilot" he could answer "yes" - even if he hadn't flown a jet in ten years and didn't hold a current authorization to fly. Same with Ms Plame - when she said "I was a covert officer with the CIA" - that was true. But the intent of all this was - did she hold such status at the time and would revealing that information be a violation of law? But as she hedged later - at the time of the leak - given her current assignment - she didn't know her status.

Regarding the "General Hayden cleard our remarks" - I read the transcript carefully. Those who prepare or deliver such remarks are struck by what Gen Hayden "said" and what Rep Waxman said. "Clearing" remarks has nothing to do with truthfulness of the statement. It simply means the "clearing" agency has no objection - Rep Waxman's staff could have said "we intend to say the sun is green. Will the CIA clear that?" Response: "Yes" (interpretation: you can say what you want. There is nothing in your comment that I am required by law to prevent you from saying that would disclose classified information).

The committee could have called appropriate, knowledgeable witness - CIA's director of Personnel. CIA officers with responsibility for program, personnel and document classification. Fitzgerald could have interviewed them. But then we wouldn't have had a continuing drama for a few years.

Well, the ball's in the Democratic court now. I'll be interested to see if all these investigations get in the way of staffers being able to draft new regulations to strengthen the Intelligence Identies Protection Act to make it easier to prosecute people who reveal or disseminate classified information and personnel. Unless they're journalists, of course.

BTW - you are correct - Hannity didn't invite a guest to dispute his guest. Neither did Olbermann. So, between the two showmen, somewhere in the middle, we may just have "Fair and Balanced."

Wilfred Fan said...

I don't know, it seems pretty clear to me, Toensing admitted in her testimony that she hasn't spoken to Plame or the CIA. So how would she know what she's talking about?

Plame specified that she worked overseas within the last five years (from today, not just from the day she was exposed), dispelling Ms. Toensing's basis for claiming she wasn't covert, so she's totally without credibility. Whereas, there's no reason to doubt Plame's credibility.

"Ms. Wilson was covert" from General Hayden seems pretty conclusive as well. That wasn't the part that Cummings says was "cleared." He said Hayden said "Ms. Wilson was covert," and CLEARED "Ms. Wilson was a covert agent of the CIA."

We have no reason to think Fitzgerald didn't ascertain her "covert status." All we know is he didn't think he could convict Armitage, not that he didn't think Plame was covert.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it's reasonable to take Plame's word (and the fact the CIA felt a crime had been committed in the first place) for her job description.

Paul said...

I reread Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's statements when he announced the indictment of Mr. Libby. He was very careful in his wording and did not verify Ms Plame's status at the time of the Novak column.

Ms Toensig was one of the authors of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. I heard her state were requirements for conviction under the Act and asked for definitive information from the Agency as to her status (not the status of the programs upon which she worked (classified), not what she did on certain assignments (classified), not her status at the time of certain assignments (covert), but her status at the time of the column, as well as her overseas official status at the time. A Treasury official who drafted specific tax law does not need to investigate specifics of each case brought for prosecution to state "in order to convict under this statute, defendant must be shown to have (list elements)."

I believe it was Congressman Cummings who stated "General Hayden said Ms Plame was covert." First, of course she was - at various times throughout her career. In that sense, it's a true, standalone statement. But, it does not answer the question of status at the time of the alleged crime. Second, that's one of the mischaracterizations I referenced - having the head of a Federal agency unequivocally state something is much, much different than saying "he cleared this statement" and then taking that as an item of truthful fact. It's a misattribution and in the language of government, not a small distinction.

Unfortunately, it's the same with the "worked overseas" reference. Was Ms Plame overseas in the last five years? Yes? Personal or professional? If professional, was it an Agency-directed trip? If so, was it a classified or unclassified mission? If classified, was her status "covert" under Agency regulations and applicable statute?

I'm not being difficult - but these are the questions that should have been resolved at the outset. There was way too much "loose" reference to specific terms and tatements that seemed to cover the topic, but didn't. This is not unusual when dealing with many government agencies.

And - referring the case to Justice does not mean the Agency thought a crime was committed. My comment's getting long - but it could be standard operating procedure when Agency people or programs are discussed in public, it is also a way to "get the ball out of our court and put the responsibility on someone else - Justice."

And that's why this entire episode still strikes me a as a political drama.

Anonymous said...

one does not go in and out of cover. If you go overt after leaving cover you STAY overt, period. Plame was a NOC, which was expensive as hell to set up and not something to be given up lightly. Her working in Langley has zero to do with cover. Lots of cover folks work there. If you think you could sit outside and take down license plates of people going in, you're welcome to try. It'll liven up a dull day for the heavily armed CIA guards sitting in the guard shack on Rt 123. After Kansi's attack they take stranger's outside much more seriouslt then they used to. (Plame also would have received training in detecting and avoiding being followed.)

I also doubt the Agency would have gotten Justice involved if she had NOT been undercover. If you ask Justice to invertigate then they were serious. It owuld have had to have been cleared by numerous lawyers on the IG staff and go through upper management (including the politicals). It's not something a GS-12 could do ona whim.

Sorry, the WH blew the cover of a covert Agency employee in a cheap attempt at political payback. No spin is possible.

Anonymous said...

FYI, retired Agency employee Larry Johnson puts all the RW spin in the trash where it belongs in his blog.

Before Valerie's testimony on Friday the CIA had never put anything on the public record regarding her status. Yesterday the CIA came out of the closet. CIA Director Michael Hayden approved a statement that contained the following language:

During her employment at the CIA, Ms. Wilson was under cover.

Her employment status with the CIA was classified information prohibited from disclosure under Executive Order 12958.

At the time of the publication of Robert Novak's column on July 14,2003, Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status was covert.

This was classified information.

Got it? The Director of the CIA confirmed in public for the first time that Valerie Plame Wilson was undercover, was covert and that this information was classified. What is it about English that goober Congressman Westmoreland and ditzy Vicky Toensing don't understand?

Paul said...

This illustrates exactly what I meant by how loosely terms are used. CIA has a career track for people operating in "classified, fieldwork" operations - they're identified early on. So of course they stay in that career path. But that Agency designation is not the same as the definition of "covert" used to prosecute people under statute. Again, I had to shake my head as Ms Plame was not definitive on her "legal" status at the time of the column.

One may "doubt" CIA would have gotten Justice involved - and that's fine. My point was federal agencies usually follow written procedures when taking such action, especially when dealing with another agency. Many such agreements require a written "Memorandum of Understanding" or "Memorandum of Agreement" specifying when and how such cooperation will take place. And the reporter or staffer on Fitzgerald's staff who ferretted out that bit of information is...?

Mr. Johnson may have been employed by the Agency - but so have thousands of others, all with differing opinions and political agendas. That's why I stated it would have been beneficial for the CIA's personnel, human resources, classification, etc people to have been interviewed to settle this from the start. But they weren't and this is the result.

Mr. Johnson must not have spent much time in the relevant headquarters postings and been out in the field a lot - else he'd have known that "clearing" a statement - particularly from a member of the legislative branch - does not imply the statement is true. It simply means Agency programs or personnel won't be endangered.

To repeat: Ms Plame was "covert" "undercover" "classified" (I'm being loose - the terms are not interchangeable) during her employment. True. But that does not mean during her status at the relevant time was "covert" for purposes Justice required for prosecution. Rep Waxman said "undercover." Actually EO 12958 is pretty general, I don't believe it covers specific programs such as this (agencies use it to write their own regulations).

Her employment status... was classified... True - also irrelevant to her "covert" status at the relevant time. CIA has their definitions. Justice has theirs. In this case they don't appear to be the same.

Rep Waxman's reference was "Ms Wilson's employment status was covert." That should have been a huge red flag. The statutes for prosecution don't refer to an "employment" status. They define what they mean by "covert" - and if a federal agency's definition of a word conflicts with the statute governing prosecution, guess which one governs?

Fitzgerald said he didn't ascertain her status at the time of the column - when he announced the indictments. Then he went on to make the standard comments about integrity of investigations, stonewalling, lying, etc.

Words have specific meanings. In many government programs, very specific meanings. When used to prosecute people for federal offenses, the words are clearly defined. "I think" "I assume" "everyone knows" "rhetorical questions" are irrelevant. Unless someone wants to continue having a grand old time.