Monday, July 18, 2005

Once a covert operative...

How does one stop being a covert operative for the CIA? I mean other than having Karl Rove leak your name to the media?
The truth is that one can never stop being a covert operative without exposing all of your intelligence sources to the possibility of retaliation and undermining any and all of your past covert activities.

One of the lamest, but apparently popular, defenses of Karl Rove being bandied about by Bush apologists lately is that there could not have been a crime committed in this case because they claim that Valerie Wilson was not a covert operative at the time that her name was leaked to the media. In fact, they go on, she had not been working overseas for more than five years by that point and therefore no longer met the definition of a covert agent. To bolster this claim they point to this definition of a covert agent in the National Security Act of 1947:

The term “covert agent” means—
(A) 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—
(i) whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and
(ii) who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States...

I want to call your attention to the comma in the above sentence that immediately precedes the ‘and’ in the (i) sub-definition. By placing the comma there it means the next portion of the sentence is a separate thought and is not needed to understand the meaning of the preceding portion of the sentence. But conservatives reading this definition have conveniently ignored the comma and treat the ‘and’ as meaning that the two segments must be combined to complete the meaning.

This is crucial because with the comma the definition is more inclusive and has a broader scope of what a covert agent is - including agents whose identity is classified as well as agents who works overseas now or in the past five years. Without the comma the definition can be read more exclusively to limit it to agents who meet both criteria - their identiy is classifed AND they must have worked overseas in the past five years.

Now this latter definition is not only incorrect, but would also be detrimental to our nation’s intelligence gathering capabilities. Imagine a rule that says after five years of inactivity information on our covert intelligence agents is suddenly part of the open record and “fair game” for anyone who wants to disseminate it in the mass media. The people who are positing this interpretation are either not thinking it through clearly (and to be charitable that is what I assume for most of them) or they are complete idiots.

So let’s stop and think about this a little bit more. If we really had such a thing as a five-year statute of limitations on protecting our covert agents and it could be clearly demonstrated that Valerie Wilson has not been actively working overseas for at least five years, then it would seem to be an open and shut case. So please explain why the Justice Department has spent the better part of two years and millions of taxpayer dollars pursuing this case. Because if that is the case then the only real scandal is why the special prosecutor is wasting our time and resources (not to mention throwing journalists in jail).

The truth of the matter is that Valerie Wilson was a covert agent at one time as this article makes clear:
The investigation was triggered when CIA lawyers asked the Justice Department to look into who revealed the identity of Wilson’s wife, who worked overseas under deep cover posing as a private industry energy analyst.

And the fact that she recently took time off to raise a family and had not been overseas in the past five years (assuming that is the case) is beside the point.
Plus, it is also highly likely that she was able to continue working as a covert agent while stateside by keeping in contact with her foreign sources via telephone and e-mail.

But all of that is now lost thanks to loose-lipped Karl Rove. Once he decided to fire up his signature smear operation against Ambassador Joseph Wilson he wasn’t about to let a little thing like our nation’s national security interests get in the way of his scoring political points against a critic of the administration.

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