Non-Official Cover

Douglas Jehl and David Stout have a story in Thursday’s New York Times that nails down the question of Valerie Plame Wilson’s role, and nails it down hard:

Valerie Plame was among the small subset of Central Intelligence Agency officers who could not disguise their profession by telling friends that they worked for the United States government.

That cover story, standard for American operatives who pretend to be diplomats or other federal employees, was not an option for Ms. Plame, people who knew her said on Wednesday. As a covert operative who specialized in nonconventional weapons and sometimes worked abroad, she passed herself off as a private energy expert, what the agency calls nonofficial cover.

“Non-official cover” is the deepest kind of clandestine role. [See Slate’s Explainer for a good exposition.]

So her role wasn’t an “open secret,” or a sort-of secret, or a nudge-and-wink secret. It was a secret secret, until someone in the Bush White House decided to punish her husband by wrecking her career.

That means, for example, that the “someone who had formerly worked in the government” who told Clifford May “in an offhand manner” that Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, “leading [May] to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of,” [*] was (1) deceiving May (who seems, in all conscience, to have been quite willing to be deceived); (2) breaching an important security taboo; and (3) committing an aggravated felony.

I’m looking forward both to May’s retraction and to his appearance before a grand jury.

In fact, I’m looking forward to a lot of retractions from the people who have been pushing the “We still don’t know if her role was secret” line. Skepticism is healthy. But the word skepsis properly means “inquiry,” not “refusal to believe.” A real skeptic, having inquired and found evidence, is prepared to make up his mind.

Those who have said in the past that there might be no scandal here because there might have been no breach of secrecy now owe it to the rest of us to admit that their question has been answered, or to explain why they think it hasn’t. To leave their readers in doubt, when no legitimate doubt remains, would amount to deception.

Note that the Times confirms exactly what David Corn reported, back in July.

I don’t know when they give the Pulitzers, but if I were Corn I’d make sure I had my tux pressed and no conflicting plans for that evening.

Update More from Newsday: Vincent Cannistraro, who used to run counterterrorism operations at the CIA, confirms that Plame was recruiting and running agents overseas, and that those agents have been put at risk by the disclosure of her identity. [*]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com