From David Corn’s initial article:
The sources for Novak’s assertion about Wilson’s wife appear to be “two senior administration officials.” If so, a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what’s known as “nonofficial cover” and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material. If Wilson’s wife is such a person and the CIA is unlikely to have many employees like her her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration. (Assuming she did not tell friends and family about her real job, these Bush officials have also damaged her personal life.) Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, “Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames.” If she is not a CIA employee and Novak is reporting accurately, then the White House has wrongly branded a woman known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm as a CIA officer. That would not likely do her much good.
This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in prison.
Not really very hard to understand at all.
On a closely related note, Condi Rice was making the rounds this morning. I only caught her on Meet the Press, where she explained that the yellowcake uranium story made it back into the State of the Union address because everyone just plum forgot that it had been discredited.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say that no one in our circles, and it was maybe down in the bowels of the Intelligence Agency, a month after that appearance, you said this, “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety.”
And then your top deputy, Stephen Hadley, on July 23, said this.
“Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that he received two memos from the CIA in October that cast doubt on intelligence reports that Iraq had sough to buy uranium from Niger to use in developing nuclear weapons. Both memos were also sent to chief speechwriter Michael Gerson and one was sent to national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Hadley said.”
And George Tenet called Mr. Hadley directly and put issued a warning on that information. Were you aware of any concerns by the CIA about this incident?
DR. RICE: First of all, the CIA did clear the speech in its entirety and George Tenet has said that. He’s also said that he believes that it should not have been cleared. And we apparently, with the in October for the Cincinnati speech, not for the State of the Union, but the Cincinnati speech, George Tenet asked that this be taken out of the Cincinnati speech, the reference to yellow cake. It was taken out of the Cincinnati speech because whenever the director of Central Intelligence wants something out, it’s gone.
MR. RUSSERT: How’d it get back in?
DR. RICE: It’s not a matter of getting back in. It’s a matter, Tim, that three-plus months later, people didn’t remember that George Tenet had asked that it be taken out of the Cincinnati speech and then it was cleared by the agency. I didn’t remember. Steve Hadley didn’t remember. We are trying to put now in place methods so you don’t have to be dependent on people’s memories for something like that.
Gosh, I guess we all forget things from time to time. What we had for dinner last night, or whether a key piece of evidence supporting a planned unilateral invasion is credible or not. Things like that. At least they’re working on methods to supplement fallible human memory. And Condi, if you’re reading this, might I suggest Post-It notes? You can just scribble a quick note to yourself yellowcake uranium story utterly fictional, say and stick it on your computer monitor, so that when you get to work on that State of the Union address, you and everyone else who vets the SOTU speech in the entire goddamned White House don’t “forget” anything.
Update: here’s the extent of Condi Rice’s comments on the apparent “outing” of Valerie Plame:
MR. RUSSERT: Ambassador Joe Wilson was sent over to Niger by the CIA to look into this whole matter of selling uranium to Iraq. He came back with a report which was given to the administration. Then there was an article by columnist Robert Novak which cited two administration sources and identified Ambassador Wilson’s wife by name. She was an undercover agent at the CIA. There is now an investigation. The CIA has requested the Justice Department to look into this. It’s a crime to identify an undercover agent. And in this article in today’s Washington Post, a senior administration official said that White House officials called six reporters to identify, to out, if you will, Joe Wilson’s wife. What can you tell us about that?
DR. RICE: Tim, I know nothing about any such calls, and I do know that the president of the United States would not expect his White House to behave in that way. It’s my understanding that when a question like this is raised before the agency, that they refer it as a matter of course, a matter of routine to the Justice Department. The Justice Department will now take appropriate action, whatever that is, and that will be up to the Justice Department to determine what that action is.
MR. RUSSERT: What will the president do? Will he bring people in and ask them what they did?
DR. RICE: I think it’s best since it’s in the hands of the Justice Department to let it remain there.
Josh Marshall reacts:
The only response to this is: Why? Why can’t the White House act on its own?
We now know that administration officials know who did it. We can guess. But they know. They even have a pretty good tally of how many journalists were called.
So the president knows that two of his top aides blew the cover of a CIA employee under non-official-cover to take revenge against one of the his critics, and that in doing so they almost certainly broke federal law. In the unlikely but possible event that he does not yet know their identities right now he could pick up the phone and find out in a matter of minutes.
But he’s leaving them in place and, as far as we know, hasn’t disciplined them in any way. He’s waiting for the Justice Department to decide whether there should be a criminal investigation.
Because, of course, the entire administration is on its knees, praying fervently that this whole story blows over.