-- It's just a 12-letter name - Valerie Plame
- but the leak by Bush administration officials
of that CIA officer's identity may have damaged
U.S. national security to a much greater extent
than generally realized, current and former
agency officials say.
the wife of former ambassador and Bush critic
Joseph Wilson, was a member of a small elite-within-an-elite,
a CIA employee operating under "nonofficial
cover," in her case as an energy analyst,
with little or no protection from the U.S.
government if she got caught.
agents such as Plame, 40, costs millions
of dollars and requires the time-consuming
establishment of elaborate fictions, called
"legends," including in this case
the creation of a CIA front company that
helped lend plausibility to her trips overseas.
the damage, the front company, Brewster-Jennings
& Associates, whose name has been reported
previously, apparently also was used by
other CIA officers whose work now could
be at risk, according to Vince Cannistraro,
formerly the agency's chief of counterterrorism
operations and analysis.
Plame's career as a covert operations officer
in the CIA's Directorate of Operations is
over. Those she dealt with - whether on
business or not - may be in danger. The
DO is conducting an extensive damage assessment.
Plame's exposure may make it harder for
American spies to convince foreigners to
share important secrets with them, U.S.
intelligence officials said.
partisans tend to downplay the leak's damage,
saying Plame's true job was widely known
in Washington, if unspoken. And, they say,
she had moved from the DO, the CIA's covert
arm, to an analysis job.
intelligence professionals, infuriated over
the breach and what they see as the Bush
administration's misuse of intelligence
on Iraq, vehemently disagree.
Johnson - a former CIA and State Department
official who was a 1985 classmate of Plame's
in the CIA's case officer-training program
at Camp Peary, Va., known as "the Farm"
- predicted that when the CIA's internal
damage assessment is finished, "at
the end of the day, (the harm) will be huge
and some people potentially may have lost
is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented
exposing of an agent's identity," said
former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who's
now a prosecutor in Royal Oak, Mich., and
who also did CIA training with Plame.
leak of Plame's identity to syndicated columnist
Robert Novak and other journalists is the
subject of a Justice Department investigation
that has rattled President Bush's White
House. Knowingly revealing the identity
of a covert agent is a crime.
say the leak was meant to intimidate critics
such as Wilson, a former ambassador who
traveled to the African country of Niger
to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking
uranium ore for nuclear weapons. Wilson
found no basis for the claims and later
publicly criticized Bush's description of
Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
mystery is how one or more officials at
the White House knew of Plame's work, since
the CIA and other intelligence agencies
guard the identities of their covert officers,
often even from their political masters.
background on an agent typically is not
common knowledge," said a U.S. intelligence
official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Whoever leaked (the information) probably
wasn't supposed to have access to it."
officials said Plame worked on an issue
high on Bush's list of priorities: the spread
of missiles and nuclear, biological and
chemical arms, collectively known as weapons
of mass destruction.
intelligence - as opposed to electronic
surveillance - about WMD development and
weapons transfers is hard to come by, especially
in "hard target" countries such
as Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
about Plame's career remains a mystery,
and probably will stay that way. The CIA
refuses to acknowledge her employment or
anything else associated with the case.
in 1963, she graduated from Pennsylvania
State University and was recruited quickly
by the CIA, attending training classes in
1990 and 1991, Plame was attached to a U.S.
embassy in Europe, according to address
records, suggesting she may have operated
under official cover for a time. Knight
Ridder voluntarily is withholding the precise
location of the embassy. Plame's name doesn't
appear in State Department telephone and
embassy directories from that period.
April 1999, Plame, using her married name
of Valerie E. Wilson, donated $1,000 to
then-Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential
campaign. She listed her employer as Brewster-Jennings
name suggested work in the energy field:
The late Brewster Jennings was president
of the old Socony-Vacuum oil company, predecessor
to Mobil, now Exxon Mobil Corp.
June 2000 listing in Dun & Bradstreet
for a Boston-based "Brewster Jennings
& Associates" names the company's
CEO and only employee as "Victor Brewster"
and says it had annual sales of $60,000.
that might seem like flimsy cover, former
intelligence officials say that in fact
meticulous steps are taken to create a life-like
legend to support and protect CIA officers
operating under nonofficial cover.
corps of officers using nonofficial cover
is small, said former CIA analyst Melvin
Goodman, a critic of Bush's handling of
intelligence. The program was the subject
of an internal battle, he said, opposed
by traditionalists, who favored the orthodox
method of having spies pose as American
diplomats or military officers.
was always controversial. There were never
a lot. And there are fewer now than there
were," Goodman said.
the former CIA and State Department official,
said espionage training could cost several
million dollars, including $350,000 for
the first year alone.
appears that the Brewster-Jennings front
was more than what is called "nominal
cover," and was used as part of Plame's
espionage, Johnson said.
means anyone she met with could be in danger
now, said Johnson, who described himself
as "furious, absolutely furious"
at the security breach.
a personal level, if Plame's covert career
wasn't over already, it is now.
wife's career will certainly change as a
consequence of this, but my wife is a star
in her business," Wilson said last
Sunday on NBC. He added: "I have every
expectation that her culture will embrace
her and that she will continue to be a productive
national security officer. But clearly her
responsibilities will have to change as
a consequence of this."
has said his family is taking unspecified
security precautions. His wife won't talk
bottom line is, she's lost her career,"
said former classmate Marcinkowski.
a CIA officer operating overseas, "There's
only one entity in the world that can identify
you. That's the U.S. government. When the
U.S. government does it, that's it,"
Tish Wells contributed to this article.
from Knight Ridder Newspapers:
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