For more than two years, many in the mainstream media have been buzzing about the prospect that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove or Vice President Chief of Staff Scooter Libby would be indicted for revealing the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
The press has been full of righteous indignation that high officials in the Bush administration would endanger the identity of a covert agent. And it has been argued that administration officials did this to punish a fearless truth-teller -- Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson -- a former ambassador who charged that the Bush administration purposefully ignored intelligence and lied about Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The problem is that the narrative line being offered up by the press is almost entirely wrong. And it is almost certainly true that neither of the statutes that might cover the situation -- the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 and the Espionage Act of 1917 -- was violated, at least by anyone in the administration.
Any indictment of Rove or Libby brought by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury, which is scheduled to go out of existence on Oct. 28, would in my opinion be a grave injustice. It would hurt the administration by depriving it of the services of one or more very talented and dedicated officials. But it would also set a bad precedent by creating a precedent that would obstruct the flow of information from government to the press and the people.
Consider the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. To violate it, you must disclose the name of a covert agent who has served abroad within the last five years, while knowing that that person was a covert agent. It does not appear that Plame was a covert agent who had served abroad within five years of the disclosure of her name to reporters. She was a desk officer at CIA headquarters at Langley at that time. This law was narrowly drafted and intended only to apply to people who purposefully endangered covert agents abroad. That is clearly not the case here.
The Espionage Act is less narrowly drafted. But it does set out specific things that cannot be disclosed -- "information concerning any vessel, aircraft, work of defense, navy yard," etc. The list does not include identity of CIA agents -- there weren't any in 1917 -- which is why the drafters of the 1982 IIPA felt the need for a new law to protect a very limited class of covert operatives.