By now, most people can admit to the fact that former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson had a decades long career with the spy agency before high-level officials in the Bush administration leaked her undercover status to reporters six years ago.
That is, most people except for Valerie Plame Wilson.
On Thursday, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled that the CIA did not violate Wilson’s First Amendment rights when it refused to allow the former covert CIA operative to reveal that she worked for the agency prior to 2002 in her memoir, “Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.”
The ruling means that a chunk of Wilson’s memoir will remain classified and she is still barred from acknowledging that she was employed by the agency prior to January 2002.
In fact, the appeals court’s 55-page opinion noted that any references to Wilson’s “possible pre-2002” employment with the CIA are “hypothetical” at best and “should not be understood to confirm or deny any information on that subject.”
Before her book was published, Wilson, who worked on counterproliferation issues related to Iraq and most recently Iran, submitted a copy of her manuscript to the CIA’s Publication Review Board, which heavily redacted the first 124 pages on grounds that the information Wilson revealed about her two-decade career as a spy before 2002 remained classified. [The passages the CIA objected to were published in her book, but were redacted.]
After her cover was blown, the CIA would only say that Valerie Wilson worked for the agency since January 1, 2002. The agency made it a point of stating that this disclosure “does not mean that the CIA acknowledges any other period of [her] employment, if any.”
Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, subsequently sued the CIA in 2007 saying the dates of Wilson’s had already been “officially disclosed” in an unclassified letter about retirement benefits sent to her on February 10, 2006. Wilson had retired from the agency a month earlier. The letter included the dates in which she was employed by the agency.
In January 2007, Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Washington), introduced the Valerie Plame Wilson Compensation Act, a bill that would have allowed the spy to receive early retirement benefits. In doing so, he placed the letter the CIA sent Wilson into the congressional record and noted Wilson’s “20 years of federal service.”
In August 2007, US District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones granted the CIA’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the February 10, 2006 letter mailed to Wilson, despite it being unclassified, did not amount to an official disclosure.
In her lawsuit, Wilson argued that the secrecy agreement should be set aside because Bush administration officials had already disclosed her identity to reporters. But the appeals court disagreed.
Wilson “remains bound by [the] terms [of a secrecy agreement she signed when she joined the agency], which do not include an exception permitting her to discuss information that remains classified provided that little or no harm would result.”
The court’s unanimous ruling added that it was Wilson, not the CIA, who “permitted the information [about her work as a spy prior to 2002] to be revealed to the public.”
Although the CIA “may have been negligent in communicating personnel information to Ms. Wilson without proper classification, the information only became public when Ms. Wilson—knowing that the CIA was insisting on maintaining the secrecy of her service dates—nevertheless authorized a member of Congress to publish the CIA communication in the Congressional record,” the opinion states.
David B. Smallman, an attorney representing Valerie Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, said he might appeal appeals court ruling.
“There is a disconnect between the reality of what was going on in court and the reality of what was going on in the court of public opinion,” Smallman said.
U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Katzman wrote a concurring opinion agreeing with the majority that, hypothetically speaking, Valerie Wilson’s pre-2002 work with the agency has never been officially declassified and as such the court does not have the power to “free Ms. Wilson from the secrecy agreement she signed.”
However, Judge Katzman said, “At the same time, I write to observe that the CIA’s position in this litigation blinks reality in light of the unique facts of this case and the policies behind the doctrines at issue here.
“Indeed, the CIA’s litigation posture may very well be counterproductive to its purposes” and “has served only to give credence to the perception that the February 10 Letter accurately set forth Ms. Wilson’s dates of service,” Judge Katzman wrote.
The “Plame-gate” affair dates back to 2003 when Valerie Plame Wilson’s husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with the fact that he had undertaken a fact-finding trip to Niger which had disproved President Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation.
As Wilson was going public with his knowledge of the Niger falsehood, Bush administration officials began leaking the fact that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and had a hand in arranging Wilson’s trip to Niger.
The leakers included Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, White House political adviser Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff.
Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment was revealed in a July 14, 2003, article by right-wing columnist Robert Novak, effectively destroying her career. Two months later, a CIA complaint to the Justice Department sparked a criminal probe into the identity of the leakers.
Other administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Rove, also served as sources for journalists on Plame’s identity as a CIA officer.
Wilson, a diplomat who had served in Iraq and Africa, was selected by the CIA’s non-proliferation office, where Plame worked, to travel to Niger in early 2002 to examine the Iraq-yellowcake allegations. Wilson returned to the United States and reported to CIA officials that the claims appeared to have no merit, a finding that matched with inquiries from other U.S. officials.
Nevertheless, in January 2003, seeking to dramatize the need for invading Iraq, President Bush cited the Niger claims in his State of the Union speech. That set the stage for Wilson to begin criticizing the misuse of this intelligence. Initially, Wilson avoided giving all the details about his role but finally went fully public in a New York Times op-ed on July 6, 2003.
That, in turn, prompted an intensified White House campaign against Wilson leading to Novak’s article. With Plame’s cover exposed and her spy network endangered, the CIA sought a criminal investigation into the leak.
Libby was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice, perjury, and lying to investigators about how he learned Valerie Wilson worked for the CIA. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison. President George W. Bush, however, commuted his sentence.
Yet, even after Bush administration officials told reporters she was a covert spy, the CIA still refused to allow Wilson to write about her work prior to 2002.
“That Ms. Wilson’s service may have been cut short by the failure of others to respect the classified status of her employment may well have warranted investigation. But these circumstances do not absolve Ms. Wilson of her own secrecy obligations,” says the appeals court’s opinion.
Wilson “cannot use her own unauthorized disclosure of classified information to challenge the agency’s ability to maintain the information as classified,” says the appellate court’s opinion, written by Judge Reena Raggi. “If Ms. Wilson were to state in her memoir, ‘I was a CIA operative from date X,’ then any discussion of her activities after that date … would necessarily reveal CIA ‘sources and methods,’ information that lies at ‘the heart of all intelligence operations.”
In an interview with me exactly two years ago today, Valerie Wilson said despite the fact that portions of her memoir were blacked out she was still “thrilled to have a book” published. [Watch an exclusive interview we conducted with Valerie Wilson back in November 2007 at the bottom of this report.]
“Everyone else in the world has talked about this, spoken about me and finally I get to tell this story,” Plame said. She added that she and her publisher decided to sue the CIA because they felt the agency was moving into “censorship” and “First Amendment territory.”
“It wasn’t a question of protecting classified information,” Wilson said during our November 13, 2007 interview. “I’m a professional intelligence officer, I don’t want to jeopardize classified information. But it was clearly punitive in nature, the redactions, the black lines, which, by the way, my publisher decided to leave in so the reader has a good idea of how much the CIA thought was classified.”
She said that while the issues surrounding the redactions of her book was “only a small piece of the story” she believed it was an “important piece because it shows the continuation of a vindictiveness and a abuse of power by the [Bush administration] to go after its critics.”
“Fair Game,” the movie based on Valerie Wilson’s memoir, will hit theaters next year. The film stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.
Two weeks ago, as reported by truthout, the Justice Department released a long-awaited transcript summarizing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s May 8, 2004 interview with Dick Cheney related to the former Vice President’s role in the leak.
Remarkably, Cheney professed on more than 70 occasions that he could not recall key events related to the leak of which he played a major role in, including one in which he personally told Libby, his former chief of staff, that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA before Novak revealed her identity.