Imagine you are a reporter with a well respected newspaper. Now, imagine that you learn the identity of a possible CIA operative. If true, you feel that the story you are working on cannot be told accurately without revealing that this individual is an employee of the CIA.

So, what do you do?
You call all your sources that might be able to confirm this person works at the CIA. One of those sources is the spokesperson at Central Intelligence. As an experienced reporter, you know that the spokesman may not be able to confirm the person works there. They can confirm that Porter Goss is the DCI. They can confirm that the head of food services works there. But they can’t go much further than that.

What you are really doing is trying to get a feel for the answer. Will the spokesman outright deny it? Will he laugh in your face? Will he give you a warning? If he gives you a warning, that will be almost as good as a confirmation.

Now, imagine that you are a spokesperson at the CIA. Your job is to field questions from the press. Every so often you field a question about whether a certain individual is an employee of the agency. Sometimes the individual is not an employee. But when the individual is an employee, it is a matter of great concern. How did the reporter discover this information?

Now your job kicks into another gear. You now have two immediate tasks. Your first task is to protect the employee’s cover. Your second task is to discover the source of the leak. We can watch this process unfold by reading the following:

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson’s wife had not authorized the mission [to Niger taken by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson] and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Novak called Harlow with a story. His story was that Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife was an employee of the agency and that she had authorized her husband’s trip to Niger. Was this true?

Harlow could not confirm outright that she worked at the agency. But he didn’t deny it either. Instead, he told Novak he had his story wrong, and that if he decided to publish his story anyway, he should not use her name (and blow her cover).

This is all the non-denial denial Novak was hoping for. For Novak, it amounted to a confirmation that Valerie Plame was an employee of the CIA. It was also a confirmation that she was operating undercover. But it was not a confirmation of his underlying story.

After getting off the phone Harlow did the logical thing. He looked up Valerie Wilson’s files to see what her exact role was at the agency and what her role had been in the Niger trip. He then called Novak back:

Harlow said that after Novak’s call, he checked Plame’s status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame’s name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

If you called the CIA and asked whether I was an employee there, they would either deny it, or they would say they couldn’t confirm inquiries of that nature. But, you can be sure you would not get a call back to reiterate that my name should not be used in an article.

Novak now knew she was an employee, knew she was undercover, and knew the CIA was taking affirmative steps to protect her cover.

He also had some reason to doubt the veracity of the information that Rove, and others were giving him. But he blew her cover anyway.

But before Novak’s article even appeared, I assume the agency initiated some protocol. One of their undercover operative’s identities had been leaked to a big-foot Washington reporter. A potential damage assessment was in order. I don’t know what the CIA’s protocols are for such contingencies, but I am sure they have them. In some cases, the exposure of an operative could have devastating effects to national security and to foreign relations.

I’m even more certain that the CIA has protocols for when their operatives’ covers are actually blown.

In this case, it would probably involve going back into Valerie Wilsons file and making note of all the agents she had run in her 20 year history as a case officer. In some cases affirmative steps would be taken to protect those agents. In other cases it would be simply a matter of noting whether anything unusual happened to those agents. Did they disappear? Did they get fired or transferred. Were they no longer willing to serve as agents?

I assume that both Fitzgerald and the judges overseeing the Grand Jury are in possession of this damage report, and I have a feeling they are not too happy with what is contained in it.

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