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On the July 5 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, guest host John King left unchallenged former Attorney General Edwin Meese's false claim that CIA officer Valerie Plame was not an undercover operative. In fact, multiple press accounts have confirmed that Plame's status as a CIA officer was classified when her identity was revealed in a July 14, 2003, column by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak.
King asked Meese to comment on the possibility that New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper could be jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the leaking of Plame's identity. Meese told King, "I'm surprised the case has even gone this far, because I don't think this was really a covert agent. She was some sort of administrative person at the CIA, I think, at the time this occurred and I think, perhaps, this is an exaggerated case in its entirety." King asked who Meese thought was exaggerating the case but did not inform viewers that the record strongly indicates Plame's CIA status was classified at the time of Novak's column.
Multiple press outlets reported that Plame was an undercover CIA operative at the time. Citing "intelligence officials," Newsday first reported on July 22, 2003, that prior to her exposure, Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction issues in an "undercover capacity." An October 11, 2003, Knight Ridder article reported that Plame operated under "nonofficial cover," posing as an analyst at a CIA-created shell company, Brewster-Jennings & Associates. An October 13, 2003, Time article confirmed that Plame was involved in tracking weapons of mass destruction.
An October 1, 2003, Washington Post article also quoted intelligence officials confirming Plame's undercover status with the CIA:
Plame currently is an analyst at the CIA. But, intelligence officials said, she previously served overseas in a clandestine capacity, which means her name is kept classified to protect her previous contacts and operations, and her ability to work again undercover overseas.
The Post article discussed the CIA's request that the Justice Department investigate the leak, reporting that the classified status of Plame's identity was part of the criteria weighed in the decision to move forward with the investigation:
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday that career lawyers in the Justice Department's counterespionage section opened a criminal investigation Friday, four days after receiving a memo from the CIA detailing a possible violation of federal law that prohibits unauthorized disclosures of classified information.
The decision to open the investigation was made by career counterespionage section chief John Dion, without the consultation of the attorney general, as is standard practice, the department said. The Justice Department asked the FBI and the CIA to preserve relevant records; requests were apparently not made of the Pentagon or the State Department.
Before opening a criminal investigation into leaks of classified material, the Justice Department asks the referring agency to answer 11 questions that department officials have said are akin to filing a police report; the CIA submitted the questionnaire last Tuesday.
Among the questions are "whether the classified data disclosed is accurate"; "the extent of official dissemination of the data"; "whether the data has been the subject of prior official releases"; what effect disclosure has on national security; and "whether the material or portions thereof or enough background data has been published officially or in the press to make an educated speculation on the matter possible."
In addition, Novak's use of the term "operative" strongly suggests he was fully aware that Plame was an undercover CIA agent, as Media Matters for America has noted previously.
From the July 5 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports:
KING: General, thank you for joining us. Let me start with the CIA leak investigation and the prospect of putting two reporters in prison. Standard operating procedure for the Justice Department or is this an extraordinary case?
MEESE: I think it's extraordinary. I can't remember any situation during the time I was attorney general at the Department of Justice, in almost four years, put any reporters in jail. So, I think it is a rather unusual case.
KING: And can you see, if Mr. Fitzgerald is watching, is there some compromise that you would recommend or do you think in this case, because of the stakes, a covert CIA operative's name's being disclosed -- although these two reporters were not the ones to do it initially -- can you see a way out here?
MEESE: I don't know. I think it's a very difficult case. I'm surprised the case has even gone this far, because I don't think this was really a covert agent. She was some sort of administrative person at the CIA, I think, at the time this occurred and I think, perhaps, this is an exaggerated case in its entirety.
KING: Exaggerated within the Justice Department or exaggerated because of the political ramifications?
MEESE: I think for all of those reasons. I have a hard time understanding why this much effort has gone into this particular case.