Skip to comments.Was Plame Covert? A Review of Isikoff and Corn's Hubris
Posted on 10/05/2006 9:46:41 PM PDT by Fedora
Was Plame Covert? A Review of Isikoff and Corn's Hubris
I recently finished reviewing Michael Isikoff and David Corns Hubris (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006) to see what it adds to the current state of knowledge in the Plamegate investigation. Here I will present my findings in the form of a list of questions and answers:
1. What did Valerie Wilson aka Valerie Plame do at CIA?
According to Isikoff and Corn (12-13, 283-286), after Plame graduated from the CIAs training program, she began working with the CIA Directorate of Operations European Division in the Cyrus/Greece/Turkey area in the late 1980s, serving as a junior case officer supporting officers in the field. In 1989 she reportedly started working at the CIA station in Athens as a talent spotter and recruiter for the Agency. In this capacity they say she initially posed as a State Department officer, using an Official Cover (OC, referring to a cover which involves another US government agency and thus provides diplomatic immunity). Then in the early 1990s she reportedly adopted a Nonofficial Cover (NOC, aka deep cover, referring to a cover involving a non-government CIA front such as a fake business entity), posing as a member of an energy firm operating out of Belgium.
Walter Pincus, Dana Priest, and other researchers have previously noted that Plames front company was called Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a disclosure that has generated remarkably little follow-up from a media usually eager to expose CIA scandals. Some researchers have asserted that Novaks 2003 column compromised CIA assets linked to Brewster-Jennings. But others have called attention to a report by former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds indicating that a year earlier the FBI was already aware that Brewster-Jennings had been compromised during a conversation between Marc Grossman and Turkish lobbyists under Bureau surveillance in a corruption investigation. Bloggers have also observed that the last known paperwork associated with Brewster-Jennings dates from Plames 1999 tax filing, and have wondered whether Brewster-Jennings was already defunct by 2003, when Isikoff and Corn say Plame had moved on to JTIF. Isikoff and Corns book sheds no new light on these matters.
Isikoff and Corn state that Plame was transferred from Europe to CIA headquarters in 1997 and was assigned by request to what they call the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) of the Directorate of Operations. She met Joseph Wilson at the Turkish embassy in Washington in early 1997, married him a year later, and had two children.
Isikoff and Corn state that following a maternity leave, Valerie Wilson returned to CPD in spring 2001 and was assigned to CPDs Iraq unit, which they say became the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI) in the wake of 9/11. They assert that at the time of Bob Novaks July 2003 column, Valerie Wilson was running the JTFIs operations group and had begun filing paperwork to move from JTFI to a personnel management position and change her status from NOC to OC. Unfortunately the authors cite no on-the-record or official sources to substantiate this important information, attributing it to confidential interviews with CIA sources (424n; cf. 439n).
I have so far been unable to find any sources independent of Isikoff and Corn which discuss the JTFI. But the term Joint Task Force and the corresponding JTF component of the abbreviation suggest the phrase may be referring to CIA support of a military Joint Task Force (JTF), which is a force coordinating multiple military units in order to achieve a specific operational task. (For discussion of how such Joint Task Forces are structured, see the excerpt from the slideshow presentation The Joint Task Force reproduced online at http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/ioac/jtf1.htm ; and the organizational charts accompanying Michael P. Noonan and Mark R. Lewis, Conquering the Elements: Thoughts On Joint Task Force (Re)Organization, Parameters, Autumn 2003, 31-45, online at http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/03autumn/noonan.pdf.) I will toss out the guess (which I emphasize is only a guess) that what Isikoff and Corn are describing may have involved the CIAs support of military Joint Task Forces such as the Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA), which coordinated aerial operations and marine interdiction in Iraq and the Persian Gulf area after the Gulf War; and Task Force 20, an elite unit which among other tasks hunted for WMDs during the early phases of the Iraq War. If my guess is correct, I would also suspect that CIA support of such a Joint Task Force would be determined by functional, task-oriented considerations rather than governed by the neat on-paper divisions between the CPD and other CIA units. Again, this is only a guess on my part, based on the minimal information about JTIF currently available.
2. Did Aldrich Ames leak Plames identity to the Russians?
Although this question seems highly relevant to the key issue of whether Plame was covert at the time of Novaks column, Isikoff and Corn choose to gloss over it by relegating their discussion to a footnote (as they frequently do with other important information inconvenient to their spin). According to Isikoff and Corn, 284n:
Her reassignment might have been due to Aldrich Ames. . .Within the CIA, some officers came to believe that Plame had been among the officers whose return had been prompted by the Ames case, but it was never clear if Ames had told the Russians about her.
3. What was the relationship between Plame, WINPAC, and the CPD?
This question also bears on the issue of Plames covert status. In the CIAs organizational structure, there is a functional division between the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), which analyzes collected data, and the Directorate of Operations (DO), which runs covert operations. As CIA expert Loch Johnson notes in Americas Secret Power, such on-paper divisions are somewhat artificial and can be misleading, because in practice a CIA agent or unit functions in coordination with other agents, units, and agencies. There has been some confusion over whether Plames assignment at the time of Novaks column properly fell under the DI or DO.
Novaks original column described Plame as an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction and stated that CIA counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. More recently Novak has stated that Richard Armitage told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIAs Counter-Proliferation Division. Isikoff and Corn also describe Plame as working in CPD since 1997 (284-285):
In 1997, Plame returned to CIA headquarters.
Back at Langley, Plame had to choose a new career path within the agency. She figured that with the end of the Cold War, the two growth industries in the intelligence field were counterterrorism and counterproliferation. She picked weapons and requested an assignment in the DOs new Counterproliferation Division, a unit Congress had pushed the CIA to create to address concerns about the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
This would seem to place Plame in the DO. However, other sources have described Plame as working for the Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation & Arms Control Center (WINPAC), which a September 2001 CIA organizational chart (DI Design Center/MPG 381234A1 9-01) lists under the DI (while showing no distinct Counterproliferation Division listed under the DO). Judith Millers notes on her July 2003 conversations with Scooter Libby describe Mrs. Wilson as working at WINPAC. Similarly, an October 2003 Los Angeles Times article by Doyle McManus and Bob Drogin stated that Wilson's wife works with Foley in the CIA's Nonproliferation Center; and a January 2004 Vanity Fair profile based on interviews with the Wilsons described WINPAC director Alan Foley as Valerie Plames boss. On p.424 of The Politics of Truth Joseph Wilson mentioned Foley, calling him the recently retired director of the Nonproliferation Center at the CIA. Wilson made no correction of the Vanity Fair characterization of Foley as his wifes boss.
Isikoff and Corn assert on p. 392 that Libby characterized Plames title to Miller wrongly. However another explanation may lie in the relationship between WINPAC and CPD.
The September 2001 CIA organizational chart mentioned above labels WINPAC as DCI Weapons, Intelligence, Nonproliferation & Arms Control Center and lists it in the same column as the DCI Crime and Narcotics Center. Now DCI refers to the Directorate of Central Intelligence, a designation which at that time referred to the CIA Directors dual capacity as not only the Director of the CIA proper but also as the Director of Central Intelligence, responsible for coordinating all US intelligence agencies. (Since 2005 the DCI position has been superseded by the new Director of National Intelligence title, which is separate from the position of CIA Director.) Within the DCI structure of that period there were several specialized centers which coordinated the CIAs work with that of other agencies such as the FBI in order to address issues that spanned international geographic areas and transcended the jurisdiction of any single US agency. A discussion of the structure of the intelligence community in William Arkins Code Names covers WINPAC under the rubric of the DCI and its centers rather than the CIA proper:
The Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), who is also the director of the CIA, is a cabinet member who at least in theory oversees the IC [Intelligence Community]. . .The DCI also oversees a number of specialized centers, such as the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and the Center for Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC).
William M. Arkin, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World, Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press, 2005, 39
Similarly, an article by Washington Post reporter Vern Loeb depicts WINPAC as being formed from three existing units, one of which was the DCIs Nonproliferation Center (NPC):
The Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center will bring three existing CIA analytic staffs together under Alan Foley, a veteran Soviet military analyst. As head of the Arms Control Intelligence Staff, he has spent the last three years supporting arms control treaty negotiators.
In his new role, Foley will assume responsibility as well for the existing Nonproliferation Center, which dealt with a broad range of proliferation issues, and the Office of Transnational Issues' Weapons Intelligence Staff, which is composed largely of scientists and engineers.
Vern Loeb, CIA Is Stepping Up Attempts To Monitor Spread of Weapons, Washington Post, March 12, 2001
CIA references indicate that all three of WINPACs predecessors were organized under DI, but a close reading reveals that NPC was actually a DCI center administratively housed within DI. NPC was established in September 1991 as the focal point for all US intelligence community activities related to nonproliferation. In December 1991 it took over the Arms Control Intelligence Staffs former role as the focal point for supporting all US government nonproliferation activity related to Iraq. Later it concentrated on nonproliferation activity related to Iran and North Korea. DCI George Tenet expanded the NPC by shifting several analytical units into NPC and establishing a Senior Scientist position in 1997, at the time Isikoff and Corn say Plame joined the new Counterproliferation Division.
At the time Plame became involved in nonproliferation issues in 1997, NPC was headed by Gordon Oehler. Oehler was replaced later that year by John Lauder, who performed the functions that would later be performed by WINPACs Alan Foley. The relationship of NPC to other areas of the CIA and the Intelligence Community during this period was summarized in a 1998 report of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:
When the DCI's Nonproliferation Center (NPC) was established in 1991, one of its core missions was to coordinate the disparate IC nonproliferation activities, improve communication between programs and eliminate duplication of effort. As coordinator of IC assessments on proliferation topics, but not an analytic group per se, the NPC was to serve as a one-stop nonproliferation information shop for policy makers.
After its formation, the NPC took on a number of additional responsibilities. It developed strategic plans to help guide the U.S. Government's response to the proliferation problem and provided support to CIA's Operations Directorate (DO), as well as other collectors and law enforcement agencies. The NPC also worked on collection deck development and produced a gaps study that identified deficiencies in proliferation-related collection activities. The NPC was also chartered to review the IC's performance on proliferation activities and to make relevant budget recommendations. In addition, the NPC Director was designated the issue manager for nonproliferation activities. With these and other responsibilities, the NPC has made numerous contributions to the IC's nonproliferation effort. . .
In 1992, the Committee conducted a detailed study of NFIP proliferation programs, with a specific focus on the new NPC. This year, the Committee plans to conduct a follow-up study on this topic. The Committee assessment will involve a thorough, top-down review of the NPC organization, mission and activities. The Committee will: review the NPC's efficacy as coordinator of nonproliferation programs; review NPC funding levels and staffing assignments; consider where the NPC should be located within the IC; examine NPC's relationship with the CIA's Directorates of Intelligence (DI) and Operations (DO); and examine the NPC's role in the collection and issue manager processes. Likewise, the Committee will review other proliferation-related programs throughout the IC, including within the DI and DO, with an eye toward recommending a logical construct to the Intelligence Community's efforts on the proliferation issue.
United States House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, House Report 105-135: Part 1: Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998, online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp105&sid=cp105dq0gC&refer=&r_n=hr135p1.105&item=&sel=TOC_90656& and www.loyola.edu/dept/politics/intel/hrpt105-135.pdf
The final sentences of this excerpt indicate that at this time the NPC had a relationship with both the DI and DO within the DCI rather than being strictly a DI or DO unit per se. A 1999 CIA document clarifies the relationship between NPC, the DCI, and the CIA:
Although NPC resides administratively in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), it is a Community Center and its Director will receive overall direction from the DCI and DDCI. The Center will have the widest possible representation in its management staff, and activities from throughout the US Intelligence Community. NPC will seek continued augmentation by DOD personnel to enhance coordination of nonproliferation and counterproliferation intelligence efforts between the Intelligence Community and DOD.
Director of Central Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence Directive 7/2, Oversight of the US Intelligence Communitys Efforts to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Means of Delivery, May 7, 1999, online at http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/dcid7-2.htm
All this suggests that WINPACs function within the DCI involved coordinating the DIs nonproliferation activity with what Isikoff and Corn call the DOs new Counterproliferation Division, and the division between WINPAC and CPD was not necessarily as firm as Isikoff and Corn imply. It also suggests that whether or not Plame was covert at the time of Novaks column cannot be deduced simply by identifying her as a CPD employee, but more information about her position in the chain of command and her actual duties would be required to resolve this issue. This underscores the significance of the document declassification which Libbys defense team has requested and Patrick Fitzgerald has resisted.
4. Was Plame covert?
As the above comments on Question 3 indicate, the data uncovered by researchers to date does not seem to provide sufficient information to state definitively whether or not Plame was covert. However the question would seem easy enough to resolve if relevant CIA organizational charts and/or internal documents were made available to the public. What was the relationship between WINPAC, CPD, and other areas of the DCI and CIA? Who was Plames supervisor, and who did they answer to within the CIA hierarchy? What were Plames actual duties? Having this type of information would be a big step towards more definitive answers.
I think this part is the most important
"Walter Pincus, Dana Priest, and other researchers have previously noted that Plames front company was called Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a disclosure that has generated remarkably little follow-up from a media usually eager to expose CIA scandals. Some researchers have asserted that Novaks 2003 column compromised CIA assets linked to Brewster-Jennings."
I expect she was a low level noc that gathered information by phone or some such which was why Brewster-Jennings was not setup as a larger front company. All of the research in to Brewster-Jennings indicates that there was not much there other than a phone and a drop box. The only problem with exposing her and this front company is that if some other noc who was higher up in the covert ladder had Brewster-Jennings on there resume they are now exposed also. I don't buy in to the idea that the administration set out to destroy her or anyone else, mearly to discredit and in the process may have really screwed some other nocs...
she initially posed as a State Department officer, using an Official Cover (OC, referring to a cover which involves another US government agency and thus provides diplomatic immunity). Then in the early 1990s she reportedly adopted a Nonofficial Cover (NOC, aka deep cover, referring to a cover involving a non-government CIA front such as a fake business entity), posing as a member of an energy firm operating out of Belgium.
Posing as either a State dept. official or working with some firm in another country automatically makes you a CIA operative in the eyes of any foreign intel service. I think really these NOC classifications server more to protect their idenity in this country rather than protect them from coming under suspicion of a foreign intel service since they know all the games the CIA plays.
In assessing the impact of the leak, CIA officials were concerned mostly about the people Wilson had recruited over the years and the informants she had worked with, even while workingon the Iraqi WMD issue. "We were more worried about her soruces," said [CIA Executive Director Buzzy] Krongard. There was also the possible exposure of Brewster-Jennings & Associates, the front company that the CIA had used to provide paper cover (as opposed to operational cover) to Wilson and other CIA employees for tax records, insurance purposes, and other paperwork matters. . .This firm, according to business records, had a Boston address, but there was no Brewster-Jennings office at this address.
Thanks for the ping!
Yes, I'd think the CIA assumes any US embassy personnel abroad are going to be operating under the scrutiny of other intelligence agencies (especially in somewhere like Brussels, where Brewster-Jennings was based). The main advantage of official cover abroad seems to be not any added secrecy, but the ability to hide behind the embassy's legal shields under official and unofficial international agreements (which is the same reason foreign intelligence agencies often operate out of embassies and UN missions here).
read later marker
Thanks for the piece and the ping.
Is Joe Wilson a lier?
Plame was outed by Aldrich Ames. At that time, she was working as a covert operative (where I don't know). At that time, she was "brought in from the cold". Her status as a "covert" was not changed on her CIA file, but she no longer worked as "covert", and was an analyst only - and most of her friends knew that (although they denied they even knew where she worked).
The next person to out her was her husband.
I don't know why these "facts" are so difficult to understand!!
If this is so" If my guess is correct, I would also suspect that CIA support of such a Joint Task Force would be determined by functional, task-oriented considerations rather than governed by the neat on-paper divisions between the CPD and other CIA units. Again, this is only a guess on my part, based on the minimal information about JTIF currently available. "--It is altogether likely that Judy Miller learned of her completely independently. She was wth the unites in Iraq searching for the weapons..
As for Foley--he denied absolutely to me that she worked for him and said he never heard of her until this all happened.
Sounds right to me.
I don't know if the Agency knew for a fact if Ames had outed her, but if they even suspected it, it would have been reckless for them to leave her out there, so I'd assume they would have pulled her in to err on the side of caution. Ames was certainly in a position to compromise her.
That might help explain the "Valerie Flame" thing.
Thanks for the reference--didn't know that was out. I remember looking at some memoir book Baker wrote a while back.
You'll like this one Fedora. He' has referenced the Plame affair in his latest book tour...thought you might like it. :o)