Her name was Valerie Plame, and she was a NOC. NOC is a designation within the Central Intelligence Agency which means "non-official cover." It denotes an agent working under such deep cover that said agent cannot be officially associated with the American intelligence community in any way, shape or form. In order to keep covered, a NOC will work for the CIA out of a front company, which provides the illusion that the agent is just an ordinary accountant, lawyer or businessperson.
Between the CIA and the agent, a process is created to construct an identity which obscures completely the reality of the agent's true employment. The training of these NOC agents, along with the creation of the cover stories known as "legends" within the agency, requires millions of dollars and delicate work. It is, quite literally, a life and death issue. Little or no protection is given to an exposed NOC agent by the American government, an arrangement that is understood by all parties involved. A blown NOC can wind up dead very easily. Because of this, the cadre of NOC agents is small and elite.
Valerie Plame was a NOC working out of a front company named Brewster-Jennings & Associates. To any and all uninformed observers, she was an energy analyst who spent a good deal of time working overseas. In fact, she ran a covert international network dedicated to tracking any person, group or nation that would put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists.
That is, until the Bush administration got in the way.
The same administration, which invaded Iraq after bullyragging the American people with dire predictions of biological and chemical weapons flooding out of that nation and into the hands of al Qaeda, reached out and crushed the career of an undercover agent working to keep that exact nightmare scenario from unfolding.
The end of Valerie Plame's career came about a week after her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, took to the pages of the New York Times with an editorial that badly embarrassed George W. Bush. Bush, you will recall, stated in his 2003 State of the Union Address that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger to develop nuclear bombs. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger the previous February to determine if that charge, which had been floating around at the time, was valid. He returned after completing his investigation to inform the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA and the office of Vice President Cheney that the uranium claims were bogus. It was later revealed that the claims were based on crudely forged documents out of Italy.
This didn't stop Bush from using the fraudulent data to terrify the American people into supporting his Iraq invasion during his 2003 address. Ambassador Wilson replied with a July 6, 2003, column that categorically humiliated the administration for allowing this claim to appear in the speech. "America's foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information," wrote Wilson. "For this reason, questioning the selective use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq is neither idle sniping nor 'revisionist history,' as Mr. Bush has suggested. The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons."
For the record, the number of dead American soldiers in Iraq is now 547. Many thousands more have been grievously wounded. There is no accurate accounting of the number of civilians killed in Iraq, but all estimates run into the tens of thousands. No anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin gas, mustard gas, VX gas or uranium has been found there.
A week after the Wilson column was published, some six journalists along with columnist Robert Novak received telephone calls from two Bush administration officials. The sum and substance of the calls: to inform the journalists that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.
It is an open question as to the ultimate purpose behind these calls. One school of thought says the calls were meant to smear Wilson by claiming he only got the Niger assignment because his wife was an agent, thus tagging him with nepotism and undermining his criticisms of the administration. The other school of thought, espoused by Wilson himself, says these administration officials deliberately annihilated Wilson's wife's career as a warning to Wilson, and to any other insider who might come forward with data damaging to the administration officials. As the old saying goes, kill one and warn one hundred.
In the end, the result was the same. Valerie Plame's career with the CIA is over. Her network, the one that was working to keep weapons of mass destruction out of terrorists' hands, is destroyed. The members of that network are now in mortal peril. The front company Plame worked through, Brewster-Jennings, was exposed as well, destroying the networks of any and all agents besides Plame working from that cover. The American intelligence community is disgusted and furious.
Larry Johnson, former CIA and State Department official who was a classmate of Plame's in the CIA's training program at what is called the Farm, said when the CIA's internal damage assessment is finished, "at the end of the day, (the harm) will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives."
"This is not just another leak," said former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also did CIA training with Plame. "This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent's identity. There's only one entity in the world that can identify you. That's the US government. When the US government does it, that's it."
A Feb. 5 report by UPI titled "Cheney's Staff Focus of Probe" begins as follows: "Federal law-enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year. The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said. According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, were the two Cheney employees. 'We believe that Hannah was the major player in this,' one federal law-enforcement officer said."
Lewis Libby is one of the most important people on Cheney's staff. Along with John Hannah, who served as one of Cheney's Middle East policy advisors, Libby was deeply involved in the activities of Rumsfeld's hand-picked Pentagon group, the Office of Special Plans. This group was put together specifically to re-engineer data regarding the threat posed by Iraq so as to manufacture justification for a decision to make war that had already been made. On several occasions, Libby visited CIA headquarters at the behest of Cheney to browbeat CIA analysts into "toughening up" their assessments of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Given all the work Libby and Hannah put in to make sure Bush got his Iraq war, it is no wonder they were less than thrilled with what Ambassador Wilson had to say.
Did these men "out" a CIA agent and destroy a network that tracked weapons of mass destruction? We may soon know. Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation. A bulldog of a US attorney named Patrick Fitzgerald is special prosecutor investigating the matter. Several members of the Bush administration have been dragged before a grand jury, including White House spokesman Scott McClellan, McClellan deputy Claire Buchan, former press aide Adam Levine, Republican consultant Mary Matalin, who served as a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Cheney aide Cathie Martin.
According to a Newsday report from Feb. 22 titled "Panel Questions White House Aides," during the grand jury sessions, "Press aides were confronted with internal White House documents, mainly emails and telephone logs, between White House aides and reporters and questioned about conversations with reporters. The logs indicate that several White House officials talked to Novak shortly before the appearance of his July 14 column. According to the New York Times, the set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser."
Further reports indicate the journalists who were called may be questioned. Fitzgerald's first act as special prosecutor was to ask White House staffers to sign a waiver which allows those journalists to speak without violating confidentiality. This would determine, immediately, which administration official violated national security, destroyed a WMD network, and endangered the life of an agent. George W. Bush has promised to cooperate with Fitzgerald's investigation, but as of this date, those waivers have not been signed.
Her name was Valerie Plame, and she was a NOC. She was keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. What was the Bush administration doing?
[Update: As we went to press, the White House agreed to turn over a log of a week's worth of telephone calls from Air Force One and other records subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating the leak, the Washington Post reported March 6. But officials said that neither Bush nor Chief of Staff Andrew Card had issued a policy about whether aides called by the grand jury could invoke the Fifth Amendment, which protects citizens from having to testify against themselves.]
William Rivers Pitt is author of two books, War On Iraq [Context Books] and The Greatest Sedition is Silence [Pluto Press]. His book Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available in August from Context Books. This piece originally appeared on truthout.org.