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Rove’s Backers Use “CounterSpy Defense” in CIA Leak Case

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We speak with veteran investigative journalist Robert Parry, who writes that Karl Rove’s defenders are rebutting accusations about the White House aide’s leaking of a CIA officer’s identity by using an argument that parallels a rationale cited by leftists who defended CounterSpy after a CIA officer exposed by the magazine in 1975 was gunned down in Greece. [includes rush transcript]

More than two dozen Democratic senators on Monday asked Congress to investigate the White House leak of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

In a letter, sent to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, senators said the outing of Plame most likely compromised her safety. John Kerry of Massachussetts who authored the letter said, “Can anyone argue with a straight face that Congress has time to look at steroid use in baseball but doesn’t have the will to provide congressional oversight of the leak of a CIA agent’s name?”

The letter cited information reported in the press suggesting that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff–Lewis Libby–exposed Plame’s identity.

  • Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and author of the book “Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.” For years he worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the exposure of what is now known as the “Iran-Contra” scandal. His latest piece, on is called “Rove’s Backers Use Counterspy Defense”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to investigative journalist, Robert Parry. For years, he has worked as an investigative reporter for both the Associated Press and Newsweek magazine. His reporting led to the expose of what is now known as the Iran-Contra scandal, author of Secrecy and Privilege. Your response, your latest article on is called “Rove’s Backers Use CounterSpy Defense.”

ROBERT PARRY: Well, Amy, I think the point I’m making is that the people who have tried to defend Karl Rove have gone to such extraordinary lengths over the past several weeks, almost — it’s almost as remarkable to see how the conservatives and Republicans have tried to protect Rove as Rove’s — the allegations of Rove being involved in the leaking in the first place. There’s been an effort to release red herrings to confuse the American people about what’s really at stake here. And one of the arguments that has been advanced is that, well, Valerie Plame wasn’t really that much undercover as a C.I.A. officer. There may have been previous exposures in the intelligence world that would have led people to know that she was an undercover C.I.A. officer. If the C.I.A. wasn’t doing enough to protect her secrecy, that she was working out of headquarters and somehow the resumption would be that it meant she was not that secret.

All of these arguments are rather bizarre, because people work at C.I.A. headquarters all the time who are undercover. It’s also true that there are times when some information does leak out, but it doesn’t mean that anyone’s free, then, to use C.I.A. officers’ names. Some of these arguments go back to the original law that was put in place in 1982 to protect the identity of C.I.A. officers. And it was response to disclosures that were being made by CounterSpy magazine in the mid 1970s. CounterSpy magazine was trying to disrupt C.I.A. operations that its publishers and people who worked for it felt were immoral. They felt that the C.I.A. Was out of control in the 1970s. And their way of trying to disrupt those activities was to release the name of some of the agents, and thereby make it more difficult for them to carry out operations.

That offended a number of people including the then C.I.A. Director, George H.W. Bush, who made it really a cause to try to get a law put in place that would make it a serious crime to disclose the name of C.I.A. officers. That obviously is a law that’s now at the center of the issue of whether Rove committed a crime and whether people in the White House were engaged in a conspiracy to commit this crime by leaking the name of Valerie Plame.

So, we get to the interesting point now where some of the arguments that were used in the 1970s by the supporters of CounterSpy, to say that, well, there was a case involving a C.I.A. station chief named Richard Welsh in Athens who was exposed and then was gunned down on the street, that the defense for people who were supporting CounterSpy was that Welsh’s identity had already been released in other publications and that the C.I.A. had been careless in letting him stay in a house that was known to be a C.I.A. safehouse. So, that was an argument that was used then. It was not considered very acceptable to many people in Congress who went ahead and passed this law. The — now it turns out that the people trying to defend Karl Rove are essentially asserting the same thing, that Valerie Plame was already somewhat outed, therefore it was no big deal that Karl Rove and others in the White House gave her name to Bob Novak and other journalists.

AMY GOODMAN: You also write interestingly about how the Washington Times has covered this, and also specifically the right wing commentator, Tony Blankley, who used to head up the office of Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

ROBERT PARRY: Right. Well, basically, the Washington Times is one of the papers that has been most aggressive in making these arguments. They did an article that looked back and said, well, that Plame’s identity may have been exposed to the Russians in a previous leak that was from a spy that went over there. They have argued that the Cubans may have gotten access to this information, because a cable had been sent to the Swiss intrasection in Havana. They were making these arguments as a way to say, well, you see, this already was known by people, and therefore was not really a crime by Rove.

The problem becomes that there’s no reason to believe, necessarily, that those leaks, if they indeed happened, would have helped other people, say al-Qaeda, for instance, get this information about Valerie Plame and the people she was working with on weapons of mass destruction. So, the idea that just because there was some possible exposure of an agent doesn’t really justify a much wider exposure of that agent.

But the Washington Times has certainly pushed this, and Tony Blankley, who is the editorial page editor of the Washington Times, has also argued in a different set of circumstances that Sy Hersh, who exposed some reconnaissance operations that were occurring by the United States inside of Iran, that Hersh may have violated the Espionage Act. And Blankley not only called for an investigation, but pointed out that this could be punishable by death.

So, on one side, the Washington Times has tried to make a big case out of exposure of some secrets which actually might be very much of importance to the public debate about whether we should go to war in a broader way in the Middle East, while trying to defend Karl Rove’s release of information that helped expose a C.I.A. officer who was working on weapons of mass destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert Parry, I want to thank you very much for being with us. When we come back from our break we’re going to hear what Phillip Agee has to say. We talked to him two years ago in Cuba, the former C.I.A. operative on whom many say the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 was based. Robert Parry, thank you for being there. Investigative reporter, speaking to us from Washington, D.C., author of the book, Secrecy and Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.

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FLASHBACK: Renegade CIA Officer Phillip Agee Calls Outing of Valerie Plame “Dirty Politics”

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