Wash. Times' Pruden: Plame "little more than a clerk assigned to clip and paste newspaper and magazine articles"

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

In a June 19 column advocating a presidential pardon for former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Washington Times Editor-in-Chief Wesley Pruden claimed that "[a]s it turns out, [former CIA operative Valerie Plame] was not a secret agent at all, but little more than a clerk assigned to clip and paste newspaper and magazine articles." Pruden added that Plame was "[n]o Mata Hari or Antonia Ford" and that a colleague of Plame's called her "[t]he princess of the pastepot." Pruden concluded that "[s]ince she was not a secret agent, under the law there was no harm, no foul." In fact, in a recent court filing, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald explicitly stated that Plame "qualified" as covert under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Moreover, Fitzgerald attached to a separate filing a summary of Plame's CIA employment, which asserted that, at the time her identity was disclosed in the media, Plame was chief of a component in the agency's Counterproliferation Division "with responsibility for weapons proliferation issues related to Iraq." The summary further described Plame as having traveled overseas in a covert capacity "at least seven times to more than ten times" since January 2002.

Pruden's claim that Plame "was not a secret agent" exemplifies what Newsweek reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball described in a May 29 article as a "major theme of Libby's defenders": "that, at the time of her outing, Valerie Wilson was little more than a desk analyst who was not covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act -- the 1982 law making it a crime to disclose the identity of a covert officer." However, as Isikoff and Hosenball noted, in a sentencing memorandum filed on May 25, Fitzgerald "finally resolved one of the most disputed issues at the core of the long-running CIA leak controversy." From the memo:

It was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.

Moreover, in a May 29 filing, Fitzgerald included an "unclassified summary" of Plame's CIA employment, which established that she had headed a counterproliferation operation focused on Iraq and had traveled overseas in an undercover capacity in the five years prior to the disclosure of her identity. From the document:

On 1 January 2002, Valerie Wilson was working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an operations officer in the Directorate of Operations (DO). She was assigned to the Counterproliferation Division (CPD) at CIA Headquarters, where she served as the Chief of a CPD component with responsibility for weapons proliferation issues related to Iraq.

While assigned to CPD, Ms. Wilson engaged in temporary duty (TDY) travel overseas on official business. She traveled at least seven times to more than ten countries. When traveling overseas, Ms. Wilson always traveled under a cover identity -- sometimes in true name and sometimes in alias -- but always using cover -- whether official or non-official cover (NOC) -- with no ostensible relationship to the CIA.

At the time of the initial unauthorized disclosure in the media of Ms. Wilson's employment relationship with the CIA on 14 July 2003, Ms. Wilson was a covert CIA employee for whom the CIA was taking affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the United States.

The June 19 column was not the first in which Pruden has characterized Plame as the "princess" or "queen" of the "pastepot," but it is the first time Media Matters identified in which he purported to source the comment -- attributing it to "one of her colleagues." A search of the Nexis database for all news reports* with the terms "Plame" and "pastepot" found three other uses of the label -- all of them in columns by Pruden. In a September 5, 2006, column, he referred to her as "the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA." In an August 18, 2006, column, he called her "the queen of the pastepots at the CIA." And in a November 25, 2005, column -- titled "Pastepot princesses are important, too" -- Pruden referred to her as "merely the princess of the pastepot." In none of those earlier cases did Pruden use quotation marks for the moniker or otherwise indicate he had it heard from someone.

Pruden's column is just the latest attempt by The Washington Times -- in both its news and editorial pages -- to discredit Plame and deny that she was covert at the time of the leak. As Media Matters noted, a July 15, 2005, Times article quoted former CIA operative Fred Rustmann, who supervised Plame for one year early in her career and retired from the agency in 1990 -- more than a decade before Plame's identity was allegedly leaked. According to the report, Rustmann asserted that Plame's CIA employment was not a secret: "Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his [Wilson's] friends knew this." But the same article mentioned only one of Plame's neighbors by name: David Tillotson, who told the Times that he "absolutely didn't know" Plame worked for the CIA.

Nevertheless, without naming a single neighbor who knew of Plame's CIA employment, the Times subsequently published editorials on July 19, 2005, and July 26, 2005, and a news article on July 25, 2005, claiming variously that "most," "numerous," and "several" of Plame's neighbors knew about her work. An October 26, 2005, Los Angeles Times article quoted Tillotson as saying he told FBI investigators he socialized with Plame and Wilson and "had no idea" about Plame's CIA employment. And several of Plame's other neighbors have told journalists and the FBI that they did not know she worked for the CIA before syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak wrote about it in his July 14, 2003, column.

From Pruden's June 19 column:

These are the saddest of times and the worst of times for George W. Bush. His war in Iraq continues to truck south, to join the immigration "reform" legislation that took up residence at the South Pole some time ago, and now his remaining friends are urging him to be the stand-up guy Texans are always telling us they are.

Not even the iron fence of secrecy and security surrounding the White House can resist the pressure building on the president to stand up to pardon Scooter Libby, soon to be sentenced to 24 months in prison for lying about a crime that was never committed. He won't be allowed to remain free while his appeal goes forward. This conviction stinks with growing pungency with every day Scooter remains in limbo. The principals are not worried about justice, but about trying to keep the stink off their robes, judicial and otherwise. There are villains aplenty.

The special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, was brought in to find out who "outed" Valerie Plame, the dowager bombshell of the Potomac Palisades, revealing her to be an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Suspicion eventually fell on Scooter, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. As incredible as it may be, Mr. Fitzgerald knew all along that it was not Scooter at all, but Richard L. Armitage, the government functionary who actually first identified Mzz Plame. As it turns out, she was not a secret agent at all, but little more than a clerk assigned to clip and paste newspaper and magazine articles. No Mata Hari or Antonia Ford she. "The princess of the pastepot," one of her colleagues called her. Since she was not a secret agent, under the law there was no harm, no foul.

But having spent millions on his luxury fishing expedition (it's not clear what he was fishing for, since he already knew who the "outer" was), Mr. Fitzgerald was desperate for a conviction to turn in with his expense account. He figured he had found a railroad leading to a conviction. Judge Reggie Walton knew what the prosecutor was doing, but judges are lawyers first, after all, and judges, august if not necessarily noble, are eager to be helpful to lawyers trying to cover up their sins and shortcomings. Mr. Fitzgerald pushed ahead, determined to convict someone even if he couldn't find a crime.

* Search terms used: "Plame" and "pastepot" between 7/14/03 and 6/19/07 in News (All).

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
The Washington Times
Wesley Pruden
CIA Leak Investigation
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