Media ignored Rove's apparent violation of nondisclosure agreement as reason for revoking his security clearance

Media coverage of White House senior adviser Karl Rove's role in leaking the identity of clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame has focused extensively on whether Rove has committed a crime, but has largely ignored a different possibility that appears increasingly likely -- that Rove has violated the confidentiality pledge he made in exchange for access to classified information. The text of the Classified Information Nondisclosure AgreementPDF file (Standard Form 312) and its accompanying briefing booklet indicate that either Rove's apparent confirmation of Plame's identity to syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak or his alleged disclosure of her identity to Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper would trigger the “likely loss” of his security clearance.

Even news reports that have included Democratic calls to revoke Rove's security clearance have portrayed the issue as a partisan battle, neglecting to mention the administrative rules and guidelines that form the basis for the Democrats' demand.

For example, The New York Times devoted just one paragraph to a memorandumPDF file by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) detailing evidence that Rove violated the Nondisclosure Agreement, noting only that it “detail[s] the legal restrictions against disclosing classified information” and “asserts that 'Mr. Rove was not at liberty to repeat classified information he may have learned from a reporter.''' Other major newspapers -- including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today -- did not cover Waxman's memorandum at all. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post reported Democratic calls to revoke Rove's security credentials without mentioning that specific regulations underlie these demands.

In order to receive a security clearance providing access to classified information, Rove was required to sign Standard Form 312, which includes the recognition that “I have been advised that any breach of this Agreement may result in the termination of any security clearances that I hold.” According to the agreement's accompanying briefing booklet, provided by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), a “Government employee” who violates the agreement would face the “likely loss of the security clearance”:

The scope of prospective administrative actions depends on whether the person alleged to have violated the SF 312 is a Government or non-Government employee. A Government employee would be subject to the entire range of administrative sanctions and penalties, including reprimand, suspension, demotion or removal, in addition to the likely loss of the security clearance.

The briefing booklet notes that “dissemination” or “confirmation” of classified information constitutes an “unauthorized disclosure,” even after that information has been published in a “public source.” In other words, a signer of Standard Form 312 violates the agreement if he or she confirms or spreads classified information without receiving official verification that it has been declassified:

Question 19: If information that a signer of the SF 312 knows to have been classified appears in a public source, for example, in a newspaper article, may the signer assume that the information has been declassified and disseminate it elsewhere?

Answer: No. Information remains classified until it has been officially declassified. Its disclosure in a public source does not declassify the information. Of course, merely quoting the public source in the abstract is not a second unauthorized disclosure. However, before disseminating the information elsewhere or confirming the accuracy of what appears in the public source, the signer of the SF 312 must confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified. If it has not, further dissemination of the information or confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure.

Available evidence suggests that Rove violated the agreement by revealing Plame's identity to one journalist and confirming it to another. Cooper testified to the grand jury that Rove told him “Wilson's wife” worked at the “agency,” referring to the CIA, on “wmd,” the acronym for weapons of mass destruction, according to an article that was posted on Time's website on July 17 and that will appear in the July 25 edition of the magazine. “This was the ”first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife," Cooper said of Rove's remark. Rove himself testified that "[w]hen Novak inquired about Wilson's wife working for the CIA, Rove indicated he had heard something like that," according to a July 15 Associated Press report, which cited an unnamed source who was briefed on Rove's grand jury testimony.

On the July 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert detailed how Rove may have violated the Nondisclosure Agreement:

RUSSERT: When one is given classified clearance, they are asked to sign an oath, and they are given a briefing book with form -- Standard Form 312, it's called. And if you read this briefing book, it says this: “Before ... confirming the accuracy of what appears in the public source, the signer of [the] SF 312 must confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified. If it has not ... confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure.”

So by confirming a story from Robert Novak or sharing information with Matt Cooper, no matter where it came from, if, in fact, it was classified information, without seeking to determine whether it was declassified, it is an unauthorized disclosure.