WAS PLAME COVERT?….Was Valerie Plame really a covert operative? The main line of defense that’s emerged among administration apologists is that Plame was just a “desk jockey” and that her identity as a CIA agent was common knowledge anyway. In fact, Robert Novak stated flatly yesterday that Plame was “an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives.”

The facts aren’t all in yet, but even so there’s considerable evidence that Plame was, in fact, a pretty serious undercover agent. Here’s what we know:

  • MSNBC reports that CIA lawyers answered a series of 11 questions from the Justice Department “affirming that the woman’s identity was classified, that whoever released it was not authorized to do so and that the news media would not have been able to guess her identity without the leak.”

  • CNN reporter David Ensor reports that his sources at the CIA say Plame is an employee of the operations side of the agency. “This is a person who did run agents,” Ensor said. “This is a person who was out there in the world collecting information.”

  • The White House email notifying staffers of the Justice Department investigation characterized it as “an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.” And White House spokesman Scott McClellan already acknowledged yesterday that “leaking classified information, particularly of this nature, is a very serious matter.”

  • From William Pitt: “Ray McGovern, who was for 27-years a senior analyst for the CIA, further confirms the status of Plame within the CIA. ‘I know Joseph Wilson well enough to know,’ said McGovern in a telephone conversation we had today, ‘that his wife was in fact a deep cover operative running a network of informants on what is supposedly this administration?s first-priority issue: Weapons of mass destruction.’”

    Note: McGovern works with Joseph Wilson at Truthout.org and definitely has his own agenda, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, he’s also someone who clearly has the background to know what he’s talking about.

  • Former CIA Director James Woolsey, a neocon and hardly a Bush basher, agrees that this was a serious leak: “You can endanger intelligence and people’s lives by revealing the identities of CIA case officers, so it’s a serious matter.”

So was Valerie Plame just an agency desk jockey whose identity was no big deal? On the contrary, the evidence so far rather strongly suggests that her cover was real, she ran a network of informants specializing in WMD proliferation issues (either currently or in the past), and that her network has now been blown for the sake of petty political payback.

Decide for yourself just how bad this is.

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