Public Info in Plame Case is Classified, Judge Rules

A federal court last week accepted a Central Intelligence Agency argument that the date on which former covert officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA began should remain classified even though it is irrevocably in the public domain.

The date in question appeared in a seemingly unclassified letter sent by CIA to Ms. Wilson and published in the Congressional Record. But when she sought to include the information in the manuscript of her forthcoming memoir, the CIA objected that it is still classified. Now the Court has agreed.

“To be sure, the public may draw whatever conclusions it might from the fact that the information at issue was sent on CIA letterhead by the Chief of Retirement and Insurance Services,” wrote Judge Barbara S. Jones in an August 1 ruling (pdf). “However, nothing in the law or its policy requires the CIA to officially acknowledge what those in the public may think they know.”

The text of the CIA letter containing the classified information citing the start of Ms. Wilson’s employment on November 9, 1985 was published in the Congressional Record (pdf) on January 16, 2007.

In their June 28 motion (pdf) to overturn CIA censorship, Ms. Wilson’s attorneys cited a lawsuit of mine in which the CIA was compelled to disclose its 1963 budget after I showed that the figure had previously been declassified. “As in ‘Aftergood’,” they argued by analogy, “the Court should reject the CIA’s belated and unsupported effort” to deny access to information in the public domain.

But that case was different, the government replied on July 13 (pdf). The 1963 budget figure was declassified, albeit inadvertently. The information on Ms. Wilson’s employment was never formally declassified, inadvertently or otherwise, but was merely disclosed by accident.

An unclassified declaration by Stephen R. Kappes (pdf), deputy director of CIA, provided a lucid explanation of CIA’s perspective on classification of information about covert employees, intelligence liaison relationships, and related topics.

Other selected case files may be found here.

No Responses to “Public Info in Plame Case is Classified, Judge Rules”

  1. Allen Thomson August 6, 2007 at 1:10 PM #

    An unclassified declaration by Stephen R. Kappes, deputy director of CIA, provided a lucid explanation of CIA’s perspective on classification of information about covert employees, intelligence liaison relationships, and related topics.

    It also reminds us that the words “Jesuitical”, “Talmudic” and “casuistry” have opprobrious meanings. As an exercise in casuistry I’d give Kappes’ declaration a D — way too much effrontery. Though it does seem to have had the desired effect on the judge, which is what counts.

    http://www.slate.com/id/3164/

  2. Tom Blanton August 6, 2007 at 1:41 PM #

    Dear Steve,

    I could use more of your incisive commentary than just the adjective “lucid” on the Kappes declaration you posted today. Seems to me his paragraph 67 cites exactly the damage that was caused, not by the inadvertent letter, but by CIA’s own action to redact the info from the Plame book. In other words, this was not a case where the CIA would be officially confirming something, but rather, the Agency took action to prevent the book from publishing this previously public information, thus calling worldwide attention to the info and doing the damage that the Agency claimed it was trying to prevent. That’s why the judge’s decision is silly. It was the CIA’s attempt at censorship that brought the attention and the damage. The CIA publications review board always ducked this problem by saying their clearance of a mss was not confirmation of anything in the mss; the Agency could have done the same here but chose to create a ruckus instead. I still don’t understand exactly why.

    Best,
    Tom

    Thomas S. Blanton
    Director, National Security Archive
    George Washington University
    Washington D.C. 20037 USA
    http://www.nsarchive.org
    http://www.freedominfo.org

  3. Allen Thomson August 6, 2007 at 5:04 PM #

    Seems to me his paragraph 67 cites exactly the damage that was caused, not by the inadvertent letter, but by CIA’s own action to redact the info from the Plame book.

    Oh, Kappes’ declaration is full of gems. E.g.,

    - P.19: “The CIA has not acknowledged certain information in the 10 February 2006 letter. Therefore, any acknowledgment of such information in the 10 February letter would disclose classified information.”

    - P.20: “Following the CIA’s transmission of the 10 February 2006 [presumably "letter"], the Director of the CIA reviewed the 10 February 2006 letter and… confirmed that the letter contains information that is currently and properly classified SECRET.”

    OK, so they can’t declassify/acknowledge the information in the letter because to do so would do harm to national security, but they acknowledge that information in the published letter has been declared secret because to reveal it would do harm to national security.

    Very subtle reasoning indeed.

    P.S.: I’m sure hostile security services that might have made use of the knowledge of Plame’s period of employment are totally frustrated by the ruling. After all, if the USG doesn’t acknowledge the truth of something it said, how could such services make use of it?

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