The L.A. Times demonstrates that it can cover a story when it wants to. There is going to continue to be more public exposure of how the CIA works and the details of the life of a NOC operative than the agency every wanted anybody to know. Karl Rove has unleashed a flood of information that will make his name synonymous with Benedict Arnold for decades.
Even at this late date, there is still concern at the CIA about additional information being revealed. This story was clearly vetted, but I have no doubt it reveals more information than the agency wanted the whole world to read about in a front page story. Consider the implications of this story being damage control from the CIA.
Shades of Cover:
Several months after her identity as a CIA operative was exposed in a newspaper column, Valerie Plame had dinner with five of her classmates from the agency’s training academy.
Four had left the CIA, and they spent the evening catching up on what they’d done during their clandestine careers, as well as the jobs and moves that followed. But even though Plame’s “cover” had been cracked wide open, her dinner companions didn’t pry for details. Even in that tight circle, no one wanted to spill any more secrets.
“Cover is a mosaic, it’s a puzzle,” said James Marcinkowski, a former CIA case officer who attended the dinner. “Every piece is important [to protect] because you don’t know which pieces the bad guys are missing.”
One fascinating gem that I have been wondering about puts the issue in stark perspective from the agencies point of view:
The total number of NOCs is believed to be in the dozens, although the exact number is a closely guarded secret, and some NOCs can spend decades in their assignments.
Dozens? I would have guessed in the hundreds. Here is the type of agent I was thinking of and what the Right Wing Spin Machine would have you believe Valerie Plame was:
The vast majority of the agency’s overseas officers are under what is known as “official cover,” which means they are posing as employees of another government agency. The State Department allows hundreds of its positions in embassies around the world to be occupied by CIA officers representing themselves as diplomats.
Valerie Plame was a valuable asset who had put her life at risk for her country:
NOCs are known for taking extreme risks as part of their work. If caught by a foreign intelligence service, they have no diplomatic immunity to protect them from prosecution under their host country’s laws.
NOC agents are a very rare asset and this story confirms that there is absolutely no question that Plame was a NOC agent.
A more rare and dangerous job category is “nonofficial cover” — or “NOC” (pronounced knock) — in which CIA officers pose as employees of international corporations, as scientists or as members of other professions. Such covers tend to provide a plausible reason to work long periods overseas and come in contact with foreign nationals the agency wants to recruit.
Plame worked under official cover early in her career, but moved to nonofficial cover during the 1990s, maintaining that status after she returned from overseas to work at CIA headquarters.
Plame had certainly been pulled from the field:
In recent years, she has worked in the counter-proliferation division of the agency’s clandestine service. Despite her continued use of commercial cover until Novak’s column, some former CIA officials contend she was not a NOC in the purest sense of the term, because operatives in that super-secret program rarely go near agency facilities, let alone take jobs at headquarters
Valerie Plame had not been working in the field recently, but her career and usefulness as a NOC agent was far from over. Read the rest of the article for some fascinating details and examples of what the life of a NOC agent is like and how seriously the agency takes keeping a NOC agent’s identify secret. The CIA forwarded a complaint to the Justice Department because the agency is very serious about the lives and welfare of NOC agents. They wanted to nip in the bud what could have become a political fashion trend of revealing the identity of NOC agents. They didn’t care who got burned.
Nobody messes with the CIA.