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Three Years of the Condor

Whose side is the CIA on, anyway?

11:00 PM, Nov 7, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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Although Mr. Wilson did not have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at taxpayer's expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us, writing about such an assignment would mean we'd have to bring our proposed op-ed before the CIA's Prepublication Review Board and spend countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with the thrust of Mr. Wilson's oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in his op-ed.

LAST WEEK I contacted the CIA public information officer who fields media questions regarding Wilson. I first asked him why the Agency hadn't asked Wilson to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding his trip. He hesitated for a few seconds, then responded: "I don't know." At his suggestion, I followed up with a set of questions by e-mail:

(1) Why wasn't Wilson's February 2002 trip to Niger made subject to a confidentiality agreement?

(2) Did the Agency contemplate that Wilson would publicly discuss the trip at will upon his return?

(3) Did the agency anticipate that if he did so, it would attract attention to the employment of his wife by the agency?

(4) Why did the Agency select Wilson for the mission to Niger to check out such an important and sensitive matter given his lack of experience in intelligence or investigation?

(5) Was the Agency aware when it selected him for the mission of his hostility to the Bush administration?

The CIA responded:

Given the ongoing legal process, I don't have anything for you in response to your questions about Ambassador Wilson.

JOE WILSON was not, of course, the only CIA-related political opponent of the Bush administration who emerged during the run-up to the 2004 election. In July 2004, CIA analyst Michael Scheuer published his strange book Imperial Hubris (by "Anonymous"), which attacked American foreign policy related to the war on terrorism. (Scheuer was identified as the "Anonymous" author of the book by the Boston Phoenixeven before the book's official publication date.)

In the epilogue to the paperback edition, Scheuer stated that he "was never told why the CIA permitted publication." Following publication of the book, the CIA permitted Scheuer "anonymously" to criticize the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror in media interviews until his criticisms extended beyond the administration to the intelligence community. (Scheuer left the Agency last November--the week after the election.) Last week I also asked the CIA the following questions regarding Scheuer:

(1) Has the Agency ever before in its history authorized the publication of a book by a current Agency employee attacking the incumbent administration?

(2) Was Scheuer's employment status classified at any time between 1999 and the time he resigned from the Agency? If so, over what period?

(3) Can you cite any previous instances in the history of the Agency of currently employed Agency analysts attacking the incumbent administration?

The CIA responded:

[A]ll CIA employees have prepublication obligations. Beyond the obvious prohibition on releasing classified information, the outside writings and speeches of serving officers must not affect either their ability to do their jobs or the agency's ability to accomplish its mission. Because CIA is not a policy organization, its regulations discourage current employees from speaking or writing publicly on policy issues.

In light of that common-sense guidance, the chances are extremely remote--to put it mildly--that a presently serving officer would be allowed to write a book today injecting him or herself into a national policy debate. That is how things stand now.

Which raises raises the question: How did things stand before the election last year?

AT THE CONCLUSION of Three Days of the Condor, Turner stands face-to-face with Agency contact Higgins outside the offices of the New York Times as Higgins tries to bring Turner in. Turner refuses. Higgins admonishes Turner that he will be tracked down. But Turner isn't scared; he's already told the Times his story.