My review of former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo’s book Company Man appears in the current issue of this magazine. A friend in a high place who read the review pointed out to me that the book adds something significant to our understanding of the Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, Judith Miller, Robert Novak imbroglio.
Rizzo is evidently the first CIA official—and he was a high ranking one—to go on the record to acknowledge that the leak to columnist Robert Novak of the fact that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, thereby blowing her undercover status, was not exactly a blow to America’s intelligence collection efforts.
Here is what Rizzo writes about the sequence of events following the agency’s mandatory report to the Justice Department about the breach:
On the scale of such things, the Plame leak, while deplorable, was negligible in terms of harm to national security. I fully expected Justice to treat it the way it treated 99 percent of our crimes reports, which is to say little or do nothing.
Based on the assessment we made, the Plame leak appeared to be a most unlikely candidate for a full-blown Justice/FBI investigation. There was no evidence indicating that any CIA source or operation—or Plame herself, for that matter—was placed in jeopardy as a result of the “outing.” And it appeared that dozens if not hundreds of people knew she was an Agency employee.
At the time, Rizzo advised his boss, CIA director George Tenet, “that there was no way Justice/FBI would devote time and resources to pursue an investigation. Not after having witnessed Justice over the years repeatedly take passes on truly damaging leaks that had far smaller pools of potential suspects.” Obviously, he was very wrong.
What accounts for his error? Rizzo explains that he calculated—or miscalculated—that:
a marginally harmful leak such as the Plame disclosure wouldn’t be prosecuted simply because of the partisan political pressure being applied at the time by opponents of Bush administration policies in Iraq. The crimes reporting process had never been trivialized and distorted like that in all my years at the CIA.
Those are damning words from someone who knows whereof he speaks. For those swept up in the Plame investigation, who spent time in jail, whose reputations were besmirched and whose careers were derailed, they come a decade too late.