Saturday, October 29, 2005

The spin, the spin...

One of the spins about Plamegate is that the CIA didn't have to pull out any of their undercover operatives abroad, so there was no damage done.

It has been pointed out elsewhere that the CIA would keep this information highly secret, so there has been yet another leak of sensitive information for political purposes. But that misses the point.

CIA operatives abroad fall into three categories:

Non-Official Cover (NOC)
These are the people like Plame herself. CIA staffers, they purportedly work for a front company like Brewster-Jennings and Associates. They do not have diplomatic passports so can be arrested for spying. So, if the talking points are right, none of these people (thankfully) have been placed in danger, although they may have been compromised. The difference is significant: if a foreign country figures out that you were a CIA staffer while you're back in the US then you cannot return but the CIA didn't have to recall you to ensure your safety.

Official Cover
These are the embassy staff who are really CIA staffers. A large proportion of the staff of any embassy are spies. But they are nominally embassy staff and have diplomatic passports, so cannot be arrested for spying. By definition, none of these people were ever in any danger, although their positions may have been compromised (as in "Now we're sure he's a spy so we're going to watch him even more closely").

Recruited US Nationals
For operational reasons, the CIA relies upon people working for real (not front) US companies spying in their spare time. These may also have been compromised, but fortunately none of them were at the time of their compromise in a country they were spying upon.

What does that leave? All the poor fuckers Plame personally recruited in foreign countries. These are not CIA "undercover operatives" they are sources. These are the foreign nationals Plame spoke to often under cover of working for the front company of Brewster-Jennings and associates. The foreign nationals who decided that the US was ruled by better people than the petty tyrant of their own country and decided to help the US. The foreign nationals who are now, as a result of the outing of Plame, in jail (and possibly undergoing torture).

Actually, the foreign nationals recruited by Plame may have had contacts with other CIA staffers, or the US nationals used as go-betweens. Or maybe not. "Hmmm, Plame talked to X and Y. John Doe also talked to X and Y. That means John Doe is probably a CIA staffer, or a go-between. John Doe also talked with Z. That means Z is a traitor." The links are going to be traced forwards and backwards, and if Mr Z is completely innocent but implicated by the spiderweb then that is his tough luck.

The CIA cannot protect these foreign nationals at risk. The CIA cannot withdraw these people (to withdraw them would be to return them to their country of origin, which is where they now languish in jail).

So the talking point may be factually correct. US citizens, either employed by the CIA or spying on behalf of the CIA, have not have had to be withdrawn. Many may have been compromised, so will be withdrawn, but they did not have to be (they weren't in danger so didn't have to be withdrawn but they no longer served any purpose so were withdrawn). The fact that the network of foreign nationals willing to provide information to the US has been completely fucked is not addressed by the talking point.


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