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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Spy Valerie Plame Loses Memoir Appeal

(CN) - The 2nd Circuit upheld the CIA's refusal to let outed agent Valerie Plame Wilson publish information in her memoir about her alleged service in the agency before 2002.

The New York-based appeals court upheld the district court's ruling for the government in Wilson's free-speech claim against the CIA.

Wilson and her publisher argued that her pre-2002 affiliation with the CIA was fair game to write about, despite her secrecy agreement with the CIA, because the agency itself had disclosed the information in an unclassified letter about retirement benefits.

In July 2003, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, in which he questioned the existence of the weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq.

About a week later, columnist Robert Novak stirred a media controversy by leaking the identity of Joe Wilson's wife, then-covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

The frenzy forced the CIA to acknowledge that Valerie Plame Wilson had, in fact, worked for the CIA since Jan. 1, 2002. But the agency insisted that its official disclosure "does not mean that the CIA acknowledges any other period of [Ms. Wilson's] employment, if any," adding that the nature and details of her service remain classified.

When Wilson retired in January 2006, prompted by her leaked identity, she decided to publish a memoir. The CIA's Publication Review Board took issue with the first 124 pages of her manuscript, saying they included timeframes that would reveal classified information.

Wilson and Simon & Schuster argued that Wilson's pre-2002 service had been disclosed in 2006, in an unclassified CIA letter rejecting her bid for early retirement benefits. They also noted that Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) had referred to her "20 years of federal service" when introducing the Valerie Plame Wilson Compensation Act, a special law aimed at letting Wilson retire at 42.

Her lawyer argued that the CIA's restriction on the memoir was "nonsensical," because it meant that "virtually anyone in the world can write about the non-secret, publicly known aspects of Ms. Wilson's life - except for her" (emphasis in original).

The CIA cited "administrative error" in failing to mark the retirement letter as classified, but insisted that the service dates were nonetheless classified.

The 2nd Circuit agreed.

"While the CIA's negligence appears to have caused classified information about Ms. Wilson's service dates to be disclosed outside the agency, that disclosure was only to Ms. Wilson, a person authorized to receive it," Judge Reena Raggi wrote in a footnote in the 56-page opinion. "It was Ms. Wilson herself who proceeded, without authorization, to approve public disclosure of the classified information" (emphasis in original).

A former CIA agent "cannot use her own unauthorized disclosure of classified information to challenge the agency's ability to maintain the information as classified," the court concluded.

"If Ms. Wilson were to state in her memoir, 'I was a CIA operative from date X,' then any discussion of her activities after that date ... would necessarily reveal CIA 'sources and methods,' information that lies at 'the heart of all intelligence operations,'" Raggi wrote, quoting the Supreme Court in CIA v. Sims.

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