The Exposure Of Valerie Plame

Husband Of Unmasked CIA Agent Says She's Been Threatened

Valerie Plame was also exposed as a "NOC," an agent working under non-official cover. That means she wasn't attached to a U.S. Embassy or any other government agency when she worked overseas, which would have provided her protection if she was caught spying. In other words, she had no diplomatic immunity.

Working overseas as an NOC, without official cover, was a dangerous assignment, says Marcinkowski. "With diplomatic immunity, the worst that can happen is you get kicked out of the country. You don't have that kind of a protection when you're a NOC. You're out there, what they would call naked."

"Out there" like Hugh Redmond, a NOC who was caught spying in Shanghai in 1951 and died after 19 years in a Chinese prison. To this day, the CIA denies he was an agent.

"We give our most sensitive cases to those officers serving under non-official cover," explains Melissa Mahle, who spent 14 years in the Middle East as a covert CIA operative maintaining a series of fictitious "legends," or cover stories, created by her superiors.

"I conducted espionage. I went overseas, I recruited agents," says Mahle.

She left the agency three years ago, and recently struck up a friendship with a woman whose career ran parallel to her own: Valerie Plame Wilson.

"People have said, 'Oh, well, Valerie wasn't serving in a sensitive position. So it's not really that serious.' Well, I would say that's a very fallacious way of looking at this because a cover is for a clandestine officer can be different things at different times. We change cover. We modify cover based on how we need it," says Mahle. "If you start to unravel one part of that, you can unravel the whole thing."

Mahle says Valerie was working on important national security issues, like keeping tabs on nuclear material and the world's top nuclear scientists. "She is an expert on weapons of mass destruction. These are the kind of people that don't grow on trees."

What do agents in that division do? "They're trying to figure out, really, the hard questions of who has the capability obtaining and deploying a biological weapon. Or a chemical weapon. Who's doing it? What are those networks? What are the financial trails?" says Mahle.

The CIA has yet to conduct a formal damage assessment. The agency wanted to wait until the investigation by the special prosecutor was over.

But agency representatives have come to Capitol Hill to brief the intelligence committees about steps they've taken to "mitigate the effects of the leak."

"I think any time the identity of a covert agent is released, there is some damage. And it's serious," says Congressman Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Holt says some people Valerie Wilson came into contact with overseas, even those who didn't know she was a covert operative, could be in danger.

"Have you had assurances that the agency is handling the fallout from this leak?" Bradley asked.

"They have taken the usual procedures to protect the damage from spreading," Rep. Holt replied.

"Is it possible that someone overseas, someone is going to jail because of this?" Bradley asked Holt. "Sure, it's possible."

"Is it possible that somebody lost their life?" Bradley asked. "It's possible. I don't know," the congressman said.

Rep. Holt pointed out there has not yet been a formal assessment. "If there were, and I had been briefed on it, I couldn't talk about it."

"This was a crime against the national security of the country," says Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson's husband. He's a career diplomat who served in Iraq for the first President Bush, and on the National Security Council as an expert on Africa for President Clinton.

In February, 2002, he was sent by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium ore from Niger, a country in Africa where he had once been posted. When he returned, he told the agency such a sale was "highly unlikely."

But when the president said in his January 2003 State of the Union Address that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa, Wilson accused the administration of lying to make a better case for war. And that, he says, is why people in the administration came after his wife.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for