Public Info in Plame Case is Classified, Judge Rules

08.06.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A federal court last week accepted a Central Intelligence Agency argument that the date on which former covert officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA began should remain classified even though it is irrevocably in the public domain.

The date in question appeared in a seemingly unclassified letter sent by CIA to Ms. Wilson and published in the Congressional Record. But when she sought to include the information in the manuscript of her forthcoming memoir, the CIA objected that it is still classified. Now the Court has agreed.

“To be sure, the public may draw whatever conclusions it might from the fact that the information at issue was sent on CIA letterhead by the Chief of Retirement and Insurance Services,” wrote Judge Barbara S. Jones in an August 1 ruling (pdf). “However, nothing in the law or its policy requires the CIA to officially acknowledge what those in the public may think they know.”

The text of the CIA letter containing the classified information citing the start of Ms. Wilson’s employment on November 9, 1985 was published in the Congressional Record (pdf) on January 16, 2007.

In their June 28 motion (pdf) to overturn CIA censorship, Ms. Wilson’s attorneys cited a lawsuit of mine in which the CIA was compelled to disclose its 1963 budget after I showed that the figure had previously been declassified. “As in ‘Aftergood’,” they argued by analogy, “the Court should reject the CIA’s belated and unsupported effort” to deny access to information in the public domain.

But that case was different, the government replied on July 13 (pdf). The 1963 budget figure was declassified, albeit inadvertently. The information on Ms. Wilson’s employment was never formally declassified, inadvertently or otherwise, but was merely disclosed by accident.

An unclassified declaration by Stephen R. Kappes (pdf), deputy director of CIA, provided a lucid explanation of CIA’s perspective on classification of information about covert employees, intelligence liaison relationships, and related topics.

Other selected case files may be found here.