Protecting Our Covert Intelligence Officers

The media's current focus on the trial of Vice president Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been largely biographical - which means most of what's been written and said so far has missed the point. Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation has been about a de facto conspiracy by a high-level group of political appointees to "out" a serving covert intelligence officer of the CIA - all because her husband (a former U.S. ambassador) dared to publicly question the Administration's claims about Iraq's nuclear program. For years, Congress has sat on the sidelines while members of our Clandestine Services have wondered whether they will be the next victim of a politically motivated "outing" should they run afoul of an Administration policy. This week, I introduced a bill that, if it becomes law, would make it much harder for such outrages to happen in the future.

My bill (H.R. 488) would mandate that any time a non-intelligence community official (appointed, elected, or career civil servant) makes an inquiry of an intelligence agency about the personal or professional lives of intelligence community personnel (staff or contractors), that inquiry would have to be reported to the Attorney General and the Congressional intelligence committees. Routine administrative or human resource-related inquiries (about payroll, insurance, etc.) would be exempt from the requirement. Senior officials would still be free to ask any analyst or operative any substantive, issue-oriented questions-they just couldn't go on fishing expeditions trying to find out where someone lives, who they're married to, or anything else of a personal or professional nature that could be used for partisan or political purposes.

We shouldn't have to pass laws like this, but Mr. Libby, Mr. Rove, Mr. Armitage and others declared a political open season on our intelligence professionals when they went after Valerie Plame. We need to take measures that will deter others from doing the same.