The New York Times reports this morning:
A 1982 statute makes it a crime for people with authorized access to classified information to knowingly identify covert agents. If officials learned the information solely from reporters rather than from confidential files, they probably did not violate the law. Even if they came to know the information in both ways, the fact that it was in public circulation would suggest that it was not particularly secret.
That’s not quite true. This characterization by the Times fails to report the duties assigned to individuals, like Karl Rove, who receive national security clearance. Administration officials who are given the national security clearance to receive classified information are required to sign the “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement,” also known as the “SF 312.” The SF 312 Briefing Booklet helps answer questions about the practices and procedures that should be followed by individuals given top national security clearance. Here’s what question #19 in that booklet says:
Question 19: If information that a signer of the SF 312 knows to have been classified appears in a public source, for example, in a newspaper article, may the signer assume that the information has been declassified and disseminate it elsewhere?
Answer: No. Information remains classified until it has been officially declassified. Its disclosure in a public source does not declassify the information. Of course, merely quoting the public source in the abstract is not a second unauthorized disclosure. However, before disseminating the information elsewhere or confirming the accuracy of what appears in the public source, the signer of the SF 312 must confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified. If it has not, further dissemination of the information or confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure.
The answer makes clear that Rove not only had a duty not to disclose the identity of a covert CIA agent, but he also had an affirmative duty prior to confirming Plame’s identity with a reporter to first “confirm through an authorized official that the information has, in fact, been declassified.” Thus, the argument by Rove allies, as reported by CNN, that “Rove was the recipient of information, not a provider” is irrelevant. Instead of saying “I heard that, too,” Rove’s answer to Novak should have been “no comment” when Novak said he heard Plame worked at the CIA. But that answer of course would have prevented him from engaging in the smear campaign against Wilson.