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October 26, 2005

Myth of Murder Due to Name Disclosure

Both Atrios and Americablog point to a statement by Gary Hart that disclosure of the identity of CIA Agent Robert Welch led to his murder by Greek terrorists -- the reason why it's such a crime to disclose a CIA agent. So this justifies making exposing Valerie Plame's identity a crime.

Except the problem here is Hart's statement is documented to be untrue. As Reason magazine details, the man who disclosed Welch's name, Phil Agee, filed a libel suit against Barbara Bush for making that statement. As articlesthat Reason cites detail, the whole "Agee killed Welch" store was concocted by the CIA as a way to try to derail Congressional investigation of CIA abuses around the world.

Agee never published Welch's name, although some other news sources had, because Welch's identity as a CIA agent was widely known. But even William Cody, head of the CIA, when testifying before Congress had to admit that it was poor secrecy by the CIA, not Agee or others, who had exposed Welch. As a Los Angeles Times report said (see same link above):

"[William] Colby said 'bad cover' contributed to the assassination two years ago of Richard Welch, CIA station chief in Athens. This was partly a result of administrative practices that made it easy
to identify CIA employes from embassy lists, he said.

"Besides, Colby said, Welch 'accepted the bad cover' by living in the same house as his predecessor and by making only minimal efforts to disguise his identity.

"Although an Athens newspaper published a story naming Welch as a CIA official shortly before his death, Colby said this had only the indirect effect of inflaming potential killers to strike at CIA employes. He said Welch's cover was not adequate to hide him, even without the newspaper account.

"Subcommittee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) reminded Colby that CIA spokesmen called a number of newspapers the morning after Welch's death to suggest that the assassination was a direct result of the newspaper's printing his name.

"'I have pretty specifically avoided saying that,' Colby said. 'Maybe you are right about the first few telephone calls.'"

And beyond the myth of Robert Welch's death due to exposure, no other deaths have been linked to the public revelation of a CIA agent's identity.

The fact that progressives are now repeating rightwing CIA propaganda as truth is exactly why I've been skeptical of the whole Plame investigation from Day One.

And let's ask why those Greek's wanted to murder a CIA agent in the first place?

Could it be because Welch's predecessor as CIA station chief in Athens had helped engineer a murderous coup (see also here)? From 1967 to 1974, based on a coup that the CIA and its Greek allies engineered, that government, backed by the US, murdered and tortured Greek citizens..

So why the hell are progressives crying about the death of one person -- who didn't die because of Phil Agee but because of CIA incompetence in disguising his identity -- when the CIA itself was responsible for so many more deaths in Greece?

Criminalizing disclosure of CIA activities is an excuse for ongoing coverups of murder and subversion by the US government around the world. I'm not a pacifist and will even support some nasty actions by the US if it's the lesser evil. But those actions should be public, like everything else in a democratic society. Otherwise, we allow the US government to commit acts that the public often never would have endorsed if they had been known publicly at the time.

In their thirst to claim the scalps of a few White House operatives, I really fear that a whole block of progressives are signing onto the worst aspects of secrecy and the national security state.

Robert Welch did not die because anyone revealed his name. And nobody died because Valerie Plame was exposed. That is the most minor, minor crime of the Bush administration that I can imagine.

Lying about the Iraq war, manipulating data to send people to die-- now, that's a political crime of the highest order. But the last thing I want is to build up the CIA's ability to silence critics and shut down journalistic or whistleblower exposes of its misdeeds -- which inevitably requires identifying the agents committing those acts. Plame may not fit that profile, as a victim of her own administration, but I sincerely doubt people will make much of the difference the next time they want to prosecute someone identifying such misdeeds.

Posted by Nathan at October 26, 2005 12:28 PM