The United States government has never, to my knowledge, publicly identified one of its own undercover intelligence operatives as a deliberate political act. Although there were turncoats in the past -- like Philip Agee, who in the 1970s launched a campaign to publish the names of purported CIA operatives -- they were immediately labeled for what they were, traitors to the cause of freedom and this country.
The exposure of Valerie Plame -- who I have reason to believe operated undercover -- apparently by a senior administration official, is nothing less than a despicable act for which someone should be held accountable. This case is especially upsetting to me because she was my agency classmate as well as my friend.
The result of such exposure in the past has been the death of our own citizens and of foreign nationals around the world who similarly chose to work on behalf of the United States. It is believed, for instance, that Agee's high-profile campaign led to the 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. The men and women who take these jobs know there are dangers involved. Being an undercover operative overseas, as I was, always involves risk; working in a hostile country heightens the risk.
Working undercover means performing clandestine acts while simultaneously maintaining a normal life. If an overseas operative is exposed, a good foreign -- and perhaps very hostile -- intelligence service will begin to piece together the "mosaic" of that person's life, placing many innocent and unsuspecting people in harm's way. In fact, even though very few social or ordinary contacts with people in a foreign land are intelligence- related, once an operative is exposed, everyone who has come into contact with the operative will come under scrutiny and will risk imprisonment or even death.
Even if the operative and her agents are able to escape harm, what is the comfort level for other foreign nationals who may want to work with us, knowing that at any time they could be exposed by a political actor in the U.S.? That is why someone guilty of exposing an operative faces severe criminal penalties.
In choosing to further the initial offense, the actions of the media are only slightly less despicable but dastardly nonetheless. Does the public good of the release outweigh the potential damage? It was simply not necessary to print the ambassador's wife's name and occupation, and the damage was far-reaching.
How far politically and ethically are we going to sink before we hold someone accountable or before someone takes responsibility?