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Toensing Applauds the Exposure of a Covert Officer


In the middle of a hearing talking about the seriousness of protecting covert CIA officers' identities, Congressman Tom Davis and Victoria Toensing had the following exchange.(Starting at 3:32:20 on CSPAN)

Davis: Once it gets to the press level, say someone inadvertently leaked this to the, to the press, what should the CIA do, notwithstanding the act, what should the CIA do or be able to do to protect their operatives and what do you think they did in this case?

Toensing: Well, they didn't do anything in this case. As anybody looking at it, as I view it, as I see all the facts, I have no reason whatsoever to believe that Ms. Plame was covert under the statute. I mean, they can call … I've represented a covert … officer, it's not an agent, actually, the statute uses that term but Ms. Plame was a covert officer, I've represented a covert officer uh, from the CIA, and let me tell you, in the course of my representation, the New York Times was going to print her name on its front page. And the New York Times reporter, a wonderful reporter, Tim Weiner called me and said the CIA had just called him and told him that they were going to go after him criminally if they printed her name. No such threat was ever given to Bob Novak. And, good for Tim Weiner, he went ahead and printed it anyway.

Huh?!?!?! There's a lot to balk at in this passage. Toensing helpfully points out that the IIPA–which she had been describing as a statute crafted with careful, accurate language–uses a misleading term, "covert agent" for arguably the most important term in the statute. Once again, Toensing makes claims to having all the facts about issues that remain under grand jury secrecy. And then–again, remember this is a hearing on the importance of protecting covert agents' identities–she says, "good for Tim Weiner, he published a covert officer's identity."

Now, before I examine what such a shocking claim means for Toensing's argument, let me explain that it's not (quite) as bad as it sounds. The covert officer in question was Janine Brookner, and Toensing was representing her in a bias lawsuit against the CIA.

What happened to Ms. Brookner, one of the C.I.A.'s first female station chiefs? The agency says she suddenly became a drunken sexual temptress in Jamaica. But six fellow spies say hers is a case study in male chauvinism at the C.I.A.

For her part, Ms. Brookner contends in a scathing lawsuit that she has been punished for challenging the agency's "pervasive atmosphere of machismo and sexual discrimination" by filing a bias complaint and trying to discipline a violent subordinate.


Ms. Brookner's Federal suit, Jane Doe Thompson v. Woolsey, was filed in July by her lawyer, Victoria Toensing, a Justice Department official in the Reagan Administration who is also a former chief counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.


Jane Doe Thompson v. Woolsey, filed under seal, was partly unsealed last week after the C.I.A. deleted large parts of it. The agency says it cannot comment on the case. Ms. Brookner's real name, career achievements and personal history, blacked out of the suit by the agency, ostensibly for reasons of national security, were detailed by six current and former C.I.A. colleagues. She declined to be interviewed.

In other words, Brookner was being screwed over by the CIA, and Toensing presumably applauded Weiner for publishing her name because it served to put a face on the pervasive sexual discrimination of the CIA (and, no doubt, helped her win a $400,000 settlement against the Agency). Toensing spoke repeatedly about retaining a way in the IIPA for CIA whistleblowers to expose wrong-doing, and it seems naming Brookner would be one way (but not a necessary way) to expose the CIA. Though that doesn't, presumably, change the fact that all of Brookner's contacts may have been compromised when her name was published on page A1 of the NYT.

(Brookner now defends CIA officers in personnel cases, but she apparently treats their covert identities with more discretion: "But she can't talk about many of the cases because they are sealed by the court. In fact, the names of some of her clients are classified.")

But here's the sad irony–or set of ironies. First, Toensing's defense then is almost a mirror image of her offense now. Then, she was arguing against the injustice of a talented female officer being screwed over and stuck in a desk job at CIA headquarters–and eventually, forced to leave the Agency.

The agency's inspector general investigated those accusations, took statements under pain of perjury and concluded in a December 1992 report that Ms. Brookner, then a 24-year veteran of the C.I.A.'s clandestine service, was an alcoholic minx who should be denied a previously offered job as chief of station in Prague. Instead, she was given a desk job with few duties at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va. She then filed a Federal suit in July, seeking to regain her lost status.


The settlement does not address the reinstatement of Ms. Brookner, who intelligence officials said today is likely to leave the agency.

Now, of course, Toensing seems perfectly content that a talented female officer would be forced into a desk job and deprived of her career.  

Then, Toensing objected when powerful interests launched a smear campaign to retaliate against a whistleblower. Now, she finds such a smear campaign perfectly fair.

Mostly, a comparison of the two cases suggests that Toensing has an abiding dislike for the CIA that overrides any real assessment of the facts.

Finally, Toensing's comment–both her depiction of the event and her celebration that Weiner ignored the CIA–does one more thing. It reveals (as if her blathering already hadn't) her fundamental dishonesty about the efficacy of warning journalists not to publish covert officers' names. One of Toensing's key arguments is that the CIA should have intervened more strongly with Novak–and that such a warning would have worked. Well, first of all, Tim Weiner is proof positive that such warnings don't work. Weiner presumably judged that the CIA was covering up their own errors, which is precisely what Novak likes to argue (with less justification) about his own column. 

But here's where the mirror returns. Because, of course, Weiner published Brookner's name in an effort to help her cause. She may not have bought off on the leak of her name–but those speaking for her best interest (including, apparently, Toensing) represented to Weiner he should publish her name. 

With Novak and Valerie, it was the exact opposite. There is no way of imagining that leaking Plame's name and status to Novak would benefit her. Even the least malicious of the leakers–Armitage–was accusing her of nepotism. To Toensing, however, it is all the same, leaking Brookner's identity with some foreknowledge, and leaking Valerie's name even though her husband tried to stop it.

In the end, the purported author of the IIPA statute, Victoria Toensing, seems to think it is a good thing when a reporter ignores warnings against publishing a covert officer's names. Chew on that for a while.  

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