In 1982 Ronald Reagan signed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, making it a federal crime, under certain circumstances, to reveal the identity of a covert U.S. operative. The act remained mostly dormant until special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald was appointed in December 2003 to determine whether anyone in the Bush Administration broke the law by telling journalists that Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an opponent of the Iraq war, was a CIA officer.
•WHAT DOES THE LAW ACTUALLY LEGISLATE?
The law is split into three sections, and you really have to work to be in violation of any of them. Part A says a government official with access to classified information about covert personnel who intentionally exposes an operative, knowing that the U.S. "is taking affirmative measures to conceal" the operative's identity, can face up to 10 years in prison or a $50,000 fine or both. A similar section applies the same standard, but with lesser penalties, to an official who has security clearance in one area, learns the identity of a covert operative in another area, and intentionally discloses it. Part C states that any person, even someone not working for the government, who continually exposes covert operatives knowing that the U.S. is protecting their identities and having "reason to believe" their exposure will damage U.S. intelligence will face up to three years in prison or $15,000 in fines or both.
•DID KARL ROVE BREAK THE LAW?
Rove insists that he did not identify Plame by name as a CIA officer. However, a simple Google search at the time turned up the name of Joseph Wilson's wife. A court would have to decide whether Rove mentioned that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA with the specific intention of blowing her cover. Rove did not tell TIME correspondent Matthew Cooper that Plame worked undercover. What is certain is that Plame was still classified as a covert operative at the time of the leak and that as recently as the late 1990s she was working as a nonofficial cover (NOC) officer, one of a select group of operatives within the CIA who are placed in neutral-seeming environments abroad and collect secrets, knowing that the U.S. government will disavow any connection with them should they be caught. NOC officers cost millions of dollars to train and support. As a result of the leak, Plame is no longer able to work undercover.
•WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL IMPETUS BEHIND CREATION OF THE ACT?
In two words, Philip Agee. Agee was a CIA officer who spent most of his 11-year career in Latin America. He resigned in 1969 and devoted himself to bringing down the agency for its alleged complicity with repressive Third World regimes. Engaging in what he termed "guerrilla journalism," Agee wrote a 1975 memoir, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, featuring a 24-page appendix made up of agents' names and operations. Later that year Richard Welch, a CIA station officer in Athens, was assassinated. Welch was not one of the agents outed in Agee's book (and his identity was not a well-kept secret), but the proximity of events sparked a push for legislation to protect the identities of all agents.
•HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN PROSECUTED FOR BREAKING THIS LAW?