Monday, July 18, 2005

 

SF-312

Being unable to withstand prolonged exposure to Tim Russert without suffering fits of vomiting, I missed this little tidbit that Liberal Oasis cites:

It has been 738 days since Karl Rove violated his obligations under Standard Form 312 without the White House taking “corrective action.” What does that mean? Check out this exchange from NBC’s Meet The Press between host Tim Russert and GOP Chairman (and former Rove deputy) Ken Mehlman: RUSSERT: When one is given classified clearance, they are asked to sign an oath, and they are given a briefing book with form. Standard Form 312, it's called. And if you read this briefing book, it says this: "Before...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...confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure." So by confirming a story from Robert Novak or sharing information with Matt Cooper, no matter where it came from, if, in fact, it was classified information, without seeking to determine whether it was declassified, it is an unauthorized disclosure. MEHLMAN: Well, you're making an assumption that it's classified information. In fact, what the story on Friday, you pointed out, shows, and what earlier stories have shown is that this information at least came to Mr. Rove from journalists, not from a classified source. Much of the talk to date, rightly, has been about who in the White House committed a crime by uncovering Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity and damaging our national security. And while many of us are pontificating about that now, in the end, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and the grand jury have the final say whether anyone will be indicted for the crime. But SF 312, also known as the “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement,” is separate from the criminal investigation. It’s about proper behavior for government employees with high security clearances such as Rove (who is paid with taxpayer dollars to coordinate the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, among other things. He is not paid merely to be a political hack.) Rove’s defenders, when they’re not avoiding the issue by going after Wilson’s husband, try to argue Rove wouldn’t have violated the specifics of the Intelligence Identities Protections Act if he got his info from a non-classified source (like a journalist) or if Valerie Wilson was not stationed overseas within 5 years of the leak. Now, these arguments can be, and have been, knocked down in a number of ways. But for moment, assume them to be true. Under SF 312, it doesn’t matter. You get a whiff of something that may be classified, regardless of where you got it from, regardless of what your intentions are, you have to check it out with the CIA and make sure it’s not classified before you go blabbing about it. If that nondisclosure agreement is violated, as Rep. Henry Waxman’s PDF fact sheet explains, “Under [Executive Order 12958] the White House has an affirmative obligation to investigate and take remedial action separate and apart from any ongoing criminal investigation.” He also notes, “There is no evidence that the White House complied with these requirements.”

Mehlman’s response to Russert’s questions is telling. He is unable to answer forthrightly. He has no choice but to lie. He said, “you're making an assumption that it's classified information.” That is not an assumption. That is fact. Not only is it a fact that Plame Wilson was covert at the time of the leak, regardless of when her last overseas assignment was. (Though note that Time Magazine reports: “A U.S. official told TIME that Plame was indeed considered covert for the purposes of the Intelligence Identities Protection law.”) But the story Rove was peddling – that Plame Wilson had a role in sending her husband to Niger to check out if Saddam was getting nuke materials there – was also info that came from a classified memo. Mehlman continued with an irrelevant argument: “this information at least came to Mr. Rove from journalists, not from a classified source.” The whole point of Russert bringing up SF 312 was under that nondisclosure agreement, it doesn’t matter where Rove got the info. He was obligated to make sure it wasn’t classified. He was, at the barest minimum, being negligent in his handling of sensitive national security information, which is a violation of SF 312. Now “remedial action” can mean a lot of things. But common sense would dictate that a careless handling of classified info warrants a revoking of one’s security clearance. And using classified info for political payback warrants dismissal. Why hasn’t the White House begun its own investigation to determine if Rove or others violated SF 312 and deserve remedial action, as is required? Ken Mehlman can’t answer that question. Which means: keep asking. QUICK HIT Keep An Eye Out... ...for a accelerated announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, in order to change the subject.


Comments:
I cannot understand why the blogosphere has been so slow to understand this, PW.

You've laid out the issue well.

There is no conceivable reason that a political operative should have reason to access classified information. But given his position, it must be anticipated that through inadvertence (under a real president) or by design (under Bush) he might encounter it. Therefore he must be covered.

Under the general rules for clearance, if you sneeze, they suspend it. If you cough, it's revoked. Therefore, the target of an investigation on disclosure of classified information should have immediately been moved to a position in which he could not have access to it.

Kabul, for example.

Failure to do so by a president is a serious breach of the obligations of office. Some might call it impeachable.

At any rate, I feel as if I have been shouting down a well on this issue and am glad to know that my voice joins those of Cong. Waxman and PW.
 
Hell, Liberal Oasis is the one who laid it out. I just happened to be piggybacking on their (and Waxman's, and astonishingly enough, Russert's) good work. (Though Russert didn't press Mehlman the way he should have, when Mehlman flat-out lied in his face.)

But yes, if you look at the SF-312 angle, it doesn't matter whether or not the information really was classified -- if you had reason to believe that it was or should have been (and to judge from Rove's insistence on "double super secret background" and his statement to Cooper that "I've already said too much", Rove obviously did), and you leak it anyway, then you are just as liable as if it were.

The SF-312 is probably the easiest thing to hang Rove with. Fitzgerald wouldn't mind throwing a few other charges Rove's way, but this one will suffice to end Rove's career.
 
It also has a staturory basis, 18 USC 793. Failing to confirm the classification level of information before communicating it is a felony all by its self.
 
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