Newsweek’s senior editor Jonathan Alter has an article that was just posted at MSNBC.com wherein he stated that Karl Rove could be guilty of violating Executive Order 12958 concerning the release of classified national security information, and, as a result, could lose his security clearance. As Alter sees it:
“According to last week’s indictment of Scooter Libby, a person identified as “Official A” held conversations with reporters about Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA operative, information that was classified. News accounts subsequently confirmed that that official was Rove. Under Executive Order 12958, signed by President Clinton in 1995, such a disclosure is grounds for, at a minimum, losing access to classified information.”
In reality, Alter is dredging up an old issue that first surfaced in January 2004 when six high-ranking Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, Henry Waxman, Joe Lieberman, John Conyers, and John D. Rockefeller, IV sent a letter to the General Accounting Office requesting an investigation into, amongst other things, the administration's alleged violation of E.O. 12958. Since then, this has become quite a favorite topic of discussion at left-wing websites like The Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, making this anything but a recent revelation. In fact, a Google search of "Karl Rove executive order 12958" generated over 500 results.
With that as a pretext, the first question is whether this is the type of information covered under E.O. 12958. As the order states under section 1.1:
(b) "Information" means any knowledge that can be communicated or documentary material, regardless of its physical form or characteristics, that is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government. "Control" means the authority of the agency that originates information, or its successor in function, to regulate access to the information.
(c) "Classified national security information" (hereafter "classified information") means information that has been determined pursuant to this order or any predecessor order to require protection against unauthorized disclosure and is marked to indicate its classified status when in documentary form.
As such, it appears that this order deals with actual information that has been deemed classified, and not necessarily the classified status of individuals. In fact, the two examples that Alter gave of violations of this order both dealt with such information:
“In the past, other officials have lost their security clearances for similar disclosures—even without a pattern. Former CIA director John Deutch and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who got in trouble after leaving office) both lost their clearances when they took classified information home without proper authorization. More recently, officials of the Coast Guard were sanctioned when they warned relatives of a possible terrorist threat against the New York City subways before public disclosure of the threat.”
Moreover, as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has yet to indict anyone for “outing” the CIA employee in question, even though he did state her status as having been “classified” in his indictments of I. Lewis Libby, it is not clear how this might in any way relate to E.O. 12958, or what risk Rove has of losing his security clearance unless he is indicted himself.