Intel: A Writer's Blocked

A CIA panel has told former officer Valerie Plame she can't write about her undercover work for the agency, a position that may threaten a lucrative book project with her publisher. Plame's outing as a CIA officer in July 2003 triggered a criminal probe that culminates next week when Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby goes on trial for perjury and obstruction.

But in what could be a pre-cursor to a separate legal battle, Plame recently hired a lawyer to challenge the CIA Publications Review Board, which must clear writings by former employees. The panel refused Plame permission to even mention that she worked for the CIA because she served as a "nonofficial cover" officer (or NOC) posing as a private business-woman, according to an adviser to Plame, who asked not to be identified discussing a sensitive issue. "She believes this will effectively gut the book," said the adviser. Larry Johnson, a former colleague, said the agency's action seems punitive, given that other ex-CIA undercover officers have published books. But even Plame's friends acknowledge that few NOCs have done so. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the panel was still having "ongoing" talks with Plame to resolve the dispute. "The sole yardstick," he said, is that books "contain no classified information." A spokesman for Simon & Schuster, Plame's publisher, declined to comment.