NEW YORK (Reuters) - An ex-spy whose unmasking led to the conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide is suing the Central Intelligence Agency, accusing it of unconstitutionally interfering with publication of her memoir.
Valerie Plame Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, filed a suit in the U.S. District Court in New York on Thursday against J. Michael McConnell, the CIA director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Michael Hayden.
Plame’s cover as a CIA agent was blown when her identity was leaked to reporters and appeared in a newspaper column in July 2003, shortly after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, emerged as an Iraq war critic.
The suit said although the CIA had released Plame’s dates of service in an unclassified document, “the CIA now purports to classify or reclassify Ms. Wilson’s pre-2002 federal service dates” so it cannot be published in her memoir “Fair Game.”
The CIA had also demanded “significant portions” of Wilson’s manuscript be “excised or rendered ‘fiction’” to protect the secrecy of Wilson’s service before 2002, it said.
“Defendants cannot unring the bell by asserting that their documented, authorized and voluntary disclosure was just a mistake,” the suit said.
“There simply is no basis for the CIA to maintain in effect that Valerie Plame is the only person in the world who is not entitled to publish this information,” it said.
Plame’s dates of service were contained in an unclassified letter sent to her in 2006 by the agency after she inquired about her retirement benefits.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the letter had been “an administrative error” because it contained classified information and the CIA had taken steps to fix the problem.
“The concern is that publication of the manuscript as submitted would cause additional damage to operations and would affect the agency’s ability to conduct intelligence activities in the future,” he said.
All publications by CIA and ex-CIA agents must be approved by a review board, which says its only objective is to prevent classified material from being released to the public.
The suit said Plame has worked with the CIA Publications Review Board for the past 10 months to comply fully with her secrecy agreements and avoid divulging any national security information.
“The CIA’s effort to classify public domain information is an unreasonable attempt at prior restraint of publication, and a violation of our First Amendment rights,” Simon & Schuster said in a statement.
“We have filed our suit in the belief that the CIA’s actions have implications that are much broader than this particular case, and that could have a chilling effect on the nature of public discourse in a free society,” it said.
The leaking of Plame’s identity prompted an investigation to determine if government officials had broken any laws.
Nobody was charged with blowing her cover, but Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, was found guilty in March of lying and obstructing the investigation.
Evidence at that trial showed Libby and several other White House and State Department officials leaked her identity to discredit her husband, who had accused the administration of twisting intelligence to build a case for invading Iraq.
Simon & Schuster is a unit of CBS Corp.
Additional reporting by Christine Kearney