Administration officials who are given security clearance are required to read and sign a form known as the “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement,” of SF 312. A copy of the form can be found here (PDF format).
Accompanying the form is a briefing booklet, the contents of which are here. Here’s a key excerpt from the booklet:
Question 19: If information that a signer of the SF 312 knows to have been classified appears in a public source, for example, in a newspaper article, may the signer assume that the information has been declassified and disseminate it elsewhere?
Answer: No. Information remains classified until it has been officially declassified. Its disclosure in a public source does not declassify the information. Of course, merely quoting the public source in the abstract is not a second unauthorized disclosure. However, before disseminating the information elsewhere or 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, further dissemination of the information or confirmation of its accuracy is also an unauthorized disclosure.
The import of this cannot be underestimated. It reflects directly on the meme that “Rove learned about Plame from Novak.”
First of all, “Information remains classified until it has been officially declassified” means exactly what it says. And that means that Rove cannot assert “Novak told me” that as a “complete defense” to the issue of whether or not Plame was/wasn’t covert.
On the plus side for Rove (and as I wrote before), merely saying “Yeah, I heard that too” may not, in and of itself, be an unauthorized disclosure. (An argument can be made that Rove’s “I heard that too” was a confirmation, rather than an acknowledgement in the abstract. It’s a plausible argument, and perhaps Novak took it as a confirmation, but I seriously doubt that it is sufficient enough to meet the high burden associated with criminal statutes).
Where Rove may face problems is the last part. Assuming Rove heard about Plame’s status through Novak, he still had an affirmative duty to check it out to see if the info was declassified before further dissemination. Let’s also assume, that Rove discussed Plame with Cooper and Miller, and perhaps others, post-Novak. (Note: If Rove talked to Cooper and Miller PRE-Novak, then he’s beyond deep doo-doo, if his excuse is “I learned it from Novak").
If Rove didn’t check the accuracy of Novak’s comment, he’s got a problem. He clearly didn’t do what he was supposed to (and, at a minimum, his security clearance should be revoked—I don’t see how anybody can disagree with that).
If he DID check it out, there’s probably a record somewhere, which could spell trouble, especially if he learned that her status WAS classified . . . and he later talked to Cooper about it nonetheless. (If Cooper raised the issue, Rove should have given a “no comment”.)
But Cooper has said that Rove talked about Plame, and her work with WMD analysis. (He also said that Rove closed with a revealing "I’ve already said too much") How did Rove come about the WMD information? From Novak? Not according to any account I have heard. So perhaps Rove did check into Plame after talking to Novak, in which case he would have learned that Plame was not de-classified. Which means he should not have “further disseminated” the information to Cooper.
Anyway, make of SF 312 what you will. Just another brick in the wall. Or, er, nail in the coffin. You decide.