Intelligence Identities Protection Act

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Intelligence Identities Protection Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titlesIntelligence Identities Protection Act of 1981
Long titleAn Act to amend the National Security Act of 1947 to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of information identifying certain United States intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources.
Acronyms (colloquial)IIPA
NicknamesIntelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982
Enacted bythe 97th United States Congress
EffectiveJune 23, 1982
Public law97-200
Statutes at Large96 Stat. 122
Titles amended50 U.S.C.: War and National Defense
U.S.C. sections amended
Legislative history

The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 97–200, 50 U.S.C. §§ 421426) is a United States federal law that makes it a federal crime for those with access to classified information, or those who systematically seek to identify and expose covert agents and have reason to believe that it will harm the foreign intelligence activities of the U.S.,[1] to intentionally reveal the identity of an agent whom one knows to be in or recently in certain covert roles with a U.S. intelligence agency, unless the United States has publicly acknowledged or revealed the relationship.[2]


The law was written, in part, as a response to several incidents where Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents or officers' identities were revealed. Under then existing law, such disclosures were legal when they did not involve the release of classified information. In 1975, CIA Athens station chief Richard Welch[3] was assassinated by the Greek urban guerrilla group November 17 after his identity was revealed in several listings by a magazine called CounterSpy, edited by Timothy Butz. A local paper checked with CounterSpy to confirm his identity.[4] However, the linkage between the publication of Welch's name and his assassination has been challenged by pundits that claim he was residing in a known CIA residency.[5]

Another major impetus to pass the legislation was the activities of ex-CIA case officer Philip Agee during the 1960s and 1970s. Agee's book CIA Diary and his publication of the Covert Action Information Bulletin blew the cover of many agents. Some commentators say the law was specifically targeted at his actions, and one Congressman, Bill Young, said during a House debate, "What we're after today are the Philip Agees of the world."[6]

The law passed the House by a vote of 315–32, with all opposing votes coming from Democrats. The law passed the Senate 81–4, with the opponents being Democratic Senators Joe Biden, Gary Hart, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Republican Senator Charles Mathias.[7] Biden had written an op-ed column in the Christian Science Monitor published on April 6, 1982, that criticized the proposed law as harmful to national security.[8]

As of January 2013, there have been only two successful prosecutions involving the statute.[9] In 1985, Sharon Scranage, a secretary in the CIA's office in Accra, Ghana, was sentenced to five years and served eight months, for giving the names of other agents to her boyfriend in Ghana.[10] In January, 2013 John C. Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, who accepted a plea bargain, is serving a prison sentence for disclosing the name of another CIA officer to a reporter.[11]

First Amendment implications[edit]

The criminal provisions of the act are contained in 50 U.S.C. § 421. During Congress's consideration of the measure, much attention is paid to subsection 421(c), which states:

421(c) Disclosure of information by persons in course of pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents. Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States, discloses any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such individual and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such individual's classified intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under Title 18 or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Under this subsection, journalists and political commentators alike could be prosecuted should they show an effort towards discovering or revealing identities of covert agents. However, it was ultimately concluded by the Senate Judiciary and the Conference Committee that the measure is constitutionally sound. Individuals would only be prosecuted if they engage in a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents, on the grounds that such actions goes beyond information that might contribute to informed public debate on foreign policy or foreign intelligence activities.

The Conference Committee assured that U.S. intelligence critics would be beyond the reach of law so long as they do not actively seek to identify or expose covert agents. However, commentators are still wary of the measure, finding 421(c) standard over-broad since it lacks a 'specific intent requirement' and instead relies on a 'reason to believe' standard.[12]

Valerie Plame affair[edit]

Between 2003 and 2007, an investigation was conducted by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into whether this law and others were violated in the identification of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in a 2003 newspaper column by Robert Novak.[13] As a result of the investigation, former Vice Presidential Chief-of-Staff "Scooter" Libby was convicted on two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of making false statements to federal investigators[14] and sentenced to thirty months in jail.[15] In a court filing related to Libby's sentencing, the CIA stated that Plame was a covert agent at the time of the leak.[16] In addition, the leak enabled the identification of Plame as an employee of the CIA front company, Brewster Jennings & Associates, and in doing so enabled the identification of other CIA agents who were "employed" there.[17]

Who is Rich Blee?[edit]

In 2011 Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy of[18] planned to release an audio documentary entitled Who is Rich Blee?, focusing on the CIA's Bin Ladin unit before 9/11, and the way certain CIA officials blocked information on 9/11 hijackers from reaching the FBI before 9/11. In the documentary they planned to reveal the identity of two CIA agents. One of them is "Frances", the red-headed CIA agent mentioned in several reports on the War on Terror, including Jane Mayer's The Dark Side and an AP news story from 2011 about the Khalid El-Masri case.[19] However, after receiving threats under the IIPA, Duffy and Nowosielski decided to release the documentary with the names redacted.[20] The CIA threatened them with prosecution. They claim that their webmaster later posted an email containing the identities by accident. The identities then spread to the wider Internet.[21][22][23]

John Kiriakou[edit]

A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, was charged with offenses under the act. On Tuesday, October 23, 2012, Kiriakou pleaded guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.[11]

As part of a plea agreement, Kiriakou accepted a 30-month prison term, while the charges filed under the Espionage Act were dropped. He was sentenced on January 25, 2013.[24] This was the first conviction of a CIA officer under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years.[25]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh; Mazzetti, Mark; Shane, Scott (17 July 2005). "The Law: What Can You Say About A Spy?". Time. Archived from the original on July 19, 2005. Retrieved 2011-01-09. What does the law actually legislate? ... a government official with access to classified information ... an official who has security clearance in one area, learns the identity of a covert operative in another area ... any person ... who continually exposes covert operatives knowing that the U.S. is protecting their identities and having "reason to believe" their exposure will damage U.S. intelligence
  2. ^ Elsia, Jennifer (December 13, 2012). "Intelligence Indentities Protection Act" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  3. ^ Washington Post. Obituary: Richard S. Welch 29 Dec. 1975, A16. ISSN 0190-8286 "The murder of Richard S. Welch, CIA station chief in Athens, was the entirely predictable result of the disclosure tactics chosen by certain American critics of the agency as part of their effort to destroy it."
  4. ^ Morton H. Halperin and National Security Issues—A Partial Record, Congressional Record, United States Senate - July 15, 1994, pg. S9109.
  5. ^ Garwood, "Under Cover"
  6. ^ "Agee's Revenge" (Reason 14 July 2005)
  7. ^ "Bill To Penalize Uncovering Of Agents Passed By Senate". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 10, 1982. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  8. ^ Biden, Joseph (April 6, 1982). "A Spy Law That Threatens National Security". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  9. ^ "In CIA leak case, eyes on Rove -". Christian Science Monitor. 13 July 2005.
  10. ^ Collier, Robert (12 July 2005). "Key questions at the center of the leak controversy". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 22 July 2005.
  11. ^ a b Scott Shane (January 5, 2013). "Ex-Officer Is First From C.I.A. to Face Prison for a Leak". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  12. ^ - January 28, 2011, pg. 5.
  13. ^ "Robert D. Novak - Mission To Niger". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2022-04-10.
  14. ^ "Libby Found Guilty of Perjury, Obstruction" Archived 2007-03-07 at the Wayback Machine (CNN Newsroom 6 March 2007)
  15. ^ "Former White House Official Sentenced to Prison in CIA Leak Case" Archived 2007-06-07 at the Wayback Machine (Voice of America 5 June 2007)
  16. ^ "Plame was ‘covert’ agent at time of name leak" (MSNBC 29 May 2007)
  17. ^ "Leak of Agent's Name Causes Exposure of CIA Front Firm" (Washington Post 4 October 2003)
  18. ^*/
  19. ^ AP Impact: At CIA, grave mistakes, then promotions February 09, 2011, Associated Press, via
  20. ^*/
  21. ^ Boiling Frogs podcast, Sibel Edmonds, 2011
  22. ^ Insiders voice doubts about CIA’s 9/11 story, Rory O'Connor and Ray Nowosielski, Oct 2011,
  23. ^ Cook, John. "Chief of CIA's 'Global Jihad Unit' Revealed Online". Gawker. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  24. ^ Ex-C.I.A. Officer Sentenced to 30 Months in Leak, The New York Times, by Michael S. Schmidt, 1/25/2013
  25. ^ Oct 2012,