One of the more outrageous developments in the Valerie Plame case is Richard Cohen's dismissal of the continuing debate as just another Washington farce [op-ed, July 14].

During my employment as an information systems vendor at the CIA in the mid-1990s, I was instructed, upon receiving my clearance, not to use the name "CIA" on any document, not to discuss my work with anyone and not to even acknowledge that I had a clearance. In that context, Karl Rove's casual conversation with the media about a covert operative's identity is at least outrageous and perhaps akin to treason.

Yet Mr. Cohen chalks it up to politics as usual, and even lends credence to Mr. Rove's claim that he should be excused from blame because he did not actually say Ms. Plame's name.

If Robert D. Novak could find out Ms. Plame's name so easily, perhaps based on Mr. Rove's disclosure, how hard would it be for this nation's enemies to do the same?

Mr. Cohen demonstrated an ignorance of the CIA's culture and made light of a deadly serious matter.

PHYLLIS BOOK

Rockville

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I don't agree with staff writers Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen when they say that the most important element of the Valerie Plame affair is, "Did anyone commit a crime?" [front page, July 17].

A judge decided that President Bill Clinton committed a crime when he denied, under oath, having a sexual relationship. But that fact was much less important than the president's dishonest statements to the American people about his affair and the long, national distraction of the multiple investigations that eventually led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment.

Likewise, the question of whether administration conduct meets the technical definition of criminality is not the most important. The important questions are: Can the public trust the administration on matters as critical as the justifications for war? Would a senior White House official be willing to compromise a CIA operative to silence experts on the issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?

S.F. SHEPHERD

Millersville