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Sunday, March 12, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Law to protect agents was fueled by murder

Chicago Tribune

Thirty years ago, the murder of Richard Welch, then the CIA station chief in Athens, Greece, shocked the nation. The eventual result was the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the statute governing the current investigation into whether Bush administration officials illegally revealed to reporters that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

Six months before he was slain by masked gunmen outside his home, Welch was among several purported CIA operatives named by a left-wing U.S. magazine called Counter-Spy, which ceased publication after his death.

Then-CIA Director William Colby attributed Welch's assassination to his identification in Counter-Spy, co-founded by a renegade former CIA officer, Philip Agee, who had worked for several years in Latin America before resigning from the agency and moving to Cuba.

But Agee was not the first to publish Welch's name. Seven years earlier, Richard Skeffington Welch was identified as a U.S. spy in a small book, "Who's Who in CIA," published by two Soviet-bloc intelligence services in 1968.

A senior U.S. official acknowledged that major opposition agencies and friendly intelligence services are likely to know the identities of virtually all U.S. intelligence officers serving overseas, especially those, like Welch, who pose as diplomats.

"But," he added, "the terrorists don't."

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