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Context of 'July 14, 2003: Outing of Plame Wilson Raises Concern for Safety of Family, Contacts'

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Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, Eason Jordan, Valerie Plame Wilson, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

PBS graphic of Washington Post’s headline for Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson.PBS graphic of Washington Post’s headline for Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson. [Source: PBS]As dawn breaks, former ambassador Joseph Wilson enters his bedroom and drops a copy of the day’s Washington Post on the bed. His wife, senior CIA case officer and covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson, awakes. Wilson says, “Well, the SOB did it.” Wilson indicates the editorial page, where conservative columnist Robert Novak has revealed his wife’s status as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson later recalls: “I felt like I had been sucker-punched, hard, in the gut. Although we had known for several days that he had my name and knew where I worked (see July 8-10, 2003), we never believed for a moment he would actually print it or that the agency would allow it. It was surreal.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143] Wilson later writes: “Foreign intelligence services would not attack us, but they might well threaten any contacts Valerie might have made in their countries, and they would certainly be eager to unearth operations she might have been involved in. International terrorist organizations were a different story, however. There was a history of international terrorists attacking exposed officers. The station chiefs in Athens, Greece and Beirut, Lebanon, after having been exposed by renegage CIA officer Philip Agee, had been assassinated; and in the US, there had been the instance of a terrorist sniper killing employees as they were driving into the CIA headquarters grounds at Langley, Virginia, in 1993. But what really made us nervous was the possibility of harm from some deranged person in the US who believed that the voices in his head emanated from the transmitter the CIA had installed in his teeth the last time he visited the dentist.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 395-396] Plame Wilson immediately thinks of the assets in foreign countries she had recruited and/or worked with (the CIA will redact her specific words in her book). She also thinks of “the many people overseas I had met under completely innocent circumstances.… They too could come under a cloud of suspicion if their governments learned of our contact. I tried to calculate the level of risk and weirdly sought to remember if Novak’s column ran overseas, as though that would make it better if it didn’t appear outside the United States. The next instantaneous thought was for my family’s security. There are many disturbed people out there who hate the CIA or anyone associated with it. I didn’t want to deal with a stranger on my doorstep or worse. Furthermore, al-Qaeda now had an identified CIA agent to put into their target mix.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 142-143]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Hours after conservative columnist Robert Novak tells a CNN audience that he contacted Joseph Wilson to confirm that his wife was a CIA official for his July 2003 column exposing her as a CIA employee (see September 29, 2003), Wilson tells CNN’s Paula Zahn that Novak is incorrect in his characterization of events. “Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report (see July 14, 2003) and he said a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative,” Wilson says. “He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? And I said no.” After the article appeared, citing Bush administration and not CIA sources, Wilson called Novak about the article. According to Wilson, he called Novak about the discrepancy in his citation of sources (see July 14, 2003) and asked, “What was it, CIA or senior administration?” Wilson continues: “He said to me, ‘I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.’ That makes it senior administration sources.” [CNN, 9/29/2003; CNN, 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: CNN, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Paula Zahn, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph DiGenova.Joseph DiGenova. [Source: Life magazine]Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova says that it will be almost impossible to prove that the person or persons who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The leaker or leakers would have had to have received the information in their official capacity, got the information from someone with official clearance, and done so in defiance of agency efforts to keep the employee’s name a secret, DiGenova says. For someone to overhear the name of a covert agent and relate it to someone else is not a violation, he adds. Moreover, he claims that Plame Wilson’s CIA status was well known. “A lot of people knew that [Plame Wilson] worked for the CIA,” he tells a Fox News reporter. “People outside of the government knew that she worked at the agency. They did not know probably, that she worked in WMD—weapons of mass destruction—and was doing undercover work. But in order for it to be a crime, you must know that is what she did.” [Fox News, 2/11/2004] Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996) has been described as highly classified and known to only a few (see September 30, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and January 2004), and her exposure as a serious breach of national security (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, October 3, 2003 and October 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Joseph diGenova, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

On the Washington Post’s radio broadcast, Post columnist Richard Cohen falsely claims that former ambassador and war critic Joseph Wilson claimed in a 2003 op-ed (see July 6, 2003) that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson actually wrote that CIA officials sent him to Niger to investigate the possibility that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country, that “Cheney’s office had questions about” the charges (see (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA wanted to “provide a response to the vice president’s office” (see March 5, 2002). After citing this falsehood, Cohen calls the case against former White House official Lewis Libby, accused of committing perjury in his denials of involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), a “silly case.” All the White House was trying to do, Cohen states, was to “get their story out” after Wilson had “misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa” (see October 1, 2003). Cohen also repeats the frequently debunked notion that it was Wilson’s wife who sent him to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cohen says he “almost feel[s] sorry” for Cheney, who by having Plame Wilson outed was “just [Cheney] trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way.” Cohen also repeats the falsehood that many people knew Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see September 29, 2003 and September 30, 2003) and her covert status was “not a tightly held secret” (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). [Media Matters, 1/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Cohen, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]

Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Constitutional law professor Ronald D. Rotunda, a former fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, publishes an editorial in the Wall Street Journal outlining an argument in favor of pardoning convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). President Bush has the absolute power to issue a pardon, and Rotunda writes that “[i]n the unusual circumstances of this case, a presidential pardon is appropriate,” even before an appeal is filed. Rotunda bases his arguments for a pardon on similar assertions that other Libby supporters have made: no laws were broken in the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official; Plame Wilson and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, “appeared to revel in the publicity” (see July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003); former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, not Libby, first leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to a reporter (see June 13, 2003); and the guilty verdict hinged on the differing memories of the various participants in the White House leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity. In addition, according to Rotunda the charges against Libby were an “abuse” of the perjury statutes, and the verdict works to “normaliz[e] the criminalization of policy differences.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/7/2007; George Mason University, 2009]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Ronald D. Rotunda, Richard Armitage, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In a lengthy interview, terminally ill columnist Robert Novak says he would reveal the covert identity of former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson again (see July 14, 2003), both because he feels he caused Plame Wilson no damage and because of his own personal desire for retribution against his critics. Novak says that while he expressed some “ambivalence” about his outing of Plame Wilson in his 2007 autobiography The Prince of Darkness, “Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me—or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame [Wilson] whatsoever.” [Washingtonian, 12/1/2008] Not only did Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity do serious damage to the US intelligence community’s ability to learn of potential threats (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006), Plame Wilson has written that she feared for the lives of herself and her family after Novak’s outing (see July 14, 2003).

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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