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Context of 'October 6, 2003: Novak May Have Breached Journalistic Ethics in Revealing Plame Wilson’s Identity, Says Expert'

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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

Government officials, most likely with the CIA, ask conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert agency official Valerie Plame Wilson in an upcoming column (see July 14, 2003). Two government officials will testify in February 2004 that they made the request (see February 2004). The officials warn Novak that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risks jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and risking sensitive overseas intelligence assets. According to the officials, Novak is told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. [American Prospect, 2/12/2004] One of the officials will later be identified as CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, will later write: “Lamely attempting to shirk responsibility, Novak [will claim] that the CIA no ‘was a soft no, not a hard no.’ On the wings of that ludicrous defense, he soared to new heights of journalistic irresponsibility.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 347]

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

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Newsday logo.Newsday logo. [Source: Sobel Media]Newsday reports on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson by a news columnist based on information leaked by two administration sources (see July 14, 2003). In an article titled “Columnist Blows CIA Agent’s Cover,” reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce note that CIA officials confirm that Plame Wilson “works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity—at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] It will later be determined that Royce and Phelps’s source is probably a single official, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003). [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 pdf file] Shortly thereafter, other reporters learn that Plame Wilson was not only an undercover agent, but had what is known as NOC—“nonofficial cover” status (see Fall 1992 - 1996). NOC agents usually operate overseas, often using false identities and job descriptions. NOCs do not have diplomatic protection and thusly are vulnerable to capture, imprisonment, and even murder without official reprisals or even acknowledgement from the US. Vanity Fair reporter Vicky Ward will write in January 2004: “A NOC’s only real defense is his or her cover, which can take years to build. Because of this vulnerability, a NOC’s identity is considered within the CIA to be, as former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack has put it, ‘the holiest of holies.’” [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, refuses to confirm his wife’s covert CIA status, but says that her outing is part of a concerted effort to attack critics of the administration’s intelligence failures (see July 21, 2003). Wilson recently revealed that the administration’s claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were false (see July 6, 2003). Current and former CIA officials are outraged at Novak’s column, and the apparent leak from the administration. Former CIA Near East division chief Frank Anderson says, “When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that’s mean, that’s petty, it’s irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned.” A current intelligence official says that blowing Plame Wilson’s cover puts everyone she ever dealt with as an undercover CIA operative at risk. Her husband agrees: “If what the two senior administration officials said is true, they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships, and operations.” Furthermore, if true, “this White House has taken an asset out of the” weapons of mass destruction fight, “not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile.” [Newsday, 7/22/2003] In 2007, Plame Wilson will reflect: “Not only was it very rare for the agency to validate that an officer was undercover, no matter what the circumstances, but no one from the agency had told me that my undercover status would be confirmed. It would have been nice to at least get a heads-up from someone at work.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147]

Entity Tags: Vicky Ward, Timothy Phelps, Knut Royce, Newsday, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Kenneth Pollack, Frank Anderson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) has resulted in the exposure of a CIA front company, potentially causing widespread damage to overseas intelligence gathering. Yesterday, Novak revealed the name of the firm in another column (see October 2, 2003). The fictitious Boston firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, appears in Federal Election Commission records on a 1999 form filled out by Plame Wilson when she donated $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). Once the Novak column was published, CIA officials admitted that it is a front. Brewster Jennings is listed as Plame Wilson’s employer on her 1999 tax forms, though she was working as an undercover CIA officer at the time. A former diplomat says that since Brewster Jennings and Plame Wilson have been exposed, every foreign intelligence service is running the names through their own databases to determine whether she ever visited their countries and what kinds of contacts she made there. “That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat says. [Washington Post, 10/4/2003]
Plame's NOC Status, 'Legend' - As one of a very small, select number of “nonofficial cover” officers, Plame Wilson would have enjoyed little or no government protection had her cover been blown while she was overseas. Training officers such as her cost millions of dollars and require elaborate constructions of fictional background, called “legends,” including the creation of CIA front companies such as Brewster Jennings. The amount of damage caused by the outing of Plame Wilson and Brewster Jennings is incalculable. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says many other CIA agents and foreign assets are now endangered, and future attempts to convince foreign citizens to share information with US intelligence agencies will be hampered. Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson, who trained with Plame Wilson in 1985, says that when the damage is fully assessed, “at the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Johnson describes himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the breach. “We feel like the peasants with torches and pitchforks,” he says. “The robber barons aren’t going to be allowed to get away with this.” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also trained with Plame Wilson, agrees: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” While the CIA continues to keep details of Plame Wilson’s career secret, it is known that she was attached to a US embassy in Europe in 1990 and 1991 (more information on her overseas postings will later be revealed—see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). It is known that when Novak blew her cover, she was a senior case officer for the CIA’s counterproliferation division, working with intelligence about hostile countries and WMD. “All the people who had innocent lunches with her overseas or went shopping or played tennis with her, I’m sure they are having heart attacks right now,” says one former colleague who was also in covert operations. “I would be in hiding now if I were them.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2003; Knight Ridder, 10/11/2003]
Brewster Jennings Just One of Plame Wilson's Cover Firms - Former intelligence officials confirm that Brewster Jennings was just one of several cover affiliations that Plame Wilson used when she was operating overseas. “All it was was a telephone and a post office box,” says one former intelligence officer. “When she was abroad she had a more viable cover.” [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003] Cannistraro will later add that when Plame Wilson was operating undercover outside the US, she would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company “is not an indicator of what she did overseas.” Now, those firms are themselves in jeopardy of exposure for working with US intelligence. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343-344] In 2007, former CIA and National Security Council official Bruce Riedel will say: “I have looked at the part of her CV that is in the open domain. The agency spent an awful lot of effort building a really good cover for this person. A lot of effort. People who say this was not a covert operative don’t understand what they’re saying. This was intended to be a nonofficial cover person who would have the credentials to be a very serious operative. The damage done to the mission of the organization by exposing her, and how cover is built, is pretty serious.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Vincent Cannistraro, Jim Marcinkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings, Counterproliferation Division, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Federal Election Commission, Larry C. Johnson, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Aly Colon, a communications manager and columnist for the Poynter Institute of Journalism, writes a cautionary column regarding Robert Novak’s outing of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Colon writes: “There’s an old adage that claims journalists are only as good as the sources that feed them. Here’s a new one: Journalists are only as credible as the ethics that guide them.” Colon writes that Novak should have been more “rigorous” in his “decision-making process” that led him to out a covert CIA agent. Novak’s decision to out a person he clearly knew was a covert CIA agent, even after being asked not to by CIA officials on the grounds that blowing her identity would imperil US intelligence operations and assets (see July 8-10, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, and October 3, 2003), risked violating fundamental ethical principles of journalism. Novak is bound to report the truth as fully and independently as possible, but he is also bound to minimize harm. Colon writes that Novak should have more fully considered the ramifications of Plame Wilson’s outing, how important her identity was to his story, and what alternatives he had besides identifying her as a covert CIA agent. Novak also failed to adequately consider his sources’ motivations (see July 8, 2003). Colon concludes: “By disclosing the identity of a CIA operative… Novak provoked a Justice Department investigation of his sources (see September 26, 2003) and raised serious questions about his ethical conduct. Taking the time to answer a few ethical questions before publication can sometimes protect a reporter from having to answer more questions later.” [Poynter Institute of Journalism, 10/6/2003] In a subsequent interview, Colon will say, “Any time a journalist purposely deceives his readers, he undermines the newsperson’s or [his or her own] news organization’s credibility” and “threatens the trust between the reader and reporter.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Poynter Institute of Journalism, Aly Colon, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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