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The Plame Affair – Why doesn’t Novak care more about National Security?

By October 5, 2003Uncategorized

I watched Meet the Press today, which featured Joe Wilson and Robert Novak. I thought that Wilson came across well, and not at all over-the-top in his discussion of the possible harmful effects that might result from his wife’s CIA cover being blown. Novak was, of course, in a much less comfortable position since he was the one who exposed her cover.

Novak refused to apologize or say he regretted the publication of her cover. His only regret was that he used the word “operative” (which is now his basic position). So, if I understand his position, he regrets using the word operative in a loose way because by using that word in his original story he opened himself up for criticism that he knowingly exposed a CIA undercover agent. Now he wants to clarify and have us believe that he had no way of knowing that she was undercover.

Novak also strenuously argued that, while it is common for journalists to be used by politicians to plant information, his considerable experience in journalism tells him that his source was not using him to plant information. It simply came up in a casual conversation that Joe Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and he felt free to use that information. Hmmmm, okay.

According some accounts I’ve heard, the Wilson-Plame-CIA story angle was shopped around to at least five other news sources (which suggests that the story was an intentional plant). But let’s assume that Novak was the only person who heard this story, and that he really thought it was not planted information. Was the conversation so casual that he felt it inappropriate to inquire from his source what sort of cover Ms. Plame had? Novak seems to have an approach to this that borders on cavalier. He says “everyone knew” that she was a CIA agent.

Well, what her status is will be has been documented; she was a NOC agent (i.e. “non-official cover”), which is the most sacrosanct CIA cover. It’s possible that she was widely known in certain Washington circles to be a CIA agent, and perhaps Novak knew that when he published the report. However that still doesn’t minimize the seriousness of what he did. Did his vast journalistic experience not suggest to him that perhaps he should find out what her status was before he published the story? Was he too eager to publish the story, and, if so, why?

Novak is a jourrnalist and he is swathed in First Amendment protection so even if he doesn’t reveal his source he probably isn’t going to jail. He said that if he reveals his source his credibility will be harmed so he won’t do that. I’m sure conservatives will stand by Novak but I think his credibility as a journalist was harmed by his decision to publicize Ms. Plame’s status, and it is harmed further by his refusal to simply admit he made a mistake.

And for the conservatives who support Novak, especially those in the Bush Administration, I have one suggestion. If you don’t openly condemn what Novak did then you have no credibility when you suggest that we are living in a time where National Security is of paramount importance. If blowing a CIA agent’s cover isn’t a serious National Security problem then I don’t know what is.

To see the video of Wilson and Novak you can go to the Meet the Press website. The transcript of the interviews of Wilson and Novak is now available here.

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  • BitKckr says:

    The “sixteen words” came from British intelligence (among others) and no official request went to the CIA to investigate this. Someone within the CIA on his or her own accord did this. Say, someone like Ms. Plame making a recommendation of sending her husband, Mr. Wilson. Of course, we should expect all official inquires to be directly reported to the Washington Post, and spoken about on Meet the Press upon conclusion because this allows quicker dispersion to all concerned, rather than filling a report and shutting your mouth. This entire episode stinks to high heaven, and not from the Bush Administration. But if I was Bush – I certainly would like to know the name of the “leakers”

  • lk says:

    Bottom line – Wilson’s report was correct. State of Union address was wrong. From that one gets bad PR for the administration. If that’s as far as it goes, no big problem. But then someone decides they don’t like being found wrong, so they retaliate, and do an illegal act. From that one gets criminal penalties.

  • Charlie says:

    There really is a simple explanation that accounts for most all of this stuff: Plame isn’t all that covert. CIA doesn’t like to see their employees get talked about in the press, even if they are open, because it makes them targets. On the other hand, they will verify employment if asked.

    On the other hand, if someone really is a covert operative, they’ll say “Who? Sorry, never heard of them.” Employment verifications will come from their cover job.

    (How do I know this? Been there, can’t declassify the teeshirt.)

  • JG says:

    The first person to be fired should be the person who enlisted Mr. Wilson without getting a non-disclosure agreement.

    You would think that if she were a NOC, a really good agent, and still under cover, she would know enough to tell her husband to keep his mouth shut. If you are NOC, you don’t want any attention drawn to you or people close to you.

    Does Mr. Wilson think his softball questions are the sole basis of the intelligence assessment?

    Maybe a spook wanted to put an end to non-professionals playing spook and there is no great political motive at all. Spook hardball makes political hardball look like slow-pitch softball.

    Most leaks that I have been close to, are motivated by egos or other self-serving purposes (getting even, taking down a rival, etc.).

    Why not subpoena the journalists that were contacted but didn’t use the story. They don’t have a source to protect.

  • lk says:

    Novak is getting a free pass so far from everybody – Dems, reps, the press. Outing a WMD operative when WMD’s were the main reason we went into Iraq. Here is one “what if” – now that her work is compromised a WMD may go undiscovered and end up being used.

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