It's time for Plame-case reporters to out the administration leakers
- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
It's time for Plame-case reporters to out the administration leakers
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers Co-Editor and Online Journal Contributing Writer
December 23, 2003 - Journalists do not reveal sources. It's what
gives the Fourth Estate some of its clout: Officials, and lower-level
whistleblowers, trust us to receive sensitive information and not get
them in trouble by ratting on them. In Washington and in state
capitols, officials leak information all the time, provide off-the-
record statements to reporters, and engage in "background" interviews
without permitting themselves to be quoted by name or title.
We do not say who told us those things. We journalists might get
thrown in the clink for not revealing who provided us the
information, but the sources have no need to worry about their
futures. We will keep our mouths shut. It's not just a journalistic
tradition, it's also a practical matter: If we revealed our source in
one instance, we might never get anybody to tell us anything
significant in private again.
So here I am urging my journalistic colleagues - at least six of
them - to break the tradition and reveal their sources, in the
interest of national security.
You know what I'm referring to. After Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote
an op-ed piece in the New York Times that contradicted Bush's false
State of the Union claims about Iraq seeking to buy Niger uranium,
two "senior administration officials" told at least six journalists
in July that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent.
Karl Rove, Bush's closest political advisor, reportedly told
Hardball's Chris Matthews that after Wilson's op-ed piece, Mrs.
Wilson was "fair game."
This revelation of her undercover role at the CIA is against the law,
a law signed by the first Bush president, George H.W. Bush. In 1999,
he told assembled CIA employees that those who would reveal the
identity of undercover intelligence officers are the "most insidious
Five Didn't, One Did
Five of the six journalists who were provided Plame's name and job-
history chose, for whatever reason, not to run the story. Perhaps it
didn't pass the smell test: clearly, the administration officials
wished to manipulate the news outlets from private agendas that could
only be guessed at. One right-wing columnist, Robert Novak - often a
source of Bush administration leaks - had no such qualms; even though
the CIA had asked him not to use Plame's name, he did so anyway.
It seems clear that the outing of Wilson's wife was not carried out
merely to ruin her career and to punish him, but to warn other
government employees who might want to oppose key Bush policy to
think twice before going public, lest something similar happen to
Many agents in the CIA, appalled at what was being done to one of
their colleagues by high-ranking Bush officials, chose to see the
outing of Plame as a direct slap at their agency, which had been in
conflict with the White House over intelligence matters meant to
justify the invasion of Iraq. Specifically, the CIA's intelligence
analysts, try as they might, were unable to come up with the evidence
on WMD, nuclear weapons and a Saddam-al Qaeda link that Rumseld and
Cheney and Wolfowitz and Bush wanted; so, because the decision
already had been made to invade, Rumsfeld quickly had to set up his
private rump "intelligence" unit, staffed not by intelligence agents
but by political appointees who would do his bidding. That unit, the
Office of Special Plans, provided the phony "evidence" that convinced
the American people and Congress that the invasion was justifiable.
The CIA was furious, and agents then began leaking damaging anti-
administration information to reporters.
Whatever the reasons that led the two "senior administration
officials" to tell the six reporters and thus to violate the law by
revealing the identity of a secret CIA officer, Plame was out in the
cold. Not only was she compromised and potentially put in danger, but
so were those abroad with whom she had worked over many years in
building up intelligence on - irony of ironies - weapons of mass
destruction. None of this mattered. The two "senior administration
officials" put scores of lives at risk while doing damage to the one
area of inquiry that was of most importance to their overall policy
in Iraq and to the "war on terrorism" in general.
This felonious behavior reminds one of the demented logic found
behind the government's firing of Arabic-speaking gays who were doing
intelligence and translation work, even though the agencies are
woefully short on Arabic-speaking agents. This is a gang that not
only can't shoot straight, it can't even think straight.
Covering Up the Players
We don't know all the players in the Plame-Wilson scenario. Karl
Rove, Bush's chief political advisor, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby,
Cheney's chief of staff, are the main suspects behind the outing,
either doing it themselves or having lower-level aides in their
offices speak to the reporters; but, since Novak and the five others
are not talking, the administration figures it will get away with the
felony and cover-up, since the journalistic tradition of silence will
continue to protect their dirty secret.
Bush has never shown any genuine curiosity in finding out who broke
the law in this case. He chose not to have an independent counsel
("special prosecutor") appointed - something the GOP would have
demanded in an instant if this had happened under a Democrat
president. Instead, he permitted Ashcroft's Justice Department to
handle the investigation in-house, despite the obvious conflict-of-
As Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility
and Ethics in Washington, has written, this Ashcroft "investigation"
was suspicious from the outset: "The Justice Department launched its
allegedly official probe on September 26th, but neglected to direct
the White House to preserve critical evidence until the evening of
September 29th. Then, when the White House Counsel asked if he could
wait until the next day to inform the staff of the need to preserve
documents, the Justice Department allowed it. Simply, if the leaker
(s) had not been smart enough to get rid of the evidence between July
6th and September 29th, the White House Counsel's office wanted to be
sure that there was at least one last chance to do so before
destroying evidence would constitute criminal obstruction of justice."
The investigatory action in this case has been absolutely
underwhelming, and, for all intents and purposes, nothing is expected
to come out of the FBI's probe - at least not before the November
2004 balloting. "We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one
(i.e. the Plame investigation)," a "senior White House official" was
quoted by the Financial Times two weeks ago. If the heat ever does
get too intense - if, for example, the Congress were to initiate its
own hearings and get officials under oath - a lower-level fall guy no
doubt could be fingered.
An "Extraordinary" Requirement
So, it appears that the only way justice will be served is if one or
more of the six journalists decide that there are overriding
considerations that enable a reporter, in good conscience, to reveal
Not even Novak believes the long-honored journalistic tradition is
absolute. In 2001, he himself named a source that he'd kept secret
for years (the double-agent FBI spy Robert Hanssen), once he became
convinced that national security was at stake; he did it, he said,
because the situation, was "extraordinary."
Clearly, if an administration source told a reporter that he was
involved in an assassination plot against, say, a United States
senator, that reporter would be able to tell the difference between
the need to maintain silence as a journalist and the fact that a
crime was in the making and someone's life was endangered. If an
administration source told a journalist some career-threatening dirt
on a political opponent and bragged to the reporter that the story,
whether true or not, could never be traced back to the administration
official, wouldn't that journalist begin to at least question the
tradition of always maintaining the confidentiality of sources?
So there are no absolutes here. As Novak noted, the journalistic rule
can be bent when an "extraordinary" occasion calls for it - and
certainly this is true when national security is involved. It
certainly was during the Vietnam War, when the New York Times and
Washington Post saw that the Nixon Administration was hiding behind
the term "national security," and published the Pentagon Papers
anyway, because they understood the true nature of that term and the
need for the American people to know the truth of how we got into
that quagmire. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.
As President Bush #1 was well aware, harming the CIA by revealing its
agents is a clear danger to national security - a "traitorous" act.
If Bush #2 is elected in 2004, it is entirely possible - indeed,
likely - that the U.S. will be threatening and perhaps invading
another country or two, probably in the Middle East, and, more than
likely, treating the CIA with contempt again while it cobbles
together raw, untested "intelligence" from suspect sources.
I'm not making up this invasion scenario; the ideologues behind U.S
foreign/military policy have been quite open about their intentions
of remaking, by force if necessary, the geopolitical map of much of
the rest of the world. All of this is codified as official U.S.
policy in the National Security Strategypromulgated by the Bush
administration in 2002.
Doing the Right Thing
I don't expect that Novak will break his silence (even if he did it
once before), as he's tied ideologically to the political agenda of
Bush&Co. But surely the other five, presumably with more integrity,
would come to understand the political, legal and international
ramifications if they continue to maintain their silence. Reportedly,
the five verified with the Washington Post the story of their contact
with the two "senior administration officials," and those Post
reporters who did that verifying likewise know something that could
The reason Bush&Co. can swagger and bully people in Congress and the
press and internationally is because hardly anybody that matters ever
stands up to them. Why are there not ongoing investigations of this
major Plame scandal by the Congress? If the relevant Republican-
controlled committees of the House and Senate refuse to ask the
questions that need to be asked, why can't Democrats on their own
hold the appropriate investigatory hearings? Those probes might not
be "official," but, if nothing else, they would focus renewed
attention on the "traitorous" act, keeping the issue alive - and such
hearings might actually provide a well-publicized forum where
journalists might feel a bit more protected when answering the key
If journalists, supposedly the watchdogs of the government, let the
perpetrators get away with this cover-up of a crime, a possible
second-term Bush administration would be unconstrained domestically
and internationally, doing untold damage to our national security
abroad and to our constitutional protections and economy at home. In
addition, the press would be relegated to the status of lapdogs, thus
abandoning the watchdog function that Madison and others envisioned,
and which it has carried out so ably over several hundred years.
Reporters would become mere functionaries, little more than conduits
for government propaganda, similar to journalists in Nazi Germany and
in the Soviet Union.
I am certain that serving as little more than propagandists is not
what motivated those five professional reporters to get into the
journalism business. That's certainly not why I joined the
fraternity. On some level, we journalists want to discover the truth,
know the truth, pass it on to our fellow citizens - so that our
democratic institutions can work properly, out of factual knowledge -
and to demonstrate that nobody, not even a governor or senator or
president, is beyond the law. In short, we are motivated by the
desire to do the right thing, by being true to ourselves and to the
best interests of the nation.
That credo underlying our craft is, at its most basic, a sacred
trust. Acting on behalf of one's country likewise is a sacred trust.
May the twain meet here. The situation is so dire, so extraordinary,
that it is quite proper - indeed morally, legally and politically
necessary - to out the rats who have endangered American national
Copyright © 2003 Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner has worked as a journalist for, among others, The
Miami Herald, Miami News, Claremont Courier, San Diego Magazine,
Northwest Passage, and, for nearly 20 years, the San Francisco