Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove, who said your wife was fair game.”

Secrets and Leaks - - "Secrets and Leaks

By (Page 2 of 3)
Updated: 8:56 a.m. ET Oct. 6, 2003
Irked by Wilson’s public charges, administration officials promptly set about undermining Wilson’s credibility. Unnamed administration officials told reporters that Wilson was a Democrat, a Sen. John Kerry contributor and supporter. The administration aides leaked that Wilson’s mission had not been authorized at the top, by CIA Director George Tenet, but rather by some midlevel bureaucrats. Then someone—the mysterious leaker or leakers at the heart of the story—went a step further. According to columnist Robert Novak, “two senior administration officials” told him that the idea of sending Wilson to Africa came from his wife—Valerie Plame, “an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.”

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Novak is the perfect receptacle for such a leak. An old-time Washington insider known for his gruff manner, black suits, conservative leanings and love of Washington intrigue, Novak has been jokingly called “the Prince of Darkness.” At first, Novak told reporters from Newsday, “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me.” But after the story blew up, Novak played down the leak, saying that Plame’s CIA identity was revealed to him “in passing,” and that he thought she was an analyst, not an undercover agent. Before printing her name, he checked with a CIA spokesman, who made only mild objections, according to Novak.

Plame was, in fact, an NOC (“nonofficial cover”)—a deep-cover agent posing as an energy consultant as she traveled abroad. Exposing her was not a trivial matter. It ended Plame’s career as a secret agent, blew the cover of her energy business and put every foreigner she had ever dealt with at risk. Identifying an undercover agent is a federal offense.

At the time, a few reporters and lawmakers raised a fuss. Newsday reporters Timothy Phelps and Knut Royce quoted an indignant Wilson as saying, “It’s a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we’ll take your family and drag them through the mud as well.” Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia called the disclosure of Plame’s identity “vile” and a “highly dishonorable thing to do.” But most news organizations ignored the story, and it seemed to fade away.Leak investigations often lumber slowly along before petering out. Government lawyers have to fill out forms asserting that the information was true and damaging to national security. It was only two weeks ago that the CIA finally got around to formally asking the Justice Department to investigate the leak blowing Plame’s cover.

The facts remain murky but tantalizing to students of the Washington game. Ambassador Wilson, a shaggy-haired, camera-friendly presence, has been meeting the press on a regular basis. Showing a New York Times reporter photographs of his striking blond wife (his third; he is 53, she is 40; they met at a Washington party), he compared her to a real-life Jennifer Garner, the actress who plays an undercover agent in the TV show “Alias.” Wilson has repeatedly suggested that the chief culprit was the White House’s political director, Karl Rove. “It’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs,” Wilson said at a public forum about Iraqi intelligence failures on Aug. 21. “And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.”



Wilson’s comments clearly implied that he knew that Rove was the leaker, but last week Wilson backtracked, saying only that he knew that Rove had “condoned” the leak. Whoever initially leaked Plame’s name, the White House clearly had a hand in fanning the flames. Wilson told NEWSWEEK that in the days after the Novak story appeared, he got calls from several well-connected Washington reporters. One was NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell. She told NEWSWEEK that she said to Wilson: “I heard in the White House that people were touting the Novak column and that that was the real story.” The next day Wilson got a call from Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC show “Hardball.” According to a source close to Wilson, Matthews said, “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove, who said your wife was fair game.” (Matthews told NEWSWEEK: “I’m not going to talk about off-the-record conversations.”)"