to Out the Administration Leakers
By Bernard Weiner, The
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, engage in "background"
interviews without permitting themselves to be quoted by name
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
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 of traitors."
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 them.
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 WMDs, nuclear
weapons and a Sadaam-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
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
work ed 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 Arab-speaking gays
who were doing intelligence and translation work, even though
the agencies are woefully short on Arab-speaking agents. This
is a gang that not only can't shoot straight, it can't even
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 coverup, since
the journalistic tradition of silence will continue to protect
their dirty secret.
Bush has never showed 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
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
Counselís 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
here is if one or more of the six journalists decides that
there are overriding considerations that enable a reporter,
in good conscience, to reveal the sources.
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,
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.
As President Bush #1 was well aware, harming the CIA by
revealing its agents is a clear danger to national security
- a "traitorus" 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 Strategy promulgated
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 ideologially 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 be useful.
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 questions truthfully.
If journalists, supposedly the guardians and watchdogs of
the government, let the perpetrators get away with this coverup
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 Jefferson 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 security.
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 Chronicle. Holder of a Ph.D. in government &
international relations, he currently co-edits The