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Plamegate: Mystery Solved By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finally some straight talk on the Valerie Plame case, thanks to Robert Novak, the conservative columnist who first revealed the identity of the not-so-covert CIA officer three years ago.

Novak’s July 14, 2003, column on the much-disputed trip to Niger by Plame’s husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, triggered an FBI investigation, a federal grand jury, and eventually the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who indicted top White House aid Scooter Libby for perjury along the way.


At issue was whether Saddam Hussein ever sent a buying team to Niger looking for uranium yellowcake in the 1999-2000 period. After tea and crumpets with former friends in the Nigerian government, Wilson concluded that it never happened. At least, that’s what he says today.


(The definitive Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence on Iraq, released in November 2004, asserts unequivocally that Wilson lied in public about the conclusions he sent to the CIA about his Niger trip).


Despite all the sturm und drang over the past three years, Novak kept silent about who said what regarding Wilson’s trip. The Left has imputed all kinds of scurrilous motives to Novak’s silence. They have accused him of cutting a special deal with the special prosecutor. They have accused him of fingering Libby and Rove. They have accused him of total disregard of the First Amendment, preferring to violate the “sanctity” of anonymous sources in favor of going to jail.


They have compared unfavorably to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail instead of revealing her sources in the same case.


But when the Left realized that Judy Miller had been close to Scooter Libby and actually reported on the facts of Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs, rather than the creampuff version being put out by the anti-Bush crowd at the CIA, they dropped her instantly. She was fired by the NY Times almost the minute she was released from jail.


Fitzgerald finally has closed the leak case in so far as Novak is concerned. “That frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry that, at the request of Fitzgerald, I have kept secret,” Novak wrote yesterday in an account he published in Human Events.


“Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger,” Novak revealed. “After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.”


The official who was Novak’s primary source did not even know the name of Wilson’s wife. But it wasn’t a very close-held secret. “I learned Valerie Plame's name from Joe Wilson's entry in ‘Who's Who in America,’” Novak wrote.


I have asked a number of former CIA clandestine operators about Valerie Plame.


One former senior clandestine officer scoffed at the claim that Valerie Plame had ever been truly covert. “How can you be [covert] when you are married to an ex-U.S. ambassador and work for the State Department overseas?” Somebody looking at her from a hostile power (say, Iran) would have to have a brain the size of a pea to miss her connection to the U.S. government, he added.


And yet, former CIA officers who vigorously oppose this administration have signed public letters and gone on network television to protest the exposure of her identity as the greatest national security breach of the century.


Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who became a deputy director of the State Department’s counter-terrorism bureau, has launched an internet witchhunt against Karl Rove for allegedly “outing” his former Camp Perry classmate, Valerie Plame. (Gee, Larry: Guess everybody must have known about Val’s Camp Perry date with you, so it’s okay to talk about that, right?)


Novak’s column takes the wind out of their sails. Not only was Karl Rove not Novak’s primary source, but Valerie Plame’s role at CIA was so well-known that a CIA spokesman, Bill Harlowe, was able to confirm to Novak that Plame had suggested Wilson for the Niger trip.


Like Novak and hundreds of others of reporters, I have had dealings with Harlowe over the years. Even if you had nailed down the identity of a covert CIA operator who had worked for the agency 20 years earlier, Harlowe would never confirm that person’s existence. The standard line was to neither confirm nor deny.


But if you asked if so-and-so who was posted overseas to a U.S. embassy, and was now working as an analyst, could give you a background briefing on their subject of expertise, he would at least get back to you with a yes or a no.


And that is exactly what he provided to Novak. The CIA public affairs office was his third source.


Larry Johnson and others had kvetched that Novak blew Valerie Plame’s cover at her “top secret” CIA proprietary, Brewster Jennings, in Boston.They allege that Plame was working undercover as an energy industry analyst to penetrate Iranian nuclear procurement networks.


But guess what? It wasn’t Bob Novak who revealed that Valerie Plame may have been working undercover (with an alleged tie to the alleged Brewster Jennings in Boston, which now hosts an Internet game similar to “Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego”?)


It was left-wing columnist David Corn, writing in The Nation, just two days after Novak’s first column.


It turns out that Corn is a close friend of the Wilson/Plame couple, and knew all about their various foreign outings. Unlike Robert Novak, he didn’t need to consult “Who’s Who in America” to learn Valerie Plame’s name.


If any security breach occurred with the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s name, look toward Joe Wilson, who posted his wife’s name to “Who’s Who,” and to their circle of political and professional friends.

My hunch: it was all part of a carefully orchestrated public relations scheme, that netted lying Joe Wilson prime time television appearances, a best-selling book, and a $2.5 million contract for the memoirs of Madame.

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).

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