Novak: Joe Wilson’s Integrity, Not Mine, in Question

Bob Novak is ending his silence in the Plame affair to correct what he says are incorrect charges made against him by an ex-CIA spokesman in the Washington Post.

Ex-CIA official’s remark is wrong (CST) (also here)

A statement attributed to the former CIA spokesman indicating that I deliberately disregarded what he told me in writing my 2003 column about Joseph Wilson’s wife is just plain wrong.

Though frustrated, I have followed the advice of my attorneys and written almost nothing about the CIA leak over two years because of a criminal investigation by a federal special prosecutor. The lawyers also urged me not to write this. But the allegation against me is so patently incorrect and so abuses my integrity as a journalist that I feel constrained to reply.

In the course of a front-page story in last Wednesday’s Washington Post, Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei quoted ex-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow describing his testimony to the grand jury. In response to my question about Valerie Plame Wilson’s role in former Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger, Harlow told me she “had not authorized the mission.” Harlow was quoted as later saying to me “the story Novak had related to him was wrong.”

This gave the impression I ignored an official’s statement that I had the facts wrong but wrote it anyway for the sake of publishing the story. That would be inexcusable for any journalist and particularly a veteran of 48 years in Washington. The truth is otherwise, and that is why I feel compelled to write this column.


There never was any question of me talking about Mrs. Wilson “authorizing.” I was told she “suggested” the mission, and that is what I asked Harlow. His denial was contradicted in July 2004 by a unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee report. The report said Wilson’s wife “suggested his name for the trip.” It cited an internal CIA memo from her saying “my husband has good relations” with officials in Niger and “lots of French contacts,” adding they “could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” A State Department analyst told the committee that Mrs. Wilson “had the idea” of sending Wilson to Africa.

So, what was “wrong” with my column as Harlow claimed? There was nothing incorrect. He told the Post reporters he had “warned” me that if I “did write about it her name should not be revealed.” That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson’s wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as “Valerie Plame” by reading her husband’s entry in “Who’s Who in America.”


I have previously said that I never would have written those sentences if Harlow, then-CIA Director George Tenet or anybody else from the Agency had told me that Valerie Plame Wilson’s disclosure would endanger herself or anybody.

The recent first disclosure of secret grand jury testimony set off a news media feeding frenzy centered on this obscure case. Joseph Wilson was discarded a year ago by the Kerry presidential campaign after the Senate committee reported much of what he said “had no basis in fact.”

The re-emerged Wilson is now accusing the senators of “smearing” him. I eagerly await the end of this investigation when I may be able to correct other misinformation about me and the case.

Very odd and cryptic.

I find it most odd that Novak ran the story through high level CIA officials, was not warned off in a meaningful way, and then the CIA launched a leak investigation. While I’ve never been a fan of Novak the television talking head, I’ve always respected Novak the columnist and, by extension, Novak the man. It is inconceivable to me that Novak would have knowingly endangered a CIA agent for the sake of a column. Had someone said, “Wilson’s wife’s identity as a CIA agent is highly sensitive and we ask that you not disclose it,” one can scarcely imagine Novak nonetheless running with the story.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Alan says:

    It looks to me like Novak is parsing words to perpetuate a lie. Ms. Wilson did not suggest the mission–the mission was requested by the Office of the VP. Ms. Wilson then suggested that her husband was a person who might be capable of carrying out the mission. I repeat: she did not suggest the mission, she simply suggested someone with qualifications to carry out the mission.

    Having worked in that community, I know this is a typical way of getting things done. For much of the Agency’s work, there is no list of contractors and work is not put out to bid. Instead, Agency personnel rely on their own professional and personal contacts for the resources they need to get the job done. Its not only common, it is admirable, and the “outing” of Ms. Wilson is unexcusable.

  2. slickdpdx says:

    It looks to me like the CIA doesn’t have a very firm hand on the reins and that there are many independent actors here.

  3. Anderson says:

    “Was not warned in a meaningful way” is dubious at best. The CIA guy who spoke to Novak has said he did his best to warn him off, telling him that it would hurt national security to reveal Plame’s name & status, but that he was hampered a bit by having to avoid himself revealing that status.

    In other words, he couldn’t say “Novak, she’s an operative,” because he’d be violating the very secrecy he was trying to protect.

  4. Plame was outed by Aldrich Ames, not Novak. He did nothing to compromise the nation’s security.

  5. Anderson says:

    Got a source, Mr. Prather?

  6. ZZ says:

    the mission was requested by the Office of the VP.

    BS. The mission was not requested by the VP. Get your facts straight. Moreover, the information did not get to the VP. And more importantly the information in the report did nothing to contraidict the infamous 16 words, that Iraq sought uranium from Africa according to British intelligence.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    It is time to bring back the old Hatch Act, where civil servants who became active in politics were fired. The CIA and the State Department need a good flushing and an explanation of who runs the show.