Touting columnist Novak, Chicago Sun-Times asserted as fact that Plame used CIA for "political purposes"

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

A June 2 Chicago Sun-Times editorial asserted as fact the unproven allegation that former clandestine CIA officer Valerie Plame "tried to use the CIA for her own political purposes." The Sun-Times was apparently referring to the allegation that Plame recommended her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for a 2002 CIA mission to Niger, a claim first reported by Robert D. Novak, whose syndicated column originates at the Sun-Times. Since Novak first made the unproven claim, the Sun-Times has published several editorials attempting to substantiate it. But a Senate Intelligence Committee report that examined the allegation, as well as conflicting accounts from numerous unnamed intelligence officials, have failed to confirm Novak's account of Plame's role. Further, the Sun-Times distorted the original allegation, baselessly claiming that Plame recommended Wilson for "political" reasons.

In February 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to Niger to investigate allegations that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the West African nation. As he pointed out in a July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed, Wilson later concluded that an Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake was highly unlikely, a finding that directly contradicted President Bush's claim in his 2003 State of the Union address. In a July 14, 2004, column, Novak detailed the controversy surrounding Wilson's findings and reported that "two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger."

Plame's involvement in the decision to select Wilson to head the mission has since been a matter of intense debate. The Senate Intelligence Committee closely examined the issue and published its findings in a July 2004 report. The Sun-Times immediately seized on the report as a vindication of Novak's original claim. A July 13, 2004, editorial read: "Now the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA confirms that Novak's report was right: Wilson was recommended for the job by his wife, Valerie Plame." An August 11, 2004, editorial repeated this conclusion: "Wilson has been shown by the Senate Intelligence Committee to play fast and loose with the truth. His wife did in fact propose him for the mission."

The June 2 editorial took the claim a step further, stating: "Plame is a CIA employee who apparently tried to use the CIA for her own political purposes, which was revealed by Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak." But contrary to the Sun-Times' assertions, the Senate Intelligence Committee's report did not reach a conclusion about how the CIA made the decision to hire Wilson. Even Novak himself, in a July 15, 2004, column, conceded that the committee "neither agreed to a conclusion that former diplomat Joseph Wilson was suggested for a mission to Niger by his CIA employee wife nor defended his statements to the contrary."

Several other sources also contradict the Sun-Times account of Plame's role. A July 22, 2003, Newsday article quoted an unidentified senior intelligence official who said: "They [the officers asking Wilson to check the uranium story] were aware of who she [Plame] was married to, which is not surprising. ... There are people elsewhere in government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason." The Los Angeles Times reported on July 15, 2004, that an unnamed CIA official confirmed Wilson's denial that Plame was responsible for the CIA's decision to send him to Niger, saying: "Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going. ... They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes."

Moreover, even if nepotism did influence the choice of Wilson for the mission, no evidence exists that Plame recommended him for "her own political purposes." It is ironic that the Sun-Times printed this allegation as fact, considering that Novak's own "political purposes" have come under intense scrutiny since he first reported Plame's identity on its pages.

In the original column, Novak revealed that the "two [Bush] administration officials" had told him that Plame, "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction," had suggested Wilson for the mission. While the June 2 Sun-Times editorial referred to her as simply a "CIA employee," Plame was working undercover at the time of the column. This led Wilson and others to condemn what they saw as the possibly illegal "outing" of a secret operative as retribution for his criticism of the administration.

In the aftermath of Novak's disclosure, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times both face possible jail time for refusing a court order to disclose confidential sources related to the Plame story.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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