Contemptible, mean, vile and worthless
August 4, 2005
Defined as “contemptible, mean, vile, worthless” in Webster’s Dictionary, “despicable” is the term that instantly comes to mind whenever the name Robert Novak is mentioned in connection with another, that of CIA operative Valerie Plame. This reaction has only been reinforced by reading his latest column regarding his role in the Plame affair, which has to be the most convoluted, self-serving, hypocritical piece of writing that has been published in recent times.
For those requiring a quick recap, over two years ago Novak penned a column in which he revealed the identity of Valerie Plame, who is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s claim (since acknowledged to be baseless) that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire uranium ore in the West African country of Niger.
Wilson had been commissioned to travel there by the CIA well before the United States invaded Iraq in order to inquire into allegations that such a deal was afoot, but came back with a report that they were without foundation. Nevertheless, in his State of the Union address prior to ordering the invasion, President Bush stated flatly that the allegations were true, attributing them to British intelligence. Subsequently, Wilson went public with the conclusions of his report, thereby arousing the ire of administration officials who viewed his comments as an attempt to further demean a president whose credibility had already been seriously damaged by the inability of U.S. inspectors to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, much less any evidence that Saddam had attempted to acquire the means to restart his nuclear program.
Apparently in retribution, certain administration officials had conversations with members of the press, including Novak, intimating that Wilson’s wife, who worked on WMD for the CIA, had played a role in sending him on his mission, thereby making her “fair game” in the administration’s attempts to smear Wilson.
But the CIA saw things differently, and referred Plame’s “outing” in the press to the Department of Justice because it is illegal for a federal employee (but apparently not for a journalist) to knowingly disclose the identity of an undercover CIA employee. In order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Justice appointed a special prosecutor to look into the matter, which he has evidently been doing with some vigor, judging by the recent revelations regarding certain conversations that President Bush’s political mentor Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby, have had with members of the press. One such reporter, Judith Miller of the New York Times, has even become the involuntary guest of Uncle Sam for refusing to testify regarding this matter before a federal grand jury.
With this background in mind, one of Novak’s paragraphs in his Aug. 3 column stands out as particularly egregious:
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“So what was wrong with my column (of July 14, 2003)? There was nothing incorrect. (An ex-CIA spokesman who testified to the grand jury recently told (two Washington) 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 had suggested the mission, she could be identified as Valerie Plame by reading her husband’s entry in ‘Who’s Who in America.’ “
There may not have been anything factually incorrect in Novak’s column, but that does not mean it was not morally wrong for him to obsequiously do the bidding of his conservative administration sources by identifying her, especially after he was specifically warned by a CIA official not to do so, as he now plainly admits. He also proclaims that he has been a journalist in Washington for nearly half a century now – all the more reason to judge him harshly for having broken the spirit, if not the letter, of the law by disclosing her identity!
For Novak to go on and assert that doing so was “meaningless” is belied by what has transpired since his column was published. As regards Plame’s role in allegedly suggesting the mission for her husband (because he had experience and high-level contacts in the region), that information is reportedly contained in one or more classified documents whose existence has only recently come to light, but was not publicly known at the time Novak wrote his column in 2003. Nor can her suggestion, assuming that she did in fact make one, be viewed as justification for revealing her identity.
Finally, Wilson’s wife is no doubt identified as such in a biographical article about him in “Who’s Who in America,” but certainly the information about her status as a covert CIA employee engaged in finding WMD would not have been included, or there would have been no basis for the CIA’s referral of her outing to the Department of Justice.
Novak goes on to describe this case as “obscure.” To be sure, were it not for Judith Miller’s jailing and the furor it has caused regarding the perceived need by some for a federal shield law to protect journalists in the performance of their reporting functions, this whole affair might well have ended in relative obscurity. But it is one thing to protect a reporter from having to reveal a source like “Deep Throat,” who helped to unravel a criminal conspiracy that ultimately led to the resignation of a president, and quite another to protect the identity of a federal official who has revealed the identity of an undercover CIA official, thereby endangering not only her safety, but the safety of those with whom she had dealings in the performance of her clandestine duties.
There can be no excuse for such an action by anyone for any reason, just as there can be no excuse for what Robert Novak did, despite his lame explanations after the fact, for which reason he is far worse than just a mealy-mouthed, weasel-wording, right-wing toady – he is despicable, that is, “contemptible, mean, vile, worthless.”
– Fred Kalhammer is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer and Stateline resident.