August 4, 2005


Anonymous sources: Their use in a time of prosecutorial interest: How should decisions be made about publishing information from confidential sources – and about protecting those sources? Washington Post national security reporter Walter Pincus explains how he goes about it. (Walter Pincus, Summer 2005 , Nieman Reports)

On July 12, 2003, an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s CIA-sponsored February 2002 trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction.

I didn’t write about that information at that time because I did not believe it true that she had arranged his Niger trip. But I did disclose it in an October 12, 2003 story in The Washington Post. By that time there was a Justice Department criminal investigation into a leak to columnist Robert Novak who published it on July 14, 2003 and identified Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative. Under certain circumstances a government official’s disclosure of her name could be a violation of federal law. The call with me had taken place two days before Novak’s column appeared.

I wrote my October story because I did not think the person who spoke to me was committing a criminal act, but only practicing damage control by trying to get me to stop writing about Wilson. Because of that article, The Washington Post and I received subpoenas last summer from Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor looking into the Plame leak. Fitzgerald wanted to find out the identity of my source.

I refused. My position was that until my source came forward publicly or to the prosecutor, I would not discuss the matter. It turned out that my source, whom I still cannot identify publicly, had in fact disclosed to the prosecutor that he was my source, and he talked to the prosecutor about our conversation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2005 8:30 AM

He really could have saved himself a lot of time by just borrowing Bob Novak's copy of Who's Who.

Posted by: John at August 4, 2005 8:51 AM

My source burned me!

Posted by: ratbert at August 4, 2005 9:37 AM

Why did he not admit in his article that he later learned that Wilson's wife did arrange for his trip?

Posted by: GER at August 4, 2005 1:31 PM

Doesn't Fitzgerald nee to indict Colin Powell?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 4, 2005 2:28 PM

He wouldn't dare.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 4, 2005 2:42 PM

Why not? There are a lot of people in Washington who don't like him.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 4, 2005 3:27 PM

"an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter"

Yes, veered off from Iraqi nuclear activities to the left-field topic of Irqi nuclear activities. This is the whole thing isn't it? Pincus admits what any reasonable should that there is nothing nefarious about responding to Wilson's article the way some Administration types did. The only questionable bit is revealing her name, which could merely be inadvertantly wrong, if it even was wrong. But somehow (shock!) it get conflated into this big scandal about "punishing" people and burning covert agents and assets and all that.

I'd blame Wilson more if I thought he wasn't type-casted by others to do precisely what he did.

Posted by: RC at August 5, 2005 5:43 AM

It would be very instructive to know whom Wilson spoke with before he went to Niger. And, as someone asked earlier, who exactly paid for his trip? CIA? State? GAO? NSA? Dick Cheney?

And why haven't any of the mighty press sought to follow in his footsteps? Walk back the cat, as it were?

Posted by: ratbert at August 5, 2005 8:09 AM