The White House–at least in public–doesn’t seem willing to do much to determine whether administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative in order to mount a political hit job.
As reported in this column, a July 14 article by conservative journalist Robert Novak indicated that two unnamed “senior administration officials” had undermined national security and perhaps broken the law by revealing to Novak that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV was a deep-cover CIA officer. Wilson is the envoy the CIA sent to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium there. He reported back that the charge was probably false. Earlier this month, he went public and challenged the Bush administration’s account of the Niger episode. The Novak article–which made public the name of Wilson’s wife and reported she worked in the important area of weapons counterproliferation–had the stench of White House revenge and intimidation. It could be seen as a warning: take on this administration, and we’ll hurt you and your family.
Wilson will not confirm whether his wife, who is known to friends as an energy analyst in a private firm, is a CIA officer. But if she is, these officials ruined her career (and possibly past and present counterproliferation operations presumably of importance to national security) and they may have violated a federal law that prohibits persons with access to classified information from identifying covert officials. If she is not CIA, they falsely branded a private citizen an agency employee. And it was not only Novak whom they tipped off. Time reported that “government officials” had said the same to its reporters.
Was the White House conducting a smear campaign against the Wilson family and using classified intelligence to do so? When a reporter asked Scott McClellan, the new White House press secretary, about these articles, he replied, “Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this president or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.”
Notice that he did not say that the White House was trying to find out if any of its people had engaged in this underhanded maneuver. McClellan said that he had seen no evidence, not that he (or anyone else in the White House) was looking for evidence.
“Is Novak lying?” McClellan was asked. “Do you think he’s making it up?”
“I’m telling you our position. I’ll let the columnist speak for himself.”
Was McClellan saying “flatly” it did not happen?