Bush White House’s Outing of CIA Operative Serious
I find journalist Robert Novak’s defense of his naming of a CIA operative on July 14 unconvincing and, indeed, rather sickening. Novak now says he did not know that the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson was a covert operative who ran agents. This assertion isn’t plausible, since he called her an operative several times in mid-July. That he did not know what a CIA operative is, or that outing one would be morally wrong, is also just not believable.
A former State Department official with many years of experience serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations sent me the following comment:
“In following the emerging investigation of who informed Novak and perhaps others that Amb. Wilson’s wife is a CIA “operative”, bear in mind the following: –There is very little information more sensitive than the identity of CIA’s “operatives”. They represent a principal component of operations to obtain that most valuable product, human intelligence and to conduct covert operations. Their identity and their networks are very closely guarded, known only to a few, and are the crown jewels of the CIA. “Outing” an operative is immensely damaging to the particular individual and those with whom she worked. It’s reasonable to assume that key sources, methods, contacts and networks have been compromised. It is also reasonable to assume that other intelligence agencies and networks will be much more cautious in dealing with us, having seen how one of our “operatives” was compromised and therefore everything she was invovolved with has been potentially compromised. You can be sure that extensive damage assessments are underway in the CIA and in other intelligence agencies. This is serious stuff. –Because thse matters are so sensitive, the identity of operatives is tightly compartmentalized and even then known only to very few in the CIA and almost no one outside. Assuming “Administration officials” did the leaking, those officials could have come from only a small group of agencies, if those. It points unquestionably to the White House and specifically to the NSC. My guess is that only a few NSC officials at the top would have access to information on operative identity. It is almost impossible to imagine their sharing that information except at the request of just one or two people at the top of the White House political operation.
I’m sure an experienced Department of Justice investigator would go through the same analytical path and that those exprienced in intelligence on the Hill would also understand the gravity of the disclosure.
The professionals clearly think this incident very serious.