Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

CIA operative Valerie Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, was a former U.S. ambassador who had investigated claims of sales of uranium to Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Wilson publicly claimed that Iraq had not obtained uranium from Niger and that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. Newspaper columnist Robert Novak then identified Plame as a CIA agent. Critics said that Plame’s name was revealed to Novak by a White House official as revenge against Wilson.

Summary of Event

Joseph C. Wilson, the former acting ambassador to Iraq who had diplomatic experience in North Africa, was sent to Niger on February 26, 2002, by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to investigate rumors (based upon forged documents) that Iraq had purchased unrefined uranium ore in Niger. Wilson found no evidence to confirm the rumors and reported that such a transaction was highly unlikely. Furthermore, through his knowledge of and contacts in Iraq, Wilson knew of no credible evidence to support contentions that Iraq had a considerable stockpile of WMDs and an ongoing program to develop more WMDs. [kw]Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame, Columnist Robert (July 14, 2003) [kw]CIA Operative Valerie Plame, Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of (July 14, 2003) [kw]Plame, Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie (July 14, 2003) "Plamegate"[Plamegate] Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;Valerie Plame[Plame] Novak, Robert Plame, Valerie Wilson, Joseph Armitage, Richard Libby, Lewis “Scooter” Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;and Iraq[Iraq] Iraq War;and Central Intelligence Agency[Central Intelligence Agency] "Plamegate"[Plamegate] Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;Valerie Plame[Plame] Novak, Robert Plame, Valerie Wilson, Joseph Armitage, Richard Libby, Lewis “Scooter” Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;and Iraq[Iraq] Iraq War;and Central Intelligence Agency[Central Intelligence Agency] [g]United States;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [g]Iraq;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [g]Middle East;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]Espionage;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]Publishing and journalism;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]Ethics;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]Government;July 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]International relations;July 14,2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] [c]PoliticsJuly 14, 2003: Columnist Robert Novak Leaks the Name of CIA Operative Valerie Plame[03320] Rove, Karl

On July 6, 2003, The New York Times published an opinion article by Wilson, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” that was highly critical of Bush, George W. [p]Bush, George W.;and Iraq[Iraq] George W. Bush’s administration and the invasion of Iraq in March. Wilson argued that the invasion was approved using extremely shaky evidence. As many later claimed, White House officials leaked the name of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative as revenge against Wilson and to further justify the invasion.

As early as August of 2002, the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush began zealously to seek justification for invading Iraq and unseating the government of dictator Saddam Hussein. Bush, his closest advisers, and top-level federal officials put forth three arguments to justify their proposed attack on Iraq.

First, according to the Bush administration, Hussein’s close ties to al-Qaeda[alQaeda] al-Qaeda likely meant that he was involved in planning—or, at a minimum, supporting—the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Second, Iraq had a large stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and a vigorous program of WMD development. With this stockpile, it had or soon would have first-strike capabilities against the United States. Third, Iraq had purchased raw uranium from Niger to create its own nuclear weapons program and was continuing to search worldwide for additional nuclear bomb-making materials. Iraq’s WMD development program would be an imminent threat to U.S. security. The administration concluded that, in an act of self-defense, the United States must invade Iraq and remove Hussein from office. Furthermore, Hussein must be returned to the United States and tried for his crimes.

Regardless of the evidence, Bush reported the Niger uranium sale to Iraq as fact to the American public in his state of the union address on January 28, 2003. The CIA even had attempted to remove Bush’s claim from his speech. On October 11, 2002, the U.S. Congress had passed a joint resolution authorizing the president to go to war if he determined that it was necessary to defend the national security of the United States. In Bush’s report to Congress on March 19, 2003, the day before the attack began, he spoke only of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and U.S. national security as sufficient motive for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Within days of Wilson’s New York Times article, columnist Robert Novak learned from Richard Armitage, the deputy assistant secretary of state, that Plame was a CIA operations officer with a classified, covert identity. Novak claims Armitage mentioned her name in passing. Novak then turned to Karl Rove, Bush’s deputy chief of staff, to confirm that she was Wilson’s spouse. Armitage, in October, confirmed with investigators that he was the source of the leak.

On July 11, Novak’s column, “Mission to Niger,” was released by Creators Syndicate and distributed through the Associated Press. The column was not published, however, until July 14. In the column, Novak outed Plame, harming CIA operations and ruining her career. Most significantly, however, the leak gambled with national security. Novak remained adamant that his intent was not to reveal Plame’s covert identity but to investigate why Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration, was selected to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq by Niger.

On October 31, a federal grand jury was called to investigate the leak. Fitzgerald, Patrick Patrick Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, was appointed special counsel to pursue the federal inquiry for a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 and other federal crimes. Fitzgerald attempted to find out if White House officials had already leaked Plame’s name to reporters before Novak’s column appeared or if they later had simply repeated information already made public by Novak. Later testimony revealed that reporter Bob Woodward was the first person in the media to learn of Plame’s identity and that the source of that leak was Armitage.

Impact

According to the House Committee on Government Reform House Committee on Government Reform, which investigated the leak, there had been a minimum of eleven Plame-related breaches of security by various White House staff. The committee’s report, issued on July 22, 2005, also states that the White House did not comply with its obligations to either investigate the security breaches nor did the White House apply administrative sanctions to those who were involved. A number of White House officials broke several federal laws and acts that prohibit sharing classified government information, yet not one person in the Bush administration or in federal office was indicted. The White House itself was guilty of inertia for not carrying out its legal responsibilities. It made no attempt to investigate who had been leaking classified information.

The committee’s report adds that the White House also downplayed the importance of Wilson’s trip to Niger and that his subsequent report that Iraq did not buy uranium from Niger was dismissed. Finally, the report said the White House disregarded Wilson’s allegations that there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In the end, no person was tried for violations of federal acts or statutes relating to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The only trial resulting from the grand jury investigation was that of Vice President Dick Cheney Cheney, Dick ’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for Perjury;Lewis “Scooter” Libby[Libby] perjury and for obstructing justice during the grand jury investigation. According to testimony, Libby had been told by Cheney in June, 2003, that Wilson’s wife (her name apparently was not yet known) was a CIA employee.

Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007, of two counts of perjury, one count of obstruction of justice, and one count of making a false statement. On July 2, President Bush commuted his thirty-month prison sentence but did not pardon him, leaving much of Libby’s sentence, including fines, intact.

The leak scandal also impacted U.S. intelligence. Blowing an agent’s cover compromises intelligence-gathering methods and operations, affects the safety of intelligence agents and foreign and domestic informants, and harms recruitment efforts for agents as well as potential informants. Novak’s exposure of Plame’s identity likely had some significant effect on national security and foreign intelligence gathering, although the exact nature of that harm will likely remain unknown, given that it is counterproductive for the CIA, or any of the other federal intelligence-gathering agency, to admit to any harm. It should be noted, however, that Plame was working in operations related to Iran;nuclear weapons Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. "Plamegate"[Plamegate] Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;Valerie Plame[Plame] Novak, Robert Plame, Valerie Wilson, Joseph Armitage, Richard Libby, Lewis “Scooter” Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.;and Iraq[Iraq] Iraq War;and Central Intelligence Agency[Central Intelligence Agency]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bamford, James. A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies. New York: Doubleday, 2004. An excellent book that examines the prelude to the invasion of Iraq and the CIA leak scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Isikoff, Michael, and David Corn. Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. New York: Crown, 2006. More than one-third of this book is dedicated to the CIA leak scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Risen, James. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. New York: Free Press, 2006. Draws together the many pieces of information about the CIA and the Bush administration before and during the invasion of Iraq and before and after the CIA leak scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Joseph C. The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity—A Diplomat’s Memoir. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004. Wilson discusses his diplomatic career, his family and personal life, and his experiences and recollections of the Valerie Plame scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Valerie Plame. Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Insightful look into the life of a CIA agent, who was exposed as a covert operative by columnist Robert Novak.

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