It’s a shame David Corn chose to show his
displeasure with my September 15, 2006 Wall Street Journal Op Ed about
Richard Armitage’s role in the Valerie Plame so-called leak by making a
baseless personal attack against me. I wrote:
“The first journalist to reveal Ms. Plame was
“covert” was David Corn on July 16, 2003, two days after Mr. Novak’s column.
The latter [Robert Novak] never wrote, because he did not know and it was
not so, that Ms. Plame was covert. However, Mr. Corn claimed Mr. Novak
“outed” her as an “undercover CIA officer,” querying whether Bush officials
blew “the cover of a U.S. intelligence officer working covertly in…national
security.” Was Mr. Corn subpoenaed? Did Mr. Fitzgerald subpoena Mr. Wilson
to attest he had never revealed his wife’s employment to anyone? If he had
done so, he might have learned Mr. Corn’s source.”
“Toensing is flat-out wrong—sloppy wrong. Any
intelligent lawyer who bothered to peruse the piece I wrote could discern
that I was engaging in a thought exercise, not an act of disclosure.”
I did indeed scrutinize Corn’s piece. That’s why I
have a September 11, 2006 yellow-underlined copy of it in my file. (I had
read it before, but not printed it.) Here’s what made me add the above quote
about Corn to my criticism of Special Counsel Fitzgerald.
· Corn praises Wilson and the CIA’s choice of him
for the trip to Niger. That was strange since every major journalist
involved in this area was asking why Wilson was sent, as he had no WMD
experience and had served in Niger as a very low-level government employee
decades before. Even Armitage had responded to Novak’s “Why Wilson?” by
saying, “A lot of people are asking that question.”
· Corn indeed starts his July 2003 article by
asking, “Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence
officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national
security—and break the law—in order to strike at a Bush administration
critic and intimidate others?” He now says he was merely “speculat[ing].”
Anyone familiar with press techniques knows journalists have different
methods for getting information in the public domain and hiding their
sources at the same time. The specificity of this so-called speculation told
me the questioner--Corn-- had information that was quite more than mere
musing. Novak described Plame as a “CIA operative.” To anyone familiar with
national security, as Corn is, “operative” does not bring readily to mind
the status “covert.” Since Novak never wrote she was “covert,” Corn had to
get that information from somewhere else.
· Another method journalists use to hide their
sources is to write they talked to X, but X refused to discuss the matter.
Then they proceed to write all the information the source gave them. Corn
admits talking to Wilson but claims, “Wilson says ‘I will not talk about my
wife.’” Corn then writes, “Without acknowledging whether [Plame] is a
deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, ‘Naming her this way would have
compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which
she had been associated in her entire career.’” Without acknowledging?
Really? One can picture Wilson, and Corn, going “wink, wink,” with their
fingers crossed behind their backs.
· Corn claims today “I did not state as a fact the
Valerie Wilson was a ‘covert’ officer or CIA employee of any kind.” Yet he
wrote in July 2003, “Wilson caused problems for the White House, and his
wife was outed as an undercover CIA officer.” Perhaps he should re-peruse
his own article.
· Beginning in July 2003 and through today in
hyping his book, Corn uses the technique of interchanging various
intelligence employee and agent status terms, presumably attempting to make
them appear as synonyms to the uneducated in national security. This
approach told me that for some reason he was attempting to obfuscate the
issue. For example. Corn asks today, “[H]ow can you out a CIA operative who
has already been identified as a CIA operative...?” Novak’s use of the term
“operative” to describe Plame had nothing to do with revealing a “covert”
status, only that she worked for the CIA, two distinct concepts. On
September 5, 2006, Corn wrote, “Plame was an operations officer working on a
top priority” and that in the “early 1990s, she became what is known as a
nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA’s
frontline officers.” A NOC is not necessarily “covert,” and Corn’s using
them as synonyms does not make them the same. Whatever she was in the early
1990s, she was not covert within five years of Novak’s 2003 column. “Covert”
is a legal term requiring numerous factors, including a foreign assignment
at time of publication or within five years. Another factor is that the CIA
had to be taking affirmative measures to protect the covert person’s
identity. Hardly the situation here where Plame went daily to Langley, and
where the CIA press person admitted to Novak she was employed by the agency.
Corn could have attempted to counter me on the
merits but foolishly made up a fact that I had not read his article. I read
it and others by him quite thoroughly, thank you.
At least Corn and I still agree on one fact. My
daughter, Amy Toensing, is a wonderful photojournalist.