Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Arianna Huffington has a point.
She reports in the July 27 edition of “The Huffington Post” that in the halls of the New York Times, among the colleagues of imprisoned reporter Judy Miller, a theory is being debated. It boils down to this: Perhaps after Joseph Wilson’s notorious op-ed appeared in the Times, Judy called a source (or two) in the intelligence community to find out how and why Wilson was sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase uranium.
Perhaps her source(s) told her that Wilson got the assignment thanks to his wife, Valerie Plame, who works at CIA HQ in Langley.
Now further suppose that Miller is trying to develop this into a larger story on Wilson and the controversy over the Bush administration’s arguments for regime change in Iraq. So she calls people in the White House, Karl Rove, maybe, or Dick Cheney deputy Scooter Libby or someone. (Newsday identified a meeting Miller had on July 8–two days after Wilson’s op-ed appeared, with an “unnamed” government official.)
Judy perhaps says: “My sources tell me that Wilson’s wife works at the CIA and that she was the one who recommended that he get the Africa assignment. How does that square with Wilson’s claim that Cheney sent him to Niger, and that Cheney received his report and ignored it?”
At this point, whoever in the White House Miller talked with would know about Plame–but not based on their access to classified information.
And he (or she or they) still would not necessarily know that Plame had some sort of undercover status. Judy’s source(s) might not have told her that. Indeed, the source(s) might not have known. The source(s) may have become acquainted with Plame at CIA HQ in Langley. Presumably, Plame would not have told such colleagues that she occasionally worked undercover. They’d have no “need to know.”
Rove, Libby, or others might have passed on what they learned from Judy to Bob Novak or Matt Cooper or other reporters. Why not? They’d want to tell the truth, to rebut Wilson’s false spin that Cheney had sent him to Africa and then had ignored his conclusive report.
They would not be revealing to reporters any facts derived from their access to classified information. And they still wouldn’t have any idea they were discussing a CIA secret (or sometimes-sort-of-secret) agent rather than a run-of-the-mill agency analyst.
If this is close to what happened, it would explain why Judy would not feel free to testify before a grand jury. Were she to do so, she’d get her source(s) fired, and probably prosecuted. Reporters don’t like to do that.
It also would explain why independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is keeping Miller in the slammer. If it were she who first told someone in the White House (who no doubt told others in the White House) about Plame, her testimony would be the key that solves the puzzle. In fact, without that key, it might be impossible for Fitzgerald to solve the puzzle.
There is much else in the Huffington post that is purely speculative and she also manages to throw plenty of mud at Rove and others–including Judy Miller whom Huffington accuses of having pushed “manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times.”
But Huffington’s basic point is perceptive (another sentence I never thought I’d write): Miller may not want to reveal her “source” at the White House “because she was the source….In this scenario Miller wasn’t an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it.”
–Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.