Politics & Policy

Hubris

Responding to David Corn responding to me.

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.”

 

Corn blogged, “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.

– Victoria Toensing was chief counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee and deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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