Research: Commentary

The White House, Congress and the CIA

The Washington Post, October 1, 2003 | Article

By Melvin A. Goodman

President Bush's aides promised Sunday to cooperate with a Justice Department inquiry into an administration leak that exposed the identity of a CIA operative. An administration official told The Washington Post on Saturday that two White House officials leaked the information to selected journalists to discredit former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.

Mel Goodman, former CIA analyst and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, will be online Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. ET, to discuss the intelligence leak, the misuse of intelligence and the need to protect CIA operatives.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Mel Goodman: Good morning.....These are interesting times. We now know that the Bush administration went to war on the basis of fragmentary, outdated, and circumstantial evidence...and we now know that the Bush administration is waging war against the critics of its policies by leaking the names of CIA clandestine service officials. These are very sordid matters and must be examined. I look forward to your comments and questions.

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Missoula, Montana: This incident has the smell of a White House dirty trick, but isn't the significance of the leak being overblown? After all, lots of people in Washington and elsewhere must have known of Ambassador Wilson's wife's connection to the CIA.

Mel Goodman: The incident is not being overblown because it is a violation of a federal statute and it reveals the essential cynicism of the Bush administration. There was no need to leak this name; it was done only as an act of political revenge to make sure that other critics did not come forward. Very ugly!!

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Shreveport, La.: Why didn't the Bush administration look into this situation before now, knowing fully well all the particulars for eight weeks prior to the onset of the investigation? Does that in itself suggest culpability?

Mel Goodman: It certainly does. The administration showed no interest in this matter whatsoever until the politics demanded an obvious response that was carefully crafted for the president. Also, where was the press for the past two and a half months ever since Robert Novak (not the most savory of journalists) helped the administration use such a vile tactic??

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Los Angeles, Calif.: This is quite disturbing and other CIA personnel should be quite concerned. For those who feel this is just the Dems creating a ruckus or this is partisan politics. It is not. These people protect us in ways we can not even imagine no matter what our political views are. I'm amazed but not surprised that this is trying to be made into a 'spat' between the parties. I think Novak was wrong in providing her name especially since revealing it did nothing for the story at all. He was used as a political pawn and should make it up by revealing his source. We do not need people in or administration that would do something like this. It is a direct threat against our national security. If people can't see that and want to take sides and spat party politics, there is nothing to say. But I for one realize the gravity of this story and don't care whether it was dems or repubs that were in the house. It was WRONG!!! And it's scary to think someone would do such a callous thing.

Mel Goodman: Novak was not used in the classic sense....he was quite willing to cooperate and was certainly called because the White House knew he would cooperate. At least half a dozen journalists refused to play this terrible game. President George Bush (the father in this case) called such leakers the "most insidious of traitors." Novak was merely what the Bolsheviks used to call a "useful idiot" in this case.

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Washington, D.C.: Why isn't this the most obvious, no-brainer, "refer-to-special-counsel" case in the book? It's clear that the leak took place, that it was intended to punish the dissenting Amb. Wilson, and that the White House sacrificed his wife's career (and maybe life, if she was in fact an Operations Officer) to silence him.

Mel Goodman: I believe that this matter will eventually be referred to a special counsel because it is obvious that the White House has circled the wagons on this issue. The administration is resorting to a policy of plausible denial, a hallmark of any covert action.

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McLean, Va.: I don't feel that the legal statute(s) involved in the case of the Administration leaking the name of a CIA analyst/operative have been made sufficiently clear as it relates to what or which events would be criminal should the allegations prove to be true. For example, would the person who allowed the Administration official to know Mrs. Wilson's identity have broken the law? Has Mr. Novak, the "journalist" responsible for the publicity of the leak, broken the law? Has his editor broken the law?

It seems to me that all of the above should be pursued -- in addition to the repugnant person or persons who tried to lobby the press to out Mrs. Wilson.

Mel Goodman: Journalists have broken no laws....Novak has broken some ethical issues, but not laws. Any official with a security clearance or who knew that he was providing the true identity of a clandestine services official was breaking a 1982 statute. It is ironic that any war on terrorism requires good clandestine collection but that this administration has now put the life of an officer and ALL of her sources at risk. This is beyond cynicism actually.

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Bellingham, Wash.: Dear Mr. Goodman,

Your comments are extremely incisive. It is a relief to read such intelligence and candor in these unbelievably awful times.

I just wanted to comment that the reasons for going to war that you mentioned omitted one very important one: money. A questioner had asked you, more or less, why have a war when it costs so much? The sweetheart deals for corporations close to the administration are the most transparent answers.

Because of the huge reduction in the tax rates of the rich, the middle class taxpayers get stuck with more of the bulk of the 87 billion dollar bill from this bogus war, and lots of that money will go right into the pockets of those who bankrolled the Republican's political campaigns.

Mel Goodman: Good points. It is noteworthy that the United States is making sure that only American companies (all connected to the Bush administration, by the way) will be gaining the billions of dollars in contracts for ALL phases of the oil industry. This smells of more than just petroleum wells.

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Easton, Md.: I don't think any American needs to be "told" by a former CIA operative that we need to protect the identity of our clandestine agents whose success and safety depends on our ability to protect their identities! What we need to talk about is the process of turning over the investigation to the Justice Department and whether it is, which I believe it is, another violation of ethics to have Justice investigating the White House, where Justice's top official is directly appointed by the President of the United States. This is a clear and absolute violation. We should talk about previous investigations and compare the DOJ as investigative body vs an independent counsel. Bush should not be given free reign to decide who investigates his staff; it should be turned over to a non-partisan investigator with broad powers to do the investigating.

Thanks!

Mel Goodman: I agree....and the fact that Karl Rove was once a consultant to Attorney General Ashcroft makes it imperative that a special counsel be appointed as soon as possible.

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Washington, D.C.: Please describe the restrictions on "naming names" associated with current federal law. For example, is it a violation of federal law to disclose the names of CIA analysts working in open positions too, or only a violation if you disclose the name of operatives working under cover? Was the woman named in the article working under cover?

Mel Goodman: There is only a violation in the case of someone under cover. The CIA employee has been under cover her entire career. The CIA tried to get Novak to drop her name, which was meaningless in the context of the story, but this less than savory journalist went ahead.

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New York, NY: Why would the CIA wait more then 2 months to act? The fact of the violation of a law was clear when Novak's article was printed. What does this do to the relationship between the White House and the CIA?

Mel Goodman: The CIA submitted a memo nearly two months ago and there has been a slow but steady bureaucratic pace to events since then. I'm puzzled that the media did not pick up the story two months ago when Novak's column appeared on the 14th of JULY!!!

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Fort Worth, Texas: Mr. Goodman: AS a former CIA analyst yourself, and judging by all the 'former' CIA analysts acting as 'talking heads' on various networks these days, can you explain to this audience exactly when it is considered SAFE for analyst to REVEAL themselves to the general public? How does a 'former' CIA analyst or 'former' covert operative determine that his sources and methods are no longer in danger if he reveals himself/herself as such? Is there a magic number of years, say between leaving the CIA and being able to talk openly as an 'expert talking head' on network TV and in the national press? It would be my opinion, that it would be impossible to ever determine fully, whether, for instance, your OWN 'former sources and methods' are no longer in danger now that you are public with your former position at the CIA. Can you explain your thoughts on this matter and any rules or regulations of the CIA on the matter that are relevant? Thanks

Mel Goodman: Former overt analysts of the CIA, such as myself, are in no position to compromise sources and methods....former CIA covert officers should use good judgment but often don't. The CIA reviews all published materials by some CIA officials, but allows former director Bob Gates free rein in his own publications. There is no system for reviewing media interviews, but former officials should use good sense.

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Salt Lake City, Utah: I was wondering, do any of your friends in the CIA or other intel services tell you that now they are afraid to speak out against the administration? After the previous CIA report on Saddam that said he was no-threat and that attacking him would hasten the spread of WMDs was dismissed by the White House?

Has this intimidation worked? I have heard this is why Robert Boer (sp?) dropped out of DHS and is now advising the Kerry Campaign...Is this true?

Mel Goodman: Of course, intimidation works. Senator Warren Rudman used it successfully in the 1991 hearings on Bob Gates....and now the Bush administration was trying to silence the entire intelligence community that is witting of the misuse of intelligence by this administration. There are many analysts at CIA and DIA and elsewhere who could testify to this. I don't believe that Bob Baer can be easily intimidated.

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Mt. Rainier, Md.: In answer to NY NY's question about relations between CIA and president's office - they were already getting ragged when Bush decided that the CIA should fall on its sword over the '16 words'. Maybe George Tenet decided he didn't want to be that expendable. Especially since this last business makes him look particularly bad.

Mel Goodman: The argument should not be over the so-called sixteen words but ALL the words used to justify the war. There was a terrible campaign of deceit on the reasons to go to war and the intelligence community unfortunately cooperated in some ways with the administration. The intelligence estimate from October 2002 is a case in point. Why is the House intelligence committee criticizing that estimate now, when it was prepared nearly a year ago and was a terrible example of politicization of intelligence. Where was the Congress on the faulty intelligence?? And where was the press on the leaking of a clandestine services officer's identity??

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Troy, N.Y.: What about the CIA contacts or agents who may have been put in harms way by this revelation. Is anything being done to protect them?

Mel Goodman: I'm sure that CIA security is doing a full-scale review of all of the people who have been put at risk but there are few methods of protecting the foreign assets who have been compromised.....and these are the very people needed in any war against terrorism. That is why "reckless" is the only word to describe the performance of the Bush administration on this one.

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Lawrence, Kansas: CNN and other news outlets are reporting that the CIA is currently reviewing the status of Plame's contacts in the field. What is the nature of this review, and if lives are in danger, wouldn't this process have been completed by now - 11 weeks after the leak?

Mel Goodman: I'm sure that the agency started a damage assessment in July (at least, I hope so), but it will be very difficult to protect vital foreign assets. Compromised Americans will simply not be sent overseas again in some cases, so Novak and the leakers have compromised some of our most experienced officers.

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Wall, NJ: Mr Goodman:

For such an experienced guy, Novak showed extremely bad judgement here didn't he. And rather than apologize to Joe Wilson, his wife or any of us for any problems he may have caused, he seems to be taking the position that he did nothing wrong while every day the situation gets worse and worse all around him. I thought only the President lived in that bubble.

I know that you and the Post aren't responsible for him, but you might want to let him know that at least some of us out here in the reading public hold him accountable for a pretty despicable act.

This goes beyond politics in my view and if true, proves this White House to be even more insidious than the Nixon White House ever was. Something I thought I'd never live to see again.

Thank you for your time.

Mel Goodman: Novak is more of a polemicist than a journalist so his transparent explanations are no real surprise. I'm sure that Bush the Elder must be mortified by the tactics of the administration of Bush the Younger, however.

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Charlotte, NC: Would Robert Novak be violating journalistic ethical standards to confirm that his source was NOT, say, Karl Rove? He wouldn't be naming his source, only clearing the name of a prime suspect and possibly innocent victim.

Mel Goodman: It is unlikely that Rove was the actual caller in any event. The question is whether any calls could have been made without high-level political support from within the administration.

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Long Beach, Calif.: Bob Novac has stated that an 'unofficial source' at the CIA told him that Wilson's wife was an analyst and not a covert operations officer. Do you think this was the CIA trying to protect her?

Mel Goodman: Novak has no credibility thus far on any of his tortured explanations. The CIA was simply trying to get him not to run the name and he refused to oblige for his own reasons. No more, no less.

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New Rochelle, N.Y.: Perhaps you can explain why the Robert No-facts article came out in July and the investigation reared its head in September. I'm confused as to whether the CIA was doing its own investigation or someone sat on the request at the DOJ. Thanks in advance.

Mel Goodman: I believe that the bureaucratic mills run slowly on these matters....and that preliminary work started at the CIA and at Justice in early August. At least, I hope so.

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Salt Lake City, Utah: I thought Robert Novak said that "NO" one from the White House called him about the leak, so that means that it could be some one from the House or Senate or Justice department or etc...

Kind of curious to see where it came from thanks Michael

Mel Goodman: All Novak is saying is that the call did not originate in the White House....it does not mean that Novak wasn't returning a White House call from someone associated with either Bush or Cheney...there would be a great deal of anger with Wilson's oped on Cheney's staff, for example, because Wilson undercut the spurious reasons for going to war (the so-called reconstitution of Iraqi nuclear capabilities).

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Washington, D.C.: Who in the White House would (officially) have clearance to know the names of CIA undercover operatives?

Mel Goodman: Officially, very few people would have had access to such names....but this was a political vendetta that was orchestrated presumably at reasonably high levels.

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Buffalo, N.Y.: What I want to know is the process the Justice Department plans to go through. The most obvious action would be to have the FBI interview as many of the top White House officials who work near or with Karl Rove. Getting to those people quickly is extremely important so that they don't try to cover their tracks, isn't this correct?

Mel Goodman: I agree, but the FBI will probably go to CIA first and determine who had access to sensitive information there, which would be a waste of valuable time.

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Charlottesville, Va.: What was Plame's job? Novak claims she was an "analyst," not too secret. An article on TomPaine.com says she ran a very important network of clandestine agents trying to stop WMD proliferation, like Nicole Kidman in The Peacemaker. If so, then it could be a very nasty spat between the CIA and Rumsfeld's special Defense intelligence unit, indeed... one in which Defense is disabling CIA's capabilities.

Or is the truth that her job was something more than "analyst" and less than top spy controller?

Mel Goodman: She was a covert officer and therefore the 1982 act applies....Rumsfeld has already quietly disbanded his Office of Special Plans and he has too much else on his plate right now.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the atmosphere at the CIA with this story now front page news? It seems to me that the Bush Administration has completely politicized that agency to the detriment of it's mission, called into question its integrity by directing the content of it's intelligence reports and now risking the lives of it's staff. Do you see any future move by congress or anyone to remove the CIA from being used in this fashion? I don't see how they can continue to function under the current environment.

Mel Goodman: There is a great deal of anger and frustration over the White House pressure tactics on intelligence assessments, the terrible handling of the Iraq-Niger story, Rumsfeld's pressure on Tenet, etc. etc. This is worse, however, because it compromises the careers of CIA officers and the lives of foreign assets. This is extremely serious business, particularly in a world where human intelligence could make all the difference.

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Minnesota: Does this weaken National security in any way

Mel Goodman: It weakens human intelligence, one of the most important instruments in the war against terrorism....that is why the actions of the administration are so reckless and despicable.

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Arlington, Va.: I heard reports that say very few leakers are found. What do you think the chances of ever finding the person or persons responsible for this leak being discovered?

Mel Goodman: Leakers are often found when there is a will to do....usually there is a coverup to avoid embarrassment, but an eventually special counsel could avoid derailing this investigation.

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Philadelphia PA: I have seen 2 conflicting reports on Mr. Wilson's wife. One said she was a covert agent for the CIA for 30 years. The other said she is 40 years old. Do you know which statement is true?

Mel Goodman: The age is probably correct, but the length of service obvious isn't....

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Hamburg, Germany: What is the best way now to achieve the appointment of an independent investigator, to actually prosecute the perpetrators of these treasonous acts? What should our government be doing, not just the Dems but all of Congress, what should the media be doing, what should the public be doing?

Mel Goodman: This is a time for bipartisan and select handling of a sensitive national security matter. The posturing must stop immediately and the stonewalling must end as well. An independent investigation is obviously needed.

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Paris France: Hello and thank you for this live and very informative chat Mr. Goodman. Do you believe this outting of a CIA operative is a big enough scandal to bring down the Bush White House? Or at least, kill any chances for "reelection"? Matthew

Mel Goodman: This is an issue that goes directly to the character and moral compass of this administration. The anger in the country is real and palpable, and professional Republicans who believe that this is a typical Washington foodfight are missing the point. I hope that it leads to an independent investigation of all intelligence problems that deal with how this country went to war in the first place.

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Charlotte, NC: Some Bush apologists claim that the status of Wilson's wife as a CIA operative was well known in Washington. Do you have any specific information on this? Do you know of other instances where other operative's identities and work was well known?

Mel Goodman: I've worked in Washington for the past 38 years, including 24 years at the CIA...and I know Ambassador Wilson....and I did not know that his wife was an agency employee. Let's face it....this was targeted information as part of a political vendetta....a pure act of revenge...again, no more and no less.

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Boston, Ma: Mr. Goodman -

I'm wondering why the CIA is choosing now to bring this matter (back) into the spotlight, after months of no word on it. It seems that top CIA officials are putting a lot on the line to get this matter investigated... if the administration survives this relatively unscathed, I can see there being some repercussions on Tenet Co. Do you see this as a CIA response to White House attempts to pawn the WMD "intelligence failures" off on them (ie, Tenet preemptively fighting to keep his job), or is there more to it than that?

Mel Goodman: The CIA has done nothing wrong here. It tried to stop Novak from his terrible error, and it reported the consequences to the Justice Department. This is exactly what we would want from the CIA.

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Atlanta Georgia: Mr. Goodman,

This article was released in July, and over 75 days later, it is now being investigated. Isn't one of the most plausible, albeit cynical, explanations of this is to give the administration time to cover their tracks and destroy any "paper trails" as to who the leaker(s) were?

Mel Goodman: The congress and the media had 75 days to investigate this matter and both institutions failed the American people. I'm sure that the White House believed that the period of damage was over.

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Hyattsville, MD: Good Morning Mr. Goodman,

I have two questions. First, are there any precedents that you know of regarding the type of disclosure that happened to Ambassador Wilson's wife? Second, if this does turn out to be a political dirty trick, how do you think it will affect morale in the CIA?

Mel Goodman: There is no precedent I am aware of since the law was passed in 1982. But the law was required because a former CIA agent named Philip Agee deliberately outed as many CIA clandestine officers as possible in order to put their careers on hold and perhaps their lives at risk. Agee was probably getting foreign funding to support his efforts. Hence, the law.

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Washington, DC: I understand that there were other reporters that were offered the same information about the CIA agent. What is keeping the other reports from divulging the source of the leak? It doesn't seem like they would have any reason to protect the source since they didn't run the story.

Mel Goodman: At least six journalists had the story and refused to use the name. But journalists must protect their sources or freedom of the press will wither. The lawbreakers are the administration officials and not the journalists. Novak's transgressions are of the ethical variety and presumably he can live with what he did.

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Sacramento, CA: Thanks for your time today. Personally, I am concerned about the safety of the Ops Officer and her assets in the field. When something like this happens (i.e., compromise), how does CIA ensure the safety of its human assets?

I would assume that the Ops Officer is already stateside?

Mel Goodman: It is relatively easy to protect the American officers of the CIA, but it is very difficult to protect foreign assets. The leaders and Novak have done great damage here.

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Christopher, Decatur, GA: Do you see Attorney general Ashcroft appointed by the Bush White House and now asked to investigate the alleged White House - Wilson leak as a definite conflict of interest. Shouldn't there be a independent council formed so there will be no conflict of interest investigating this important matter of National Security?

Mel Goodman: A terrible conflict of interest, particularly because Ashcroft has been such a "political" AG and Rove was a former consultant to Ashcroft.

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Concord, NH: Can you elaborate as to how many people should have known the identity and function of Ms. Plame? If someone in the White House (or at Langley for that matter) who did not have both the clearance for and a need to know this information but still had it, does that in itself mean that there was a violation of the 1982 Act even without subsequent public disclosure? I believe it does, and it puts the White House in a bind because either the leaker was someone very high up, or it was someone who never should have had this information in the first place (and it is hard to imagine, for instance, how Rove or someone in his office could ever have a need to know this sort of highly sensitive, operational information).

Mel Goodman: There is no question that the people with the information did not have any need to know such information....again, the worst form of politics was responsible for this terrible national security transgression.

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Manassas, VA: You're all wrong on this. Joseph Wilson has committed the high crime of slander and thus treason against Karl Rove and President George W. Bush. In doing so, Wilson has undermined the war on terrorism, effectively putting a gun to the head of each CIA agent and each soldier fighting against Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It's time for Wilson to be investigated and sent to Guantanamo so he can't do any more damage to President Bush's war on terrorism and reelection. Thank you.

Mel Goodman: You have put the wrong end of the binoculars to your eyes and thus can not see anything that is in front of you. Turn your binoculars around and refocus. Thank you.

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Bethesda Maryland: Can you give us your best guess as to how this whole incident will end? Will the White House "get away with it"?

Mel Goodman: The "incident" will end when the leakers are identified. The White House will make the matter worse by dragging it out, which is the lesson of every political coverup in history. I don't think that the Bush administration will "get away" with it. The anger out there is palpable and bipartisan.

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Little Rock, Arkansas: Would the NSA be a plausible place to look to as the original source of the leak? or that someone from that shop passed it along to someone else within the White House, who passed it along to the press for political reasons?

Mel Goodman: The NSA would be the last place to look, so let's not waste more time than necessary.

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Chicago, IL: Mr. Goodman, last night on "Nightline", Wilson asserted that he would reveal to anyone questioning him (I believe he said F.B.I..) the names of the journalists who called him with their info on the leak. Do you think he assumes that this could flush them out - forcing their hand, and hoping that they'll conclude that to come forward voluntarily with information (perhaps including the leaker's name) is better than being revealed by an investigation as "accomplices", if you will?

Mel Goodman: I believe that Ambassador Wilson wants this matter resolved as soon as possible and that he will contribute what he can. What he is doing is far more difficult than the average person can realize because the entire warchest of the White House can be brought to bear against him. He is fighting a battle for all of us.

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Angers, France: As an American, I am simply outraged by the leaks that outed a CIA operative putting our national security at risk. Further, I am outraged at the cynicism of so many pundits that leakers don't get caught and this whole investigation is a waste of time and just fun politics. Is there no way to bring justice to this horrible affair? Thank you for your service to the country!;

Mel Goodman: I completely agree with you about the cynicism that has dominated our political landscape for too long. I believe that a special counsel will get this execrable matter on the right track.

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London, UK: If more than one person planned to leak the information, i.e. commit a felony, wouldn't that amount to conspiracy which can greatly increase penalties?

Mel Goodman: The penalties already include ten years in jail and $50,000 in fines regardless.

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Hanover, NH: Ambassador Wilson has said that journalists contacted him in July and told him that White House Officials were outing his wife for revenge. They told him that Karl Rove had declared his wife "fair game". Ambassador Wilson says that he will provide his notes of these conversations and the identity of the journalists to the FBI. Wouldn't a thorough investigation be able to use these notes and contacts to definitively tie Karl Rove to this sordid outing?

Mel Goodman: I have not seen any factual evidence that ties Rove to this deed, but there are certainly visceral and intuitive connecting tissues at work here. We need to be patient at this point.

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Nevada, Texas: Can we expect this investigation to be fair? Will the CIA be investigated to further silence them and make this go away for the White House.

Mel Goodman: The public searchlight is now so bright that it will become increasingly difficult to stonewall and certainly to compromise the CIA any further. The CIA has already done the nation some harm in its handling of intelligence materials on the runup to war and needs to regain its credibility and integrity by being cleaner than a hound's tooth on this matter.

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Pittsburgh, PA: Can you shed some light on the historical clashes between the CIA, DIA, FBI, DOJ that might be relevant to what's going on right now?

Mel Goodman: The creation of the CIA was opposed by the FBI and the Pentagon in 1947......that explains much of the bureaucratic tension that we see today, but key personalities have worsened the atmosphere, such as J. Edgar Hoover in his day and SecDef Rumsfeld currently.

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Kansas City, MO: Why are you only answering questions from people who agree with you? Are there no dissenters from your opinion?

Mel Goodman: Not yet. I'm just running down the list, not cherry-picking as you infer.

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honolulu, hawaii: Mr. Goodman. How much damage does this incident to the recruitment of people to work for the CIA in positions similar to Ambassador Wilson's wife?

Mel Goodman: It will definitely inhibit people from stepping forward but the dog that doesn't bark doesn't always provide a clue, despite what Sherlock Holmes believed.

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Alexandria, VA: Re. Paris: No, this won't bring down the Bush Administration. Along with control of the government, the campaign war chest insures against that. The campaign money provides more than enough resources to smear any threat and to carry Bush through the election next November.

Mel Goodman: Too cynical, just as Paris feared.

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Indianapolis, IN: Hi Mel:

As as a former agency employee, would you say the majority opinion at the agency is for the Department of Justice to take over the investigation or an independent appointed official from outside the Department of Justice to handle this investigation?

Mel Goodman: The people I have talked to strongly are in favor of a special counsel.

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Atlanta, GA: How will the CIA determine the damage that this "outing" has caused?

Mel Goodman: Investigations in the field by counterintelligence experts and seasoned operatives will go a long way to determine the security implications....but even reports officers will record any decline in reporting from the field on key issues.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Hi, Mr. Goodman -

I've been reading that leakers are never caught, because both parties have a natural interest in not identifying the other. Is there any legal problem in Wilson simply telling everybody everything he knows and not worrying about tracking down the White House officials from their telephone logs?

Mel Goodman: You are right to note the fear of further political embarrassment to one and all to get in the way of a complete investigation. But there is a national security imperative on this one that will dominate. Ambassador Wilson appears ready and willing to provide important factual materials.

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Berkeley, CA: The President states that "if" there was a leak, he wants to know who it is. Shouldn't he and the rest of his administration know by now? Can this be what is known as "a coverup"?

Mel Goodman: Let's face it....the Bush administration demonstrated no interest whatsoever in this matter until the political firestorm really erupted. We were seeing the beginning stages of a coverup.

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Columbia Maryland: Whoever leaked this information to the press, obviously felt it was worth the personal risk to intimidate others from bringing forward more information that would discredit the Bush administration regarding the reasons for going to war with Iraq. The Bush administration must really have something to hide if this person would willingly take such a risk as to out a CIA agent. It's reprehensible and yet I'm afraid we may never know the truth since any reputable journalist would never reveal their sources. But to me it has shades of Watergate written all over it. What do you think about this comparison? Do you think we'll ever know who the culprit really is?

Mel Goodman: We are all waiting for Deep Throat to be announced....there will be a shorter wait to see who gets frog-marched out of the White House, I believe.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: How certain do people in the intelligence community feel that it is Karl Rove who is behind the outting of this CIA operative?

Mel Goodman: The intelligence community is not speculating on specific names....there is too much anger over the deed itself and the obvious organization of such an effort to damage one of its own.

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Gambrills, Md.: What is the likelihood of having a special counsel appointed? Who is in charge? DOJ? Congress? If Congress, would that recommendation have to come from both the Senate and the House? Presumably, some Republicans in the Senate would cross to vote with Democrats, but I seriously doubt any Republicans in the House would do likewise.

Mel Goodman: It is currently up to Ashcroft to name a special counsel and this could be done immediately. If Bush continues to circle the wagons on this issue, then it will be very tough for Democrats to get Republicans to cross the line. But moderates and pragmatists such as Hagel and Chaffee presumably understand the larger equities that are at stake here.

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Kennewick, WA: Why didn't the the Administration initiate an internal investigation sometime in the past two weeks? Couldn't they see which way the wind was blowing? And does this further suggest that they, at some level, had a more "active" role in the leaks than they are currently admitting?

Mel Goodman: The White House investigation should have begun on July 14th, the day of the Novak column. The fact that it didn't is circumstantial evidence in this case.

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New York City: Intimidation is a motive, I suppose, but if that was the purpose of disclosing the agents name, isn't it just plain dumb? The downside risk is enormous, and the upside questionable, right? So, are the people running the Administration up to the task?

Mel Goodman: I believe that we have learned over the past two years that this administration sorely needs adult supervision, but where is it going to come from. I'm sure that Bush the Elder is appalled over the behavior of his son's administration, particularly that now includes the weakening of an agency that is named after George Bush. How do these things happen??

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Stockholm, Sweden: Recent articles about this issue insist that the reporters cannot be prosecuted for their role in releasing the name of Joe Wilson's wife. But wasn't this law written following the assasination of a CIA station chief in Athens Greece following publication of his name in a magazine called Covert Action Information Bulletin? Therefore, wasn't the law at least in part meant specifically to cover the actions of journalists who might publish the names of intelligence operatives?

Mel Goodman: The law was more in response to Philip Agee's book that probably had the back of foreign intelligence services. The Walsh assassination was complicated by many factors, but there is no doubt that his "outing" was one of the factors.

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Roanoke, Virginia: Do you think the journalists will reveal their source(s)? Do you think these journalists would go to jail to protect their source(s)? Can the journalists claim first amendment rights to protect their source(s)? Will the person or persons who leaked this information ever be identified?

Mel Goodman: Journalists can use their constitutional rights to avoid naming sources, although genuine national security imperatives could put incredible pressure on such journalists. We will eventually learn the identities of those involved because too many people already have the information and the White House is already at war with itself on this terrible matter. Remember it was an administration source that provided essential information to the media.

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New York, N.Y.: Can the White House erase phone logs and emails so that the person who did this will not be caught. As a person who lives in Downtown New York and lived through 9/11 this makes me very worried for my friends and family , that the members of white house would put people at risk who try to protect our country. Does Mr Novak have any morals I think not.

Mel Goodman: One of the lessons of Iran-contra was that people who think they erase computers really haven't and ironically the CIA has wonderful capabilities for calling up "erased" materials. Novak's partner, the late Rowland Evans, was the moral compass of the partnership; Novak is a polemicist.

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Champaign, IL: You don't seem to buy the "everyone knew anyway" defense. Is it true that many in Washington would have known Ms. Plame was an operative? What about Novak's defense that CIA didn't object strongly enough to deter him from printing her name?

Mel Goodman: Again, Novak is dissembling here. The CIA made more than one attempt to get him to drop the name that at least six professional journalists refused to cite. Journalists are a chatty lot and I'm sure that dozens of Washington correspondents had the information.

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Washington, DC: If Mr. Wilson was so concerned about protecting his wife's identity, then why did he reveal himself as the ambassador that the CIA sent to Niger? Wasn't he the one who opened this can of worms?

Mel Goodman: The can of worms was packaged and opened by an administration that lied about the reasons for going to war. Ambassador Wilson was doing the work of a citizen of a democracy who wanted to debate to include serious factual matters. You are aiming at the wrong target.

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Arlington, Virginia: Given that Valerie Plame's career was probably damaged by Robert Novak's revealing her occupation do you personally think Robert Novak should jeopardize his career and reveal his source for the story?

Mel Goodman: Novak's conscience will determine the outcome here...

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Columbia, Maryland: While it certainly speaks volumes about the "honesty and integrity" of the Bush White House, what does it say about Robert Novak who could have easily told his story with equal impact without revealing the name of Wilson's wife? After all none of the other six or more journalists who were given the same information chose to divulge her name. Why is he not being charged for illegally releasing this information like the person who gave him this information will be charged if he/she is ever revealed. Surely he was aware of the law!;

Mel Goodman: The law is not aimed at the Novaks of the world...but the professional leakers who have access to sensitive materials. Again, Novak's moral compass is the issue.

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Salisbury, MD: You noted that the "outing" did in fact serve its purpose of intimidating intelligence community folks. My question is what might the consequences be of stirring up such hostility among the intelligence. community? This would seem to me to be a group with ample ability to retaliate in undetected ways or otherwise make life difficult for the would-be intimidators. Are some of the career intelligence. people upset enough to play hard ball? ANd if so, what sorts or responses should we look for from them? This may have the makings of an epic clash...

Mel Goodman: Do not expect intelligence officers to come forward into the light of public scrutiny. They have their own ethical codes regarding intelligence materials and they also have a fear of being polygraphed on a regular basis.

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New York, N.Y.: What are the chances of actually finding out who all the players are?

Mel Goodman: The chances are far better than the current conventional wisdom has it.

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Arlington, Va.: In the end, won't this just end with a relatively low-level administration official being used as a scapegoat? i don't think any of the high ups would have gotten their hands dirty actually making the call or the leak, but would have put a foot soldier to the task. In addition, there seems to be a general antipathy in the general public. those attending this chat seem to be in the minority in that they are outraged at such an abuse of power and of the public trust.

Mel Goodman: The typical response is to sacrifice a low-ranking political operative, but there may be too much congressional and public focus right now for that.

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Burke, Va.: Dr Goodman, Mr Novak said on CNN that the CIA person was an analyst and not an operator, and thus not one that fits in to the rules of not disclosing identities. He says the controversy is a big to-do about nothing as she was an analyst.

Is this true?

Mel Goodman: It is not true....and, more importantly, even Novak knows that it is not true. He seems to be standing in a hole but refusing to stop shoveling on this one.

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Topanga, Calif.: Hi Mel, Despite what has been publicly stated, an obvious 'circling of the wagon's' mentality at the White House will shift into high gear about now...I have heard people suggest "well just check the White House phone logs and that will tell you who made the calls". It appears unlikely that if one were going to make a potentially incriminating call, it would eminate from such an easily accessed location. In addition, can we expect the Justice Department under Ashcroft to be the impartial investigators in this matter? It seems impossible in light of the potential outcome. Your thoughts?

Mel Goodman: I share your concerns.....this has all the hallmarks of a covert action that includes plausible denial....so it will be difficult to get to the real offenders here....but not impossible.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: What's our opinion on the president directly calling for information regarding breaking the cover of a covert CIA agent? It strikes me as disingenuous: like complaining about the problem of betrayal to the person who betrayed you.

Anita

Mel Goodman: I agree....there was no White House interest at all until the flashpoint situation was reached...

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West Virginia: I think anyone who would print the name of any CIA,FBI, or etc. without that persons permission should be held for treason the people of the world do not need this info

Mel Goodman: President George. H.W. Bush agrees with you completely.

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Santa Fe, N.M.: Mr. Goodman

What an enriching experience this format brings to the issue.

Using the experience your background provides, can you unravel for us some of the logic which might have driven these event - is this one more sign those in this administration believe will the American people will sit idly by?

Mel Goodman: Yes, this is a classic example of hubris and the arrogance of power.

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Nashville, Tenn.: Last night on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer there was a former CIA agent on with Gen. Zinni. I was shocked at his anger at the administration for this even though he was a registered Republican and had voted for the president. Do you believe this reaction is common among those in the intelligence community?

Mel Goodman: People seem skeptical that intelligence professionals would act so passionately about the misuse of intelligence information and putting lives at risk.....the fact is that we care mightily about these things and terrible lines have been crossed. That is why a special counsel is essential.

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Alexandria, Va.: Needs adult supervision?

Guess we know your politics, Mel.

Mel Goodman: This has nothing to do with politics....It concerns two vital national security matters: how we use or misuse intelligence information to go to war...and how we protect the courageous Americans in the field who are trying to collect sensitive information to help with such judgments. Why is that so difficult to understand, Alex.

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Mel Goodman: I'm afraid we are out of time. Please watch for my book "Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are Putting the Nation at Risk," which will be published in March and go into more details on these and other issues. Thank you for your comments and questions. Mel Goodman

 

Copyright 2003, Washington Post. Read original interview here

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