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Novak Source Warned Reporters On Iraqi WMD Claims

Novak "Source" Warned Reporters About Iraqi WMD Claims

By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Investigative Report

Wednesday 12 July 2006

Bill Harlow, the former spokesman for the CIA who syndicated columnist Robert Novak claimed Tuesday was a source who confirmed the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson for Novak's July 14, 2003, column, had broken ranks with Bush administration early on for telling reporters there was no "smoking gun" that proved Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In his book Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward, the assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, recounted Harlow's warnings to reporters in the months leading up to the Iraq war.

"Well-placed officials in the administration were skeptical about the WMD intelligence on Iraq - among them [Richard] Armitage, some senior military officers, and even the CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who repeatedly warned reporters that the intelligence agencies were convinced that Saddam had WMD but that they lacked a "smoking gun," Woodward wrote.

Fingering Harlow as one of the sources he relied upon for his column that identified Plame Wilson parallels the White House's long-standing tactic of shifting responsibility for all intelligence failures related to pre-war Iraq intelligence onto the CIA.

Novak's close ties to Bush administration officials lead to obvious questions: is Novak being forthcoming about Harlow's true role in the leak, or is the columnist simply pulling a page out of the White House playbook by blaming the CIA?

Writing on Tuesday about his role in the CIA leak case, Novak said that he had relied upon three sources for the column that revealed Plame Wilson's identity and work at the CIA: White House political adviser Karl Rove, an unnamed government official, and "Bill Harlow, the CIA public information officer who was my CIA source for the column confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity."

But Harlow's account, as reported in the Washington Post on July 27, 2005, differs dramatically and suggests that he was never truly a confirming source for Novak.

"Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published," the Washington Post reported. "He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed."

"Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative," the Washington Post report added. "He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified information."

What's crucial about what Harlow relayed to Novak is something that seems to have been lost on all of the reporters who followed up on the story about Plame Wilson: the charge that Wilson's wife was responsible for his trip to Niger was untrue, but the charge against the administration that Wilson made in a New York Times op-ed on July 6, 2003, was the important story - Iraq did not attempt to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger.

But Plame Wilson's connection to the CIA and rumors that she sent her husband to Niger was the more salacious story for many mainstream reporters, not the veracity of the intelligence that led this nation to war.

Harlow, a captain in the US Navy for 25 years, and a former assistant White House press secretary for national security and foreign affairs in the Reagan administration, would likely never be a source - confirming or otherwise - for Novak on a story that would end up having clear national security implications, judging by the way he worked with other reporters over the years.

Ronald Kessler, author of The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror, described in his book how Harlow helped transform the CIA's "no comment" policy on news stories and instead worked with reporters to make sure their information was rock-solid.

"If a reporter already had the glimmer of a story, Harlow worked with him to get it straight, while denying untrue charges," Kessler wrote in The CIA at War. "Like the best PR people, Harlow got his message across while giving the reporter material he or she could use.Because he leaned over backwards to be honest, Harlow had credibility." Harlow hasn't commented on whether Novak's assertion that he was a confirming source is true. Harlow, who retired from the CIA, has been working on a book with former CIA director George Tenet titled At the Center of the Storm.

Tenet's publisher, HarperCollins, has promised that the book will provide the real story as to how the infamous "16 words" regarding Iraq's alleged interest in acquiring uranium from Niger made its way into President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address, which is what sparked the controversy that led to Joseph Wilson's op-ed column in the New York Times and Plame Wilson's outing by Novak.

"Tenet will give a privileged view of the controversial decision to go to war - providing previously unreported context and background, including an insider's account of how the controversial 'sixteen words' made it into the president's State of the Union speech, the real context of Tenet's own now-famous 'slam-dunk' comment, and the CIA's views on the rise of the Iraqi insurgency," according to a press release issued by the book's publisher.

Tenet and Harlow's book was slated for release in October, close to what's sure to be a contentious mid-term election. Last week, HarperCollins announced that At the Center of the Storm has been delayed until February 2007.


Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and will be a regular contributer to t r u t h o u t. He is the author of the new book NEWS JUNKIE. Visit for a preview.

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