Dear Mr. Prosecutor
Note: Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, is heading
a Justice Department probe into the administration leak exposing
the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA undercover operative. The
information, which was revealed to syndicated columnist Robert Novak
(and possibly as many as five other reporters), was designed to
discredit her husband, Amb. Joseph Wilson. The former ambassador
went public with the information that the White House knew that
there was no evidence that Iraq was buying uranium yellowcake from
Africa, but still included the claim in President Bush's 2003 State
of the Union address.
forgive my presumptuousness in writing to you, but as a concerned
citizen I could not help but notice that the White House has been
less than cooperative in your efforts to identify the source of
the Plame leak. I think I may have a solution to your problems.
His name is Clifford May.
to the news reports, several key members of the senior White House
staff questioned by your investigators have refused to sign waivers
that would release reporters, presumably including Mr. Novak, from
any promise they made to maintain the secrecy of their sources.
It is a serious blow to your efforts since such information could
well be critical to the outcome of your investigation. Compelling
journalists to disclose their sources in the absence of a waiver
is a very sensitive issue which threatens the foundations of a free
press. It is the reason why Justice Department attorneys must first
show that all other methods of obtaining the essential information
have already been exhausted.
is a possible way out of this thorny dilemma. There is at least
one person who knew of Valerie Plame's relationship to the CIA even
before Novak published his column: Clifford May. He is the president
of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-profit
organization founded two days after the 9/11 attacks that, in its
words, "conducts research and education on the war on terrorism."
More importantly, there is no reason why Mr. May should have known
about Plame's CIA credentials, nor did he possess the requisite
security clearances to do so. Tracking down the source of his "leak"
could well bring us closer to identifying the culprits who gave
the same information to the likes of Bob Novak.
May has not been coy about sharing his knowledge of Plame's CIA
background. On Sept. 29, the same day that the Washington Post
confirmed that the CIA had asked for a criminal investigation of
Novak's sources, the National Review Online published
a column by Mr. May claiming to be in the know long before Novak
blew her cover. "That wasn't news to me," he wrote. "I
had been told that but not by anyone working in the White
House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in
the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading
me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."
Mr. May later told Fox News the same day that Plame's identity was
"something of an open secret."
May's assertions raise some troubling questions. Exactly who were
the "insiders" for whom this was "something of an
open secret?" How did they obtain this information and why
did they pass it on so readily to someone like him?
May is, of course, a longtime Republican operative. Once the director
of communications at the Republican National Committee, he also
worked for BSMG Worldwide, one of the world's largest and most politically
connected public and media relations firms, before founding the
FDD in 2001. His organization is packed with Republican "insiders."
The board of directors includes Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, and Jeane
Kirkpatrick, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former
CIA director R. James Woolsey are on its list of "Distinguished
close relationships with prominent neoconservatives are also hard
to miss. FDD's board of advisers includes the former chairman of
the Defense Policy Board (DPB), Richard Perle; Center for Security
Policy president Frank Gaffney; Washington Post columnist Charles
Krauthammer; and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. So
it is no surprise that Mr. May is a major war-booster and White
House defender in his own right, or that he would receive advice
and help from the same clique of war hawks who lead the campaign
for the Iraq war.
course, the "insiders" Mr. May referred to in his column
need not be members of his own board. But it isn't unreasonable
to view them as likely candidates for that role. Gingrich, Woolsey,
and Perle all serve on the DPB and carry high-level security clearances.
It is difficult to imagine how or why Plame's identity would come
up in official DPB deliberations, but these three men also have
close informal relationships with the offices of Pentagon chief
Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney the two men
who were most annoyed by Wilson's revelations. Woolsey, Perle and
Gaffney also fit the description of "someone who formerly worked
in the government."
why not ask. Mr. May who his informant(s) was? He told me just last
week that he had not even been contacted by the FBI or any other
investigators about the case. Though I must warn you, as much as
Mr. May would like to help, he is reluctant to talk. In his words,
"I'm happy to tell anybody what I know, but, in my capacity
as a journalist, I would not want to disclose confidential sources."
I'm not sure why Mr. May thinks he is entitled to the same constitutional
protections as a member of the media. While he did previously work
for the New York Times and still writes a column for Scripps-Howard,
his primary job is working for a non-profit think-tank. Moreover,
he received information about Plame before he became a columnist.
In other words, he did not receive the information as a journalist.
You can say what you want about Robert Novak (and there are many
things to be said), but what distinguishes him from other columnists
is that he often provides "news" of public interest and
import. Mr. May cannot make the same claim, certainly not under
the information was not given to him under any formal agreement
of confidentiality, the likes of which exists between a reporter
and his source. According to Mr. May's original account, the remarks
were "offhand" and freely volunteered, without any injunctions
about their disclosure.
May and his organization have long expressed great concern about
the threats posed by terrorism and nuclear proliferation
indeed that has been FDD's very raison d'Ítre. And although he insists
that Plame was not working undercover at the time of Novak's column,
he has personally expressed outrage at any attempt to "out"
an active covert agent. Given his protestations, he really ought
to volunteer to reveal his sources to you.
rather than wait for him to fulfill his civic duty, I suggest you
give Mr. May a call. I suspect that a nice, long chat with Mr. May
will make it a lot easier to obtain those White House waivers
that is, if you still need them.
you for your time and consideration,
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Jim Lobe