Oh, now thatâs very interesting.
Letâs go back and do a little more Bob Novak exegesis.
As weâve noted before, one of the best pieces of evidence that Novak (and thus his sources) knew Valerie Plame was a clandestine employee of the CIA was that he said as much in his original column. There he called her an âAgency operative.â
People who follow the intel world say that phrase is almost always meant to refer to a clandestine agent or someone in the field, rather than an analyst.
Now, since the story blew up a week and a half ago, Novak has been telling people that this reference was just some sort of slip-up, that in this case he meant âoperativeâ only in the generic sense of a âhackâ or a âfixer.â On Meet the Press Novak said he uses âthe word too much [and] if somebody did a Nexus search of my columns, they'd find an overuse of âoperative.ââ
Well, Novak does seem to use the word operative a lot. But as one of my readers pointed out to me this evening, âoperativeâ can mean all sorts of things in different contexts. The question is how Novak uses it in this particular context. Following up on my readerâs suggestion I did a Nexis search to see all the times Novak used the phrases âCIA operativeâ or âagency operative.â
This was a quick search. But I came up with six examples. And in each case Novak used the phrase to refer to someone working in a clandestine capacity.
Here they are â¦
On December 3rd 2001 Novak reported on the surprise and even outrage among CIA veterans that Mike Spannâs identity had been revealed even in death. Spann was the agent killed at the uprising at Mazar-i-Sharif Thus Novak: âExposure of CIA operative Johnny (Mike) Spann's identity as the first American killed in Afghanistan is viewed by surprised intelligence insiders as an effort by Director George Tenet to boost the embattled CIA's prestige.â
On November 1st, 2001 Novak described the Agencyâs handling of the late Afghan resistance commander Abdul Haq. Thus Novak: âthe CIA was keeping in close touch with Haq's friends but providing more criticism than help. The Afghan freedom fighter who was honored by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher during the war against the Soviets became "Hollywood Haq" to the CIA. He was described by the agency's operatives as âunruly and immature.ââ
This is the most ambiguous reference. But I think itâs pretty clear here that Novak is referring to people in the field, i.e., operatives, not analysts back at Langley.
On September 23rd, 2001, Novak discussed the long decline of the CIA, particularly its human intelligence (HUMINT) and operational capacities. He made particular reference to the tenure of Stansfield Turner as DCI. Thus Novak: âAppalled by the CIA's operatives in Central America, he issued the now-famous order against hiring unsavory local agents. There went any serious effort at espionage.â Again, that ainât a reference to analysts.
On July 5th, 1999, Novak reviewed Bill Buckleyâs new book on Joe McCarthy and in the course of that review he noted how Buckley had âhoned his craft well in chronicling the fictional adventures of his CIA operative, Blackford Oakes.â Now, the Blackford Oakes spy novels are â¦ well, spy novels. So this oneâs pretty clear.
On September 22nd, 1997 Novak noted to the role of âBob,â someone whom he referred to as an âundercover CIA agentâ who got pulled into the Roger Tamraz phase of the campaign finance scandal. Later in the same column Novak referred to âBobâ as a âCIA operative.â Ergo, âundercover CIA agentâ equals âCIA operative.â
On September 18th, 1997 Novak referred to this same âBobâ on CNN as an âan undercover CIA operative.â
I also did a quick search for Novakâs references to âCIA analystâ or âagency analystâ I found three --- each clearly referring to people who were in fact analysts. In an 1993 column, Novak used a precise phrasing to refer to "CIA briefer Brian Latell, a 30-year career officer." Again, no vague use of 'operative.'
I donât think this requires too much commentary, does it?
Clearly, Novak knows the meaning of the phrase 'CIA operative' and he uses it advisedly. In the last decade heâs never used the phrase to mean anything but clandestine agents.
Letâs cut the mumbo-jumbo: past evidence suggests that Novak only uses this phrase to refer to clandestine agents. In this case, when he has every reason to run away from that meaning of the phrase, he suddenly runs away from that meaning. Especially with all the other evidence at hand, that just defies credibility. Everything points to the conclusion that Novak did know. That would mean, necessarily, that his sources knew too.
The âwe didnât knowâ cover story just doesnât wash. Novak's fellow reporters have never pressed him on this point. Maybe now would be a good time ...