About That Leak...


If the Justice Department or anyone else wants to find out who blew the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the spouse of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who has been causing so much trouble for the Bush administration, they might ask Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neo-conservative outfit closely linked to pro-Likud hawks in the administration.

Aside from Wilson himself, May is the only person who has publicly claimed knowledge of Plame's employment at the CIA even before Robert Novak, the columnist who broke the story. Novak apparently acted at the behest of two "senior White House officials" who, according to a highly placed but unnamed source at the Washington Post, informed six reporters around the capital that Plame worked for the agency.

Writing in the National Review Online Sept. 29 -- the same day that the Post confirmed the CIA had asked for a criminal investigation of Novak's source -- May declared, somewhat enviously perhaps:

"That wasn't news to me. 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."

May went further when he was interviewed by Fox News' John Gibson on the same day. "I knew this, and a lot of other people knew it," he said, implying that it wasn't only the one source who had informed him.

"Somebody else told it to me with a different spin," May told Gibson. "He said, 'Cliff, you've been too tough on Joe Wilson, accusing him of being a Bush basher and a leftwinger, because, you know, his wife works for the CIA. I mean, he's really not quite that bad.'

"So I think it may be something of an open secret," May told Gibson.

May's assertions raise some troubling questions. Exactly who were the "insiders" for whom this was "something of an open secret?" Why and how did they pass on this information so readily to May? And is the FBI asking May who his sources were?

A 10-year veteran of the New York Times and the Rocky Mountain News, May became director of communications at the Republican National Committee in 1997, a post that he retained until 2001 when he joined BSMG Worldwide, one of the world's largest and most politically connected public and media relations firms. Two days after 9/11, he and his associates founded the FDD, whose board of directors include Steve Forbes, former HHS Secretary Jack Kemp, and former UN Amb. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who, since resigning in 1985, has made the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) her principal home.

The FDD also has two boards of advisers; the first consists of "distinguished advisers" of which there are two -- former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former CIA director James Woolsey -- both of whom are members of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board (DPB). The second, presumably less distinguished board of advisers constitutes a bipartisan who's who of pro-Israel hawks leading with the former chairman of the DPB, Richard Perle.

Other members include the ultra-hawkish president of the Center for Security Policy and former Perle aide, Frank Gaffney, pro-Likud columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Weekly Standard editor and chairman of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Bill Kristol.

In other words, May is surrounded by the same neoconservatives who played the starring roles outside the administration in getting the U.S. to go to war in Iraq.

FDD increased its public profile sharply in Washington during the spring of 2002 just as Bush sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East to try to negotiate a ceasefire as a prelude to renewed peace negotiations between Palestinians and the Israelis. At the time, Bush himself had called on Israel to withdraw troops that had moved to re-occupy towns in the West Bank.

FDD began airing 30-second television spots in and around the capital, whose principal message was that there is no difference between Palestinian suicide bombings and the 9/11 hijackings.

The spot opened "The Suicide Strategy," in bold letters. The narrator begins, "It was used by terrorists against America on September 11. It's being used by terrorists against against Israel day after day," as the image flashes to a hellish scene immediately after a suicide bombing. "If we let the suicide strategy succeed anywhere in the world, it will succeed everywhere," the narrator continued as the video showed Palestinian children dressed up as suicide bombers at a Hamas demosntration. The video depicts the burning of a U.S. flag and then fades to an imperative again written in bold type: Never Appease Terrorism."

The producer of the video, which aired repeatedly over a period of several weeks into May 2002, was Nir Boms, a former public affairs officer of the Israeli Embassy, who also serves as FDD's vice president.

Considering FDD's activities and perspectives, it seems likely that the sources who provided May with Plame's identity and association with the CIA are the same people who vigorously promoted the war. They have also worked closely with key neo-cons within the administration who have long advocated the closest possible ties and cooperation between the U.S. government and Israel. But prominent members of May's own boards could very well have been informed by these administration figures themselves.

In his National Review article, May said his first source had once worked for the government; a description that certainly applies to Richard Perle, Woolsey, Gaffney, Kirkpatrick and others.

It's not clear whether May, if asked to identify his source, could dodge the question. While he once was a bona fide journalist, he is now primarily a lobbyist and thus not necessarily entitled to the exemptions granted columnist Novak. While May writes a weekly column for publication by some newspapers and is a contributor to the National Review, that may not be enough to exempt him. In any case, journalists and the FBI may find May's lead the most productive one available.

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