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Editor: No regrets on CIA column

Novak
Columnist and CNN "Crossfire" host Robert Novak

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CIA TERMS

Operative: A CIA employee who gathers intelligence covertly, either in the field or from agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA calls the job "clandestine services officer."

Agent: Usually a foreign national contracted to gather intelligence in the field for the CIA.

Analyst: A CIA employee who evaluates intelligence gathered by operatives and agents; not a covert position.

(CNN) -- The editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, which ran a column exposing a CIA operative, has defended his columnist and his decision to print the woman's name.

Editor Steve Huntley told CNN he does not regret publishing the July column, which has resulted in a storm of controversy over possible leaks by the Bush administration. He called columnist Robert Novak "one of the best reporters in this country" and said he was simply doing his job.

"Our job, my job, your job, Bob Novak's job, is to report the news, not to slam the door on it," Huntley told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tuesday.

Huntley said Novak -- a syndicated newspaper journalist and CNN contributor -- simply was trying to find out why Ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Africa and investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium there.

Wilson's resulting investigation found the claim was not true, although the claim ended up in President Bush's State of the Union address in January.

During the course of Novak's reporting, two senior Bush administration officials told him Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that the trip was inspired by her.

"Nobody volunteered this information to him," Huntley said, discounting the idea that Wilson's wife's identity had been leaked to Novak.

Further, he said, "nobody at the CIA suggested there was any hint of a danger to either this man's wife or anybody else at the CIA" by revealing Valerie Plame's name.

"If it had, he wouldn't have done it," Huntley said.

Blitzer pointed out Novak's own admission that while the CIA did not indicate a danger to anyone's safety by printing the name, agency officials still asked him not to use it.

"Well, you've been around enough and covered Washington enough to know that as much as people come to you to publish stuff, almost an equal number of people are out to get you to not publish or not broadcast something," Huntley replied.

"Bob Novak is one of the best reporters in this country," Huntley said. "I trust his accuracy, the soundness of his judgment, and his commitment to the ethics of our profession. What he does and what he does better than anybody else is get the story behind the story."

Howard Kurtz, who writes about media for the Washington Post and also hosts CNN's "Reliable Sources," said he also considers Novak "a great shoe-leather reporter" but feels that Novak "allowed himself to be used" by the Bush administration by printing the name.

"To take a step like this -- to out someone associated with the CIA when it's clear that the motives of those providing the information were to get even with her husband, who is an outspoken critic of Iraq policy -- it's hard for me to understand what the argument is on the other side, why this information was so important that it needed to be published," Kurtz told Blitzer.


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