WASHINGTON – Columnist Robert Novak (search) broke his silence Monday about his disclosure of an undercover CIA operative's identity, defending himself against a former agency official's account that he twice warned Novak not to publish the name.
In his syndicated column, Novak did not dispute that former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (search) told him he should not print the covert officer's name, Valerie Plame (search), during conversations they had prior to Novak's July 14, 2003 column.
But Novak reasserted that no CIA official ever told him in advance ''that Valerie Plame Wilson's disclosure would endanger her or anybody else.''
Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson (search), who was sent to Africa by the CIA in 2002 to evaluate intelligence that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear materials.
More than a year later, with the U.S. government unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, ''What I Didn't Find In Africa,'' and asked the question: ''Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion?''
Eight days later, Novak wrote an article in which he disclosed Plame's name and cited as sources two unidentified senior Bush administration officials. Novak wrote that the officials had told him Plame had suggested sending her husband to Niger.
Wilson claims the leak was retribution for his article and criticism of the administration. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating whether government officials broke the law by disclosing Plame's name to Novak and other journalists.
Harlow was interviewed recently by The Washington Post and acknowledged telling the grand jury investigating the case that he spoke to Novak at least three days before the column appeared.
Harlow said he could not tell Novak that Plame was a covert officer because that information itself was classified. But in at least two telephone calls, Harlow told Novak that Plame had not authorized her husband's mission and that her name should not be used even if Novak went ahead with a story, according to the Post.
Harlow declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
Novak, whose role in the investigation is unknown, has been silent on the series of events he set in motion. But he wrote about it Monday, saying he was ignoring his lawyers' advice because Harlow's account is ''so patently incorrect and so abuses my integrity as a journalist.''
Novak said Harlow's admonition not to disclose Plame's name ''is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as 'Valerie Plame' by reading her husband's entry in 'Who's Who in America.'''
The columnist said Harlow was ''just plain wrong'' in saying he had deliberately disregarded Harlow's comment that Plame had not authorized her husband's trip.
''There never was any question of me talking about Mrs. Wilson 'authorizing.' I was told she 'suggested' the mission, and that is what I asked Harlow,'' he wrote.