Let’s review: Syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak gets a leak of classified information from foreign-policy hardliners. The column he writes causes a huge embarrassment for the Republican White House and moderates throughout the administration. Capitol Hill erupts with protests about the leak.
Sound familiar? Actually, this occurred in December 1975. Novak, with his late partner Rowland Evans, got the classified leak that President Gerald R. Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were ready to make concessions to the Soviet Union to save the SALT II treaty. Donald H. Rumsfeld, then, as now, the secretary of defense, intervened to block Kissinger.
The main leak suspect: Richard Perle, then an influential aide to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.) and now a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and a confidant of neoconservatives in the Bush administration. The account was described in a 1977 article in The Washington Post, noting Perle’s “special access” to Evans and Novak.
Evans and Novak, the National Journal wrote in 1979, were among the three “chief recipients” of classified leaks from Perle. “Several sources in Congress and the executive branch who regard Perle as an opponent said that he and his allies make masterful use of the Evans and Novak column,” The Post reported 26 years ago. “One congressional aide who tries to counter Perle’s and Jackson’s influence on arms issues said the Evans and Novak ‘connection’ helps Perle create a ‘murky, threatening atmosphere’ in his dealings with others.”
There is no indication that Perle, though a prominent administration adviser, has any connection to the current leak, that of the identity of a CIA agent. In fact, he does not fit Novak’s description of the recent leakers as “senior administration officials.” Perle, through his assistant, said that he never spoke to Novak about the matter involving former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, and that he had been unaware of the identity of Wilson’s wife, the exposed CIA agent.
Still, the history of Novak’s columns, many of them with juicy bits of presumably classified information, provides clues about his sources. Novak has often relied on foreign policy hardliners neoconservatives, in the current parlance for leaks that prove damaging to moderates. Novak himself is sometimes at odds with the neocons, particularly in his criticism of Israel, but has formed a longtime alliance.