Every reporter has to have an unnamed source -- someone who will leak to him on a confidential basis. The Valerie Plame investigation proved again how important sources are in rooting out information concerning President Bush's reasons for going to war.
My most recent source quit on me (rumor has it he went to Bob Woodward), so I had to find a new one.
I took out a classified ad in The Washington Post: "HELP WANTED. In search of reliable source with White House, congressional and Pentagon connections. Must provide anonymous scoops as well as background material. Age and sex unimportant. What is essential is that the person knows how to keep a secret."
I received more than 20 replies and spent a day going through them.
I called one applicant. "Whom am I talking to?"
"I can't tell you. But I work down the hall for someone who is a decision-maker high in government circles."
"Who have you leaked to in the past?"
"Bob Novak. He made his name with all the stuff I sent over."
"Why did you leave him?"
"After he broke the name of the CIA agent who was married to Ambassador Joe Wilson, he was called in front of the grand jury and wouldn't take my calls."
I told the leaker to send me some sample leaks and I'd check them out. I wanted to see if they were worthy not only of my column but also of a book I was planning to write.
Another call was from a woman who worked in procurement at the Defense Department and found the Pentagon had wasted $10 billion on airplanes.
"I saw your ad in the newspaper and I would like to apply as your designated whistle-blower," she said.
"You know, if I use your name no one is going to believe me," I told her.
"I'm willing to stay undercover if I can save the country money. As it is, everyone here is trying to get me fired so they don't look bad. If they read about wasted funds in the paper, they would look bad if they pushed me out."
"You sound like a possible candidate. I'll call you back."
The next prospect had to be taken seriously.
"I'm the perfect source for you. I know which congressmen are laundering money, which are playing golf with taxpayer money and which ones accept gifts and cash from lobbyists," he said.
"Do you mean congressmen who haven't been indicted?"
"This is all fresh stuff. Newsweek would kill to get it."
"I'll get back to you."
The next person I called sounded desperate.
"The White House thinks I was the one who revealed that they knew Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction."
"How do you know what they're thinking?"
"I eat with Karl Rove in the mess every day and he tells me everything."
"So why are you looking for a new job?"
"No reporter wants me to leak to them on a confidential basis after Judy Miller because if they refuse to name their source they'll go to jail for 85 days."
"That wouldn't stop me. How old are you?"
"Your name wouldn't be . . .?"
"Don't say it. I'm writing a book, and I want it to be a surprise."
(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services