It is obvious that columnist Robert D. Novak knows the names of his two sources referred to in his column "outing" the identity of a CIA covert operative [op-ed, July 14, 2003].

Mr. Novak reportedly testified before a grand jury. There are but two possible results:

One, he revealed the names of his two sources, who should then be investigated and possibly prosecuted for violating U.S. law.

Or, two, he refused to identify his two sources, in which case he should be held in contempt of court and sent to jail until he gives up their names.

Yet it has been New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time correspondent Matthew Cooper who faced imprisonment -- and Ms. Miller is now behind bars -- while Mr. Novak, who probably has the information sought by the U.S. prosecutor, has faced no such threat.

MARK HOPKINS

Washington

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Many people seem to think that Judith Miller has been defending a whistle-blower's attempt to unearth corruption, mismanagement and fraud in refusing to reveal her sources [front page, July 7]. I'd be behind her if that were the case.

Private individuals, even government employees, frequently come into possession of information that, when revealed, could clean up our government or some other corrupt entity. Anonymity is often the only way the information can be revealed in safety and exposure brought about.

This relationship between a reporter and a source must be protected at all costs. The Constitution obviously says so.

But exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative, undercover police officer or similar individual is a crime that puts him or her in danger and endangers other people who are involved in the undercover operation.

It is inexplicable, therefore, that these reporters and their attorneys could field a defense of freedom of the press and protecting the confidentiality of a source.

MARTHA HULLINGER

Fairfax

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The fact that a number of states have "shield laws" protecting reporters is not relevant to the question of whether there should be such a law applying to the federal judiciary [editorial, July 1]. States do not face all the sorts of issues that come before federal grand juries and courts, including issues of national security, spying, etc.

In such circumstances the issue is which rights should have primacy -- the right of a reporter to shield sources or the right of the public through the courts to compel essential testimony.

Each case is unique, but reporters' rights are not and should never be allowed to become absolute because the consequences for a free press would be adverse.

R.E. CONDON

Clyde Hill, Wash.

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There's been quite a bit of speculation about the alleged outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Many theories involve now-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and other members of the White House staff.

Fans of Mr. Rove and the administration will find reasons for dismissing any true wrongdoing, but the business of retaliating against political foes is nothing new. It's a Washington tradition.

In many corners people revere the Machiavellian skills of Mr. Rove and company, and their mastery does display unparalleled brilliance. But what I find frustrating is that that brilliance is so misplaced.

Why not focus it on fighting terrorism and sorting out the maddening problems in Iraq rather than on winning elections and smearing opponents?

Maybe it's not too late for these great minds to put their abilities to better use.

DAVID AARON FREED

Encino, Calif.