| From Capitol Hill Blue|
Damn, I hate it when I've been had and I've been had big time.
In 1982, while I was working for Congressman Manuel Lujan of New Mexico, a man came up to a me during a gathering in Albuquerque and introduced himself as Terrance J. Wilkinson. He said he was a security consultant and gave me a business card with his name and just a Los Angeles phone number.
A few weeks later, he called my Washington office and asked to meet for lunch. He seemed to know a lot about the nuclear labs in New Mexico and said he had conducted "security profiles" for both Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs. Lujan served on the committee with oversight on both labs and he offered his services if we ever needed briefings.
We already had nuclear experts on the committee, on loan from the Department of Energy, and we never used Wilkinson for briefings but we kept in touch over the years. He said he had served in Vietnam with Army Special Forces, worked for Air America, later for the FBI and as a consultant for the CIA. He said he had helped other Republican members of Congress I called some friends in other GOP offices and they said yes, they knew Terry Wilkinson.
"You can trust him, he's one of the good guys," one chief of staff told me. When I left politics and returned to journalism, Wilkinson became a willing, but always unnamed, source.
Over the last couple of years, Wilkinson served as either a primary or secondary source on a number of stories that have appeared in Capitol Hill Blue regarding intelligence activities. In early stories, I collaborated his information with at least one more source. His information usually proved accurate and, over time, I came to depend on him as a source without additional backup.
On Tuesday, we ran a story headlined "White House admits Bush wrong about Iraqi nukes." For the first time, Wilkinsson said he was willing to go on the record and told a story about being present, as a CIA contract consultant, at two briefings with Bush. He said he was retired now and was fed up and wanted to go public.
"He (Bush) said that if the current operatives working for the CIA couldn't prove the story was true, then the agency had better find some who could," Wilkinson said in our story. "He said he knew the story was true and so would the world after American troops secured the country."
After the story ran, we received a number of emails or phone calls that (1) either claimed Wilkinson was lying or (2) doubted his existence. I quickly dismissed the claims. After all, I had known this guy for 20+ years and had no doubt about his credibility. Some people wanted to talk to him, so I forwarded those requests on to him via email. He didn't answer my emails, which I found odd. I should have listened to a bell that should have been going off in my ear.
Today, a White House source I know and trust said visitor logs don't have any record of anyone named Terrance J. Wilkinson ever being present at a meeting with the President. Then a CIA source I trust said the agency had no record of a contract consultant with that name. "Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever heard of this guy," my source said.
I tried calling Terry's phone number. I got a recorded message from a wireless phone provider saying the number was no longer in service. I tried a second phone number I had for him. Same result.
Then a friend from the Hill called.
"You've been had," she said. "I know about this guy. He's been around for years, claiming to have been in Special Forces, with the CIA, with NSA. He hasn't worked for any of them and his name is not Terrance Wilkinson."
Both of his phone numbers have Los Angeles area codes but an identity check through Know-X today revealed no record of anyone named Terrance J. Wilkinson ever having lived in LA or surrounding communities.
His email address turns out to be a blind forward to a free email service where anyone can sign up and get an email account. Because it was not one of the usual "free" services like Hotmail, Yahoo or such, I did not recognize it as one (although you'd think that someone like me would have known better).
The bottom line is that someone has been running a con on me for 20 some years and I fell for it like a little old lady in a pigeon drop scheme. I've spent the last two hours going through the database of Capitol Hill Blue stories and removing any that were based on information from Wilkinson (or whoever he is). I've also removed his name, quotes and claims from Tuesday's story about the White House and the uranium claims.
Erasing the stories doesn't erase the fact that we ran articles containing information that, given the source, were most likely inaccurate. And it doesn't erase the sad fact that my own arrogance allowed me to be conned.
It will be a long time (and perhaps never) before I trust someone else who comes forward and offers inside information. The next one who does had better be prepared to produce a birth certificate, a driver's license and his grandmother's maiden name.
Any news publication exists on the trust of its readers. Because I depended on a source that was not credible, I violated the trust that the readers of Capitol Hill Blue placed in me.
I was wrong. I am sorry.
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