Conned big time

    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.