Conned big time

Damn, I hate it when I’ve been had and I’ve been had big time.

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

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

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

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.

(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.

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.

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.

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

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).

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

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.