Walter Haskell Pincus was born in Brooklyn, on 24th December, 1932. He graduated from Yale University in 1954 and after briefly working for the New York Times he joined the United States Army. He joined the Counter Intelligence Corps and served in Washington (1955-1957).
In 1957 Pincus joined the Wall Street Journal. He also worked as the Washington correspondent for three North Carolina newspapers. In 1963, Pincus was recruited by the Washington Star before moving to the Washington Post in 1969. He also spent three years as executive editor of The New Republic (1972-75) where he wrote about the Watergate Scandal. Pincus also worked as a part time consultant to NBC News and CBS News. This involved developing, writing or producing television documentaries and news segments.
Pincus returned to the Washington Post in 1975 where specialized in writing about the CIA and the intelligence community. Pincus always defended the activities of the CIA and criticizedSeymour Hersh for his "advocacy journalism" when he tried to expose the illegal activities of the agency. He also condemned the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) and in February 1977, described it as "perhaps the worst example of Congressional inquiry run amok."
In 1979 Deborah Davis published Katharine the Great in 1987. Katharine Graham persuaded the publishers William Jovanovich, to pulp the book. As well as looking at the life of this newspaper proprietor, Davis explored the relationship between the CIA and the Washington Post. Davis also became the first journalist to expose Operation Mockingbird. She also named Walter Pincus as being one of the journalists willing to promote the views of the CIA.
Nina Burleigh, the author of A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer (1998), has argued that Pincus had a close relationship with Cord Meyer, who served under Frank Wisner on Operation Mockingbird. She argues that Meyer " seconded the nomination of Washington Post writer Walter Pincus for membership in the Waltz Group, a Washington social organization. Pincus went on to become the Post's premier intelligence reporter." It was during this period Pincus became friends with George Tenet.
Pincus also helped George H. W. Bush and Robert Gates during the Iran-Contra investigation. In an article published in July, 1991, Pincus called for the Senate to approve Bush's nomination of Gates as director of the CIA. In 1992, Pincus falsely claimed that "special prosecutors have told former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that he might face indictment on felony charges in the Iran-Contra scandal, unless he provided them with evidence they believe he has against former President Reagan... The dramatic attempt to get a former cabinet officer to turn on his commander-in-chief occurred a few days ago as Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh tried to conclude his five and one-half year investigation of the affair."
A few days later Pincus wrote that Lawrence E. Walsh was considering indicting Ronald Reagan. This was again untrue and Walsh argues in his book, Firewall, that Bush was using Pincus to spread disinformation on the investigation. As Walsh pointed out: "Of all the sideswipes that we suffered during this period, the false report that we were considering indicting the nation's still-admired former president hurt us the most."
Walsh was attacked by the right-wing media of carrying out the "biggest witch hunt in America since Salem". The leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, Bob Dole, made a speech where he called on Walsh to close down the investigation. He criticized Walsh's "inability to understand the simple fact that it is time to leave Iran-Contra to the history books".
Walter Pincus also led the attack on Gary Webb when he published his series of articles on CIA involvement with the Contras and the drug industry. After Dark Alliance was published Pincus wrote: "A Washington Post investigation into Ross, Blandon, Meneses, and the U.S. cocaine market in the 1980s found the available information does not support the conclusion that the CIA-backed contras - or Nicaraguans in general - played a major role in the emergence of crack as a narcotic in widespread use across the United States."
The Washington Post refused to publish Webb's letters when he attempted to defend his views on the CIA. This included information that Pincus had been recruited by the CIA when he was at Yale University in order to spy on student groups at several international youth conferences in the 1950s. Later, Geneva Overholser, the Washington Post ombudsman, criticized Pincus and other reporters working for the newspaper: "A principal responsibility of the press is to protect the people from government excesses. The Washington Post (among others) showed more energy for protecting the CIA from someone else's journalistic excesses."
When Gary Webb committed suicide, French journalist, Paul Moreira, made a television documentary for France's Canal Plus. He interviewed Pincus and asked him why in October, 1998, he had not reported on the CIA's inspector general report admitting the agency worked with drug dealers throughout the 1980s. Pincus was unable to explain why he and other mainstream journalists completely ignored this report that helped to support Webb's case against the CIA.
Marc Cooper of LA Weekly argued that CIA controlled journalists destroyed Webb's career: "What I can say is that the media killed his career. That's obvious and it's really a nauseating and very discouraging story, because as a journalist, the only thing you have is your credibility. When that is shredded, there's no way to rebuild it... This is an outstanding case where three of the major newspapers in the country decided to take out somebody, a competitor whose mistakes seem by any measure to be very minor."
Pincus eventually admitted that he had carried out covert operations for the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. However, he denied being a CIA asset later in his career. On 31st July, 1996, The Washington Post claimed that "some in the agency refer to (Pincus) as the CIA's house reporter." In 2002 Pincus won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
According to an interview Pincus gave to Nick Schou (Kill The Messenger), the most important legacy of Gary Webb's book Dark Alliance was that it "encouraged the CIA to be less aggressive in its efforts against Islamic terrorism, which helped enable Osama bin Laden's 9/11 terrorist attacks."
Pincus also became involved in the Valerie Plame case. In October, 2003 he wrote an article where he claimed Plame worked for the CIA and had been responsible for sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to investigate reports that Iraq's government had tried to buy uranium in Niger.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald issued a grand jury subpoena to Pincus on August 9, 2004, in an attempt to discover the identity of the government official who told him about Plame and Wilson. Pincus gave a deposition to Fitzgerald on 15th September. Afterwards he issued a public statement that claimed that Fitzgerald had dropped his demand that he should reveal his source. However, it is generally believed that his source was Richard L. Armitage.