LEAK - GATE

THE LEAK





Controversy surrounds the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

THE LEAK:

The White House's retraction of the uranium claim in the president's State of the Union address is the only time it has admitted a flaw in its case for war with Iraq. It came after former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson undermined the Iraq-Africa connection, saying he was sent to investigate the claim a year earlier and found no credible evidence. A short time later, the identity of Wilson's wife as a CIA operative was leaked to several journalists. The White House denies being the source of the leak, and the Justice Department has opened a full-blown investigation.

JOSEPH WILSON/VALERIE PLAME :
Joseph C. Wilson 4th served as ambassador to Gabon in the first Bush administration and later helped direct Africa policy for President Clinton's National Security Council. More recently, he had argued against using force in Iraq as opposed to strict containment. He was dispatched in February 2002 to explore whether Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, and returned to report he found no credible evidence. A month later, the CIA sent a cable to the White House saying Niger denied the uranium claim. Wilson's trip was not mentioned in the cable.

President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address included a 16-word passage stating that the British had learned that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake uranium in Africa. In a New York Times op-ed piece published July 6, 2003, Wilson said he told the CIA long before Bush's address that the British reports were suspect. "Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat," he wrote.

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was identified as a CIA operative working on the issue of weapons of mass destruction in a column by columnist Robert Novak that ran a week after her husband's Times piece. Novak quoted anonymous government sources.

Also in July, Wilson's work in Niger came under scrutiny from the Bush administration, which said his report actually confirmed concerns the Iraqis were making overtures – rebuffed or not - to Niger, and also questioned why he did not investigate the forged documents. And according to a July 17, 2003, Time magazine article titled A War On Wilson?, "some government officials have noted to Time in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger."

The Sept. 28, 2003, edition of The Washington Post quoted an unidentified senior administration official as saying two top White House officials called at least a half-dozen journalists and revealed Plame's identity and occupation. Disclosing the identity of covert U.S. intelligence officers is a crime under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, and the Justice Department opened an investigation into the leak.


ROBERT NOVAK:
In a July 14, 2003, column that ran in newspapers across the country, Robert Novak wrote that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA analyst on weapons-proliferation issues and suggested the trip to Africa was her idea. Novak later said on CNN that his report was based on conversations with two senior administration officials while he was looking into Wilson's Africa trip. The officials told Novak that Wilson's wife had suggested the mission for her husband, the columnist said.

On CNN's "Crossfire" Sept. 29, 2003, Novak, who is also co-host of the program, said the CIA "asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operators." Novak said he will not name his sources.


THE WHITE HOUSE:
President Bush has directed his White House staff to cooperate fully with the Justice Department investigation into the leak. "I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked," Mr. Bush said. "This investigation is a good thing."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell both said they were unaware of any White House involvement in the matter, and the White House denied that chief political strategist Karl Rove was involved in revealing Plame's identity. "There's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the vice president's office as well," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.



President's Chief Political Strategist
KARL ROVE:
Joseph Wilson had said in a late August 2003 speech in Seattle that he suspected President Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove as the leaker, but has since backtracked somewhat from that assertion. "I did not mean at that time to imply that I thought that Karl Rove was the source or the authorizer, just that I thought that it came from the White House, and Karl Rove was the personification of the White House political operation," Wilson said.

Wilson, however, then added: "I have people, who I have confidence in, who have indicated to me that he (Rove), at a minimum, condoned it and certainly did nothing to put a stop to it for a week after it was out there. Among the phone calls I received were those that said `White House sources are saying that it's not about the 16 words, it's about Wilson and his wife.' And two people called me up and specifically mentioned Rove's name," he said.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that Rove was involved. "The president knows he wasn't involved. ... It's simply not true."


CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY:

The CIA's Office of General Counsel reported the leak regarding operative Valerie Plame to the Justice Department in late July 2003. The letter noted a violation of the law had apparently occurred when someone provided syndicated columnist Robert Novak with the CIA officer's name. The letter was not signed by CIA Director George Tenet and did not call for a specific investigation of the White House.

Previously, the CIA sought to distance itself from Bush's assertion in his State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein was shopping for uranium in Africa. Tenet later said that his agency had concerns about the claim, but after some language was changed, they cleared the president's text as "factually correct." Soon after, the documents that had apparently launched Joseph Wilson's investigation into the alleged Iraq-Africa connection were given to the CIA, and quickly deemed forgeries. Administration officials later acknowledged the error.

 


JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
The Justice Department receives about 50 CIA referrals a year, seeking a preliminary investigation into leaks of classified information, a senior administration official said. Very few ever reach a full-blown investigation, as this one did on Sept. 26, 2003.

The investigation is being done by FBI agents in the counterintelligence division, based at the FBI Washington field office, and overseen by 11 career prosecutors in the counterespionage section of the Justice Department's criminal division. Congressional Democrats have pressed the case for a special counsel, saying Attorney General John Ashcroft had an obvious conflict of interest. At a news conference, Ashcroft declined to say why he hadn't sought an outside investigation. "Because of an ongoing investigation of criminal violations, I will not be making any further comment at this time," he said. The attorney general has left the possibility open, a senior law enforcement official said.



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 LEAK - GATE:
This White House Scandal Finally Tips the Scale!

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