Bush Administration Flamed Valerie Wilson Plame

In a move unprecedented in US history, the Bush administration recklessly blew the cover a CIA agent and breached national security safeguards for purely political reasons, the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was told on Friday.

At the hearing which examined the White House’s handling of classified information, Valerie Plame Wilson stated that Bush administration officials had “recklessly and carelessly” abused their power by disclosing her identity to the media for the “purely political motive” of discrediting her husband, a former US Ambassador who publicly challenged the veracity of statements made by President Bush regarding Iraq’s alleged attempts to obtain yellowcake uranium in his State of the Union Address two months before invading Iraq in 2003.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by listing some of the consequences of revealing Ms Wilson’s top-secret identity, which he called “an extraordinary breach of national security”. He said, “The disclosure of Ms Wilson’s employment with the CIA had several serious effects. First, it terminated her covert job opportunities with CIA. Second, it placed her professional contacts at greater risk. And third, it undermined the trust and confidence with which future CIA employees and sources hold the United States.” Mr Waxman also said to Ms Wilson, “They made you collateral damage … Your life may have been in jeopardy, and they didn’t seem to care.”

President Bush reportedly gave the order to discredit Ms Wilson’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who traveled to Niger at the request of the CIA in February 2002 to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had attempted to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. Mr Wilson determined that there was no evidence to support the claim. Then, after the Bush administration misrepresented his findings, invaded Iraq and failed to find weapons of mass destruction, Mr Wilson published an opinion piece in the New York Times on July 6, 2003 to make clear the evidence that had actually been presented to the White House as a result of his mission.

President Bush has maintained that he never ordered that the identity of Ms Wilson be revealed. Nevertheless, the campaign to discredit the former ambassador involved administration officials creating the impression that Mr Wilson’s CIA mission had been no more than a junket organized by his wife. This campaign was carried out by White House political advisor Karl Rove, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Mr Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Mr Libby was recently convicted of four felonies relating to the leak of Ms Wilson’s top-secret identity: two counts of perjury, one of obstruction of justice and one of making false statements to federal investigators.

Ms Wilson testified that she had not suggested her husband for the CIA mission to Niger in 2002. She said Mr Wilson had been selected by senior intelligence officials on the basis that he “had already gone on some CIA missions previously to deal with other nuclear matters”.

Ms Wilson told the hearing that, while she and her colleagues had always understood that “we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies … it was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover.” Ms Wilson said she felt like she had been “hit in the gut” when she saw her name appear in an article written by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003.

Contrary to claims made by the Bush administration, Ms Wilson testified that she was in fact an undercover CIA agent – with her employment status classified under an executive order – when her identity was leaked in 2003. Thus, the leak amounted to a criminal offence and, as a result, the CIA immediately filed a Crimes Report with the Department of Justice. There have been no prosecutions to date for any of the officials who blew Ms Wilson’s cover.

Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s top Republican, defended the Bush administration on this point and suggested that Ms Wilson and the CIA should shoulder some of the blame for the leak. “Shouldn’t the CIA have made sure that anyone who knew your name and your work be told of your [undercover] status?” asked Mr Davis. “Would that have been helpful in this case? That would have made it very clear, if anybody leaked it at that point they were violating the law, at least?” Ms Wilson responded that the CIA went to great lengths and considerable expense to protect the identity of its officers, but “it’s not a perfect world”.

Mr Davis then asked Ms Wilson whether anyone had ever told her that her identity was protected by a federal law that makes it a crime to knowingly disclose a covert agent’s identity. She said she could not recall ever being given that information explicitly.

Ms Wilson testified that she was working in the counterproliferation division of the CIA tracking the global development of illicit weapons when her cover was blown. Describing her duties at the time, she said her job was to “discover solid intelligence for senior policymakers on Iraq’s presumed weapons of mass destruction program” which required that she travel “to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence”.

Chairman Waxman stated that Ms Wilson had undertaken serious risks to serve her country, including “significant risks to her personal safety and her life”. Given the security implications for her colleagues and contacts, maintaining her cover was critically important. He also said that, while the Bush administration had revealed her identity, she had “taken a life-long oath to protect classified information, even after her CIA employment has ended”. She is thus unable to respond to many statements made about her and her work.

Mr Waxman acknowledged Ms Wilson’s twenty years of service at the CIA and said, “I want to thank Ms Wilson for the tremendous service she gave to our country and recognize the remarkable personal sacrifices that she and countless others have made to protect our national security. You and your colleagues perform truly heroic work and what happened to you not only should never have happened, but we should all work to make sure it never happens again.”

After the hearing, Mr Waxman sent a letter to Joshua Bolten, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, which said that the evidence presented at the hearing had “described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House”. In the letter, Mr Waxman asked for a complete account of action taken by the White House “to investigate how the leak occurred, to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak, to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak, and to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.”

There are serious criminal offences attending the disclosure of Ms Wilson’s identity; they relate to Executive Order 12958, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the Espionage Act, Title 18 Section 641, conspiracy to impede or injure officers and the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement.

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