At CIA Director George J. Tenet's request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.
The operative's identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.
The intentional disclosure of a covert operative's identity is a violation of federal law.
The officer's name was disclosed on July 14 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials.
Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.
"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.
Two items of related interest. First, as Josh Marshall has said, the phrase "senior administration official" refers to a fairly small number of people. The list of people who that could mean, and thus who could have ratted out Valerie Plame, includes Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. It doesn't have to be any of them, but the point is, they're on a short list.
Secondly, as was noted somewhere (dammit, I can't remember now), it was George HW Bush who successfully pushed for the law that makes it a felony to out an undercover operative. One can only marvel at the irony involved, and one can only note what Poppy himself thinks of such shenanigans.
Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.
UPDATE: BZ in the comments reminds me that I saw the bit about "Poppy's Law" (actually, the Intelligence Identity Protection Act of 1982) at the Daily Kos.
The origin of the law is 1976 when Richard Welch, CIA officer in Athens Greece was murdered. At the time the belief was that "Counterspy" published his identity obtained from a rogue CIA officer.
At the time George Herbert Walker Bush was DCI, and he became the chief advocate for this bill. Welch had been killed under his CIA watch, and the legislation was his response.
However, after November 76, GHWBush was no longer at the CIA -- Carter had his own chief. So the legislation went no where for four years. However, in 1981 GHWBush became VP, and passing this law became his passion. The chief lobbiests in addition to Bush were his buddies, Scowcroft and Baker. The three of them had been pall bearers when Welch's remains were returned from Greece for burial at Arlington.
In 1982, Bush finally got the bill passed and Ronald Reagan signed it with ceremony. So -- in no uncertain terms, this law is Poppy's law.