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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


December 26, 2003

Fourth Prosecutor Added to Wilson/Plame CIA Leak Investigation

Leaks Probe Is Gathering Momentum (12/26/03 - Washington Post)

From the Washington Post: The Justice Department has added a fourth prosecutor to the team investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, while the FBI has said a grand jury may be called to take testimony from administration officials, sources close to the case said.

Administration and CIA officials said they have seen signs in the past few weeks that the investigation continues intensively behind closed doors, even though little about the investigation has been publicly said or seen for months.

According to administration officials and people familiar with some of the interviews, FBI agents apparently started their White House questioning with top figures -- including President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove -- and then worked down to more junior officials. The agents appear to have a great deal of information and have constructed detailed chronologies of various officials' possible tie to the leak, people familiar with the questioning said.

The Justice Department has added a prosecutor specializing in counterintelligence, joining two other counterintelligence prosecutors and one from Justice's Public Integrity section.

Agents investigating the matter have been increasingly apparent at CIA headquarters in Langley over the past three weeks, officials said. "They are still active," a senior official said.

But sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame, who was exposed as a CIA officer by unidentified senior administration officials for a July 14 column by Robert D. Novak.

Wilson, a prominent critic of the administration over Iraq, has said that was done to retaliate against him for continuing to publicize his conclusion, after a 2002 mission for the CIA, that there was little evidence Iraq had sought uranium in Africa to develop nuclear weapons.

Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband's trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.

CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting.

"It has been circulated around," one official said. CIA and State Department officials have refused to discuss the document.

On Oct. 28, Talon News, a news company tied to a group called GOP USA, posted on the Internet an interview with Wilson in which the Talon News questioner asks: "An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?"

On Monday, the Senate minority leader and the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft demanding more information about the probe. "We request that you provide us with an overall status of the investigation, including the number of people the Justice Department has interviewed, the number of briefings you have received, the general types of information you are briefed on, what conditions you have placed on the scope of these briefings to ensure the independence of this investigation, and whether you have discussed this case with senior administration officials outside the Justice Department," wrote the senators, Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) and Carl M. Levin (Mich.).

The senators said that it is an apparent conflict of interest for Ashcroft to be briefed on the subject, and again requested a special counsel to prosecute the case, which Ashcroft has so far opposed.

FBI agents have told people they have interviewed that they may be asked to testify before a grand jury, according to sources close to the case. That could indicate that prosecutors believe they have a case, or it could be a routine method of getting testimony on the record even though no indictment is ever sought.

White House officials profess to be unconcerned about the outcome of the investigation. Some administration officials said they believe charges will eventually result, although it could be as long from now as 2005. A Republican legal source who has had detailed conversations about the matter with White House officials said he "doesn't get any sense at all that they're worried or concerned, or that they're covering up."

Still, the White House is eager for the findings to emerge soon, or wait until after the November election. "The only fear I've heard expressed is that the investigation will be too slow or too fast and will kick into a visible mode in a way that is poorly timed for the election," the Republican said. "If they prosecuted someone tomorrow, I don't think the White House would care. And they can do it in December 2004. They just don't want it to become an issue in the election."

FBI agents showed up unannounced last week at the home of a private citizen who was believed to have some knowledge of White House handling of Plame's identity, according to a source involved in the investigation. The source refused to identify the person who was interviewed, but said it was a man who had only peripheral knowledge of the case and had discussed it with officials in the White House.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is also preparing a report that is likely to cover both Wilson's mission to Niger and the subsequent leak of Plame's name. The report is still months from completion, officials said.

Capitol Hill aides in both parties said Wilson had badly hurt his credibility with his apparently enthusiastic participation in a spread in the January issue of Vanity Fair that includes a glamorous photo of him and his wife outside the White House, a scarf and dark glasses shielding her. In another photo in the magazine, she shields her face with the front section of The Washington Post as he eats breakfast barefoot on their deck with the Washington Monument in the distance.

Wilson is quoted as saying he is "appalled at the apparent nonchalance shown by the president of the United States on this." The article includes Wilson's steamy account of his early romance with Plame. Congressional aides said the article bolstered the contention of Wilson's critics that no one had done more than him to draw attention to Plame, and that the couple had eagerly contributed to their celebrity.

Wilson, in an interview, defended his participation in the glossy magazine's article. "The Republicans are going to say anything to deflect attention from the crime, which was exposing a CIA operative," he said, adding that his wife's "cover was completely blown" before the article appeared.

"My only regret about the Vanity Fair photo is that after all my wife and I have been through on this, that she had to be clothed as generic blonde in order to deal with the genuine concern that some wacko on the street might easily identify her," he said. "It was just in the interest of personal security."

Staff writers Walter Pincus and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.

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