- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Valerie Plame, the CIA operative at the heart of a political scandal, told Congress Friday that senior officials at the White House and State Department “carelessly and recklessly” blew her cover to discredit her diplomat-husband.

Plame, whose 2003 outing triggered a federal investigation, said she always knew her identity could be discovered by foreign governments.

“It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover,” she told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“If our government cannot even protect my identity, future foreign agents who might consider working with the Central Intelligence Agency and providing needed intelligence would think twice,” Plame said in response to a question.

The hearing was the first time Plame has publicly answered questions about the case, which led to the recent perjury and obstruction of justice conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Her appearance was a moment of political theater. Only about half of the committee’s members attended and they were well outnumbered by journalists and photographers.

Democrats questioned whether the Bush administration mishandled classified information by leaking her identity to reporters. No one has been charged with leaking her identity.

“It’s not our job to determine criminal culpability, but it is out job to determine what went wrong and insist on accountability,” Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said at the outset of the hearing.

The man who led the criminal investigation, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, was not on the witness list. He told lawmakers Wednesday that federal law prohibited him from offering his thoughts on the case.

Nobody from the White House involved in the leak was scheduled to testify. Neither were officials from the State Department, where the first leak of Plame’s identity occurred, or the CIA.

Plame sat alone at a witness table and fielded questions about her CIA career and the disclosure of her name in July 2003 in a story by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Novak has said that former Deputy State Department Secretary Richard Armitage first revealed Plame’s job and President Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, and CIA spokesman Bill Harlow confirmed it.

“My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department,” Plame testified. “I could no longer perform the work for which I had been highly trained.”

Plame said she did not select her husband for a CIA fact-finding trip to Niger. Wilson said in a newspaper column that his trip debunked the administration’s prewar intelligence that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa.

“I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

That conflicts with senior officials at the CIA and State Department, who testified during Libby’s trial that Plame recommended Wilson for the trip.

Plame also repeatedly described herself as a covert operative, a term that has multiple meanings. Plame said she worked undercover and traveled abroad on secret missions for the CIA.

But the word “covert” also has a legal definition requiring recent foreign service and active efforts to keep someone’s identity secret. Critics of Fitzgerald’s investigation said Plame did not meet that definition for several reasons and said that’s why nobody was charged with the leak.

Also, none of the witnesses who testified at Libby’s trial said it was clear that Plame’s job was classified. However, Fitzgerald said flatly at the courthouse after the verdict that Plame’s job was classified.

Rep. Tom Davis, the ranking Republican on the committee, said, “No process can be adopted to protect classified information that no one knows is classified. This looks to me more like a CIA problem than a White House problem.”

Plame said she wasn’t a lawyer and didn’t know what her legal status was but said it shouldn’t have mattered to the officials who learned her identity.

“They all knew that I worked with the CIA,” Plame said. “They might not have known what my status was but that alone - the fact that I worked for the CIA - should have put up a red flag.”

Wilson has written a book, and Plame is working on one, “Fair Game,” although it has had a troubled history. In May 2006, the Crown Publishing Group announced it would publish her book, a deal reportedly worth seven figures. But the two sides could not agree on a final contract, and two months later an agreement was announced with Simon & Schuster.

Plame’s book is subject to a mandatory review by the CIA. On Thursday, Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg would say only that the book was “in progress,” and that publication was expected soon.

James Knodell, director of the White House security office, also testified and was criticized by Democrats for not opening an administrative investigation into the leak. Now that Fitzgerald’s investigation is complete, Knodell said, he would consider whether an internal probe was appropriate.

J. William Leonard, security director of the National Archives, testified about general procedures for handling sensitive information. Also scheduled to testify Friday were attorney Mark Zaid, who has represented whistleblowers, and attorney Victoria Toensing, who said early on that no law was broken and has criticized the CIA’s handling of the case.

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