- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

Valerie Plame, one of the most well-known secret agents in CIA history, yesterday told a partisan congressional panel that senior White House political adviser Karl Rove “clearly was involved” in an orchestrated effort to leak her covert identity.

Mrs. Plame, now a multimillionaire with a soon-to-be-released book and a Hollywood movie in the works, said senior officials at the White House and State Department set out in the summer of 2003 to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had written an op-ed piece in the New York Times critical of pre-Iraq war intelligence.

“Karl Rove clearly was involved in the leaking of my name and he still carries a security clearance to this day, despite the president’s words to the contrary that he would immediately dismiss anyone who had anything to do with it,” Mrs. Plame told the panel, with seven Democrats but just two Republicans in attendance.

“They all knew that I worked with the CIA,” said Mrs. Plame, whose husband briefly worked for Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign. “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.”

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the one-time agent to testify about “one of the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets” — Mrs. Plame’s identity. He said that her covert status “was repeatedly revealed by White House officials to members of the media.”

But the chairman broadened the hearing’s topic, contending that the White House used false intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, namely that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons. Then, when Mr. Wilson questioned the intelligence, the White House set out to discredit the self-described Democrat after he called President Bush’s claim “a lie.”

“They didn’t like what your husband wrote, and they made you collateral damage,” Mr. Waxman told Mrs. Plame.

The 90-minute testimony took on the atmosphere of a circus trial; two dozen photographers scrummed and elbowed to snap shots of the petite bleached blonde, clad in a low-cut white blouse, beige herringbone jacket and snug brown slacks. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican, noted that at a recent hearing on steroids in sports, “I don’t think any of those baseball stars got any of the media attention you’re getting here today.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the only other Republican in the Rayburn hearing room, frankly described his feeling about the session.

“I have to confess, I’m not sure what we’re trying to accomplish here,” he said. Noting that the CIA had put several avenues of questioning off-limits, Mr. Davis said with frustration, “I suspect we’re going to waste considerable time today talking about things we can’t talk about.”

Mr. Davis also noted that no one has been prosecuted for identifying Mrs. Plame after a three-year investigation that cost millions of dollars. Critics contend that Mrs. Plame’s identity was widely known and that her job did not involve undercover work.

After newspaper columnist Robert Novak published Mrs. Plame’s name in a July 14, 2003, column, the CIA filed a report to the Justice Department, which began a criminal investigation to determine whether U.S. officials knowingly went public with classified information, a violation of federal law. Mr. Novak later said that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage first revealed Mrs. Plame’s identity and that it was confirmed by Mr. Rove.

In her opening statement, Mrs. Plame, 43, offered a scathing reproach to the administration for leaking her identity.

“I felt like I had been hit in the gut. I could no longer do the work which I had been trained to do,” she said.

Noting that she had always feared discovery by a foreign government, “It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover. 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,” Mrs. Plame said.

Throughout the hearing, Democrats on the panel sought to widen the day’s topic into questions about the White House’s involvement in the leak of Mrs. Plame’s identity, which led to a three-year investigation that ended with the conviction of former vice presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

A jury found this month that Libby lied about his conversations with reporters about Mrs. Plame’s identity, which Democrats say the Cheney aide divulged in order to strike back at Mr. Wilson.

Member after member on the Democratic side sought to push the controversy into the West Wing, with Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, charging there was a “coordinated effort” within the White House to leak the name, and Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland calling it an “orchestrated effort.”

Democrats — and Mrs. Plame — set out to clear up two facets of the controversy that they say are false: Whether she was, indeed, a covert agent, and exactly who in the CIA suggested that her husband be sent to Niger in 2002 to check out the uranium reports.

“I am here under oath, and I am here to say that I was a covert operative of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Mrs. Plame said. “It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit.”

Asked whether she had been abroad as a covert operative within the past five years — which, under a specific law, defines such agents — she answered, “Yes.”

She also rejected reports that she suggested her husband for the Niger mission after Mr. Cheney’s office inquired about the uranium reports. She said that it was actually a CIA colleague, not her, who suggested Mr. Wilson for the mission.

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

Mrs. Plame said that she was ambivalent about the prospect, and added with a laugh that as the mother of toddler twins, “all I could envision was me, by myself, at bedtime, with a couple two-year-olds.”

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