The identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame was compromised twice before her name appeared in a news column that triggered a federal illegal-disclosure investigation, U.S. officials say.
Mrs. Plame’s identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In a second compromise, officials said a more recent inadvertent disclosure resulted in references to Mrs. Plame in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana.
The documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them, the officials said.
The investigation into who revealed Mrs. Plame’s identity publicly has reached the highest levels of the U.S. government. President Bush was questioned by investigators June 24.
Mrs. Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Bush administration who has accused the president of misusing intelligence to go to war in Iraq. Mr. Wilson also accuses White House officials of deliberately revealing Mrs. Plame’s name in an effort to discredit him.
In 2003, Mr. Wilson publicly debunked reports that Iraq was seeking uranium ore from Niger. Mr. Wilson also said his report ruling out the attempted purchase was ignored.
However, recent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the British government have undermined Mr. Wilson’s charges. The Senate says Mr. Wilson’s report, contrary to his charges, actually bolstered their view that Iraq was seeking uranium ore from Niger.
The British government said it believes intelligence reports obtained by the Joint Intelligence Committee that point to attempts by Saddam Hussein’s government to buy uranium from Niger.
The White House announced last year that it erred in including a statement on the attempted ore purchase in Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech about the Niger-Iraq connection.
Mrs. Plame’s identity first was revealed publicly by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak in a July 14, 2003, column about Mr. Wilson’s trip to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium ore for a nuclear-arms program.
The Justice Department then began an investigation of the disclosure under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime to knowingly disclose the name of a covert agent.
However, officials said the disclosure that Mrs. Plame’s cover was blown before the news column undermines the prosecution of the government official who might have revealed the name, officials said.
“The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone’s cover,” one official said. “In this case, the CIA failed to do that.”
A second official, however, said the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of the Plame matter.