FBI questions Bush officials over 'outing' of CIA agent



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FBI questions Bush officials over 'outing' of CIA agent
Sun Oct 5 01:12:03 2003
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FBI questions Bush officials over 'outing' of CIA agent
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The war within the intelligence community heats up....
FBI questions Bush officials over 'outing' of CIA agent
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
05 October 2003

FBI agents this weekend began questioning Bush administration
officials about the illegal outing of a Central Intelligence Agency
officer, as it emerged that a CIA front company she worked for had
also been blown, possibly endangering other agency personnel and
contacts.

Amid the biggest political scandal to hit the White House since the
current President took office, the FBI has written to the White
House, the State Department and the Pentagon, ordering senior
managers to ensure that any potential evidence relating to the
leaking of the CIA operative's name be preserved. At the same time,
the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, is coming under increased
pressure to appoint an independent investigator to head the inquiry.

The FBI's investigation is intended to find the person who identified
the wife of a former US ambassador as a CIA operative to the right-
wing syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak. Mr Novak wrote that
Joseph Wilson - who travelled to Africa to check and ultimately
disprove a claim that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger -
had been dispatched at the suggestion of his wife, Valerie Plame. He
said his sources were "two administration officials".

Democrats have been in full battle cry, demanding a criminal
investigation into the matter, especially after Mr Wilson suggested
that President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, had
orchestrated the leak in an effort to discredit him.

It was also revealed that anonymous White House officials had
contacted at least five other journalists in order to "out" Ms Plame.
Only Mr Novak, a veteran Republican, chose to do so. Since then the
name of her ostensible employer has also become public, forcing
officials to admit it was a CIA front company.

With its mix of politics, the war against Iraq, espionage and
lies, "Leakgate" has many of the trappings of a classic Washington
scandal. But the involvement of Mr Wilson, a former surfer and self-
confessed "beach bum", and his wife has added a human dimension to a
story that, in this city at least, has largely been characterised by
claims about weapons of mass destruction.

"I have always said that the desire to implicate my wife in this was
intended to intimidate others from coming forward," said Mr
Wilson. "The idea that someone would do this is an anathema to me and
should be an anathema to a president who came to office promising to
restore honour to the White House."

Mr Wilson, a former US ambassador, has been in the sights of the
White House ever since the summer when he revealed that, after
travelling to Niger at the request of the CIA, he had concluded that
Iraq had not been seeking to buy uranium. His comments forced the
White House to admit that "16 words" included in the President's
State of the Union speech making such a link had been wrong.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday and then later in
an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times, Mr Wilson said: "I
had been asked to look into whether it was feasible that Niger had
entered into an agreement to sell uranium to Iraq. My report was very
unequivocal."

The issue has the potential to do real damage to the Bush
administration, given how easy it has been for the Democrats to
attack what has been seen as a politically motivated attack on a
career CIA operative. There is also a criminal element to the matter:
identifying an under-cover agent is a federal crime that carries
penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $50,000.

Yet even under real pressure the Bush administration continues to
seek to rubbish Mr Wilson - former acting ambassador to Iraq and the
last US official to meet Saddam Hussein - by portraying him as a
partisan Democrat, despite sizeable financial contributions he and
his wife also made to the Bush-Cheney campaign. "It's slime and
defend," one Republican aide on Capitol Hill told The New York Times.

Neighbours who live near Mr Wilson and his wife in Washington - until
now unaware of Ms Plame's real job - have portrayed them as "perfect
neighbours".

"With the exception perhaps of Colin Powell, both of them have put
their lives at more risk than anyone in the Bush administration,"
said David Tillotson, a lawyer who - with his wife - has been a
regular dinner guest at the Wilson house over the past six years.

"It's incredible. These are the people the government should be
defending, because they are risking their personal safety."
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