Controversy continues to surround the case of an American intelligence officer whose identity was disclosed to a newspaper columnist who put her name in print. She is the wife of a former U.S. diplomat who has been critical of President George Bush's Iraq policy, and there are allegations her name was leaked by administration officials.
It is illegal in the United States to reveal the name of an undercover agent. And while it is unclear that rule applies to this particular CIA officer, the disclosure of her identity has raised serious questions in Washington.
Her husband, Joseph Wilson, once served as acting Ambassador to Iraq. In February 2002 he was sent to Niger to investigate claims Iraqi officials were trying to buy uranium in Africa.
He says he found nothing to confirm the claims, and was surprised when President Bush alluded to them in his January 2003 State of the Union Address. In July, Mr. Wilson went public with his concerns. One week later, a newspaper columnist disclosed his wife's identity based on information from unnamed administration sources.
Now, Mr. Wilson says the administration was trying to deliver a message to others. He told NBC's Meet the Press, the White House wants to silence those who have information that might challenge the president's case for war based on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I believe it was done to discourage others from coming forward. At that time, there were a lot of analysts who were speaking anonymously to the press about any number of issues related to the intelligence that under-girded the decision to go to war," he said.
He said he does not know why anyone might want to disclose his wife's identity. He was asked if the aim might be to discredit his report from Niger on the grounds that he somehow got the job not because of his qualifications, but because of his wife's stature within the CIA. "I have no idea what they were trying to suggest in this. I can only assume it was nepotism," he said.
Also appearing on Meet the Press was Robert Novak, the columnist who put the name of the CIA officer into print. He said he has no intention of revealing the names of his confidential sources, citing journalistic precedent. "If I were to give up that name, I would leave journalism. But I would not give up that name," he said.
On the CBS program Face the Nation, members of congress talked about the need for a formal investigation into the case. Senator Chuck Hagel, a republican from Nebraska, said it is important to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. He said he has faith in the Justice Department's probe, but added the president should act on his own to find out who was responsible for the disclosure. "The president should be asking some pretty tough questions, if he is not already," he said. "My guess is he is asking some tough questions. He needs to get a hold of this himself, call in his chief of staff, his national security advisor, and the vice-president and say 'OK, what do we have here? This is serious and I want it fixed.'"
President Bush has said the White House will work with the Justice Department investigation. His staff has been given until Tuesday to certify that it has handed over copies of all materials, including e-mails, telephone logs, and notes related to the case.