Former undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame, who has been at the center of a controversy involving the role White House officials played in revealing her identity, has testified in public for the first time at a congressional hearing. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, her dramatic appearance before a House committee was her first before Congress, and came four years after her identity was leaked in 2003.
Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleged that senior administration officials deliberately leaked her CIA identity to the media in retaliation for Wilson's allegation that the administration distorted intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs.
The scandal led to the recent conviction of senior White House aide Lewis Libby, who was found guilty of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation into the leak.
Congressman Henry Waxman opened Friday's hearing, saying its purpose was to find out whether White House officials took appropriate actions to safeguard Plame's identity.
"How did such a serious violation of our national security occur? Two, did the White House take the appropriate investigative and disciplinary steps after the breach occurred? And three, what changes in White House procedures to prevent future violations of our national security from occurring?," he said.
Waxman read a statement to the committee from the CIA supporting Plame's long-standing contention that she was an undercover agent, and, in the CIA's words, working on some of the most sensitive and highly-secretive matters handled by the agency, including service overseas.
Plame said that, in the days before her identity was revealed, she was working on classified weapons proliferation issues. She says she was shocked by evidence that emerged in the recent trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby.
"My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department," she said.
"All of them understood that I worked for the CIA. And having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer," she added.
Saying grave harm is done when undercover identities are revealed, Plame said evidence that emerged in the trial of Lewis Libby showed a pattern of, in her words, "creeping insidious politicizing" of the intelligence process.
"Testimony in the criminal trial of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, who has now been convicted of serious crimes, indicates that my exposure resulted from purely political motives," she said.
Plame cited a number of visits by Vice President Cheney to the CIA in the weeks leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq as an example of political pressure being put on the agency.
In this exchange with Democrat Chris Van Hollen, Plame said Karl Rove, a close aide to the president, was involved in the disclosure of her identity.
VAN HOLLEN: "Do you believe there continue to be people, individuals in this administration, who were involved in leaking the information about you?"
PLAME: "Yes congressman, as we know again from the evidence that was introduced at the trial of the vice president's former chief of staff, for one, 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 anybody who had anything to do with this."
Critics of Plame and her husband, including some key Republicans in Congress, have challenged their assertion that she was a covert agent. In response to repeated questions, Plame reaffirmed her undercover status.
Congressman Tom Davis questioned whether White House officials actually knew about this.
"It is a terrible thing that any CIA operative would be outed. But what is difficult, I think, what we have not been able to establish here, is who knew who was undercover, who was in a covert status, and, I think, we're going to have to look at that. But, if there is no evidence here that the people that were outing this or pursuing this had knowledge of the covert status," he said.
In later testimony, attorney Victoria Toensing disputed Plame's assertion that she was covert, saying her responsibilities did not qualify her as such under existing law aimed at protecting undercover agents.
And the director of the White House Office of Security since August 2004, James Knodell, faced intense questioning about what, if any, internal investigation was conducted by the White House itself.
None was conducted by officials in charge at the time, he said, because the matter had already been referred, at the request of the CIA, to the Department of Justice. But he added that an internal probe might be appropriate, now that the criminal investigation was completed.
WAXMAN: "Do you know whether there was an investigation at the White House after the leaks came out?"
KNODELL: "I don't have any knowledge of an investigation in my office."
KNODELL: "I do not."
No White House or State Department officials alleged to have been involved in the leaking of Plame's identity testified before the House panel.