Woodward: CIA leak not Bush

2005-11-22 14:15

Washington - Reporter Bob Woodward, caught up in a scandal over the outing of a CIA agent, made clear that the president, vice-president and defence secretary had not divulged the spy's name to him.

In a lengthy interview with CNN, Washington Post reporter Woodward made clear that it was neither President George W Bush, vice-president Richard Cheney nor defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld who had revealed to him that the wife of an Iraq war critic worked undercover for the CIA.

He also indicated that his secret source was male, which clears secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and close Bush confidante Karen Hughes.

A probe into who leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to members of the media has already led to the indictment of a top White House official and seen one reporter spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her source.

Cover blown as 'revenge'

Plame's husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, claimed that top White House officials blew her cover in revenge for his criticisms of the Iraq war.

Last month, Cheney's former chief of staff, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.

Woodward, who broke the 1972 Watergate break-in, refused to publicly disclose his source, who appears to have been the first government official to speak to the media about Plame.

Casual revelation

Woodward said the fact that Wilson's wife worked for the Central Intelligence Agency was disclosed to him in a casual manner when he was interviewing a top administration official for his book Plan of Attack, which covered US preparations for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Woodward said the professional affiliation of Wilson's wife came up at the end of a substantive interview about a period of time leading up to the war, when he asked about Wilson, whose name at the time had not been officially released, and his mission to Niger.

The source told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a weapons of mass destruction analyst.

Source is male

"And so, I asked about Wilson, and he said this," Woodward said, revealing the source's gender.

Plame's name was first disclosed in July 2003 by conservative columnist Robert Novak, following Wilson's mission to Niger the year before, during which the former US ambassador to the African nation tried to verify Bush's claim, based on intelligence reports, that Iraq had attempted to purchase nuclear weapons materials there.

With hard evidence of that lacking, Wilson wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times accusing the Bush administration of "exaggerating the Iraqi threat" to justify the war.

Under US law, it is a crime to knowingly identify a covert intelligence operative by name, but not necessarily to describe his or her family ties.

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