Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Key CIA leak detail disputed as announcement nears


Key CIA leak detail disputed as announcement nears

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff may have given New York Times reporter Judith Miller inaccurate information about where the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson worked at the CIA, a former intelligence official said on Monday.

The possible discrepancy comes amid signs the federal prosecutor investigating who leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, will announce whether he will bring charges as early as Wednesday, people close to the case said.

Investigators have questioned Miller and other witnesses about whether Cheney was aware or authorized his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to talk to reporters about Wilson, Miller and others involved in the case have said.

The Washington Post reported special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has assembled evidence showing Cheney's long-running feud with the CIA contributed to Plame's unmasking.

Wilson, a former diplomat, says White House officials exposed his wife, damaging her ability to work undercover, to discredit him for accusing the Bush administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war in a New York Times opinion piece on July 6, 2003.

According to Miller's account of a meeting with Libby on July 8, she wrote in her notes that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control, or Winpac, unit, which tracks unconventional arms.

A former intelligence official said Plame did not work at Winpac but for the CIA's clandestine service. The former official, who is familiar with Plame's CIA activities, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.


It is unclear how the discrepancy might affect the investigation. The former intelligence official said the WINPAC error could bolster Libby's defense, if he were charged with intentionally compromising the identity of a covert operative, since most Winpac employees are not undercover.

"It may actually be helpful to him by showing he was acting under a misimpression and it wasn't an intentional outing of a known undercover officer," the official said.

Libby and President George W. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, are among the officials facing possible charges, legal sources have said.

Miller, who was jailed for 85 days before agreeing to testify about her conversations with Libby, said she told the grand jury Libby "indicated that Ms. Plame worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative."

While Fitzgerald could try to charge administration officials with knowingly revealing the identity of an undercover operative, several lawyers in the case said he was more likely to seek charges for conspiracy and easier-to-prove crimes such as disclosing classified information, making false statements, obstruction and perjury.

Fitzgerald's office said on Monday it had decided to announce any decisions in the Plame case in Washington, rather than Chicago, where the special prosecutor is based.

It is unusual for Fitzgerald's office to comment on the case and the statement led some observers to wonder if it might signal an imminent decision or that Fitzgerald was trying to increase pressure on potential targets to cut a deal.

After promising to fire anyone found to have leaked the information, Bush offered a more qualified pledge in July, saying, "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."

Asked on Monday if he would expect members of his administration to resign or take a leave if they were indicted, Bush said: "My position hasn't changed since the last time I've been asked this question. There's a serious investigation. ... I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."