The Justice Department is investigating whether Bush administration officials broke the law by revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative whose husband disparaged claims by the White House that Iraq was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
George Tenet, the director of the CIA, has sent a memo to the department asking it to find out who revealed Valerie Plame's identity in July.
Ms Plame, a weapons expert, is the wife of the former US ambassador Joe Wilson. It is alleged that her identity was revealed in retaliation for comments he made about Iraq's alleged scheme to buy uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons. Mr Wilson, who travelled to Niger to investigate the claims, toldThe Independent on Sunday that he believed they were false.
Ms Plame's identity was first mentioned by a syndicated newspaper columnist, who said his sources were "two administration officials".
Yesterday The Washington Post reported that the two officials had telephoned at least six journalists and identified Ms Plame. "Clearly it was meant purely and simply for revenge," a White House official said.
Mr Wilson's comments caused the White House to admit that "16 words" in President George Bush's State of the Union address last January which claimed Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa were incorrect.
Mr Wilson, who went to Africa at the request of the CIA, has never confirmed his wife's position. He said previously that if she were an operative, "naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames."
Mr Wilson said yesterday: "I have always said that the desire to implicate my wife in this was intended to intimidate others from coming forward. 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." Naming a undercover operative is a federal offence which carries penalties of $50,000 (£30,000) and up to 10 years jail.
After Ms Plame was named, the CIA launched a widescale investigation to ascertain whether any of her overseas contacts had been put at risk. That investigation continues.
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