Leak led to threats against CIA agent, husband reveals

In his first interview since charges in the CIA leak scandal were filed on Friday against Lewis Libby, 55, who has quit as chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Mr Wilson told the CBS current affairs programme60 Minutes that his wife felt like she had been "hit in the stomach" when her cover was blown.

The indictment sets the stage for either a trial next spring or a plea bargain that almost certainly would mean jail time for Mr Libby. A source close to the investigation told Time magazine that the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Mr Libby's lawyer discussed possible plea options before the indictment was issued last week. But the deal was scotched because the prosecutor insisted that Mr Libby do some "serious" jail time.

Several intelligence specialists spoke out at the weekend about the gravity of what had been done to Ms Plame, who joined the CIA as a case officer two decades ago, when she was 22 years old. It's the "moral equivalent to exposing forward-deployed military units," said Arthur Brown, who retired in February as the CIA's Asian Division chief.

Mr Libby, who is expected to begin testifying to prosecutors this week, was charged on Friday with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements in the course of an investigation into whether the White House deliberately disclosed Ms Plame's CIA role. The implication is that it was getting back at Mr Wilson, a diplomat, who had publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting the facts before going to war in Iraq.

President Bush will try to claw his way back this week from a politically calamitous string of events. His first priority will be to announce a new nominee for the US Supreme Court. His first choice, Harriet Miers, withdrew her nomination last week after a rebellion among some of the President's conservative backers.

Mr Bush's new choice could be revealed as early as this morning. It is widely assumed that he will select a person with long experience on the bench. Ms Miers was considered a "stealth nominee" because she had never served as a judge and had no public positions on social issues such as abortion.

In the 60 Minutes interview, due to be broadcast last night, Mr Wilson spoke for the first time of the danger confronted by his wife. "There have been specific threats," he said, but declined to elaborate. " Beyond that I just can't go on," he said.

Mr Wilson also sought to dispel any impression that it was somehow well known that his wife was an agent and that her exposure might therefore have been unimportant. He and only three others knew, he insisted. "Very few people outside the intelligence community" were aware of it, he said, "her parents and her brother, essentially".

Her name first appeared in print in a July 2003 column by Robert Novak. The CIA demanded an investigation by a special prosecutor, which led to the charges against Mr Libby.

Jim Marcinkowski, a former CIA agent who trained with Ms Plame, explained the ramifications. "If a CIA agent is exposed, then everyone coming in contact with that agent is exposed," he said. He added that it also makes it harder in future for the CIA to use the spouses of ambassadors as agents.

As for the CIA, it is still assessing the damage that was done by the leak of Ms Plame's name.