Plame blasts US officials for blowing her CIA cover
WASHINGTON, Saturday (AFP) - A glamorous former CIA spy has accused the Bush administration of maliciously blowing her cover, in an Iraq war political scandal that has a top White House aide heading for jail.
Valerie Plame, 43, broke her silence over a drama clouding President George W. Bush's second term, using a congressional hearing on Friday to accuse officials of exposing her to avenge her diplomat husband's criticism of the drive to war.
“It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover,” said Plame, who portrayed herself as an innocent victim of a political firestorm whipped up over the 2003 invasion.
|Valerie Plame Wilson testifies on Friday before the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. AFP
The blonde former intelligence officer, whose appearance drew a paparazzi-style pack of photographers into the staid House of Representatives committee room, also accused Bush aides of tainting the intelligence services.
“I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping insidious politicizing of our intelligence process,” Plame said.
She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that such actions could wreak lasting damage on America's crucial intelligence capacity, which plays a key role in the “war on terror.”
“If our government cannot even protect my identity, future foreign agents who might consider working with the Central Intelligence Agency and providing needed intelligence would think twice.”
Plame was constrained by the details she could give in an open, public hearing as even though she has retired from the CIA, she is still bound by its restrictions on classified information.
As she spoke, a pink-garbed anti-war protestor edged into camera range behind her, with a T-shirt reading “Impeach Bush Now.”
Plame was at the center of the so-called CIA leak case which erupted when her husband Joseph Wilson wrote a July 2003 opinion piece in the New York Times criticizing Bush's case for war against Iraq.
She contends White House officials then deliberately leaked her name to the media, to ruin her career, and punish Wilson for his actions.
“I felt like I had been hit in the gut. It (my career) was over in an instant,” she said, of the moment when she saw her name emblazoned across a newspaper column.
“I immediately thought of my family's safety, the agents, networks that I had worked with” said Plame, saying she had made many secret foreign intelligence missions on behalf of the CIA.
She also insisted the top White House political adviser was behind the controversy, and blamed Bush for refusing to fire anyone who leaked.
“Karl Rove clearly was involved in the leaking of my name, and he still carries a security clearance to this day,” Plame argued.
The incident led to the appointment of a special prosecutor who probed whether administration officials had broken the law by knowingly outing a covert intelligence agent.
No charges were laid under that statute, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did charge Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby with perjury and obstruction of justice over the affair.
After a trial which lifted the lid on the frenzied White House in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Libby was convicted earlier this month, and faces up to 25 years in prison.
Sentencing is set for June 5, though federal guidelines suggest he will face a much shorter sentence.
Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims Saddam tried to buy uranium for nuclear bombs but concluded it was doubtful such transfers took place.
The claim still found its way into Bush's annual state of the union address a year later, prompting Wilson to stew for six months before unleashing the Times article, in which he warned top US officials may have ignored data which contradicted the case for war.