A scrap inside the U.S. government over the validity of information regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has led to a serious breach of security. The identity of a covert U.S. intelligence agent was revealed to journalists by senior Bush Administration figures in an attempt to discredit the point of view of the agent's husband, a retired U.S. ambassador.
The CIA has referred the case to the Department of Justice for further action. Given the gravity of these allegations, it is essential that the matter be pursued as far and as high as necessary, and that any illegal acts be prosecuted.
The story is complicated. In 2002 the U.S. government sent retired American ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV to the African country of Niger to determine the accuracy of intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium there for nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson concluded that it was not and reported that back to senior authorities in Washington. Nonetheless, President Bush used the false report about Iraq and Niger in his State of the Union address, presumably unaware that it was incorrect.
Subsequently, as the intelligence that had been used to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq began to be questioned more intensively this year, Mr. Wilson revealed publicly what he had learned during his inquiry in Niger and to whom he had reported it.
At that point it appears that some members of the Bush Administration began seeking ways to discredit Mr. Wilson, who was beginning to emerge as an informed critic of the Iraq war.
While what exactly happened next remains unclear, the accusation is that two senior administration figures contacted journalists, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who put the information he was given into the Washington Post and other papers July 14. Mr. Novak's reporting revealed that Mr. Wilson's wife is an undercover CIA agent specializing in weapons of mass destruction.
The suggestion behind the leak was that she had an ax to grind in the differences of opinion between the CIA and other elements in the administration, and that her husband and she were working together to discredit the administration.
For a U.S. government employee to deliberately blow the cover of a CIA agent is a serious violation of federal law. Revealing an agent's identity not only can put his or her life at risk, but it can also lead to severe danger and perhaps even the death of the American agent's own foreign agents - known as “cases.”
One of the administration officials informally accused of having leaked the agent's name to the press is President Bush's top political counselor, Karl Rove. Mr. Rove denies all involvement in the affair, and the White House issued its own denials while Democrats called for an independent investigation.
If this is a story of Washington smearing and counter-smearing, it needs to be revealed as such. If it is a case of the lives of an American CIA agent and her foreign contacts having been put at risk for domestic political purposes, that is a matter of grave concern.
This case must not be written off as political infighting. Lives are involved. This would definitely not be a good moment to be one of the agent's contacts in one of the countries where she worked.