News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Inaccurate Info May Help CIA Leak Probe on Yahoo! News

By JOHN SOLOMON and PETE YOST, Associated Press Writers

Information attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff in New York Times reporter Judith Miller's interview notes is incorrect, offering prosecutors a potential lead to tracking the bad information to its original source.

Miller disclosed this weekend that her notes of a conversation she had with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on July 8, 2003 stated Cheney's top aide told her that the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) unit.

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, never worked for WINPAC, an analysis unit in the overt side of the CIA, and instead worked in a position in the CIA's secret side, known as the directorate of operations, according to three people familiar with her work for the spy agency.

The three all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the current secrecy requirements of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury investigation into the leak of Plame's identity in 2003 to the media.

The revelation came as President Bush weighed in Monday by declining to say what he would do if one of his aides were indicted in the investigation, and the Pentagon looked into Miller's claim that she was granted a security clearance in 2003 while reporting with a military unit during the Iraq war.

Libby previously testified to the grand jury and it is not known whether he provided the information about WINPAC during his testimony.

Whether it came from Libby or Miller's notes, former federal prosecutors and investigators said the incorrect information provides a significant lead for Fitzgerald and FBI agents to follow. It could suggest Libby thought Plame was not an undercover spy, and therefore couldn't have knowingly revealed her occupation, or that he got his information from uninformed sources, they said.

"The fact that the information is inaccurate may make it of even greater interest to the grand jury than accurate information," said Lance Cole, former Democratic counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee and now a law professor at Penn State Dickinson School of law.

"Accurate information presumably can come from any number of sources. If he got it from a particular document or in a meeting and that document or notes of that meeting are the only place that the inaccuracy is present, then that establishes the source," Cole said.

Danny Coulson, a former top FBI official who conducted several investigations of leaks, said the possibility that Libby passed on wrong information to a reporter may indicate he didn't get his information from a credible, official source.

"What it tells me is he probably got his information from dinner talk," Coulson said. Presidential aides "had access to the official information and if they had used that, you would think they would have had the right stuff."

Even if Libby or other White House aides did not knowingly reveal Plame's covert identity, the prosecutor could consider other charges such as the mishandling of classified information, false statements and obstruction of justice, lawyers have said.

In her story published Sunday recounting her legal battle and imprisonment for refusing to testify earlier, Miller described her breakfast meeting conversation on July 8, 2003 with Libby and the point at which it turned to Plame.

"My notes contain a phrase inside parentheses: 'Wife works at Winpac.' Mr. Fitzgerald asked what that meant," Miller wrote.

"I told the grand jury that I believed that this was the first time I had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for Winpac," she wrote. "In fact, I told the grand jury that when Mr. Libby indicated that Ms. Plame worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative."

With the investigation nearing an end, Bush on Monday declined to say whether he would remove an aide under indictment.

"There's a serious investigation," the president said. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation." He commented in response to reporters' questions during a meeting with Bulgaria's president, Georgi Parvanov.

Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, as well as Libby have been questioned by the grand jury. Rove last week made his fourth and final appearance, where he was pressed on conflicts between his account and those of other witnesses.

At the Pentagon, officials also looked into Miller's claim that she had a security clearance while working as an embedded reporter during the Iraq war, shortly before her conversations with Libby.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was unaware of Miller having a security clearance. He said security clearances are covered by privacy laws, so he couldn't talk about it.

But Whitman said reporters who were embedded with military units during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars signed ground rules in which they agreed not to make public sensitive or secret information that they learned while with the unit.

"For a security clearance you have to go through any number of specific background investigative checks, and there are different agencies that do those. And depending on the level of clearance that's required, there's certain paperwork that has to be filled out and it has to be adjudicated," said Whitman.

He said commanders can't simply give a reporter a security clearance while in the field with the unit.


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