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Bush welcomes probe of CIA leak

'I want to know the truth,' president tells reporters

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Operative: A CIA employee who gathers intelligence covertly, either in the field or from agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The CIA calls the job "clandestine services officer."

Agent: Usually a foreign national contracted to gather intelligence in the field for the CIA.

Analyst: A CIA employee who evaluates intelligence gathered by operatives and agents; not a covert position.

Robert Novak
Joe Wilson
Charles Schumer
Condoleezza Rice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday he welcomes a Justice Department investigation into who revealed the classified identity of a CIA operative.

"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush told reporters at an impromptu news conference during a fund-raising stop in Chicago, Illinois. "If the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of.

"I welcome the investigation. I am absolutely confident the Justice Department will do a good job.

"I want to know the truth," the president continued. "Leaks of classified information are bad things."

He added that he did not know of "anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."

Bush said he has told his administration to cooperate fully with the investigation and asked anyone with knowledge of the case to come forward.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday the criminal investigation was launched Friday and the White House and CIA were asked to preserve all documents that might be relevant to the probe.

"The criminal division of the Department of Justice, with the assistance of the FBI as the lead investigative agency, opened a full investigation," Ashcroft said.

He said the prosecutors and agents conducting the probe are "career professionals with extensive experience in handling matters involving national security."

A department official said the decision to launch the probe was made by John Dion, a career attorney and head of the counterespionage section of the criminal division, not by a political appointee.

Name appears in column

In a July 14 column, syndicated newspaper journalist and CNN contributor Robert Novak named former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction, citing Bush administration sources.

Novak said Monday on CNN's "Crossfire" that he learned Plame's identity from two senior Bush administration officials in the course of researching an article about Wilson. He denied that anyone in the administration called him to leak the information.

But sources told CNN that Novak was among as many as six journalists who were told Plame's name. The Washington Post reported Sunday that the disclosure came from two top administration officials.

Novak said a confidential source at the CIA told him Plame was "an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative and not in charge of undercover operatives." (Full story)

Sources told CNN that Plame works in the CIA's Directorate of Operations -- the part of the agency in charge of spying -- and worked in the field for many years as an undercover officer.

"If she were only an analyst, not an operative, we would not have filed a crimes report" with the Justice Department, a senior intelligence official said.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House was told of the probe Monday night.

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales issued two memos Tuesday directing staff members to preserve all materials such as e-mails and phone logs that might be related to the leak. (Gonzales' first memo)

The second memo specifically mentioned records related to Wilson and his wife, as well as to any contacts with Novak and two members of Newsday's Washington bureau, Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps, who reported in the Long Island, New York, newspaper July 22 that an intelligence official had confirmed Plame's position at the CIA. (Gonzales' second memo)

Newsday Editor Howard Schneider told The Associated Press on Tuesday evening that his newspaper has had no contact with the White House or Justice Department about the memo.

He said, however, that Newsday was probably singled out because the newspaper was the first to report that a CIA officer revealed in the Novak column was an undercover operative.

Alleged Niger connection

Wilson visited Niger in early 2002 on behalf of the CIA to investigate a British report alleging Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake -- uranium ore -- to develop nuclear weapons. Wilson reported finding no evidence to support the allegation.

Novak reported in his July column that Plame suggested her husband for the Niger visit, but officials told CNN Tuesday she had nothing to do with the decision. "She did not recommend him. It was not her idea to send him," said one official.

Bush cited the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as part of the rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Wilson wrote about his Niger visit in an op-ed piece in July for The New York Times that cast further doubt on the British report, which had been discredited after U.N. weapons inspectors found it was based at least in part on forged documents. (Full story)

Although Bush has since backed off the State of the Union statement, Wilson's revelations helped fuel allegations the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq before the war.

Joseph Wilson said he believes the White House is behind the leak of the identity of his wife as a CIA operative.
Joseph Wilson said he believes the White House is behind the leak of the identity of his wife as a CIA operative.

A retired career diplomat, Wilson was acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War and later was ambassador to Gabon. One of his first postings as a diplomat was to Niger in 1976.

In the late 1990s, he was a special assistant to President Clinton and served on the National Security Council as an expert on African affairs.

Wilson has said he believes the White House is behind the leak of his wife's identity, an act of retribution for his revelations on the Niger report. (Full story)

According to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a federal crime to reveal the identity of a covert agent. Anyone convicted of doing so could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine, depending upon how the source obtained the information.

Call for special counsel

Democrats stepped up calls Tuesday for a special counsel to investigate the leak. (Full story)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and others said the accusation that the leak may have come from senior administration officials created a conflict of interest with the Bush-appointed attorney general and his staff.

"If you look at the chain of command, it goes right up to the attorney general," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. "And the attorney general is a close political ally of the president."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican of Texas, scoffed at the Democrats' call for an independent counsel, saying the idea "must be in [Democrats'] political handbook."

Justice Department officials would not comment on whether a special counsel had been ruled out, but one senior official said, "No door has been closed."

CNN's Dana Bash, David Ensor and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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