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Memo with Plame's name marked secret

Administration officials questioned about State Dept. document



White House
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Matthew Cooper

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A classified State Department memorandum that has been the subject of questioning in a federal leak probe identifies a CIA agent by name in a paragraph marked "S" for secret, sources told CNN Thursday.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating the revelation of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, which was published by syndicated columnist and CNN contributor Robert Novak in July 2003.

Novak's column came days after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly questioned part of President Bush's justification for invading Iraq.

Plame is mentioned by her married name, Valerie Plame Wilson, in the memo dated June 10, 2003, said two government sources who have seen the document.

The paragraph, they said, did not indicate that she was undercover or that her identity was protected.

Nevertheless, a former homeland security adviser to President Bush said the rules on such matters are clear.

"Anything in a paragraph marked 'secret' needs to be deemed secret, and revealing it to someone without proper security clearance or without a need to know is not authorized and is a violation," said Richard Falkenrath, a CNN security analyst who has not seen the memo.

Disclosure of an undercover intelligence officer's identity can be a federal crime if prosecutors can show the leak was intentional and the person who released the information knew of the officer's secret status.

The memo, which discussed allegations that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa, notes that Plame attended a meeting about sending her husband, a retired career diplomat with a background in African and Iraqi affairs, to look into the claims, according to the government sources. (Joseph Wilson profile)

Other sources familiar with the leak investigation said federal prosecutors asked several senior administration officials testifying before the grand jury if they had seen the memo.

A senior U.S. official said he believed then-Secretary of State Colin Powell took it with him aboard Air Force One July 7, 2003, when he accompanied Bush on a trip to Africa. Investigators subpoenaed records from Air Force One.

The Washington Post, quoting a source who described the memo, said it was written by an analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The analyst was not identified.

Wilson contends his wife's identity was released by the White House to retaliate against him for a July 2003 opinion column in The New York Times.

In it, Wilson criticized Bush's claim in that year's State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Africa, a reference to a British intelligence report.

Wilson said he had been sent to Niger, in central Africa, to investigate the claim in February 2002 and found no evidence that such a transaction occurred and unlikely that it could have.

"I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat," Wilson wrote.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, also had cast doubts on the British report, telling the U.N. Security Council in March 2003 that it was based on forged documents. (Full story)

Days after Wilson's article appeared, CIA Director George Tenet admitted the claim should not have been included in Bush's address. (Full story)

Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper said Sunday that Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told him Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, confirmed that piece of information.

Time magazine and CNN are owned by Time Warner.

Wilson has called his wife's exposure an act of political retaliation that ended her career.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan denied in 2003 that either Rove or Libby had been involved in the leak, dismissing a reporter's question about Rove as "ridiculous."

More recently, he has refused to answer repeated questions on the matter, deflecting inquiries again Thursday.

"We've said for quite some time that this was an ongoing investigation and that we weren't going to comment on it," he said.

Cooper escaped being sent to jail when he said his source, Rove, had released him from their confidentiality agreement. He testified before a grand jury last week in connection with the probe.

Cooper told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that protecting reporters and their sources is key to the news media's ability to shine light on government wrongdoing. (Full story)

Bush said Monday that if anyone in his administration committed a crime in connection with the public leak of Plame's identity, that person will "no longer work in my administration."

That statement appeared to mark a change in the level of wrongdoing required for Bush to take such action. Earlier, he had said anyone involved in leaking the name of the covert operative would be fired. (Full story)

Two weeks ago, a federal judge sent New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail for refusing to divulge her sources for a story she researched on the issue but never published.

According to the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, a federal employee with access to classified information who is convicted of making an unauthorized disclosure about a covert agent faces up to 10 years in prison and as much as $50,000 in fines.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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