Story Highlights• Plame Wilson: Leak of CIA identity jeopardized, destroyed networks of agents
• Before leak, husband Joe Wilson investigated, contested a justification for Iraq war
• GOP congressman: It's "more like a CIA problem than a White House problem"
• Plame Wilson: Perjury case against ex-Cheney aide shows leak "purely political"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Valerie Plame Wilson told Congress Friday the leak of her identity as a CIA covert operative "has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents."
For the first time since the 2003 leak, the central figure of the resulting scandal revealed her side of events that led to the conviction this month of a former vice presidential aide.
She told a House committee that Bush administration officials had "carelessly and recklessly" released her status as a CIA employee, which was first reported by columnist Robert Novak. (Watch Plame Wilson describe how she felt like she'd been "hit in the gut" )
"I felt like I had been hit in the gut," Plame Wilson told the panel.
Novak's column destroyed her position and classified status, she told the committee.
The disclosure also damaged U.S. intelligence efforts, she said. "If our government cannot even protect my identity, future foreign agents who might consider working with the Central Intelligence Agency in providing needed intelligence would think twice."
Plame Wilson testified her work involved gathering intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. (Watch whether there has been a White House investigation into the leak )
'A CIA problem'
The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, suggested that it wasn't clear that Plame Wilson's role was classified at the time.
"No process can be adopted to protect classified information that no one knows is classified, just as no one can be prosecuted for unauthorized disclosure of information that no one ever said was protected," Davis said. "So this looks to me more like a CIA problem than a White House problem."
Plame Wilson rejected claims that her role at the CIA not covert when her identity was leaked.
She said she had conducted secret overseas missions within the past five years, and that much information about her career remains classified. (Read how Plame Wilson said she worked on secret missions during her time as an operative)
Although she was working at CIA headquarters in the United States at the time of the leak, Plame Wilson said, "a general is a general whether he is in the field in Iraq or Afghanistan; when he comes back to the Pentagon, he's still a general. In the same way, covert operations officers who are serving in the field, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, they too are still covert."
She added that her husband -- former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson -- protected her status "diligently."
Vanity Fair magazine published a photograph of the couple -- in which she was wearing dark sunglasses and a scarf -- in late 2003, after the disclosure of Plame Wilson's identity. "At the time that picture came out, my covert status was long gone," she testified.
"Having lived most of my life under the radar, my learning curve was steep," she added, saying the photo caused more trouble than it was worth.
Wilson accused the White House of intentionally leaking his wife's covert role as retribution for an opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times that contested a justification given by the Bush administration to invade Iraq. (Key players)
The leak sparked an investigation by a special prosecutor, which led to this month's conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
During her appearance Friday, Plame Wilson said, "testimony in the criminal trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, who has now been convicted of serious crimes, indicates that my exposure arose from purely political motives."
She said of President Bush's political aide, "Karl Rove clearly was involved in leaking my name, and he still carries a security clearance to this day, despite the president's words ... that he would immediately dismiss anyone who had anything to do with this."
'There was no nepotism involved'
Plame Wilson also said Friday that it was not her idea for her husband to travel to Niger to investigate an allegation that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium. That allegation was used to help justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"I did not suggest him. I did not recommend him. There was no nepotism involved," she said, adding, "I did not have the authority."
It was the suggestion of another CIA officer who knew that Wilson had previously gone on other CIA missions "to deal with some other nuclear matters," she said.
She said she had later been asked to write an e-mail summarizing the discussion that included the possibility of her husband making the journey. A portion of that e-mail was later taken out of context to make it seem that she had suggested her husband for the assignment, she said.
"My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior officials in the White House and State Department," Valerie Plame Wilson said.