State Department phone call gave key aide name of CIA officer
By Richard Sale, Intelligence Correspondent
A State Department phone call, not Vice President Cheney, revealed to I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, the identity of the CIA operative at the heart of the current CIA leak investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, according to former senior and serving U.S. intelligence officials.
An October 25 account in The New York Times, alleged that Libby first learned of the agent's real name weeks before her identity became public in 2003 during a June 12 conversation between Cheney and Libby.
According to the Times account, Cheney told Libby the covert name of the wife of Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. diplomat who had publicly alleged that the administration had mishandled of intelligence relating to Iraq's nuclear weapons programs.
But several former and serving U.S. intelligence officials strongly disputed this. "That is simply not accurate," a very former senior CIA official told this repoter. "Libby's notes on this are misleading and inaccurate or both."
This source, supported by three others, alleged that it was a telephone call from the Department of State that first gave Libby the name of Plame.
The name of the caller? No one is sure. But these sources said that the call defintely came from the State Department office of John Bolton, then the arms control chief of the department.
These same sources alleged that two employees of Bolton, David Wurmser, a virullent pro-war hawk, first told Libby that Valerie Plame had sent Wilson to Niger to attempt to discredit the administration's line on Iraq's nuclear weapons programs.
These same intelligence sources alleged that Wurmser, as Bolton's special assistant, got his knowledge of Plame's classified identity from a colleague in his office, Frederick Fleitz, a CIA officer detailed to Bolton's office from the agency who worked in the CIA's Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (WINIPAC.)
"We do not know yet which of the two called," the former very senior intelligence official said.
"We are almost positive the outing of Plame came from State," said another former senior U.S. intelligence officiel.
But he and others insisted that Fleitz had knowledge of Plame and her cover.
Fleitz, still at the State Department, is on leave and could not be reached for comment.
Wurmser did not return calls.
Wurmser is an interesting character, the author of the 1996 paper, "Clean
Break," commissioned by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that called for the destruction of then Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat, the toppling of Saddam by the United States, and launchingof a preemptive war agasinst Syria after Saddam had fallen, among other items.
In the fall of 2003, Wurmser moved from State to the Old Executive Office Building where he worked directly under Libby and Cheney, several sources said.
Before taking his job at State, Wurmser had worked in the secret Pentagon intelligence unit, created by Assisant Secretary of Defense for Policy, Doug Feith, which was tasked with establishing links between Saddam and Al Qaida, a thesis which has since been entirely discredited, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
According to federal law enforcement officials, Wurmser had cooperated with the Fitzgerald probe, as has another Libby aide, John Hannah, as UPI reported in February 2004.
According to these same sources, Cheney still remains at the center of the probe. "The effort is to show that Cheney orchestrated the White House attempts to discredit Wilson," said one.
He added that Libby "has real problems with questions about obstruction of justice."
In the meantime, although indictments are expected Friday, there has been such a flurry of last minute plea bargains, including talks last night between Fitzgerald and Robert Luskin, attorney for Karl Rove , that announcements have been delayed.
And still could be.
According to sources close to the probe, Rove refused any plea.
The outcome of talks with Libby are not yet known, these sources said.
The purpose of Fitzgerald's pressure at this point is to enable him "to get at as many senior White House officials as he can," a federal law enforcement official said.
But whatever happens, Fitzgerald is in for the long haul, say these sources. He has obtained new office space across the street from his present New York Avenue office and is expected to empanel a new grand jury. The current one expires on Friday.
The target? The tale of the Niger forgeries and how they got into President Bush's State of the Union address, said severall intelligence and law enforcement sources.