Correction to This Article
An Oct. 30 article about the disclosure that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative gave an incorrect date for a burglary at Niger's embassy in Rome, when official letterhead stationery was stolen. The burglary occurred in 2001, not 1991. In some editions, the article gave conflicting dates for Vice President Cheney's trip to Norfolk. It was July 12, 2003, not June 12. Also, a reference to the vice president's principal deputy chief of staff should have identified him as Eric Edelman, not John Hannah.
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A Leak, Then a Deluge

16 Words and Wilson Strikes Back

By the time Bush stated the case personally -- in the notorious "16 words" of his Jan. 28 State of the Union address -- the uranium had been thoroughly integrated into his government's case for impending war with Iraq.

The IAEA exposed the documents as forgeries on March 7, 2003. The Bush administration, while acknowledging uncertainty, did not admit its primary evidence had been faked.

Late April and early May saw a succession of Bush administration assertions that the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had just begun. By then, The Washington Post was reporting that teams looking for weapons in Iraq were departing in frustration, making way for a new Iraq Survey Group that became an 18-month forensic examination of where U.S. intelligence had gone wrong.

Wilson spoke anonymously about his trip to Niger to New York Times opinion writer Nicholas D. Kristof, whose May 6 column accused Cheney of permitting truth to go "missing in action." The failure of the weapons hunt, and alleged deception of the public, had been laid at Cheney's feet.

In the vice president's office, Libby had long since come to believe that the CIA was undermining Cheney and the president's conduct of the war. One undercurrent of the events to come was a venerable form of Washington institutional combat, between the White House and the executive agencies ostensibly under its command.

Miller of the New York Times wrote later that Libby believed the CIA was hedging against accusations of failure by blaming Cheney and Bush for its mistakes. Another top official, a longtime ally of Libby's, told a reporter at the time that the CIA was working actively to conceal evidence favorable to the White House.

Libby had known enemies inside government -- but an unknown enemy outside. It did not take him long to discover that the latter was Wilson.

'There Would Be Complications'

In late May and early June 2003, according to Fitzgerald's indictment, Libby asked for and received information about Wilson's trip from a senior State Department official, who is not named in the indictment but is identified by colleagues as then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman.

On June 9, the CIA faxed classified accounts of Wilson's assignment "to the personal attention of Libby and another person in the Office of the Vice President." Two or three days later, Grossman told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had been involved in planning Wilson's trip. An unidentified "senior officer of the CIA" confirmed Plame's employment for Libby on June 11, and Cheney told Libby the next day which part of the agency employed her.

For Libby, according to a senior official who worked with him at the time, "I think this just hit a nerve." By June, he said, "the blind, deaf and dumb had to be aware that something was wrong in Iraq." Uranium was "always a side issue," but it was also "the beginning of the unraveling of the big story . . . calling attention to a huge mistake he was part of. So it's no wonder he took this personally."

A senior intelligence officer who knew of Libby's inquiries about Wilson and Plame said in an interview yesterday, "It didn't occur to anyone that the reason why was so that her name would go out to reporters." That, the official said, is "the lesson you learn from this."

On June 12, The Post published a story challenging the uranium claims. Wilson has since said he was among the sources for that story.

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