WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff apparently gave New York Times reporter Judith Miller (search) inaccurate information about where Valerie Plame worked in the CIA, a mistake that could be important to the criminal investigation.
Miller's notes say I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (search) told her on July 8, 2003, that the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson worked for the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control unit.
Plame, Wilson's wife, never worked for WINPAC (search), which is on the overt side of the CIA. She worked on the CIA's secret side, the directorate of operations, according to three people familiar with her work for the spy agency.
The three all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing grand jury investigation into the leak of Plame's identity in 2003.
There were several developments as the end nears for the investigation into possible criminality by people in the Bush administration who leaked Plame's identity to reporters:
— President Bush declined to say Monday whether he would remove any aide under indictment. "I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation," he said.
— Pentagon officials looked into Miller's claim that she had a security clearance while working as an embedded reporter during the Iraq war, shortly before her conversations with Libby.
"For a security clearance you have to go through any number of specific background investigative checks," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He said reporters who were embedded with military units during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars signed ground rules in which they agreed not to make public sensitive or secret information that they learned while with the unit.
The incorrect information about where Plame worked in the CIA could be a significant lead for investigators. Accurate information presumably can come from any number of sources, while inaccurate information might more easily be traceable to a single document or a particular meeting, suggested Lance Cole, former Democratic counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee and now a law professor at Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law.
The inaccurate information could suggest Libby thought Plame was not an undercover spy, and therefore didn't know her identity was classified. The incorrect piece of information could lead back to a source or sources who were engaging in a larger effort to undercut Wilson's credibility. Or, as former top FBI official Danny Coulson suggests, it could simply mean that Libby's information came from "dinner talk" involving people who were uninformed.
Presidential aides "had access to the official information and if they had used that, you would think they would have had the right stuff," said Coulson.
In her first-person account, published Sunday, recounting her meetings with Libby, Miller described her July 8, 2003, conversation with Libby and the point at which it turned to Plame.
"My notes contain a phrase inside parentheses: 'Wife works at Winpac.' Mr. Fitzgerald asked what that meant," Miller wrote.
"I told the grand jury that I believed that this was the first time I had heard that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for Winpac," she wrote. "In fact, I told the grand jury that when Mr. Libby indicated that Ms. Plame worked for Winpac, I assumed that she worked as an analyst, not as an undercover operative."