WASHINGTON – The nation's security was put at risk when the secret identity of a covert CIA officer's name was leaked to the press in a "tawdry political hit job," former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson ( search) said Monday.
"I believe that as Americans, we should all be appalled by this behavior from the senior reaches of this administration," Wilson said at the National Press Club.
Wilson was referring to the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson ( search), the CIA operative whose identity was revealed in a syndicated column by Robert Novak more than two years ago.
Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, said the leak not only compromised the nation's security, but also his family's safety. While confirming but not elaborating on any threats, Wilson said his family has changed phone numbers and has increased personal security in part with the assistance of law enforcement authorities.
“It’s hard for us to frankly, right now, to think about what we’re going to have for dinner much less where we’re going to be in two or three months,” Wilson said of the changes since his wife was outed. He added that Plame Wilson continues to work for the CIA, but cannot go undercover as she is at risk because her identity is no longer secret.
The former ambassador said he believes his wife's name was revealed in an effort to discredit and punish him for his criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policies and to intimidate others inside the government critical of the president.
Days before Plame Wilson's name was published on July 14, 2003, Wilson wrote a column for The New York Times entitled "What I Didn't Find in Africa," to lay out his case against the war and hold the government accountable.
Wilson wrote the column months after he was sent by the CIA to Niger, a major exporter of uranium ( search), to investigate a report that Iraq had sought uranium to help develop nuclear weapons for former Iraq President Saddam Hussein.
Wilson said he was sent to Niger based on his expertise with the region after extensive dealings with government officials there, not because his wife had recommended him for the posting.
Wilson reported to the CIA that he had found no evidence of misdealings in Niger. But a conflicting report sourced to the United States and Britain by Italian authorities appeared in President Bush's State of the Union address. White House aides later admitted that the 16-word reference should not have been in the speech since U.S. officials were unable to prove the claim.
"It was clear that the story was spinning out of control," Wilson said of his article attempting to quash administration claims for war. He also called the mishandling of national secrets an abuse of public trust.
"It's important to understand that the compromise of national security is not something that is a partisan act. It is violation of the national security of this country," Wilson said.
But British officials say they still stand by the accuracy of the information, and last week, Italian officials denied allegations that it gave false documents to its allies suggesting Saddam was seeking uranium in Africa.
Another part of Wilson's report that he never mentions has since been proven to be accurate. Wilson reported to CIA Director George Tenet (search) that while Saddam had failed to get more uranium, he had found evidence that Iraqi agents had indeed tried. According to a statement by Tenet, Niger's prime minister in 1999 met "with an Iraqi delegation to discuss 'expanding commercial relations' between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales."
Repercussions for Outing Mrs. Wilson
After Plame Wilson's identity was revealed, the CIA asked for an inquiry into the leak, believed to have originated in the White House. As a result, last Friday, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby ( search) was indicted on five counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice.
Libby immediately resigned from his post as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. In the process of assembling a new legal team, Libby, who maintains his innocence, is to be arraigned on Thursday in U.S. District Court.
The charges don't implicate Libby as someone in the White House who knowingly and deliberately leaked a covert intelligence officer's identity, the original cause for convening the grand jury.
Instead, the charges accuse Libby of not being forthcoming with the grand jury or FBI when he was interviewed about when he first learned the identity of Plame Wilson.
On Monday, Cheney was quick to fill the open position created by Libby's resignation by naming attorney David Addington ( search) as his chief of staff and John Hannah ( search) as his national security adviser. Libby simultaneously served in both positions.
Addington has been Cheney's counsel and Hannah has been his deputy national security adviser.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan ( search) declined to comment on the 22-month probe on Monday despite persistent questions from reporters. As usual, he cited the ongoing investigation.
"For me to even respond to that question would force me to talk about an ongoing investigation and legal proceeding, and we have been directed" not to do so, McClellan said. "And we don't want to do that from this podium no matter how much I may want to talk about this issue. And I think you know that I would like to talk further about it."
While Libby's fate hangs in the balance, it is possible that another Bush administration official could be indicted in the investigation led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald ( search).
Karl Rove ( search), the president's deputy chief of staff, could be forced to resign if he is indicted for his involvement in leaking Plame Wilson's name. Wilson said he'd like to see Rove out before then.
"I don't believe Mr. Rove should be permitted to resign. I believe that this is a firing offense," he said.
On Friday, Christopher Wolf, Wilson's attorney, did not praise the indictment of Libby, instead, said in a statement of Wilson that it was a sad day for America.
"When an indictment is delivered at the front door of the White House, the Office of the President is defiled," Wolf said. "No citizen can take pleasure from that."
FOX News' Jim Angle contributed to this report .