Washington: The leak of information about an undercover CIA employee that provoked a special prosecutor's investigation of senior White House officials came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, according to a former Armitage colleague.
Armitage told newspaper columnist Robert D. Novak in the summer of 2003 that Valerie Plame, the wife of a prominent critic of the Iraq war, worked for the CIA, the colleague said.
In October of that year, Armitage admitted to senior State Department officials that he had made the remark, which was based on a classified report he had read.
Novak collected what he considered to be a confirming comment from White House political strategist Karl Rove, then wrote a column in July 2003 that cited Plame's CIA employment as a reason to question the credentials of the critic, former US ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
In 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to Niger to determine whether Iraq was seeking nuclear material there. He subsequently accused the White House of distorting intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Novak's column set off a chain of events that culminated in the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald and a grand jury's indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for lying to investigators about his own conversations with reporters regarding Plame.
Fitzgerald has never commented on Armitage's role and has not brought charges against him.
Armitage's role in the case which he confirmed to the FBI in 2003 and later described to Fitzgerald and to the grand jury, his colleague said Monday raises questions about when the White House became aware of the origins of Novak's story.
President Bush said as late as 2005 that he was eager to learn all the facts behind the leak.
The case's origin in a conversation between Novak and Armitage is one of Washington's worst-kept secrets. Neither Novak nor Armitage has confirmed it, however, leaving a measure of uncertainty until now.