I don't know what I think about Valerie. I do know what I think of the leadership of a nominal Republican Administration that so dropped the ball that they brought the Democrats back in force. mmm, mmmm, mm.With a phalanx of cameras awaiting her entrance, Valerie Wilson stepped out of the shadows of the spy world and into the spotlight. Here is how the left leaning San Fransisco Chronicle sees it.
For nearly four years, Wilson had been a silent figure at the center of one of Washington's most consuming scandals. Her unmasking as a CIA officer became a case study of the brutal politics of the Iraq war and launched a criminal probe that led to the conviction of a top White House official.
On Friday, Wilson finally offered her inside account, testifying before a congressional committee that she felt like she had been "hit in the gut" when her once-secret identity appeared in the media, and accusing the Bush administration of "recklessly" blowing her cover.
She answered lingering questions about her husband's role in investigating one of the Bush administration's most alarming pre-war claims about Iraq and provided new details on the maneuvering between the White House and the CIA in the run-up to the war.
But spectacle often trumped specifics. When Wilson emerged from a doorway at the corner of the committee chambers, dozens of camera lenses swung in unison to catch her entrance.
At one point, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., alluded to the flashbulb atmosphere as well as the oddity of publicly questioning a woman who spent the bulk of her career hiding her identity.
"I've never questioned a spy before," Westmoreland said.
"I've never testified under oath before," Wilson shot back.
In her opening statement, Wilson made clear she has been waiting for a chance to confront critics. At one point, she said her identity was not "common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit," as some have whispered in Washington in an attempt to discount the damage of the disclosure of her identity.
She said she has been on secret foreign missions within the past five years and was undercover when her name appeared in a newspaper column in 2003.
Wilson also came prepared to settle scores with the Bush administration, which carried out a campaign to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, after he surfaced as a potent critic of the case for war in Iraq.
"We in the CIA always know we might be exposed by foreign enemies," she said. "It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover."
Friday's hearing, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was ostensibly designed to assist lawmakers in drafting improved procedures for safeguarding classified information. But the unacknowledged purpose was to give a platform to someone who had been a mystery figure in a scandal bearing her name.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the committee, said the panel had negotiated ground rules for the hearing with the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information, including details of Valerie Wilson's background. As a result, Wilson, 43, offered only a general outline of her 20-year career at the agency, saying she was working in the counterproliferation division of the agency -- a branch devoted to tracking the global spread of illicit weapons -- when her identity was exposed.
But for the first time, she offered her version of the chronology leading up to that breach.
In early 2002, Wilson said, she was approached by "a young junior officer" who was "very upset" after getting a phone call from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney asking about a report that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger.
Wilson characterized the call as part of a broader campaign by Cheney to pressure the CIA, a charge that Cheney, as well as senior CIA officials who were present at the agency at the time, have denied.
Bush administration officials later alleged that Wilson had proposed sending her husband to Niger to investigate, casting the trip as a boondoggle. But Wilson, who is also known by her maiden name, Plame, insisted that was not the case.
"No. I did not recommend him, I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved," she said. Wilson said the idea was proposed by another officer in her division.
"I was somewhat ambivalent at the time," she said. "We had 2-year-old twins at home, and all I could envision was me by myself at bedtime with a couple of 2-year-olds. So I wasn't overjoyed with this idea."
Joseph Wilson traveled to Niger and returned to file a report with the CIA saying he had found no evidence backing up the uranium claim. Nevertheless, the allegation was included in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.
After the U.S. invasion, when it became evident that Iraq had no banned weapons, Joseph Wilson came forward publicly to accuse the White House of twisting the pre-war intelligence, prompting a White House campaign to discredit him.
Valerie Wilson said she was at home when she learned her name had been published in a column by Robert Novak. She said her husband threw a copy of the newspaper on the bed and said, "He did it," meaning Novak had printed her name.
"I felt like I had been hit in the gut," she said.
Wilson also said she immediately recognized -- and was subsequently informed by a superior at the agency -- that her clandestine career was over.
Wilson was able to testify in part because the criminal investigation of the leak ended earlier this month, when Lewis "Scooter" Libby, formerly Cheney's chief of staff, was convicted on four felony counts of lying to investigators. Neither Libby nor any other government official has been charged with leaking Wilson's identity.
Even so, Waxman said CIA Director Michael Hayden had informed the committee that at the time Wilson's identity was exposed, she was an undercover officer, and any disclosure of her employment status with the agency was prohibited by executive order.