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Miller recounts blame game over Iraq war

WASHINGTON -- A New York Times reporter's accounts of her private conversations with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff capture a behind-the-scenes blame game between the White House and the CIA over the war in Iraq.

Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, complained that the CIA and other agencies were trying to shift responsibility to the White House over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction after the US-led invasion, reporter Judith Miller wrote in a first-person story in yesterday's editions.

Miller recounted her recent grand jury testimony, describing her conversations with Libby about Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson and his wife, covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Plame's identity was leaked to reporters in an apparent effort to undercut the credibility of her husband.

Wilson, a former US ambassador, contended that the administration had manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

Miller revealed that Libby referred to Wilson's wife in three conversations, though not by name.

''I recall that Mr. Libby was displeased with what he described as `selective leaking' by the C.I.A.," Miller wrote.

''He told me that the agency was engaged in a 'hedging strategy' to protect itself in case no weapons were found in Iraq."

Amid the ultimately futile hunt for the banned weapons, Libby told Miller that the CIA's strategy was, ''If we find it, fine, if not, we hedged," the reporter recounted.

Libby's ''frustration and anger" spilled over into their conversations as he described leaking by the CIA as part of a ''perverted war" over the war in Iraq, Miller wrote.

Libby characterized intelligence agencies' prewar assessments as unequivocal on the question of whether Iraq had the deadly weapons, she said.

The White House's primary justification for invading Iraq and toppling President Saddam Hussein had been the assertion that he had such weapons; US intelligence agencies concluded that was so.

Subsequent inquiries have shown there was dissent among those agencies before the war over some of the data supporting the conclusions.

During the period when Libby was complaining to Miller about CIA leaks, Libby had been doing some leaking of his own to Miller about Wilson and Plame.

Libby had persuaded the reporter to refer to him for a prospective story as a ''former Hill staffer."

It was a switch from their earlier understanding that Libby should be referred to as a senior administration official.

''I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill," Miller said. ''I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson."

Libby ''proceeded through a lengthy and sharp critique of Mr. Wilson and what Mr. Libby viewed as the C.I.A.'s backpedaling on the intelligence leading to war," Miller said in describing a two-hour breakfast with Libby at a hotel near the White House in July 2003.

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