WASHINGTON -- Sixteen former CIA and military intelligence officials yesterday urged President Bush to suspend the security clearance of his top political adviser, Karl Rove, following revelations that he played a role in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.
''We are asking that you immediately suspend the clearances of all White House personnel who spoke to reporters about [Wilson's] affiliation with the CIA. They have mishandled classified information and no longer deserve the level of trust required to have access to this nation's secrets," the former officials, some of whom were covert operatives, wrote to Bush.
Rove, who spoke to at least two journalists about the issue, hasn't been charged with wrongdoing in the case, but is believed to still be under investigation.
Last month, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on charges of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice.
The White House declined to comment on the letter yesterday evening, saying it involves an ongoing legal matter. Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, was asked last week about Rove's security clearance. ''I'm just not going to talk about an ongoing investigation," McClellan said then.
Many of the former officials who signed the letter to Bush are frequent critics of his administration's handling of intelligence. At least three were Wilson's classmates in training at the CIA.
They also urged Bush to make clear that he wouldn't pardon anyone who is convicted in the outing of Wilson. She apparently was targeted because her husband, retired ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the administration's justification for going to war in Iraq.
''If you take these steps you will be sending a clear message that your first priority is the nation's security, rather than your aides' well-being," they wrote.
Rove, believed to be identified as ''Official A," in the Libby indictment, spoke with columnist Robert Novak in July 2003 about the fact that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee. Novak revealed Plame Wilson's identity in a July 14, 2003, column.
Earlier this month, four Democratic congressmen wrote to the White House about Rove's clearance. They noted that a presidential order on awarding security clearances states that disqualifications could include ''questionable judgment" and ''allegations or admissions of criminal conduct, regardless of whether the person was formally charged."