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Ex-State Department official says he leaked agent's ID

Revealing name of CIA employee was a `mistake'

WASHINGTON -- The former number two State Department official said yesterday he inadvertently disclosed the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson in conversations with two reporters in 2003.

Confirming he was the source of a leak that triggered a federal investigation, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he never intended to reveal Plame Wilson's identity. He apologized for his conversations with syndicated columnist Robert Novak and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

For almost three years, an investigation led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has tried to determine whether Bush administration officials intentionally revealed Plame Wilson's identity as a covert operative to punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for criticizing the Bush administration's march to war with Iraq.

``I made a terrible mistake, not maliciously, but I made a terrible mistake," Armitage said in a telephone interview from his home last night.

He said he did not realize Plame Wilson's job was covert.

Armitage's admission suggested the leak did not originate at the White House as retribution for Wilson's comments about the Iraq war. Wilson, a former ambassador, discounted reports that Saddam Hussein, then leader in Iraq, had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger to make a nuclear weapon -- claims that wound up in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address.

He said he was not a part of a conspiracy to reveal Plame Wilson's identity and did not know if one existed.

He described his June 2003 conversation with Woodward as an afterthought at the end of a lengthy interview. ``He said, `Hey, what's the deal with Wilson?' and I said, `I think his wife works out there,' " Armitage recalled.

He described a more direct conversation with Novak, who was the first to report on the issue: ``He said to me, `Why did the CIA send Ambassador Wilson to Niger?' I said, as I remember, `I don't know, but his wife works out there.' "

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