The Wilson War Continues

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The Justice Department has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether a Bush Administration official illegally revealed the identity of a CIA employee whose husband criticized the Administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq, TIME has learned. The probe will determine whether to order a full-fledged FBI investigation.

The CIA triggered the Justice inquiry with a memo saying that there may have been an unauthorized disclosure about the wife of Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador. Columnist Robert Novak wrote in July that Wilson's wife was a CIA "operative" who suggested that he be sent to Niger to investigate intelligence that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy a large volume of Niger's yellowcake uranium to build a nuclear weapon.

Wilson found no evidence that Saddam was seeking yellowcake — the International Atomic Energy Agency later determined this was probably untrue — but the CIA and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice failed to fully vet the intelligence and President Bush used it in his State of the Union Address this year. After Wilson wrote an op-ed over the summer criticizing the Administration's handling of the intelligence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction progam, Novak wrote that "two administration officials" told him Wilson's wife had suggested sending him to Niger to investigate.

The CIA is required to notify Justice if it believes there may have been an unauthorized disclosure. The notification was first reported Friday by MSNBC. The White House has denied being a source of any story about Wilson's wife.

CIA and Justice spokespersons declined comment, but an Administration official told TIME that the Justice is conducting a preliminary inquiry to "determine whether or not there should be an investigation" by the FBI.

Wilson would not discuss his wife and said he knew nothing about any investigation. But, he said, "It was clear to me from the beginning that this was really done as a signal to others who might step forward, to criticize the Administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq.