WASHINGTON -- A State Department memo that has caught the attention of prosecutors describes a CIA officer's role in sending her husband to Africa and disputes administration contentions that Iraq was shopping for uranium, a retired department official said yesterday.
The classified memo was sent to Air Force One just after former US ambassador Joseph Wilson went public with his assertions that the Bush administration overstated the evidence that Iraq was interested in obtaining uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.
The memo has become a key piece of evidence in the CIA leak investigation because it could have been the way someone in the White House learned -- and then leaked -- the information that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and played a role in sending him on the mission.
The document was prepared in June 2003 at the direction of Carl W. Ford Jr., then head of the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research, for Marc Grossman, the retired official said. Grossman was the undersecretary of state who was in charge of the department while Secretary Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, were traveling.
''It wasn't a Wilson-Wilson wife memo," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still underway. ''It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our disagreement" with the White House.
Armitage called Ford after Wilson's op-ed piece in The New York Times and his TV appearance on July 6, 2003, in which he challenged the White House's contention that Iraq had purchased uranium yellowcake from Niger.
Armitage asked that Powell, who was traveling to Africa with Bush, be given an account of the Wilson trip, the former official said. The original June 2003 memo was readdressed to Powell and was sent to Powell on Air Force One the next day.
The memo said Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and suggested her husband go to Niger because he had contacts there and had served as an American diplomat in Africa; however, the official said the memo did not say she worked undercover for the spy agency nor did it identify her as Valerie Plame.