Digby describes her career in the five years before she was actively outed by "at least two senior White House officials who called a number of reporters before they got Novak to expose her." Novak, as we now know, already knew she worked at the CIA, something he learned from Richard Armitrage in an idiotic release of classified information as mere gossip. But it was operatives from the White House who pushed as many reporters as they could find to expose her in print. Why?
From The Nation via Digby:
"In the spring of 2002 Dick Cheney made one of his periodic trips to CIA headquarters. Officers and analysts were summoned to brief him on Iraq. Paramilitary specialists updated the Vice President on an extensive covert action program in motion that was designed to pave the way to a US invasion. Cheney questioned analysts about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. How could they be used against US troops? Which Iraqi units had chemical and biological weapons? He was not seeking information on whether Saddam posed a threat because he possessed such weapons. His queries, according to a CIA officer at the briefing, were pegged to the assumptions that Iraq had these weapons and would be invaded--as if a decision had been made.EmptyWheel at the Next Hurrah adds a great deal to the story.
Though Cheney was already looking toward war, the officers of the agency's Joint Task Force on Iraq--part of the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations--were frantically toiling away in the basement, mounting espionage operations to gather information on the WMD programs Iraq might have. The JTFI was trying to find evidence that would back up the White House's assertion that Iraq was a WMD danger. Its chief of operations was a career undercover officer named Valerie Wilson. [Snip]
In July 2003--four months after the invasion of Iraq--Wilson would be outed as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction" in a column by conservative journalist Robert Novak, who would cite two "senior administration officials" as his sources. (As Hubris discloses, one was Richard Armitage, the number-two at the State Department; Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, was the other. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, also talked to two reporters about her.) Novak revealed her CIA identity--using her maiden name, Valerie Plame--in the midst of the controversy ignited by former ambassador Joseph Wilson, her husband, who had written a New York Times op-ed accusing the Bush Administration of having "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."[Snip]Valerie Wilson was no analyst or paper-pusher. She was an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush Administration. Armitage, Rove and Libby had revealed information about a CIA officer who had searched for proof of the President's case. In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled.[Snip]}
Valerie Plame was recruited into the CIA in 1985, straight out of Pennsylvania State University. ... In the early 1990s, she became what's known as a nonofficial cover officer. NOCs are the most clandestine of the CIA's frontline officers. They do not pretend to work for the US government; they do not have the protection of diplomatic immunity. They might claim to be a businessperson. She told people she was with an energy firm. Her main mission remained the same: to gather agents for the CIA.
In 1997 she returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division. (About this time, she moved in with Joseph Wilson; they later married.) She was eventually given a choice: North Korea or Iraq. She selected the latter. Come the spring of 2001, she was in the CPD's modest Iraq branch. But that summer--before 9/11--word came down from the brass: We're ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.
There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists--in America and abroad--looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi émigrés to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them. Often it would take a JTFI officer only a few minutes to conclude someone was pulling a con. Yet every lead had to be checked.
The JTFI found nothing. The few scientists it managed to reach insisted Saddam had no WMD programs. Task force officers sent reports detailing the denials into the CIA bureaucracy. The defectors were duds--fabricators and embellishers. (JTFI officials came to suspect that some had been sent their way by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that desired a US invasion of Iraq.) The results were frustrating for the officers.
When the Novak column ran, Valerie Wilson was in the process of changing her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, as she prepared for a new job in personnel management. Her aim, she told colleagues, was to put in time as an administrator--to rise up a notch or two--and then return to secret operations. But with her cover blown, she could never be undercover again. Moreover, she would now be pulled into the partisan warfare of Washington. As a CIA employee still sworn to secrecy, she wasn't able to explain publicly that she had spent nearly two years searching for evidence to support the Administration's justification for war and had come up empty."
It is well known that Dich Cheney and Don Rumsfeld immensely dislike the CIA. Why is that? It's because the CIA reports what they actually find, not what the rabid rightwingers need to be reported to support their fevered fear of enemy threat. The Right-wingers knew that the CIA was underreporting the military buildup in the USSR, and they failed to report that the USSR was likely to collapse. After that, the facts were that even the CIA was overreporting the Soviet capabilities.
Cheney knew that Saddam had WMD, but the CIA kept saying they couldn't find them. Guess what? The CIA was right, Cheney was wrong, and the guy proven wrong never likes the people who disagreed with him.
As a speculation, think about when the White House Senior Operatives began shopping the story that Valarie Wilson was a CIA agent to the reporters. Earlier reports say that at least six other reporters were told, but they did not publish it. Why did Novak?
Here's my speculation. Novak already knew who Valerie Wilson was, while he had not been told by Armitrage that she was covert. (He knew, though, or should have known.) So when the White House started pushing the story he felt that it was safe to report it, since he was backed by Cheney.
But the White House operatives were operating on emotion, not reason and analysis. What they did was treason. They may give it a figleaf, but it was still treason.
Hubris: The inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War