Robert Novak wrote that some "senior administration officials" told him that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. It has been written that the information about his wife was provided by these administration officials in order to smear Wilson, an anti-war media commentator with some impressive foreign service credentials, who was sent to Niger to investigate possible uranium sales to Iraq. The information about Wilson's wife was buried in a paragraph deep in Novak's article.
A Nation article then picks up on the fact that this is appears to be a major smear and if Wilson's wife was an undercover operative then the the "senior administration officials" did something seriously illegal - expose an undercover CIA operative. The "important" blogs will blog this story to death.
I am looking forward to some clarifications about this whole thing. I was surprised to see the serious accusations based on Novak's article come raining hard and fast down on blogdom. Now that the nasty accusations of political payback and worse have been made and so many people are hanging out there with monumental conspiracy accusations I hope whether Plame is an undercover agent who has been compromised will be either authoritatively confirmed or denied quickly.
It seems Novak was trying to use that Plame was a CIA employee to explain why the CIA went to her to recruit Wilson for the controversial trip to Niger. Perhaps Novak had simply asked the administration officials in the CIA why and how Wilson was selected to go to Niger (because that was what the article was about *) and they told him that they had determined that Wilson was the right guy to go that since his wife worked for the CIA and they asked her to ask him to go. If Plame is not an undercover employee what is the harm here? Korn in his article in the Nation about Novak's article points out that Wilson says, "I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife." This makes it sound mysterious except when you think about the "this" he is refering to in that 2nd sentence. A conspiracy buff could say he is covering up for his wife. It sounds to me as if he is trying to get the topic of conversation back to the uranium purchases and away from him or his wife because they aren't story. Just One Moment discusses this as well here.
If the government officials that gave Novak the information about Plame were CIA employees as the story seems to say, they outted their own employee if, of course, she was an undercover employee to begin with. The CIA outting one of their own sounds somewhat implausible.
* The story begins with this:
"The CIA's decision to send retired diplomat Joseph C. Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate possible Iraqi purchases of uranium was made routinely at a low level without Director George Tenet's knowledge. "