Monday, April 10, 2006


President Bush finds himself in yet another quandary.

The president has repeatedly stated his opposition to the leak of a CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

In September 2003, Bush said, "I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take appropriate action." Specifically, Bush said he'd fire anyone who was found to have leaked the information.

But this week, through the release of court papers, it was revealed that Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, told investigators that the president himself authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq.

Before his indictment, Libby told a grand jury investigating the CIA leak that Cheney told him to pass on the information, and that Bush authorized the disclosure. That authorization led to the July 8, 2003, conversation between Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller. And according to Miller's grand jury testimony, it was during that conversation that Libby told her about Valerie Plame's CIA status.

Interestingly, the White House has not challenged the statements in the court documents, which state that Libby's passing of information to Miller "occurred only after the vice president advised defendant that the president specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the National Intelligence Estimate." The filing did not specify the "certain information."

Though the release didn't indicate whether Bush or Cheney specifically authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity, the disclosure means that the president and the vice president used Libby to secretly provide information to reporters about prewar intelligence on Iraq. And one way or another, the president authorized the leak that led to this whole mess in the first place.

Libby's testimony also puts the president and the vice president in the awkward position of authorizing leaks -- a practice both men have claimed to vehemently detest. In fact, the administration has initiated criminal investigations to hunt down leakers, such as who leaked information about the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by Bush. And the president has chastised the Congress about leaks in the past. The White House prides itself on being in lock-step, and for being lock-lipped in its efforts to control the flow of information.

What's critical here is that President Bush has been caught contradicting himself by repeatedly railing against leaks of classified information, while it's now known he approved the release of classified information in an effort to bolster the case for war in Iraq. This illustrates the double standard that exists in the White House; leaks that benefit the President are acceptable, while those that don't are entirely unacceptable.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan argues that the president staunchly opposes releasing classified information that could affect U.S. security. And he pointed out that the president reserves the right to declassify material at will.

However, the President does not have the authority to out a clandestine intelligence operative. Nor does anyone else. The 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act makes it a federal offense to intentionally reveal a covert operative's identity. And Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation may uncover other crimes as well, such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

The outing of Plame was highly unscrupulous, irresponsible and apparently vindictive.

The first President Bush, a former head of the CIA, once described anyone who unmasked an undercover agent as "the most insidious of traitors." That seems to be a most apt description.

The president could have headed off this controversy two years ago if he'd just come clean about his involvement. If he believes that he had the authority to declassify intelligence at will, then why didn't he speak up sooner? What was he hiding? Why did he wait for the information to released in court testimony?

Hopefully the nation will soon have answers to those questions. The president clearly owes the country an explanation. His credibility, or what's left of it, is on the line here.

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