President Bush told a Washington audience Monday that he had declassified intelligence information in 2003 to help the American public understand the basis for statements the administration had made about Iraq before the start of the war.
“I wanted people to see the truth,” Bush said in response to a question from a member of the audience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “You’re not supposed to talk about classified information and so I declassified the document. I thought it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches.”
Federal court pleadings last week disclosed that a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had testified that he released portions of the secret National Intelligence Estimate to a New York Times reporter after being authorized to do so by Cheney and Bush in July 2003.
Bush’s comments Monday were his first on the matter. The White House has not commented directly on the claim that Bush had explicitly authorized a leak to a single reporter, but officials have not denied it.
On July 18, 2003, the White House formally announced that it had declassified portions of the secret National Intelligence Estimate and then distributed the cleared portions to all reporters. The leak to the New York Times reporter occurred 10 days earlier.
Both efforts were designed to counter criticism from a former ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who had been dispatched to Africa by the CIA in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking nuclear material. The ambassador found little evidence to support those claims and, in mid-2003, publicly charged that the administration had “twisted ” intelligence information to make the case for war.
The former ambassador’s claims were unnerving to a White House already worried about an upcoming re-election and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
In addition to releasing the National Intelligence Estimate, at least two White House officials mentioned to reporters that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. White House aides mentioned Wilson’s wife as a way of undermining his credibility, suggesting his trip to Africa was part of a “junket ” arranged by his spouse.
Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, a covert operative, was subsequently identified by name in a newspaper column. Prosecutors have spent the past two years investigating the leak of Plame’s name.
It is a crime to knowingly identify a CIA undercover employee. Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, has been charged with obstruction of justice, lying to federal agents and perjury in connection with that inquiry.The court papers filed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald last week do not say that Bush or Cheney leaked Plame’s name. But the filing does describe an effort by several White House officials to “discredit, punish or seek revenge against” Wilson.
On Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, R-Pa., urged Bush and Cheney to tell ” exactly what happened.”
Iran attack report
WASHINGTON — Responding to a question from a Johns Hopkins University audience on Monday, President Bush said reports that the United States is planning a military attack on Iran were “wild speculation.”
An article in New Yorker magazine said some U.S. officials have been weighing the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons to get at deeply buried and heavily reinforced nuclear facilities.
Bush volunteered that he had read accounts suggesting the United States was preparing for an attack, but said efforts to prevent Iran’s nuclear program from being used for production of atomic weapons “doesn’t mean force, necessarily.”
“In this case, it means diplomacy,” he said.
But White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in dismissing the news reports, seemed to acknowledge that the Pentagon has been at least laying plans for an attack.
“Those who are seeking to draw broad conclusions based on normal military contingency planning are misinformed or not knowledgeable about the administration’s thinking,” McClellan told reporters.
Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s supreme National Security Council, also dismissed what he termed U.S. “bullying,” calling reports of possible military action “psychological warfare. If the U.S. commits such a mistake, it would receive a convenient answer,” Larijani said, according to a report by the state news agency IRNA.
Los Angeles Times