Thursday, February 23, 2006

Did the Bush administration “authorize” the leak of classified information to Bob Woodward? And did those leaks damage national security?

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”

Later in the same letter, Rockefeller said: “Given the Administration’s continuing abuse of intelligence information for political purposes, its criticism of leaks is extraordinarily hypocritical. Preventing damage to intelligence sources and methods from media leaks will not be possible until the highest level of the Administration cease to disclose classified information on a selective basis for political purposes.”

Exhibit A for Rockefeller: Woodward’s book “Bush at War".

Here is what Rockefeller had to say:

In his 2002 book Bush at War, Bob Woodward described almost unfettered access to classified material of the most sensitive nature. According to his account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison relationships. If it no wonder, as Director Goss wrote, “because of the number of recent news reports discussing our relationships with other intelligence services, some of these partners have even informed the C.I.A. that they are reconsidering their participation of some of our most important antiterrorism ventures.”

I wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking to determine what steps were being taken to address the appalling disclosures contained in Bush at War. The only response I received was to indicate that the leaks had been authorized by the Administration. The CIA has still not responded to a follow-up letter I sent a year and half ago on September 1, 2004, trying to pin down which officials were authorized to meet with Mr. Woodward and by whom, and what intelligence information was conveyed during these authorized exchanges.

Were leaks of classified information “authorized” to Woodward? Rockefeller's letter says exactly that. And among other things, it is well known and has been reported long ago that one of Woodward’s sources for both of his books about the Bush presidency was then-VicePresidential chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who is portrayed in quite a flattering manner in both.

Rockefeller also said alleged in his letter that the President’s directing of administration officials to co-operate with the administration-friendly Woodward was only one example of such “authorized leaks”.

Rockefeller said elsewhere in his letter:

On February 9th, the National Journal reported that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby told a grand jury that he was `authorized’ by Vice President Cheney and other White House superiors to disclose classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate to the press to defend the Administration’s use of pre-war intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq...
This blatant abuse of intelligence information for political purposes is inexcusable, but all to common. Throughout this period leading up to the Iraq war the Administration selectively declassified or leaked information related to Iraq’s acquisition of aluminum tubes, the alleged purchase of uranium, the non-existent operational connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and numerous other issues.”

The White House is declining tonight to comment on Rockefeller's letter, as is Woodward. (If either of them does at some point have something to say, either to me, or elsewhere, I will update this post accordingly.)

Did the leaks to Woodward damage national security? Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, wrote in his book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror:

“After reading Mr. Woodward’s Bush at War, it seems to me that the U.S. officials who either approved or participated in passing the information—in documents and via interviews—that is the heart of Mr. Woodward’s book gave an untold measure of aid and comfort to the enemy.”

What was not known by Scheuer at the time was that officials on the “seventh floor” of the CIA were literally ordered by then-CIA director George Tenet to co-operate with Woodward’s project because President Bush personally asked that it be done. More than one CIA official co-operated with Woodward against their best judgment, and only because they thought it was something the President had wanted done or ordered.

One former senior administration official explained to me: “This was something that the White House wanted done because they considered it good public relations. If there was real damage to national security—if there were leaks that possibly exposed sources and methods, it was not done in this instance for the public good or to expose Watergate type wrongdoing. This was done for presidential image-making and a commercial enterprise—Woodward’s book.”

Woodward himself perhaps lends credence to that possibility.

On page 243 of his book “Plan of Attack”, Woodward wrote:

[O]n December 18, my wife, Elsa Walsh, and I attended a huge White House Christmas party for the media hosted by the president and his wife. The Bushes stood for hours in a receiving line as a photographer snapped pictures with the first couple.

When we reached the front of the line, the president remarked that my book Bush at War was selling well. “Top of the charts,” he said, and asked, “Are you planning to do another book?” He then stretched out his arms and indicated with his body language that there might be a story there, that it should be done.

Without any irony, Woodward didn’t seem to understand how far he had come from meeting Mark Felt in the dead of night in a parking garage. (For a blogger who does not link much, or like to, in that great blogger tradition, I highly recommend that last link.)

Did Woodward disappoint Bush with his next book? This blog likes to speak no opinions. Our saying is: We blog, you decide.

One can skip a read of the book, and go simply to the index, in making their own judgments:

Here are some entries:

Bush, George W.: absence of doubt in, 139-40, 420

Bipartisan solidarity of, 189, 200.

Importance of showing resolve and, 81, 116, 152, 320-21, 406, 418-19, 437

legacy of, 90, 165

morality of, 86-132, 272, 313-14

on freedom, 88-89, 93, 152, 258, 276, 405, 424, 428

optimism of, 91, 93, 313-14

patience of, 162-63, 165, 271

as a strong leader, 91, 430