Security meltdown at the Bush White House?


Mark Follman
January 27, 2004 6:25AM (UTC)

While the U.S. Department of Justice continues its criminal investigation into the White House exposure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, top members of Congress are now looking to broaden the probe. Senior White House officials anonymously leaked Plame's identity to the media last July in an apparent act of political retaliation after Plame's husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, laid bare the Bush administration's flagrant misuse of intelligence to promote the war on Iraq -- yet many analysts agree it will be difficult, for technical reasons, to prove that the leak was criminal. On Monday, a half dozen senior Democrats from the Senate and House, including Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., sent a formal inquiry to the General Accounting Office at the White House calling for an investigation into the Bush team's administrative handling of the security breach. Disclosing highly sensitive classified information is obviously a big no-no in the first place, but once it became clear that such a leak had indeed occurred, the White House had an obligation under Executive Order 12958, the legislators write, to "take appropriate and prompt corrective action."

They aren't convinced the Bush team did its required duty. The letter points out that in the weeks immediately following the disclosure of Plame's role by conservative columnist Robert Novak, the Bush White House was "dismissive" about pursuing the matter, and emphasized "it was difficult to look into reports of sources that were not named specifically." (Would that be the same as saying, "it's difficult for the President to call his team of advisers into his office and ask who, specifically, leaked the classified information?") The legislators also note Executive Order 12958, which was instituted by President Clinton in 1995, requires that White House personnel only get classified information on a "need to know" basis. If indeed top Bush adviser Karl Rove knew of Plame's undercover role, as several major news outlets have speculated, the legislators say Rove likely didn't qualify to have that information in the first place -- whether he was behind the leak or not.

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With the DOJ investigation quietly crawling along and unlikely to result in an indictment, the Democratic leadership may be looking to make an end-run with the inquiry; they may also be responding to mounting pressure from the intelligence community over the Plame affair. But while partisanship is clearly part of the fight, the six legislators turn to a prominent Republican to reiterate just how serious such a leak is: "'We need... more protection for our intelligence sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country.'" Those words were spoken during an April 1999 dedication speech at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in Washington -- by the current president's father.


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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