Iraq Intelligence

Q&A on Bush's decision to leak intelligence data, 4/10/06

WASHINGTON—Here are some questions and answers about the latest developments in the controversy over President Bush's decision to leak parts of the major prewar U.S. intelligence assessment of Iraq's alleged illegal weapons programs.

Q. How did the latest chapter in the controversy begin?

A. It erupted with the filing of a brief in U.S. federal court on Wednesday by Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor pursuing perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby was indicted on Oct. 28, 2005, on five counts of lying to the FBI, obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury that was investigating who disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer.

Plame's identity was leaked to journalists after her husband, retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused Bush of misleading the nation in his January 2003 State of the Union address by accusing Iraq of trying to buy uranium ore from the African nation of Niger. Some intelligence officials had urged the White House not to use the allegation, because the evidence was weak, while others said it was OK to use.

The charge turned out to be based on crudely forged documents, and the Bush administration has since acknowledged that it shouldn't have been made.

Q. What does the leak of the CIA agent's name have to do with the leak that Libby claims he was authorized by the president to make?

Bush has denounced the leak that revealed Plame's name and that she was an undercover CIA officer, and the identity of that leaker has never been revealed. Libby leaked information contending that Iraq was trying to procure uranium in Africa to counter Wilson's charge that the administration was exaggerating the intelligence on this very point. Wilson visited Niger at the CIA's request and said he found no evidence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger.

Q. What was significant about Fitzgerald's latest federal court filing?

A. Fitzgerald's 39-page brief indicates that Bush and Cheney authorized the selected leaks of classified information to make their case for invading Iraq.

Fitzgerald disclosed that Libby told the grand jury that Bush and Cheney authorized him to leak the key conclusions of the top-secret prewar U.S. intelligence assessment to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003.

Libby was quoted in Fitzgerald's filing as saying the White House viewed the key judgments of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate as being "pretty definitive" in refuting Wilson's charges that Bush had misrepresented the intelligence on Iraq's alleged pursuit of uranium in Niger.

Q. Is that correct?

A. No. The NIE's key judgments, made public by the White House days after they were leaked to Miller, said nothing about the alleged Niger uranium deal.

The only reference to Iraq's alleged bid to buy uranium is buried in the still-classified body of the NIE, and the State Department's intelligence bureau disputed the claim, according to a July 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Shortly before the 2003 invasion, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency determined the uranium allegation was based on crudely forged documents, and the CIA concurred. The Bush administration has acknowledged that the claim shouldn't have been made.

Bush has condemned leaks of classified information about secret U.S. prisons abroad and a wiretap program instituted without court approval and has called for leakers to be prosecuted.

Criminal investigations are under way into the leaks that the CIA has allegedly held accused terrorists in the secret prisons overseas and that Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.

Q. What does the White House say about Libby's revelation?

A. Bush confirmed on Monday that he authorized the release of the NIE's key judgments to counter charges that he manipulated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

"I wanted people to see what some of those statements were based on. I wanted people to see the truth," he told a questioner after a speech in Washington.

The release of the key judgments, however, raised further questions about Bush's case for war. The judgments showed that the State Department's intelligence bureau disputed a charge that Iraq had imported aluminum tubes for its nuclear program. In another dissent, the Air Force refused to endorse an allegation that Iraq could use unmanned aircraft to attack its neighbors, U.S. forces or the U.S. homeland with biological or chemical weapons.

Nevertheless, Bush and top aides made those allegations part of their case against Iraq. The IAEA later concluded that the tubes were for ground-to-ground rockets.

Q. Does Bush have the legal authority to declassify documents or to authorize others to do that?

A. Yes. Bush and Cheney have the authority to declassify secret information, so the release of the NIE's key judgments was legal.