Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tinfoil Hats! Get Your Tinfoil Hats Here!
The executive order which Cheney's office relies upon was signed on March 25, 2003. Prior to 2003 the Vice President's office allowed the Information Security Oversight Office to conduct routine audits of classified material but since 2003 has stopped cooperating with that oversight.
The invasion of Iraq started on March 20, 2003. I find the timing here remarkable. Within a week of the invasion of Iraq the President signs an executive order which the Vice President claims exempts him from oversight regarding classified materials, which materials would be crucial in any investigation of the lead up to the war.
Then, within six months of the invasion and executive order regarding classified materials, Valerie Plames status as a CIA employee was leaked to the press. This disclosure was part of a concerted effort to defend the administration from accusations that they twisted intelligence in order to lead the nation to war. That effort to defend the White House from those accusations was led by the Vice President's office and involved more leaking of classified material...
At Cheney's request President Bush declassified selective portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's pre war WMD capabilities, and Iraq's connections with Al Qaeda so that Scooter Libby could then leak those findings to the press. The declassification came without the knowledge of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, or any other officials who would normally be part of the process of declassification. Libby understood that only three people knew about the selective NIE declassification, Bush, Cheney and himself. This is one of the weirdest cases of handling of state secrets, that can be imagined. It seems that simply because the President decided that classified material was politically expedient to publicize that he allowed it to be leaked, in effect becoming the highest level leaker possible.
Indeed Libby held the understanding that he could disclose any classified information he thought would defend the administrations case, Cheney's blessing. This behavior tends to underscore the need for minimal oversight on classified material in Cheney's office, and the absolute care free nature of that office when they started operating as if there would be no oversight going forward.
Could this be the reason that Fitzgerald did not pursue charges based upon the leaking of Plame's name? According to this line of logic, the President changes the status of the Vice President to allow him the same classification authorities as the President with the March 2003 order. So if Plame's name is leaked at the Vice Presidents direction, it can not be a crime because Cheney suddenly has commander in chief powers to declassify. Simply by authorizing the leak Cheney makes it a non crime.
Fitzgerald then can only prosecute if someone is not fully truthful during the investigation. Libby was convinced that if he were to tell the truth the Vice President would be tarnished and Libby would lose his job, so he lied repeatedly in the early investigation.
I think the Plame outing casts a long shadow on the current controversy over Cheney's perception of his authority under the Presidents March/03 executive order. The entire affair was due to careless handling of classified information coupled with politically motivated revenge. With Cheney's office convinced they were free from even minimal oversight it is easy to see how we have arrived at this stage of the game.
Stinks like yesterday's fish if you ask me.
But to address the exemption from oversight: Regardless of the arguments made by the executive that they should be exempt, there are still procedures for declassifying information that were not followed by Cheney's office, and failure to follow those procedures is a federal felony. At the very least Fitzgerald could have gone after the administration on those grounds.
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