In reporting on the disclosure that President Bush authorized a leak of classified information to the press in 2003, The Wall Street Journal ignored the apparent contradiction between the president's actions and his oft-stated aversion to leaks of classified information.
In reporting on the disclosure that President Bush authorized a leak of classified information to the press in 2003, The Wall Street Journal ignored the apparent contradiction between the president's actions and his oft-stated aversion to leaks of classified information. An April 7 article (subscription required) by Journal reporter Anne Marie Squeo made no mention of the fact that Bush and his aides, since the start of his presidency, have repeatedly denounced such leaks as "very damaging," "shameful," and a "very serious matter." Further, in her coverage of the disclosure, CNN's Elaine Quijano simply reported as fact a distinction asserted by a White House aide between Bush's alleged authorization of the release of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and the leaks that the president has previously criticized -- specifically those having to do with "active" and "ongoing" operations such as the administration's secret warrantless domestic surveillance program. But Quijano failed to note that the president's criticism of leaks has not been limited to such instances.
On April 6, New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein disclosed that former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified before the grand jury in the CIA leak case that Bush himself had authorized the release of classified intelligence information to a New York Times reporter in 2003. The revelation was drawn from court filings submitted by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor in charge of the leak case who secured the October 2005 indictment of Libby on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to the FBI. The court papers detail Libby's testimony before a federal grand jury, in which he asserted that Vice President Dick Cheney had told him to pass on key portions of the NIE to reporters. According to Libby, Cheney assured him that the president had authorized the disclosure.
Bush's alleged actions appear starkly inconsistent with numerous previous statements made by him and senior aides deploring leaks of classified information:
- "We can't have leaks of classified information. It's not in our nation's interest." [Bush, referring to leaks about preparations for war with Afghanistan, 11/9/01]
- "I think the real damage that can get done in something like this, when somebody selectively leaks a misleading piece of information without providing all relevant information, is it sends a terrible signal at a time when we should be a united nation. And that's the damage done by selective leaks of classified information that are not representative of a full story and a full picture." [Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, referring to leaks regarding the warnings of impending terrorist attacks received by the Bush administration prior to 9-11, 5/17/02]
- "The president has been -- I spoke for him earlier today -- the president believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter." [White House press secretary Scott McClellan, referring to the CIA leak case, 9/29/03]
- "Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." [Bush, referring to the CIA leak case, 9/30/03]
- "If someone in the administration, anywhere in the administration, leaked classified information, we want to know who it is. The president has always made it clear that the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think the Justice Department shares the White House's concern about the leaking of classified information." [McClellan, referring to the CIA leak case, 10/2/03]
- "This is a very serious matter, and our administration takes it seriously. As members of the press corps here know, I have, at times, complained about leaks of security information, whether the leaks be in the legislative branch or in the executive branch. And I take those leaks very seriously." [Bush, referring to the CIA leak case, 10/6/03]
- "This is a town of -- where a lot of people leak. And I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information." [Bush, referring to the CIA leak case, 10/7/03]
- "I'd like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information. As you know, I've been outspoken on leaks. And whether they happened in the White House, or happened in the administration, or happened on Capitol Hill, it is a -- they can be very damaging." [Bush, referring to the CIA leak case, 10/28/03]
- "Let me start with the first question. There is a process that goes on inside the Justice Department about leaks, and I presume that process is moving forward. My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." [Bush, referring to the disclosure of the National Security Agency's (NSA) warrantless domestic surveillance program, 12/19/05]
- "The leaking of classified information is a serious issue. The fact is that Al Qaeda's playbook is not printed on page one, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications. You don't need to be Sun Tzu to understand that." [Former White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy, referring to the NSA surveillance program, 12/30/05]
- "Well, he's right about national security leaks. There have been a number over the years, but there have been some recently that have been most egregious; and one, obviously, does have to do with the NSA program that's been the focus of a lot of attention in the last few weeks. And of course, someone there went to The New York Times, and The New York Times published extensive stories about it, which disclosed the fact of the program. There have been others. I thought [CIA] Director [Porter] Goss was rather restrained in his comments, but he was absolutely correct. Those leaks do do enormous damage to our national security. It happens in several ways. It, obviously, reveals techniques and sources and methods that are important to try to protect. It gives information to our enemies about how we go about collecting intelligence against them. It also raises questions in the minds of other intelligence services about whether or not they can work with the United States intelligence service, with our CIA, for example, if we can't keep a secret. If every secret that we're told, or that we had ends up on the front page of the newspapers, some of our friends overseas are going to be reluctant to do business with us. So it's -- it is a serious problem." [Vice President Dick Cheney, 2/3/06]
Nonetheless, Squeo's April 7 article ignored entirely previous statements by Bush and other White House officials condemning leaks out of his administration. By contrast, The New York Times reported that Bush has "long criticized leaks of secret information as a threat to national security"; the Los Angeles Times noted that the president "repeatedly has deplored leaks"; USA Today informed readers that Bush has "often protested the leak of classified information"; and the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Libby's testimony appeared "to show Bush doing something he has repeatedly decried."
On April 7, CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano uncritically reported a senior White House aide's misleading response to questions about the apparent inconsistency between Bush's statements and alleged actions. She said that this aide had "draw[n] a distinction" between the disclosure described by Libby and the leaks that the president has previously criticized -- specifically those having to do with "active" and "ongoing" operations such as the administration's secret warrantless domestic surveillance program, which was disclosed to the public in a December 16, 2005, New York Times article. But Quijano failed to note that the president's criticism of leaks has not been limited to such instances. Indeed, as the list above shows, the Bush White House has condemned leaks of classified information in general and in a variety of circumstances.
From the April 7 edition of CNN's American Morning:
QUIJANO: Well, absolutely. And, in fact, the senior aide that I talked to said, look, in response to the some of these critics who say that President Bush has been highly critical in the past of leakers, and for now this revelation to come out certainly does not look good for him politically, they draw a distinction.
What they say is that a leak such as the leak that led to the disclosure of that secret NSA surveillance program, far different, they say, because that's an active, sort of ongoing operation going on. Far different, they say, than what might have taken place here. And again, they're not confirming or denying Libby's testimony, but they say there is a distinction to be made. They point out, as well, that, in fact, parts of the NIE were disclosed, were declassified, and they don't see it as a same kind of situation.