GOP leaders seek to protect secret CIA prisons

[ Very interesting... Democrats and some Republicans want the prisons themselves investigated... because they are probably used for illegal dentention and torture? ]

John Calvert

"...More generally, Republicans suggested it was unwise to pick a fight with the media over an issue that exposes so many political vulnerabilities for their party...."

GOP Congressional Leaders Seek Leak Probe

By Jonathan Weisman Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, November 8, 2005; 7:50 PM

Congress's top Republican leaders today demanded an immediate joint House and Senate investigation into the disclosure of classified information to The Washington Post that detailed a web of secret prisons being used to house and interrogate terrorism suspects.

The Post's story, published on Nov. 2, has led to a rash of new questions about the treatment of detainees and the use of so-called "black sites" in Eastern Europe and elsewhere by the Central Intelligence Agency. The issue dogged President Bush in his recent trip to Latin America and has created consternation in Eastern Europe. "If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) wrote in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

The letter requests that the committees "immediately initiate" a bicameral investigation. It also instructs the committee to refer to the Justice Department any information it uncovers that might constitute a violation of the law.

The CIA General Counsel's Office has also notified the Justice Department that a release of classified information took place in connection with The Post report, a senior administration official said today. Such referrals are made at the rate of three to four per week, according to intelligence officials. But the notice is also the first step in a process that could lead to a criminal investigation, as happened in the Valerie Plame case.

The CIA will be required to fill out an 11-point questionnaire outlining the damage done by the release, how it's been protected and the individuals or groups with knowledge of the information. Justice prosecutors will then determine whether they believe a criminal investigation is warranted.

A spokesman for The Post declined to comment on the the letter from the congressional leaders. The Post article, by staff writer Dana Priest, said the CIA has operated a covert prison system that at various times included sites in eight countries, including democracies in Eastern Europe, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The Post did not publish the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

Congress has conducted fewer than a half dozen bicameral investigations, reserving the process for the most pressing issues, such as the illegal arms sales to Iran in the 1980s that were used to finance rebels in Nicaragua and the conduct of the Civil War. The most recent House-Senate investigation came in 2002, when the intelligence committees looked into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers from both parties immediately expressed misgivings about the request. Democrats pounced on it, suggesting that if the GOP leaders believe the disclosure of information on secret prisons deserved to be investigated, so did the leak of inaccurate intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the release of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name by White House officials.

"There is plenty to investigate about the Bush administration's use and misuse of intelligence," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The American people deserve the truth."

Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said investigating the source of the prison story would be acceptable, as long as Congress also investigates the secret prisons themselves.

"If you want to investigate everything and not be selective, that would make sense," he said.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said: "Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. The real story is those jails."

More generally, Republicans suggested it was unwise to pick a fight with the media over an issue that exposes so many political vulnerabilities for their party.

The emergence of the congressional leaders' letter came as a surprise to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), both of whom said they learned of the request from the media. Roberts said his committee "stands ready to be of service" but that he had "not received any marching orders from the leadership."

The marching orders laid out by Frist and Hastert are detailed and requested in urgent language. Those orders include verifying that the information supplied to The Post was accurate and classified, indentifying who leaked the information and under what authority, and detailing "the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the Global War on Terrorism."

"The leaking of classified information by employees of the United States government appears to have increased in recent years, establishing a dangerous trend that, if not addressed swiftly and firmly, likely will worsen," the letter states.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say whether the president endorsed the probe, saying the decision belonged to the congressional leaders. But he did not offer any discouragement.

"The leaking of classified information is a serious matter and ought to be taken seriously," he told reporters.

For their part, Democratic leaders expressed their own concern about national security leaks, but in their case, the emphasis was on the release of Plame's name. Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been indicted on charges of lying to the FBI and a grand jury in that case. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Pelosi and other Democrats sent two letters to President Bush, urging him to declare publicly that he will not pardon Libby. Without such a declaration, Reid said, Libby will have no incentive to cooperate with Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Staff writers Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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