Cheney's 'Declassified' Authority

In an interview about his recent hunting accident, Vice President Dick Cheney revealed there's an executive order authorizing him to classify — or declassify — information. It seems pertinent to the legal case of Cheney's former aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is accused of leaking the name of a CIA operative.

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DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

There was a curious moment in the interview that Vice President Cheney gave to the Fox News Channel's Britt Hume on February 15th to explain about his hunting accident.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Near the end of the interview, Hume suddenly introduced a new subject, the assertion of Cheney's indicted former Chief of Staff Louis Libby that he'd been authorized by his superiors to reveal information from a secret intelligence report about Iraqi weapons. Cheney declined comment, but then Hume asked another question, whether a vice president has the right to declassify secret information, and Cheney was ready with an answer: there is an executive order to that effect.

And guess what? There is such an order, giving unusual power to the Vice President. It is Executive Order 13292, dated March 25, 2003, revising the Clinton rules on handling classified information. The new rule says that the authority to classify information may be exercised only by the President and in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President. And while the order doesn't say so, the power to classify obviously includes the power to declassify. And so when Libby told the federal grand jury that indicted him that his superiors authorized him to leak classified information, that presumably referred to the Vice President, who was Libby's boss at the time.

And Cheney may have been hinting at that when he said in his Fox News interview that he could not comment on the Libby case because I may be called as a witness at some point in the case. And indeed, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in a letter to Libby's lawyers said, It is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about a national intelligence estimate to the press by his superiors. Whether Libby's superior also declassified for his chief of staff the fact that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent, that has not been disclosed.

What can be noted is that with the unusual power the President gave the Vice President, he could have done it. This is Daniel Schorr.

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