White House Releases Portion of Security Report
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
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The White House made an abrupt reversal yesterday and agreed to release the declassified conclusion of a classified intelligence report on terrorism. One line from the excised document stated that Iraq has become a “cause celeb” for Islamic extremists and that the war there has bred a deep resentment of the United States. You can now look for yourself at a portion of that much debated intelligence report on terrorism at npr.org.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Critics of the war have seized on that report as evidence that the U.S. needs to change course in Iraq. President Bush says Americans should read it and make up their own minds now. But as you read, bear in mind that what's been released is only about 10 percent of the full report. The rest will likely remain classified.
NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly has more.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: President Bush made clear in his White House press conference that he's not happy about releasing even this small section of the National Intelligence Estimate. He says he thinks “it's a bad habit for our government to declassify every time there's a leak.” But in this case, Mr. Bush called Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and told him to make an exception.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I told the DNI to declassify this document. You can read it for yourself. We'll stop all the speculation, all the politics about somebody saying something about Iraq, you know, somebody trying to confuse the American people about the nature of this enemy.
KELLY: National Intelligence Estimates represent the consensus of all 16 U.S. spy agencies, so they carry a good deal of weight. This one has proven enormously controversial since it came to light on Sunday, particularly the judgment widely reported by the media that the war in Iraq has made the overall terrorism problem worse. Critics point out that that doesn't square with recent statements from the president and vice president, who say invading Iraq has made Americans safer. President Bush argues those critics are misinformed and that if they read the full intelligence document they would see it presents a much more nuanced picture.
However, it's not likely most Americans will ever get the chance to read the full document. What was released yesterday is just over three pages of a thirty page report. It's the conclusions section called key judgments, and even some of that is missing. White House Security Adviser Francis Fragos Townsend says several paragraphs have been deleted for national security reasons. She defended the truncated document in a conference call with reporters.
Ms. FRANCIS FRAGOS TOWNSEND (White House Security Advisor): There's a very high bar for declassification and we have to be careful not to be whipsawed into, because somebody breaks the law and leaks classified information, that we do further damage because we're going to engage in a public debate by declassifying too much.
KELLY: Townsend added, when you weigh security risks against the potential gain from declassifying, you've always got to err on the side of protecting national security. But on Capitol Hill yesterday, Democrats made plain they will not be satisfied with such a heavily edited report. Here's Senator Hillary Clinton.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I would urge the administration to release the entire report because the report and the findings really go together, and I don't think that we'd be doing a service to the American people to just selectively release it.
KELLY: Standing by Clinton's side at a press conference, Senator Carl Levin chimed in. Levin serves on the Intelligence Committee, making him one of the few members of Congress who've actually seen the full Intelligence Estimate. Levin argues that particularly on the subject of Iraq and its impact on the wider war on terror, the body of the report should be made public, not just the findings and conclusions section.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): As far as I'm concerned, the entire report should be declassified, period. But at a minimum, the entire report that relates to Iraq should be declassified. There is material beyond the findings which is highly relevant to this subject.
KELLY: Still, Steven Aftergood believes even a limited release may be worthwhile. Aftergood directs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. He believes this episode has set an intriguing precedent for the possible release of future National Intelligence Estimates.
Mr. STEVEN AFTERGOOD (Director of Project on Government Secrecy, Federation of American Scientists): And it makes it easier each time to go through the declassification process as agencies and officials see that it's not as traumatic as they might imagine to let this information into the public domain.
KELLY: There may be another opportunity soon; another NIE is in the works, this one focusing solely on Iraq. It's planned for release after the November elections in January 2007.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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