by Laura Heaton
UPI Intelligence Correspondent
Washington (UPI) March 26, 2007
Despite the hype surrounding the first public appearance by Valerie Plame Wilson last week, the testimony that was most indicting of the Bush administration's handling of the CIA leak controversy came not from the former CIA agent but from the second witness: a White House official responsible for carrying out internal White House investigations.
James Knodell, director of the Office of Security at the White House, testified that in the weeks following the leak of Plame's identity as a covert officer at the CIA, the White House never undertook an internal investigation to locate the loose cannon in its midst.
Knodell testified for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that there was neither an internal White House report about the possible security breach, nor an investigation to identify the source of the leak of classified information, nor any sanctioning of White House staff to ensure that additional information wasn't leaked.
"There was already an outside investigation that was taking place, a criminal investigation," Knodell offered as an explanation.
But as members of the committee pointed out, there was a two and a half month gap between the time when journalist Robert Novak first revealed Plame's identity on July 14, 2003 and the start of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 30 and subsequently by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
"The investigation by Mr. Fitzgerald didn't take place for months ... after it was well-known that there had been a leak of the identity of a covert CIA agent," said Chairman Henry Waxman.
A series of executive orders signed in the mid-1990s established the procedure for handling and securing classified information within the Executive Office of the president, Knodell explained. If an employee of the EOP breaches these guidelines, a report must be filed with the Office of Security, and Knodell's office would determine whether to revoke the individual's security clearance.
"There's an obligation for the White House to conduct an immediate investigation to find out whether they needed to suspend security clearances of somebody who had leaked this information, to maybe take disciplinary action against an individual who might have been involved, and thirdly, to find out who divulged it," Waxman said.
Bill Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives and Records Administration, also testified about the obligation to investigate.
"Whenever there is suspected unauthorized disclosure or compromise, there is an affirmative responsibility to do an inquiry. At the very least to ... implement corrective action, so that subsequent and additional and similar violations do not occur," Leonard said. The investigation is also aimed at assessing potential damage to national security that resulted from the leak, he added.
In the immediate aftermath of the CIA leak, President Bush acknowledged the need to find the source.
Speaking to reporters a day after the Department of Justice announced its investigation Bush said, "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. ... I welcome the investigation."
If the president claimed to support an investigation, why did the White House not conduct one as it is obligated to do by various executive orders protecting classified information? It's a simple question an even more obvious answer after hearing Knodell's testimony.
"The White House didn't engage in standard operating procedure because internally, everyone basically knew what had happened and knew that the involvement of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and possibly others made this an insider's game," said Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
Clemons said that while the leak of classified information is always a national security concern, this case is particularly insidious because of the way the Bush administration reacted.
"The president's huff and puff at the time of the outing of Valerie Plame was very good theater, but now if we go back and look at it, all of the key players inside who set the president up to make those comments were the ones very involved with making a campaign out of Valerie Plame's identity to get back at Joe Wilson," Clemons said.
Regardless of whether classified information was disclosed for malicious reasons or just as a careless slip by one of Bush's subordinates who didn't realize that Plame was covert, the obligation to investigate still stands.
The executive orders make no distinction about intent; but in this case, the motivation behind the controversy seems apparent.
So the follow-up question is naturally, what happens next?
The Oversight Committee sent a letter to Joshua Bolten, the White House Chief of Staff, which said that the hearing "raised new concerns about whether the security practices being followed by the White House are sufficient to protect our nation's most sensitive secrets."
The letter asked Bolten to provide an account of the steps taken to investigate how the leak occurred, review the security clearances of White House officials implicated in the leak, impose sanctions against officials involved in the leak, and revise security procedures to prevent future breaches.
The White House did not return calls inquiring about a response to the committee's letter.
Source: United Press International