Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bush's Secretive White House Refused Investigation Over Leaks In 2005

Classified information has been leaking from the Bush White House almost since the day he first sat down behind the desk inside the West Wing. Usually, the leaked info has been used to disparage or destroy the perceived enemies of the White House, and Vice President Dick Cheney in particular.

Back in 2003, a federal watchdog agency had plans to go inside the executive offices of the West Wing to gather evidence of who was leaking classified information, and why.

As this story from the LA Times details, Bush administration officials not only refused to allow the investigation to go forward, but leaks about the attempts to stop investigations of the leaks came from "security officers" inside the White House, clearly upset about the violations of the law they were either directly witnessing, or being told about by others close to those involved :
The report of the White House's refusal to be inspected comes amid criticism from congressional Democrats of how President Bush signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to submit to independent oversight of their handling of classified information, but did not enforce it for his office or that of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The blocked inspection was described in an April 23 letter to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who provided a copy of the letter to the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Monday that the president considered his office and that of the vice president exempt from his directive. The 2003 executive order addressed a system of safeguards for government agencies aimed at ensuring that classified national security information is properly handled so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands, that improper leaks of such information are investigated promptly, and that government secrets are properly declassified at the appropriate time.

The Information Security Oversight Office, an agency within the federal National Archives and Records Administration, is in charge of the effort, with broad authorities that include inspections of government agencies to make sure that they are in compliance.

The president's and vice president's offices handle some of the most highly classified national security information.

Waxman said the White House in 2005 denied a similar effort by the oversight agency to inspect the executive offices where the president's top advisors work, known as the West Wing. Waxman said investigators from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were told of the incident by White House security officers.

It was not clear what prompted the inspection. The oversight agency has not commented on it.

Waxman said the executive order gave the agency "governmentwide authority to conduct on-site inspections of all executive branch offices and agencies to ensure that security programs are effective."

But, he told Card, "the security officers reported that after an initial meeting, a senior White House official intervened and instructed the White House Security Office to block any inspection of the West Wing. The security officers expressed shock that the Information Security Oversight Office was not permitted to conduct an inspection."

Waxman, the chairman of the powerful House oversight committee, told Card that his staff investigators also found numerous problems with the way the White House handled classified information. That investigation was prompted by a March hearing in which the committee examined the leak by White House officials of the identity of now-retired CIA officer Valerie Plame.

At the March hearing, White House Chief Security Officer James Knodell testified that the White House Security Office never conducted an internal investigation to identify the source of the leaks, did not initiate corrective actions to prevent future breaches, and never considered administrative sanctions or reprimands for officials involved.

Waxman said the failure of the White House to take such steps appeared to be a violation of the executive order Bush signed, which establishes minimum requirements for safeguarding classified information and responding to breaches.