Bush team steps up secrecy efforts

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A dispute over the Bush administration’s control of information since the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes erupted into an angry exchange between the White House and Congress Tuesday after President Bush moved to restrict intelligence shared with lawmakers.

Members from both parties objected strongly to Bush’s highly unusual step of ordering that briefings with sensitive information be limited to just eight of the 535 members of Congress. The memo was signed by Bush Friday after a report in the Washington Post that intelligence officials told lawmakers there was a “100 percent” likelihood of further terrorist strikes.

“To put out a public document telling the world he doesn’t trust the Congress and we leak everything, I’m not sure that helps develop unanimity and comradeship,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

“We have to have classified briefings if we’re going to do our oversight role,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Bush, appearing in the Rose Garden with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, gave Congress a stern lecture. “I understand there may be some heartburn on Capitol Hill,” he said. “But I suggest if they want to relieve that heartburn, that they take their positions very seriously and that they take any information they’ve been given by our government very seriously.

“I want Congress to hear loud and clear, it is unacceptable behavior to leak classified information when we have troops at risk.”

The unusual intragovernmental dispute was the latest instance of the extraordinary controls the administration has placed on government information since the terrorist strikes.

The quarrel over Bush’s memo restricting information to Congress has taken on the most significance, though, because of Congress’ power to oversee the executive branch. House Intelligence Committee member Tim Roemer, D-Ind., said Bush’s memo contradicted requirements under the 1947 National Security Act that the president inform Congress on current and pending intelligence activities. “This is directly confronting the advise and consent role of Congress in a situation of war, and the administration quickly needs to rework this decision,” Roemer said.

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