Declassification Magic

DECLASSIFICATION MAGIC….Today’s Valerie Plame news revolves around a recently submitted court document from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in which he reveals some new details about Scooter Libby’s testimony to the grand jury last year. Apparently Libby admitted that although he disclosed some information from a classified document to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in 2003, he did so only after Dick Cheney gave him the go-ahead. And Cheney did that only after George Bush gave him the go-ahead. Libby claims he asked Cheney’s counsel, David Addington, if this was kosher, and Addington told him that Bush’s permission “amounted to a declassification of the document.”

You can find reams of analysis about this at practically every URL in the blogosphere right now, but I’d just like to highlight the following timeline from 2003:

  1. July 8: Based on Addington’s assurances, Libby discloses information from a classified 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Miller. This information helps Libby make the case that Joseph Wilson was wrong to say that Iraq wasn’t seeking uranimum from Africa before the war.

  2. July 11: Time reporter Matthew Cooper speaks with Karl Rove. Rove assured him that “material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.” Rove is almost certainly talking about the NIE here.

  3. July 18: The NIE is officially declassified.

So: Cheney and Bush and Addington all supposedly believed they could declassify the NIE on Bush’s say-so, but for some reason they continued with the normal declassification process anyway. In fact, “Defendant testified in the grand jury that he understood that even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller, other key officials ? including Cabinet level officials ? were not made aware of the earlier declassification even as those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the NIE.” It was just a private little declassification between the three of them that even Karl Rove didn’t know about.

Needless to say, this doesn’t make sense. Documents are either declassified or they’re not, and the president can either declassify them with a mere verbal flick of his wrist or he can’t. Which is it?

POSTSCRIPT: Fitzgerald’s complete filing is here. Note the statement on page 7 that “Some documents produced to defendant could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson.” Do you think we’ll ever get to see those documents?