- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

The top two Republicans in Congress want the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate who leaked to the press that the U.S. runs secret prisons overseas.

Also yesterday, a U.S. official told reporters that the CIA had taken the first step toward a criminal investigation of the leak of classified information.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee noted that the leak, which said the CIA-run prisons are used to interrogate terror suspects, could threaten national security.

“If accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks,” they wrote in a letter to the committee chairmen.

The note calls for a look into who made the leak, what damage was done to the United States and its partners in the war on terror, and whether the information was accurate.

The Washington Post reported last week, citing anonymous U.S. and foreign officials, that the CIA for the past four years has run a covert prison system that has included sites in eight countries. Details of the locations of the prisons, referred to as “black sites,” are closely guarded among U.S. and foreign officials.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the Republicans’ call to investigate the leak was “only a play to the press, that’s all this is.”

The Nevada Democrat said the committees could start their own investigations without direction from the leaders, and that if Mr. Hastert and Mr. Frist really were interested in accountability, they would support an investigation into whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to make its case for going to war in Iraq.

The political fight comes a week after Democrats forced the Senate into a closed session and won a promise that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence would undertake just such an investigation.

The CIA request to the Justice Department for a criminal referral — the first step in any investigation — was first reported by the Associated Press, citing a “U.S. official” on the condition of anonymity, and confirmed separately by The Washington Times.

AP reported that the agency’s general counsel sent a report to the department about the story in The Post “shortly after” its Nov. 2 publication. The investigation into the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity came about through the same referral procedure.

“It’s illegal to leak classified information, and classified information was leaked to The Washington Post,” a U.S. official told Reuters news agency.

Eric Grant, a spokesman for The Post, had no comment for AP.

Also yesterday, the Senate rejected Democrats’ move to create a commission to look into abuse of detainees from the war on terror.

A defense-bill amendment from Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, failed 55-43, with Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, joining all 54 Republican senators present in voting against the commission.

Democrats said the commission would help restore U.S. credibility and could save American troops from torture during a future war, but Republicans said the nation didn’t need another commission in the middle of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Congress has given the issue attention and that the Senate addressed the matter when it twice passed an amendment by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, that sets standards for detainee treatment.

The White House is trying to block that amendment from being adopted in a House-Senate conference, and President Bush has threatened to veto a final bill that contains the measure.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has issued a directive that calls for prohibiting the use of dogs to intimidate detainees and for compiling the Defense Department’s policies and memos on treatment and interrogation of detainees.

The Republican leaders’ letter left aides and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle mystified.

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, questioned what good an investigation could do, and the request seemed to catch the White House and the intelligence committee chairmen off-guard.

Even after one of the leadership offices distributed the letter to reporters, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, said he had not received it.

“If you have the letter, I’d like to see the letter,” Mr. Roberts told reporters before adding, “Are you sure this has been sent?”

When told it had been distributed, he said he will see what the committee can do.

“We’ll talk to the leader, and the intelligence committee is willing to be of service any time the leadership feels it’s necessary,” Mr. Roberts said.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said the leaders’ request “was a decision that was made by those leaders. And that’s the way I would describe it.”

After their success last week in closing down the Senate, Democrats yesterday sought to push the issue of leaks, calling on Mr. Bush to rule out issuing a pardon to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the indicted former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

“We have a president who the American public simply have lost confidence in. This would help restore some of that confidence,” Mr. Reid said.

Mr. McClellan would not say whether Mr. Bush would make any such pledge.

“I’m not going to discuss an ongoing legal proceeding,” the spokesman said.

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