- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Congressmen angry at President Bush for curtailing their classified briefings threatened yesterday to hold up legislation as the president again warned them about leaks.
"The defense bill is not moving until we are included," said Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, at a private luncheon with his colleagues. No one challenged him.
Mr. Bush, unhappy about congressional leaks to reporters about U.S. military action against terrorists, ordered his Cabinet on Friday to limit briefings to only eight congressional leaders "to protect military operational security." Yesterday, Mr. Bush reiterated the need for secrecy.
"I want Congress to hear loud and clear it is unacceptable to leak classified information when we have troops at risk," the president told reporters. "If you receive a briefing of classified information, you have a responsibility, and some members of Congress did not accept that responsibility."
Several times in recent weeks, legislators repeated details of military and intelligence operations that the administration says should not have been revealed to the public.
The day of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said in a television interview that U.S. authorities had seized telephone conversations between terrorists. In the wake of the attacks, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer asked editors of several newspapers, including Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of this newspaper, to avoid reporting certain types of sensitive information. Vice President Richard B. Cheney repeated this caution in a subsequent conversation with Mr. Pruden.
On Friday, The Washington Post quoted an anonymous senator saying intelligence officials predicted a 100 percent chance that terrorists would attack the United States again if America attacked Afghanistan. But it is not clear whether this dispatch would have been regarded as too sensitive to print.
Several congressmen said they agreed with the president, but some others say the revelations have not been "sensitive".
"Most people in America could figure out if there's a strike against Afghanistan, the chance for a retaliatory attack has certainly increased," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. "I don't know why that was front-page news. That's like saying the sun is going to come up."
Democrats are similarly vexed by President Bush's directive, which cuts out members of the House and Senate armed services committees. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, postponed a confirmation hearing for five Defense Department nominees, set for Thursday, until the issue is resolved. Mr. Warner and Mr. Levin met Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Monday to express their displeasure.
Mr. Bush said: "I understand there may be some heartburn on Capitol Hill. 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."
While Congress tries to reclaim the access it lost, several congressmen acknowledged that their colleagues' lips are too loose about classified briefings.
"These are operations that require absolute secrecy," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. "I am in significant sympathy with the president, particularly since we've seen already several leaks which could be damaging to our national security. There's an obligation on the part of the members of Congress to show maturity here."
Mr. Roberts, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said some of his colleagues can't resist publicity.
"There's always a feeling among some of us that we stand to get injured if we somehow get between the TV cameras and certain members of Congress," he said. Said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, "The president was within his rights to be upset."
The president's memo was sent to Mr. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA Director George J. Tenet and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. It instructs them to share classified or "sensitive law enforcement information" only with the top Republican and Democrat in the House and Senate, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of both chambers' intelligence committees.
Several congressmen said Mr. Bush has a valid point but is handling the issue clumsily. "My preference is, if I don't need to know, don't tell me," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said the administration ought to be more judicious with the details it doles out to Congress.
"They control what they tell us, anyway," Mr. Hagel said. "If they don't trust as much, just don't tell us as much and don't tell us you're not telling us. There's a better way to handle it."
He said the threat from appropriators to hold up spending bills is "very serious." "There are unintended consequences that are now occurring as a result of this document put out by the White House," Mr. Hagel said.

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