- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

It is a full year before next year’s national elections, and Democrats are already up to dirty tricks. On air yesterday, commentator Sean Hannity made public a leaked memorandum that detailed a Democratic plan to use classified intelligence information to attack President Bush politically. The memo suggested that Democrats “pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures” and then “pull the trigger” against the administration. West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, admitted that the memo was written by his staff, but downplayed its importance. The scandal will be difficult to cover up.

The upheaval caused by partisan misuse of intelligence data is significant. Congress needs access to secret information to assess the effectiveness of national-security measures. Sensitive intelligence data also helps congressmen determine what our troops need in the field and how American soldiers can be better aided in dangerous missions. Leaking classified material or using it for political purposes jeopardizes both the war on terror and the pacification of Iraq. Secret dossiers are secret for a reason: They contain information that can put troops and operatives in danger or compromise strategic operations and intelligence methods.

It is noteworthy that the Democratic memo does not refer to any intelligence information that already has been leaked in an attempt to damage the president, and there is no proof that the conspiracy has been put into practice yet. But the very existence of such a plan has caused considerable harm. It undermines the important political neutrality of intelligence and the need for bipartisanship on the congressional intelligence committees. While it does not appear that any laws were broken, whoever wrote the memo certainly violated Senate ethics rules that prohibit government employees from using government time and resources for political machinations.

Even worse, this expression of intent to abuse the custodial responsibility over classified information undermines the oversight mission of Congress. The political breach warns U.S. intelligence agencies that there are security risks in providing information to Congress. Because some Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee discussed the intention to misemploy intelligence secrets in an effort to go after the president, and we don’t know how many senators or members of the staff were involved, it is only prudent to suspect all minority members, even those who otherwise might be honorable. For the time being, this compromised security means that the committee is not a safe depository for important national secrets.

The Senate Intelligence Committee was meeting as we went to press last night. No matter how contrite Mr. Rockefeller might say he is, and no matter how magnanimous Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts might be, the damage is done. When a level of trust has been lost, it takes time to rebuild a relationship, whether it be personal or institutional. As it stands, the Senate Intelligence Committee cannot be trusted. Until the credibility and reliability of the committee can be re-established, extraordinary requests by its members for the disclosure of highly classified information should be considered with extreme caution.

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