CIA moves toward probe of prisons story
Updated: 2005-11-09 09:07
The CIA took the first step toward a full-scale criminal investigation of a
leak of possibly classified information on secret prisons to The Washington
Post, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
The agency's general counsel sent a report to the Justice Department about
the Post story, which reported the existence of secret U.S. detention centers
for suspected terrorists in Eastern Europe.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue deals
with classified information, said the referral was made shortly after the Nov. 2
story. The leak investigation into the disclosure of covert CIA officer Valerie
Plame's identity came about through the same referral procedure. The Justice
Department will decide whether to initiate a criminal investigation.
The Post declined to comment.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis
Hastert called for a congressional investigation into the disclosure of the
existence of the secret prisons.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sidestepped questions on secret
prisons, saying the United States was in a "different kind of war" and had an
obligation to defend itself.
Leaders of the US Republican party Bill
Frist(L), the Senate Majority leader, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert
speak outside the White House in September
If the Post story is 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," wrote Frist and Hastert, asking for a joint leak probe by the Senate
and House intelligence committees.
The newspaper's story of a week ago said the CIA has been hiding and
interrogating some of its most important al-Qaida captives at a Soviet-era
compound in Eastern Europe, part of a covert prison system set up by the agency
four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries.
Those countries, said the story, include several democracies.
"If the leadership determines that we should investigate the leak, it would
be much like the 9/11" commission, said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman
Pat Roberts who did not dispute a reporter's suggestion that a probe would raise
First Amendment press-freedom issues.
Such an investigation would become "very difficult when you're getting into
matters like this," said the senator.
Roberts also said he would support hearings into the importance of
maintaining a covert agent's cover, a topic triggered by the leak of Plame's
identity, eight days after her husband accused the Bush administration of
manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraq threat.
Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the House and Senate committees
with normal jurisdiction should conduct any hearings, not a bicameral committee
as suggested in the letter of the two Republican leaders.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said any such joint investigation should
also investigate possible manipulation of prewar intelligence on Iraq.
"If Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Frist are finally ready to join
Democrats' demands for an investigation of possible abuses of classified
information, they must direct the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to
investigate all aspects of that issue," said Pelosi.
The letter asked, concerning the leak of information about prisons, "What is
the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United
States and our partners in the global war on terror?"
"We will consider other changes to this mandate based on your
recommendations," Frist and Hastert wrote.
The letter said the leaking of classified information by employees of the
U.S. government appeared to have increased in recent years, "establishing a
dangerous trend that, if not addressed swiftly and firmly, likely will worsen."
"We are hopeful that you will be able to accomplish this task in a bipartisan
manner given general agreement that intelligence matters should not be
politicized," it added.
While not confirming the existence of secret prisons, Rice told reporters,
"We, our allies, others who have experienced attacks, have to find a way to
protect our people."
The administration has protected itself "within the constraint of the
Constitution and cognizant of our values," said Rice. "The United States holds
to these values today as strongly as we ever have."