[For the next two weeks, I am cross posting my blog entries at Blackprof.com, a new blog devoted to race, law and culture]
I am watching with great interest the possible conclusion of the Fitzgerald grand jury. Many think that Members of Congress have an inside track about these things. Honestly, I have no idea what is going to happen and the only benefit to being a Member of Congress in this instance may be that I hear more rumors, not more reliable ones. I find I learn more reading Arianna, Murray Waas and Lawrence O’Donnell than the New York Times or Washington Post.
Nonetheless, maybe we did learn something new from the Times this weekend. I noted that the blogosphere was abuzz over the weekend with word that Judith Miller, New York Times reporter and First Amendment cause celebre that never was, claims she has or had a security clearance. For more information see Huffington Post, Atrios here, or Talking Points Memo.
The relevant passage from Ms. Miller’s first person account in Sunday’s New York Times:
“In my grand jury testimony, Mr. Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to the subject of how Mr. Libby handled classified information with me. He asked, for example, whether I had discussed my security status with Mr. Libby. During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.
Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believed so, but could not be sure. He asked how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, Very carefully.”
Obviously, if a reporter was given a security clearance it raises substantial issues of national security. To find out what exactly happened here, I – along with the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton — are writing Secretary Rumsfeld to get some answers. The letter is attached below.
My own view is that Ms. Miller didn’t have a clearance, and probably either misspoke, misunderstood or deliberately exaggerated her clearance status. I have heard that, while embedded with troops in Iraq, many reporters were under obligation to not disclose troop movements and other secrets that may have directly impacted the safety of the troops. It is possible that Miller signed an agreement to that effect and either mistook, misconstrued or misrepresented such an agreement as a security clearance.
Nonetheless, in an era of fake reporters in the White House briefing room, government paid pundits and federally funded propaganda, forgive me if it does not seem implausible that a reporter or reporters would receive quasi-official status. These questions need to be answered.
October 17, 2005
The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write about reports that journalists who were embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq were given security clearances. In her recounting of discussions with Scooter Libby, the Vice President’s Chief of Staff, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, disclosed her belief that she had a security clearance. She specifically wrote, “[d]uring the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment ‘embedded’ with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.” She also noted she was not certain whether her clearance was in existence at the time she met with Mr. Libby.
In order to better understand the scope of the program under which journalists received security clearances, we would appreciate your prompt response to the following questions:
1. Since March 20, 2003, the date of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have any journalists been provided with a security clearance or with access to classified information? If so, please explain. At what level were these clearances granted? Were background investigations conducted on these journalists and, if so, in what manner? Of journalists receiving security clearances or access to classified information, how many were embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq?
2. Who approved the policy of providing journalists with security clearances or with access to classified information? What was the operational reason for granting security clearances to journalists? How does this policy comport with the requirement that classified information be disseminated on a “need to know” basis?
3. Did each journalist sign documentation delineating their obligation to protect classified information as is required by employees of the federal government? Were journalists required to sign any additional non-disclosure agreements by the Department of the Defense or the military department to which they were assigned? If so, please provide a copy of such an agreement.
4. Did journalists maintain their clearances after completing participation in the embed program? Are journalists with a security clearance or other access notified upon the revocation or termination of such clearance or access? When does such revocation or termination occur? Have any journalists who are or have been embedded with forces in Iraq had their security clearances revoked or otherwise terminated?
5. Since March 20, 2003, what journalists were provided with security clearances or other access to classified information? How long did each clearance or access period last?
Please reply through the Judiciary Committee Minority Office, 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-225-6504) and the Armed Services Committee Minority Office, 2340 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-226-9007).
John Conyers, Jr. Ike Skelton
Ranking Member Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary Committee on Armed Services