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Background: Sharing Secrets

October 10, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: Before embarking on a day that included a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, President Bush appeared to resolve a bubbling dispute with Congress over the sharing of secret details about the military action and terrorism investigation. The White House was alarmed recently that classified information appeared in the press shortly after administration officials provided that information to members of Congress. At the White House today, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said all concerned decry the leaking of sensitive information.

ARI FLEISCHER: I think members also are pained by what happened. I think they recognize that they put the President in a difficult spot. Imagine if the case had been that as a result of a CIA briefing to a committee, information was revealed that was classified, and the President didn’t care or said nothing. I think that also would suggest that classified information is not being handled in the manner that it should be, because of the serious nature of classified information. And many members on the Hill are very concerned about the fact that classified information was leaked. They understand that there are important issues involving sharing information with the Congress, and they want to see this matter worked out as well as the President does.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last Friday, the President ordered top national security and law enforcement agency heads to provide intelligence or sensitive information only to: The speaker of the house, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the chairs and ranking members of the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate. Many members of Congress complained they can’t perform their oversight and other roles without the classified information members traditionally have received. The disagreement brought Congress’ four top leaders to an early morning meeting with President Bush today. Afterward, they said a compromise had been reached.

SPOKESMAN: We talked in particular about the need to share information, and the President has reiterated, of course, his deep concern that we all share about how critical it is that sensitive information be treated as such and that we use more discipline and greater discretion in the release of that information. Having said that, the President also recognized, as we all also agreed, that it is important for the sharing of information to be part of the process.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: I think, frankly, that maybe we’re making too much ado about this. The President has made his point. We all are going to be careful. I mean, we are able to receive information. We don’t talk about it. And therefore, you know, we’re trusted to get even more. But the President is going to make sure that the appropriate committees get the information they need and that the members are going to be briefed on what has been going on, how it’s worked. And that will be a part of our decision-making in the future.

KWAME HOLMAN: Under the new policy, members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees were to be added to the classified briefings list.

SPOKESMAN: Thank you all.

KWAME HOLMAN: Nonetheless, at the Capitol late this afternoon, high-ranking Defense Department officials held two closed-door meetings for all members who wished to participate.