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Context of 'March 20, 2003: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Divulges Classified Info on Iraq Leadership Location'

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Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, gives a speech to the National Newspaper Association in which he discloses classified information about the impending US invasion of Iraq. Roberts tells the audience that he has “been in touch with our intelligence community,” and reveals that the CIA has informed President Bush and the National Security Council “of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad.” Roberts then tells the audience that Bush, after conferring with his top military advisers, has “authorized a pre-emptive surgical strike with 40 Tomahawk Missiles launched by ship and submarines and so-called bunker bombs by F-117 stealth aircraft. I do not have a damage assessment. The Iraqis report 14 killed and one wounded and are reporting damage in residential areas.” The initial US strikes against an Iraqi governmental complex, Dora Park, missed Hussein. In 2006, four former intelligence officials tell a news reporter that Roberts’s disclosure hampered US efforts to capture Hussein. They will note that Roberts, who is a staunch defender of the Bush administration’s attempts to keep sensitive information out of the press, is never held accountable for what they term a serious security breach; there is no investigation, and his remarks are widely ignored by the press. According to the intelligence officials, Roberts’s disclosure alerts others, including hostile Iraqis, that the US has human intelligence sources close to Hussein. Roberts “had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam’s] inner circle,” one official will say. “It was the worst thing you could ever do.” The officials will say it is unclear what effect, if any, Roberts’s disclosure has on Hussein’s efforts to escape the US. A Republican Congressional aide familiar with the incident will later call Roberts’s remarks “a mistake” and a “dumb act,” but not one “done with bad intent.” The aide will say that Roberts may have disclosed the information out of an urge for “self-aggrandizement.” (Waas 4/25/2006)

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, issues a press release saying he intends to push for an investigation into the Iraq-Niger forgeries. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the committee, issues his own press release saying calls for an investigation are premature. Both Rockefeller and Roberts have asked the CIA and State Department to investigate the forgeries (see May 23, 2003). (Leupp 11/9/2005)

Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s firing of official Mary McCarthy for allegedly leaking classified information to the press (see April 21, 2006), saying that “unauthorized disclosures of classified information can significantly harm our ability to protect the American people.” Roberts, who has consistently supported the Bush administration’s efforts to control and limit the flow of sensitive information to the press, says: “Those who leak classified information not only risk the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods, but also expose the brave men and women of the intelligence community to greater danger. Clearly, those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” He adds that he is “pleased that the Central Intelligence Agency has identified the source of certain unauthorized disclosures, and I hope that the agency, and the [intelligence] community as a whole, will continue to vigorously investigate other outstanding leak cases.” However, Roberts may be guilty of a far more serious intelligence leak than anything McCarthy is accused of doing. Three years before, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, he disclosed classified intelligence information that impaired the US military’s attempts to capture Saddam Hussein (see March 20, 2003). Four former intelligence officials contrast Roberts’s disclosure of classified information with McCarthy’s, and note that her firing is an example of how “rank and file” intelligence professionals have much to fear from legitimate and even inadvertent contacts with journalists, while senior executive branch officials and members of Congress are almost never held accountable when they seriously breach national security through leaks of information. One former intelligence official who was involved in numerous leak investigations says: “On a scale of one to 10, if Mary McCarthy did what she is accused of doing, it would be at best a six or seven. What Pat Roberts did, from a legal and national security point of view, was an 11.” Another former intelligence official says that in her authorized interviews with reporters: “Mary might have said something or disclosed something inadvertently, which is exactly Roberts’ defense. The only difference between them is that Pat Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mary is somebody that they are using to set an example.” A third foreign intelligence official says that the Bush administration vigorously pursues “leaks and leakers they don’t like, while turning a blind eye to those they do like, or [leaks] they do themselves.” If this continues, the official warns, it will set a “dangerous precedent in that any president will be able to control the flow of information regarding any policy dispute.… When historians examine this, they will see that is how we got into war with Iraq.” (Waas 4/25/2006)


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