Leak? Who Would Do Such a Thing?

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 29, 2006

P resident Bush and other senior administration officials were justifiably infuriated this week by outrageous "selective" leaks of secret information in the superclassified National Intelligence Estimate.

The information was stunning news -- at least to people who don't read newspapers -- showing that the intelligence community believes the war in Iraq has actually heightened the danger of terrorism against the United States and boosted jihadist recruitment.

So the administration authorized the release of other sections of the April report that they hoped would neutralize the damage. Bush, in doing so, denounced the leaking "for political purposes." The leakers were trying to influence the upcoming elections. Shocking!

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice , speaking Tuesday with Fox News host Sean Hannity , was asked whether she had "any thoughts on the cherry-picked, selective leaking of the NIE report."

Well, as a matter of fact, she did. "First of all," she said, "I can't tell you how tired I am of getting up and reading leaked documents in the newspaper. I think it's -- it really is not responsible. And people who do it are acting irresponsibly, especially in a time of war."

Sadly, this is not the first time such damaging leaks of sensitive information -- information jihadi recruiters couldn't possibly have known -- have occurred shortly before an election. Four years ago this month, back in September 2002, a leak of secret intelligence on Saddam Hussein 's efforts to get "specially designed" aluminum tubes to make nuclear weapons showed up in the New York Times.

As recounted in the new book "Hubris," by Michael Isikoff and David Corn , a White House official worried in the Times article that the tubes might mean that "the first sign of a 'smoking gun' might be a mushroom cloud." The brilliant line (later used by Rice) was conceived by White House chief speechwriter Michael Gerson , according to the book, and had been discussed in a White House meeting a few days earlier.

Vice President Cheney , on NBC's "Meet the Press," cited it to moderator Tim Russert as backing for the claim that Hussein was trying for atomic weapons. "There's a story in the New York Times this morning," Cheney noted when asked about Saddam's push for nukes.

Unclear why no one went after the leaker. Maybe because the story was bogus? Maybe because we weren't at war yet? Maybe because they . . .?

Progress in Iraq: Seven New Prisons

Meanwhile, those who say Iraqi reconstruction is showing no progress haven't bothered to read the Pentagon's quarterly report to Congress titled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq."

In the section on prisons, spotted by our colleague Walter Pincus, we find that "the U.S. and Iraqi governments are funding construction of seven new . . . prison facilities" because the ones that "generally meet international standards" are at max capacity.

Work has stopped at two prisons "due to problems with the primary contractor," the August report says. But the Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to sign a new contractor this month and complete the work by April. "Construction at [two other] facilities has been delayed," we're told, "due to a title dispute between the Ministers of Justice and Interior [which is] in litigation in the Iraqi courts."

Even so, there has been substantial progress. A prison near Baghdad is already finished, and another in Kurdistan is going to be done in February. By mid-2007, the Pentagon says it hopes to have an additional 4,800 beds in the new prisons.

"Even with these additions, however," the report says, "projections show another 20,000 beds will ultimately be needed." This doesn't account for the 12,000 prisoners held by U.S. forces "outside the Iraqi criminal system."

You, Too, Can Be a Winner on Nov. 7

Don't forget to enter the In the Loop Congressional Election Contest! This one is to predict the makeup of the Senate and the House after the Nov. 7 elections. Count Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), if he wins his Senate bid, as a Democrat. Count Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), running as an independent, as a Democrat if he wins.

Send your guesses on how many R's and D's will be in each chamber to: intheloop@washpost.com .

You must include your home, work or cellphone number to be eligible. Administration officials and Hill folks may enter "on background." Hurry! Entries must be submitted by midnight, Oct. 10, four weeks before the elections.

The top 10 winners will receive, in addition to bragging rights and mention in the column, coveted official In the Loop T-shirts. Don't delay. Close enough might be good enough.

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